Review: RichardSolo 1800 Smart Backup Battery with Laser Pointer & LED Flashlight
If everything else was equal, rear-mounted iPod and iPhone batteries would unquestionably be the best choices for users needing additional power. Rather than dangling off the bottoms of Apple's devices, adding artificially to their height and diminishing their pocketability, rear-mounted batteries instead add a bit of thickness, leaving everything save the bottom Dock Connector available for use.
Unfortunately, everything else isn’t equal: the only rear-mounted iPhone battery we’ve reviewed, Mophie’s Juice Pack, arrived for testing with less than impressive physical assembly, and sells for an almost ridiculous premium given its functionality. The $40 gap between the $100 Juice Pack and its competitors has left companies like Just Mobile, Kensington, and RichardSolo with plenty of opportunity to release better-valued alternatives, with the convenience of their connectivity as the only major wildcard. Though RichardSolo’s new 1800 Smart Backup Battery ($70) has a couple of arguable advantages over certain competitors, such as Just Mobile’s excellent Gum batteries, it’s also saddled with an extremely inconvenient connectivity mechanism that really needs to be rethought.
RichardSolo’s original, metal-bodied Smart Backup Battery Pack sold for $50, added 2.5” to the bottom of any iPod or iPhone, and provided enough battery power to bring a dead iPhone up to roughly 60% of its original battery capacity—a bit more if the iPhone wasn’t fully discharged when the battery was connected—and iPhone 3G could recharge to roughly an 80% level. This was due to a 1200mAh cell in the original pack, which is substantially less than Just Mobile’s standard, less expensive Gum, but RichardSolo’s version included its own Dock Connector for easier connectivity.
There’s some good news about the 1800 Smart Backup Battery. On paper, it adds 50% more battery capacity to the original version, and RichardSolo now also includes a dual USB port car charger, augmenting the wall charger and retractable USB cable found in the original. Similarly, RichardSolo has added both a laser pointer and mini flashlight to the unit’s bottom, features last seen in the (in)famous iPod accessory iBeam. You activate these features first with a switch on the back of the battery, then with individual buttons found on the front. We’d describe the features as nearly useless and almost ridiculous to include in a battery of this sort, but interestingly, they continue to work even when the 1800 Smart Backup Battery doesn’t have enough power to continue recharging an iPhone or iPod, so though we view them as something of a gimmick, they do add a little to the package even when the battery’s not connected to an Apple device.
The bad news about the plastic-bodied 1800 Smart Backup Battery is its overall battery performance for the dollar. Just Mobile’s $60 Gum Pro lets you recharge an iPhone 3G three times. RichardSolo’s $70 battery pack only recharged a depleted iPhone 3G once, and didn’t have enough juice left to get the device past its “connect to power” icons screen; it added only 10-15% to the battery. Again, the 1800 Smart Backup Battery retained enough power to run its flashlight and laser pointer, but it didn’t have enough to make the iPhone 3G keep working; even the $40 standard Gum offers a higher battery capacity. However, Apple’s other devices, all of which drain less power than the iPhone 3G, will see their batteries recharged roughly two or more times from RichardSolo’s 1800 Smart Backup Battery.
Worth noting is one factor that can at least moderately influence every battery pack’s recharging capabilities: if you connect the battery to a partially charged iPod or iPhone rather than a fully depleted one, you’ll get at least a little extra run time. Practically, however, RichardSolo’s batteries make that a real challenge because of how much height they add to Apple’s devices. Whereas the 1200mAh battery added 2.5” to an iPod or iPhone, the 1800mAh version adds a full 4”, which is seriously taller than any iPod nano model that’s been released. While this isn’t an issue for users who plan to just leave 1800 connected to a partially discharged iPod or iPhone sitting on a desk, the idea of holding an 8.5” phone up to your face or walking around with an 8” iPod and battery in your pocket is pretty crazy. We’ve tried the former in public, and trust us, it earns stares; the impracticality of this connection is the single biggest reason 1800 earns only our limited recommendation.
On a positive note, if you can look past the sheer height of the 1800 Smart Backup Battery, you’ll find that RichardSolo’s designers at least thought a little about making it connect in a decent way. A reinforced locking Dock Connector and included plastic mounting clips are designed to prevent the battery from snapping off the iPhone or an iPod touch while in use, and don’t interfere with the devices’ Home buttons. Callers did not report any echoing in our speakerphone audio due to a gap left between the Dock Connector and the iPhone’s bottom surface, another thoughtful design touch. And the battery also looks pretty nice, generally matching the coloration, if not the textures, of all of the recent Apple touchscreen devices.
Having said that, we’d sooner pick Just Mobile’s Gum series batteries and similar competitors than going with the 1800 Smart Backup Battery. While we applaud RichardSolo for packing in a number of items—cables, dual chargers, and a battery—that make the $70 asking price inoffensive, there’s no doubt that you can get more battery power for less, and that the goofiness factor of a 4” extension makes this an accessory that’s best-suited for attachment when you’re not actually using your device on the go. When you really think about it, that usage model obviates the need for the expensive integrated Dock Connector, as well, since relying on a cabled connection is just as easy at home, and easier on the go. Our hope is that RichardSolo continues to produce iPod and iPhone batteries, but comes up with one that isn’t as unwieldy, with even better capacity for the dollar.