Review: Mophie Juice Pack Air for iPhone 5
Last month, right after the release of its new $80 iPhone 5 battery case Juice Pack Helium, Mophie announced a second version with a more familiar name: Juice Pack Air ($100). Unlike Helium, which was pitched as offering an 80% iPhone 5 recharge and actually delivered around 66%, Air claims to deliver a 100% recharge -- and similarly falls short of that claim. But it is a slightly better option, offset by a somewhat higher price. Because the two designs are nearly identical, our review of Air is based on our prior review of Helium, with notes on their differences and improvements.
Just like Juice Pack Helium, Juice Pack Air arrives at a battery capacity that’s on the lower end of what rival iPhone 5 battery cases will deliver: 1700mAh, up from 1500mAh in Helium. On paper, Air has 118% of the iPhone 5’s 1440mAh capacity, but due to the inefficiency of transferring energy from one battery to another, users shouldn’t expect to fully top off a discharged iPhone 5 and still have a little power left to spare. In fact, with the iPhone 5 sitting unused during the one-hour, fifteen-minute time required for recharging at 1-Amp speeds, Juice Pack Air restored only 79% of the phone’s power, becoming somewhat warm in the process. Though that number doesn’t match Mophie’s marketing, it’s in line with our test results from similarly-sized batteries with the iPhone 5; a roughly 2000-2300mAh battery (such as the one inside Lenmar’s Meridian) would be needed for a full recharge.
Just like Juice Pack Helium, however, Juice Pack Air’s other design features make up somewhat for the shortfall in recharging capacity. With a thin hard plastic lip around the top and sides of the iPhone 5, plus a chin on the bottom and a tapered, roughly 6mm bulge on the back, Air’s shape is nearly identical to Helium’s, as well as earlier Juice Packs. Air is actually hairs thicker and taller than Helium, but Mophie strategically uses bevels on the sides and front of the case to make Air appear to be the smaller of the two. And unlike Helium, Air has functional and handsome protectors built in for the iPhone 5’s edge buttons and ringer switch; each is every bit as tactile as Apple’s original components, without the pill-shaped recesses Helium used. Minor though they may seem, these protectors are real improvements.
Thanks to the new bevels, the hard plastic edge around the iPhone 5’s top, left, and right sides feels like it’s offering a tiny bit of extra anti-drop shielding for the otherwise exposed glass screen, even though the actual difference is all but imperceptible: this edge remains around 4mm wide, with a 1-2mm depth. Once again, Juice Pack Air’s bottom adds around 13mm of height to the iPhone 5, including pass-through speaker and microphone grilles that make phone calls only a hint less clear than with a bare iPhone 5—so little that most people won’t notice the differences.
Taken as a whole, an iPhone 5 inside Juice Pack Air looks and feels like a taller, modestly thicker iPhone 3G or 3GS. Users can choose between the all-black soft touch rubber version shown here, a red and black version, or a white glossy and silver metallic version; the latter two will become available slightly after the former one. Just like the gunmetal version of Juice Pack Helium we tested last month, the black Air’s soft touch coating make it easy to hold and pleasant to feel, though this version does tend to show finger oil smudges somewhat more easily. Despite the battery differences, neither Juice Pack feels noticeably heavier than the other.
Juice Pack Air’s housing opens to hold the iPhone 5 in the same way that Helium did: the top four-fifths of the case are one piece, while the Lightning connector, power switch, and four nice white battery level indicator lights are all found on the detachable last fifth. This slider-style concept enables Juice Pack Air to enjoy some compatibility with Lightning docking accessories, though the accessory’s battery can’t be charged without the bottom piece in place. Once that’s installed, you’ll also need to connect an included micro-USB cable for charging—wired syncing with the iPhone 5 inside Air is not supported, so you’ll need to enable Wi-Fi syncing if you haven’t already. Should you need to access the iPhone 5’s bottom headphone port while Air is in use, a headphone extension cable is in the package, as well.
Overall, Juice Pack Air for iPhone 5 is so similar to Juice Pack Helium that it’s hard to see them as truly different products; most companies would have released one or the other, or kept one name across two capacities, but Mophie clearly wanted to offer multiple steps and price points with distinctive branding. That mission was accomplished, but seemingly at the cost of delivering the most competitive $80 option Mophie could have offered. Just as we said with Helium, Air is thoughtfully engineered and generally appealing, but it’s not excellent for its $100 price. The $20 premium buys you button protection, 13% more battery power, and different color options, collectively enough to sway some Mophie fans upwards from an $80 Helium purchase, while justifying the same general recommendation Helium received. That said, $100 is a lot of money to pay for a less than complete iPhone 5 recharge, and there will soon be plenty of options with more power and lower prices. You’ll need to decide for yourself whether Juice Pack Air’s design, size, and protection compromises are appealing enough to justify its expense.