Review: Lithium House iCeL 201 External Power Pack for iPod
Pros: An iPod backpack that adds around 50 hours of music play time or 10 hours of video play time to lower-end fifth-generation iPods; compatible with all Dock Connecting iPods, though with variable battery times for each model. Unlike other iPod batteries we’ve seen, conceivably capable of powering devices such as Altec Lansing’s inMotion speakers.
Cons: Design is not as impressive as we’d expect for the high price. Charge indicator doesn’t appear to be accurate, and run times per charge are not consistent. Design is little more than a generic battery pack with an Apple image and a cable to connect to an iPod; lack of harness or other mounting concept requres you to carry pack separately from iPod during normal use. Despite package’s stated compatibility with inMotion speakers, no charging cable is included for that purpose.
Rechargeable iPod batteries come in two flavors: thin packs that strap on to an iPod’s back and provide two or three times the iPod’s original run time, and thicker packs that significantly bulk up the iPod but offer days of added music playback. For a time, it appeared that the value of these add-on batteries was diminishing - Apple kept improving the power consumption of its iPods, and people really only needed extra juice when they were traveling away from their homes. Then Apple introduced the fifth-generation iPod with video functionality, a feature that drained power roughly much faster than music playback. Suddenly, external batteries became compelling again for certain new iPod owners.
Now new iPod accessory maker Lithium House has released the iCeL 201 External Power Pack ($99) for iPod, a lithium-ion battery pack that without significant elaboration promises 50 hours of added iPod run time per fully charged iCeL. That’s according to the company’s web site and advertising, but without an explanation of which iPod, and during what sort of task, though it’s safe to assume the answer’s “music.” However, it’s worth noting that the unit’s box claims “96 continuous hours” of playback time, but this appears to be a misprint: the company also sells an array of more powerful and expensive batteries, including iCeL 202 ($149) and 205 ($249), which the company advertises with 96 or 200 hours of run time respectively.
Each iCeL 201 comes with three pieces: a wall charger, a generic white retractable FireWire cable, and the iCeL battery pack, which unlike all of its earlier competitors in no way connects to the body of the iPod. You connect the FireWire cable to the iCeL pack and iPod, click through the 5G and nano’s “FireWire is only supported for charging” screen, and watch as iCeL rejuvenates your dead iPod. If you’re moving around a lot, you’ll probably want to keep iCeL in your pocket and the iPod in your hand, which is possible thanks to the 31” retractable cable.
Lithium House’s 50-hour target number is regrettably ambiguous, as there are so many iPod models now on the market, and promising a single runtime without further elaboration may disappoint some people - particularly users of older, less power efficient iPods. It’s fair to make the following statement: iPod nano and second-generation iPod mini users will find that iCeL outperforms this 50-hour claim by a significant amount for music playback, while owners of 4G and 5G iPods will find the number closer to accurate. The company also claims on its package that iCeL is capable of running Altec Lansing’s inMotion series speakers for up to 18 hours, but none of the inMotions worked with the cable that was included in our package - we assume another one must be needed.
Because of the demands of video playback, we first put iCeL through tests to see how it would do for continuous movie viewing on a fifth-generation iPod. In our first test, iCeL powered a dead 30GB 5G iPod for 10 hours and 32 minutes of on-iPod movie playback, but in a subsequent test, the iPod’s movies ran for only 8 hours and 36 minutes. Both the former and latter represent more than three full iPod battery charges; the latter is closer to three, the former closer to four. We were then somewhat surprised when we ran a test of the 30GB iPod for music playback. Here, iCeL performed only two complete refreshes of the iPod’s battery, and nearly completed a third, giving the iPod around 44 hours of continuous run time before it expired.
Other than the inconsistent charging results, which in any case are very close to (if not exceeding) the promised run time, the battery has a few other issues. First and most annoying is its lack of a working charge or charging indicator; though there is a five-bar lamp on one side of the battery, it really only seemed to show three states of charge: apparently fully charged (all bars full), less than a full charge (top two bars flickering), and no charge (no bars full). The charge lamps on several other large battery packs have been similarly spotty, but it would be nice to be able to properly judge a battery’s level for a change.
Second is the battery’s industrial design. Unlike Battery Technology Incorporated, which at least came up with iPod sleeves and clips to mount its oversized batteries, Lithium House hasn’t done much to make iCeL a real iPod add-on: the company is selling versions for various portable devices, each with token visual customization. The iPod ones are white with an apple core image behind their battery lights, while PlayStation Portable versions are black with a gas station pump.
Third and last is iCeL’s comparative value. We’ve previously reviewed a number of large, rechargeable iPod batteries, and especially liked the ones from BTI - new versions of which are apparently on the way. Though it retails for the same price as BTI’s The iPod Battery ii (iLounge rating: A-), which is itself in need of cosmetic and other tweaks to match the latest iPods, iCeL 201 seemed less like a finished product than a battery with a cable that just happened to connect to an iPod. For its $99 price, a single battery with cables that could power iPods, iPod speakers, and other accessories could be a real hit (and unique offering) for traveling iPod owners, but without those multi-purpose cables, we’d expect Lithium House to at least create a way to carry the iPod and battery together.
Overall, iCeL is a good but not great option for travelers in need of extra iPod battery power. As always, your mileage will vary depending upon the specific model of iPod you connect, but if you’re looking for around 50 hours of added music runtime or roughly 10 hours of added video playback for 30GB 5G iPods, it’s worth considering. Further design tweaks would have helped it rate higher.