Review: Mophie Juice Pack Plus for iPhone 5
Remember Mophie's $80 iPhone 5 battery case Juice Pack Helium? How about the $100 version Juice Pack Air? This week, Mophie released a third option called Juice Pack Plus ($120). All but indistinguishable from its predecessors in basic design and functionality, Juice Pack Plus repeats the same formula of boosting battery power and modestly tweaking the case design while adding another $20 to the price. Since it's so substantially similar to Helium and Air -- including the same caveat about falling below Mophie's promised iPhone 5 battery recharge performance -- the review below will sound a lot like its predecessors. Read on for all the details on what has stayed the same, and what has changed.
Unlike the 1500mAh Juice Pack Helium and 1700mAh Juice Pack Air, Juice Pack Plus arrives with enough battery capacity to rival top options we’ve seen from other developers: this one packs a 2100mAh battery, which on paper is roughly 46% larger than the 1440mAh cell inside the iPhone 5. Despite that seemingly excessive capacity, real-world testing has established that the iPhone 5 needs between 2100mAh-2300mAh of external power for a full recharge. So while Mophie’s packaging claims that Juice Pack Plus is capable of a 120% recharge of the iPhone 5—up from a claimed 100% for Air and 80% for Helium—the company’s numbers still aren’t accurate. We tested Juice Pack Plus with a completely discharged iPhone 5, which sat unused during the one-and-a-half-hour recharge time, eventually settling at 94% before Juice Pack Plus began flipping between “on” and “off” modes. This was right on target with past testing results of similar batteries with the iPhone 5, but 26% lower than Mophie’s claim—and a bit below Lenmar’s Meridian, which sells for $90, sports a 2300mAh battery, and delivers a 100% iPhone 5 recharge.
Just as we said about Juice Pack Helium and Juice Pack Air, Juice Pack Plus’s other design features make up somewhat for the shortfall in recharging capacity. Each iteration of the case has grown a little—millimeter-level changes—to accommodate the increases in battery size, and Plus makes similarly small adjustments that are hard to detect when the cases are centered. However, when Plus and Air are placed next to one another on a flat surface, it’s obvious that Plus is a few millimeters taller and wider than Air, though barely two millimeters thicker. To Mophie’s credit, these changes have been accomplished with such slight changes to the rear curve tapering and edges of the case that Juice Pack Plus doesn’t feel huge. The case is actually bigger in each dimension than the aforementioned Meridian, but thanks to Mophie’s Apple-inspired slenderizing techniques and Lenmar’s overly angular edges, you’d never guess as much until you actually placed them side by side.
Other than the size differences, Juice Pack Plus’s design is nearly identical to Air’s—a two-piece frame that splits into top 4/5 and bottom 1/5 pieces when you want to insert or remove the iPhone 5. As before, a hard plastic lip covers the iPhone 5’s top and sides, while a thick chin is on the bottom, 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. Now measuring around 0.64” thick, Plus’s battery adds a roughly 7.5mm bulge to the phone’s back and a thin lip around the screen, recessing the front glass against most drop damage.
Just like Air, Plus includes functional and handsome protectors for the iPhone 5’s edge buttons and ringer switch; each is every bit as tactile as Apple’s original components, compared with the large pill-shaped recesses found in Helium. Mophie’s most significant changes to Plus’s design are truly subtle: the chamfered front and back edges are now glossy rather than matte, with a rubbery rather than smooth plastic center. While we’d call Plus the nicer looking of the two designs, the differences are pretty trivial.
Taken as a whole, an iPhone 5 inside Juice Pack Plus looks and feels like a taller, modestly thicker iPhone 3G or 3GS, complete with the same soft rear curve for added hand comfort. Users can choose between the all-black soft touch rubber version shown here, an two-tone metallic red version, or a white glossy and matte gray version; the latter two will become available slightly after the former one. The black Plus model’s soft touch coating makes it easy to hold and pleasant to feel, though this version does tend to show finger oil smudges somewhat more easily than the gunmetal gray Juice Pack Helium. Unlike the Juice Pack Helium and Air, which didn’t feel noticeably different in weight from one another, Plus is obviously a bit heavier than Air—91 grams versus 78—even though Mophie’s web site currently says they’re the same.
Juice Pack Plus’s housing opens to hold the iPhone 5 in the same way that Air and Helium did: the Lightning connector, battery power switch, and four nice white battery level indicator lights are all found on the detachable last fifth of the case. This slider-style concept enables Juice Pack Plus 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 Plus 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.
In reviewing Juice Pack Air for iPhone 5, we noted that it was so similar to Helium that they were hard to see as two truly different products, and the same is true with Juice Pack Plus—it’s obvious that Mophie wanted to offer multiple steps and price points with distinctive names, despite having one real product with only the most modest tweaks to separate the versions. With the 66% recharge delivered by Helium, the 79% recharge offered by Air, and now the 94% recharge of Plus, Mophie still has room for a “Pro” model that actually delivers a more than 100% recharge, presumably at an even higher price and with a more substantial redesign. If each of the existing cases were $20 less expensive, they’d be easier to strongly recommend, but for the time being, the story remains the same: Juice Pack Plus is a nice-looking and -feeling case, but quite pricey considering the actual battery performance it delivers. That said, if you’re not price-sensitive and need as much spare power as you can get for your iPhone 5, this case comes close to the top performers we’ve seen, both in performance and design.