Review: uNu Ecopak Detachable Snap-On Case + Extended Battery for iPhone 5
Although we can't say for certain exactly what's going on, it seems quite likely that the first two battery cases for the iPhone 5 -- iBattz' Mojo Hi5 Powerbank Case ($80) and uNu's Ecopak Detachable Snap-On Case + Extended Battery ($80) -- are coming from the same factory. Identical in almost every single way, they're both simple plastic iPhone 5-sized shells that come with external 2500mAh battery packs that can be snapped onto the back or detached as necessary. Both are suboptimal solutions, but better than nothing given Apple's current restrictions on Lightning connectors; regrettably, making the electronic connection between each battery and your iPhone is left up to you.
The shells iBattz and uNu use as the base of these cases are the kind we almost always stay away from: thin plastic protectors that snap around the sides of the iPhone 5, covering the back while leaving the top and bottom edges fully exposed. uNu’s are available in a number of colors, while iBattz’s includes two total black or white shells, each with a tribal pattern printed on it. The shape of both companies’ shells is literally identical, and on their own, we’d not have bothered with either of them.
On the back of the shells you’ll find three holes; one’s at the top, with two at the bottom. These are used to connect the detachable battery packs, which have pegs that snap into place. The cells are the biggest differences between the two solutions: both are the same general shape, and are the same height as the iPhone 5, though tapered on an angle for a slimming look. uNu’s battery is all plastic, and ever so slightly thicker than iBattz’ metal-encased cell; this material choice makes the latter feel appreciably nicer, and look fancier. Thankfully, it doesn’t impact cellular or Wi-Fi reception. Both have a power/battery indicator light on the side, as well as Micro USB and full-sized USB ports on the bottom, in exactly the same places. They each come with a Micro USB cable for charging the battery pack, although no direct way of charging the iPhone itself.
Unfortunately, instead of a proper Lightning connector solution, uNu and iBattz rely on users to self-supply cables to actually charge their phones. Essentially, you must take the Lightning cable that came with your iPhone 5—or an additional unit that you’ve purchased—and run it from the battery strapped to the back of your iPhone to the iPhone itself. This is clearly inelegant. iBattz has taken a small step to alleviate this issue: it includes a stubby 3.4” Micro-USB cable that can be paired up with Apple’s $19 Lightning to Micro USB Adapter, again something you’ll have to purchase at your own expense. The solution works the same way as with a full-sized cable, but is more compact, if you’re willing to pay the ridiculous price for it.
Another indication that these battery packs are just rebadged versions of one another is the fact that our testing results were almost identical. Using the same iPhone 5, we tested both batteries under the same conditions: each device was turned on, connected to AT&T’s LTE network as well as Wi-Fi, and had push notifications active but the screen off and no media playing. Ecopak was able to deliver a 119% charge to the depleted device—that is, fully recharged, then providing another 19% after it had been drained some more. Hi5 came in just a little bit lower at 115%, a negligible difference; small differences in the number of notifications coming in and the physical location of the testing may be very well be the cause. These results are roughly in line with what we’ve seen with the iPhone 4 and 4S.
Ultimately, neither of these battery cases are great solutions. They are the first of their kind for the iPhone 5, though, and some users will appreciate any accessory that keeps the device charged without having to carry around an unattached pack. Between the two, iBattz Hi5 is the slightly smarter option. The metal-covered battery looks and feels much nicer than uNu’s plastic one, and we at least appreciate the though behind the inclusion of the short Micro-USB cable. That being said, even the better of these solutions only merits a limited recommendation. The case portion is lacking, and having to run your a cable between the battery and the iPhone really isn’t the best way for a battery case to work. Ecopak falls slightly behind Hi5, warranting a lower C+ rating. If you choose it, you’ll get essentially the same experience, but with a cheaper feeling battery, one fewer shell, and without the short cable. There’s no reason to choose it over what iBattz has to offer.