Review: XGear Octane External Battery + Mobile Charger for iPod and iPhone
Were it not for its inclusion of a single feature, XGear's new Octane battery pack ($70) would not be the sort of accessory we'd normally consider reviewing these days: cheaper-looking than most of the metal and magnesium-encased batteries we've tested over the past couple of years, our review unit arrived with its glossy front black plastic scuffed in a manner that doesn't bode well for its future looks, and its battery capacity for the dollar is less than thrilling -- enough to recharge an iPhone once, versus Just Mobile's Gum Pro and Gum Plus, which for the same or fewer dollars offer three times the energy capacity. Is there any reason to prefer Octane instead?
Some users might actually say “yes.” What XGear’s product lacks in looks, it makes up for by including a slimline USB recharging plug that folds out from its back housing and connects to a computer or wall adapter you supply yourself. So connected, Octane can act as a charging station for your iPod or iPhone while restoring its own battery juice, a convenient little feature that is rare to the extent that very few batteries have their own USB plugs built in—only Kensington’s recently released Travel Battery Pack and Charger comes to mind as a direct alternative. Other batteries may be capable of the same general feat, but you’ll need to carry around separate cables and consume more space in order to accomplish the charging; XGear puts all of the necessary parts in one little unit.
The bad news is mostly in the design, which adds 2.5” of height to the iPhone 3G or 3GS while maintaining its 2.4” width and slightly bolstering its thickness—this is a big chunk of battery to keep hanging down from the bottom of an iPhone, and unlike the Kensington design, it doesn’t double as a stand. Moreover, it blocks the bottom-mounted headphone ports of iPod touch units, which Kensington’s design does not. Additionally, and putting aside our review unit’s cosmetic blemishes, Octane’s casing has a certain not-so-hot look that’s not typically found in first- or second-tier Apple accessory designs these days, with a half-height, ribbon-wire USB connector that achieves its goal of thinness with corresponding cosmetic cheapness, and some odd C-shaped indicator lights that show how much power is remaining in the cell. You can trigger the lights with a concave button on the battery’s face, and their blue coloration shines through the glossy white body. Everything here has the look of a product that wasn’t given quite as much design consideration or polish as its competitors, apart from the functionality added by the integrated USB connector.
Given its less than thrilling looks, its par-for-course battery life and its $70 price tag, Octane merits only a limited recommendation: there is at least one better designed battery with the same functionality for the same price, several same- or lower-priced batteries with more capacity, and any number that will make a better cosmetic impression, too. Consider Octane only if you’re looking for an iPhone-extending battery that requires no additional cables for charging, and are willing to accept a less than ideal housing to get it.