Review: Simplism Emergency Battery, Dual USB Charger Slide + Dual USB Charger Air
Compatible: All USB iPods, All iPhones
On our most recent visit to Japan, one thing was clear: Simplism has become a major player in the iPod and iPhone accessory market. Unlike Power Support, which built its brand by delivering Japanese-designed, Japanese-manufactured, and universally high-quality accessories -- all at higher prices -- Simplism has come in from the other side of the market, marketing clean but cheaper Chinese-made options at lower prices. Most of the Simplism accessories we've looked at are cases, but there are three power options in the collection, as well: the Emergency Battery ($25), the Dual USB Charger Air ($17), and the Dual USB Charger Slide ($17). They're sold separately from one another, each in black or white versions, and offer a slightly different twist on accessories we've seen before.
One thing that needs to be said about all three of these items: they all work as expected, and they look nice, but they also all feel cheap—cheap in the sort of deliberate, measured way that enables a company to ask unapologetically, “what did you really expect for $17?” Many iPod and iPhone accessory makers pride themselves on following Apple’s design examples, removing seams from plastic, providing a “right” weight, and providing reassuring clicks or gentle, graceful sweeps when hinges or other parts are moved. These three accessories substantially discard these principles. And that’s part of why they’re so inexpensive.
Take the Emergency Battery, which isn’t actually a battery, but rather a glossy plastic shell capable of turning any set of three AAA batteries into an emergency charger for a depleted iPod or iPhone. There’s a Dock Connector at one end, a compartment on the back to insert the batteries, which you supply yourself, and a cap for protection of the Dock Connector when it’s not in use. It borrows the general look of a black iPhone 3GS, complete with silver Myriad Pro branding on the front to match a plastic-chrome bezel shaped like the iPhone’s, and there’s a little yellow lightning bolt that appears to indicate that it’s charging.
While three AAA batteries aren’t the most convenient choice for a charger—these batteries aren’t generally sold here in three-packs—this combination of thickness and capacity has the advantage of fitting in an enclosure that’s as thin as an iPhone or iPod classic while offering enough power to bring one of these devices back to life from a complete discharge. Based on a set of three fresh Energizer AAAs, we were able to get a dead 120GB iPod classic to roughly the 70% recharged point—around 400mAh of power, we’d estimate—which is enough to get an iPhone to around a 1/3 charge. Yes, it’s for emergencies, and yes, it works.
The Dual USB Charger Air also borrows from Apple’s designs. Air is so named because it uses a pop-open compartment similar to the MacBook Air’s to hide two USB ports for wall charging, enabling it to fit everything in an enclosure that’s tapered to look even smaller than its slightly-less-than 2.5” by 2” by 1” dimensions. Seams are visible on its sides, and the compartment opens with a less than satisfying motion, but it does click into place, and the twin USB ports work exactly as expected. Two standard Apple-style USB cables fit without a problem into these ports, if you supply them yourself, and ratcheting rear wall blades—ones that were a little too tilted outwards, requiring pressure to bend them inwards—fold out to plug into US or Japanese wall ports. Interestingly, the blades ratchet enough that you can have the Charger Air plug straight into an outlet with both USB ports facing directly outwards—a convenience for those with limited space between wall or power strip outlets; otherwise, they’ll face upwards or downwards depending on how you connect the Charger to the wall.
By comparison, the Dual USB Charger Slide has a slide-closed compartment to shield its two ports while you’re traveling. While Slide is a little smaller than Air, its ports face in a different direction—outwards from its longest side—so even though its wall blades ratchet in the same way, the USB outlets are positioned in a place that’s better for unencumbered wall or end-of-power strip positions. Given that they both carry the same price tags and otherwise offer the same functionality, the choice of one version over the other is merely a matter of personal preference. Neither comes with an iPod/iPhone-compatible Dock Connector to USB cable, which accounts for part of the price difference between these $17 models and the $20-$30 competitors from companies such as Griffin.
In sum, all three of these charging accessories are good but not great budget options—if you’re willing to self-supply the batteries or the cables they need, they’re useful and well-designed enough to be worthy of $17 to $25. All three merit our general-level recommendation. That said, spending $10 or $15 more per accessory will yield both design and functional benefits from competing products, a tradeoff that Simplism obviously understands and is willing to make in order to offer its products at such aggressive prices.