Review: Just Mobile Gum Plus Mobile Battery Pack
When Just Mobile released the Gum Pro battery pack, we were very close to bowled over: for $60 -- less than any of the iPhone backpacks released before or since, and highly competitive in price with less capacious batteries -- the 4400mAh plastic unit was capable of fully recharging any iPhone three times. Ideal for travel? Small enough to carry around in a pocket on a daily basis? A great value? Check, check, check. Now the company has an alternative option called Gum Plus ($70), which repackages the same 4400mAh battery in a more stylish new enclosure, adding mini-USB and iPod/iPhone cables, plus a carrying case. Though it's at least as technically worthy of its asking price as Gum Pro thanks to these pack-ins, Gum Plus falls a little short in the interface department, and its stylish design is more likely to show scratches than the less expensive model.
Though we won’t go into crazy levels of detail, the battery used in Gum Pro and Gum Plus is a serious piece of hardware: most of the batteries we have seen for the iPod and iPhone over the past year are capable of doing a single recharge of an iPhone model, with correspondingly more recharges—say, 1.5, 2, or 3—for a less power-hungry iPod, depending on the model. Other companies typically charge $60 or $70 for these batteries, sometimes as much as $100, in part because they include integrated Apple Dock Connectors, and strap directly onto the bottom or back of an iPod or iPhone. Just Mobile’s packs instead connect to your device with a USB cable, and recharge with a mini-USB cable, a difference of approach that we frankly think is both viable and worthy of the price savings it achieves. You carry the battery in a pocket, connect the cable when you want to add more power, and retain full access to any iPod’s headphone port, as well as any iPhone’s speaker and microphone, which isn’t always the case with other batteries. The Gum batteries work with any iPod or iPhone, even including the third-generation iPod shuffle, assuming that you are okay with dangling a cable from the battery during the charging process. We tested Gum Plus with a variety of models, having no problem recharging an iPhone 3GS, an iPod touch, and an iPod shuffle from its cell—consecutively, and still with enough power left over to fully recharge another iPhone.
For this model, Just Mobile has ditched the black hard plastic casing of Gum Pro in favor of a MacBook Pro-style aluminum enclosure, adding around 0.25” of width and height (up to 2.25” by 3.1”), while roughly preserving the 0.875” thickness. Due to the use of Apple-style tapered edges, Gum Plus feels a little thinner than Gum Pro despite measurements that clearly show otherwise, and several other tweaks show a greater attention to class: horizontal rather than vertical inbound and outbound USB ports, replacement of the large three power lights with five pinhole-sized, MacBook Pro-like indicators, and the swap of a physical on-off switch for a slightly recessed button. Gum Plus may have been heavily inspired by Apple design, but the consequence is that it’s one of the nicest-looking iPod and iPhone batteries yet released.
These changes do have consequences, however. Just as with the MacBook Pro units, which feel incredibly durable but can still be scratched, Gum Plus received its first surface scratch shortly after being placed in a messenger bag to be carried around, and the metal has the same delicate look as much of Apple’s current Mac hardware. It’s a shame that the consequence of looking so good is a corresponding need for protection; the less expensive Gum Pro looks less tarnished, though not better, after many months of completely unprotected use.
Additionally, whereas Gum Pro’s power switch wasn’t clearly labelled—is “O” or “I” power on, for instance?—it quickly became apparent to a user that when the switch was in the I position, the battery was on, and in O position, it was off, conserving power. By comparison, Gum Plus’s button serves the same general purpose, and Just Mobile has set the five LEDs—or as many as correspond to the current power level—to flash when the unit’s on, but it’s not as easy to be sure that the battery is off or on at a given moment. You may have to wait a couple of seconds to see whether the lights come on, or stay off, in order to determine what state the battery is in. Additionally, the battery won’t turn on immediately after it has been connected to an iPhone, but will turn off—turning it on requires the iPhone to be disconnected first—a little oddity that’s probably there for a safety reason that we can’t immediately fathom. Gum Pro didn’t have any such issue.
If it wasn’t for the added cable and carrying bag, it would be hard to consider the $70 purchase of Gum Plus to be nearly as wise as the same-capacity, relatively resilient $60 Gum Pro—at best, the Plus model would be a flashier product with its own kinks. But those extra items do add value, helping you to keep the sexier battery safe, and eliminating your need to carry your original iPod/iPhone cable around. Our slightly lower recommendation and B+ rating for Gum Plus are based largely upon the somewhat less satisfying power button interface, which like the aluminum skin at least has the advantage of looking better, a fact that will justify Plus’s existence for many users. Between the incredibly powerful battery and sharp-looking enclosure, it’s sure to appeal to many iPhone and iPod users, even if Gum Pro has most of the same technical virtues at a lower price.
Updated March 21, 2011: Just Mobile subsequently released a red-colored version of the Gum Plus pack, featuring the same specs, pack-ins, and functionality. The red version is a metallic cranberry color akin to the third-generation iPod nano, matching the color of the company’s red AluPen stylus.