Review: Wellcomm iConnplus Case With Battery for iPhone 3G
Having added third-party apps, push notifications, and other battery-draining features over the past year, iPhones are now more in need of external power assistance than ever before, and hybrids of iPhone cases and batteries have become increasingly popular -- despite the fact that they generally won't work with iPods or even differently-shaped iPhone models. The latest such battery-laden case is Wellcomm's iConnplus ($80, aka iConn+), which blends a flip-style leather and plastic case with a rechargeable 1200mA battery pack that's capable of roughly doubling the power of an iPhone 3G.
As we’ve noted in many prior reviews, we’re really not fans of obtrusive, flip-style cases, particularly for the iPhone, as the idea of having to open a front flap and have it dangle down has always struck us as ill-suited to a touchscreen phone, especially one as initially stylish as the iPhone. Most of the hybrid case-slash-batteries we’ve reviewed have avoided the front flap concept in favor of either nothing or a play-through screen protector, and they’ve also dealt with a related problem—iPhone speakerphone obstruction due to their Dock Connector-based charging connection—with various degrees of accommodation.
iConnplus handles everything decently rather than impressively. It starts with a wraparound piece of white or black material that is apparently leather, but has a plasticy finish, as well as a softer gray or black suede interior. Inside that is a hard plastic shell that’s been sculpted to hold the iPhone 3G or iPhone 3GS, complete with molded-in cut-outs for the headphone port, camera, and ringer switch, and a Dock Connector mount at the bottom with a tiny front pass-through slit for the microphone, six tiny left-side air holes for the speaker, and a pin top-sized light for charging status on the right side. Green is fully charged, red is semi-discharged. Finally, a Velcro tab holds the leather and plastic case closed at top, revealing almost all of the 3G’s sides, bezel, and top surface.
As a case, iConnplus is pretty mediocre by comparison with others we’ve tested due to the iPhone surface area it exposes and the requirement that you open and close it every time you want to use the screen. But where it becomes a problem is when you try to use the iPhone as a phone: on a positive note, it doesn’t appear to significantly impact signal strength, but unfortunately, though the speaker passes through the bottom holes, callers will hear significant feedback from the mic and speaker combination. It’s one of those cases that technically does what it’s supposed to do, yet practically would make you want to pull the iPhone out when used as a handset or speakerphone without its included earphones. Use the earphones and you won’t have to deal with the feedback issue. Additionally, the case’s camera hole has been cut such that a small bit of the bottom left corner of the image is obstructed by the case—a truly rare problem, and an annoyance.
From a battery performance perspective, iConnplus is equivalent to Mophie’s Juice Pack Air, which offers the least additional power of any of the add-on battery cases we’ve tested for the iPhone 3G. The 1200mAh cell is capable of coming close enough to fully recharging the 3G that some users won’t mind, and falls slightly more short of the 3GS’s battery; owners of both phones can expect to add around 90% additional life when using this accessory with a fully charged iPhone. iConnplus begins by bringing the connected iPhone back to 100% charge once connected, then serves as a continuous primary power source until it’s depleted. There’s no on-off switch, as with some of the competitors we’ve tested, so once it’s connected, it’s on until its own cell is empty. Notably, Wellcomm includes a short USB charging cable for the battery, which requires you to open the case and make a connection inside at the bottom of the Dock Connector mount.
Overall, the design of the case and the battery performance for the price make iConnplus an accessory that we wouldn’t generally recommend to our readers. The same or fewer dollars can buy better batteries and even better battery cases, though each has its own features and tradeoffs; none of the battery cases has yet proved worthy of our high recommendation. While more protective of the iPhone 3G’s and 3GS’s faces than some competitors due to its front flap, the inconvenience of actually using this particular one on a daily basis would lead us to pass.