The last time we reviewed an APC USB battery pack was all the way back in 2007: the handsome $70 UPB10 was capable of recharging the original iPhone twice, and came with its own wall adapter. Many new USB batteries have been released over the past seven years, but we haven’t seen anything new from APC until now. Thankfully, the M5BK ($40) and M10BK ($60) are impressively streamlined follow-ups to UPB10, sharing a nearly identical industrial design and feature set. Apart from their sizes, the only difference is their battery capacity: M5BK has a 5000mAh cell inside, versus a 10,000mAh cell in M10BK, each aggressively priced.
Measuring roughly 4.2” tall by 2.5” wide by 0.6” thick, M5BK is shaped like a slightly wider, slightly shorter and noticeably thicker iPhone 4, while the 5.7” by 3.5” by 0.6” M10BK is more like a slightly wider, slightly shorter and noticeably thicker iPhone 6 Plus. While M5BK can be tossed into a jeans pocket as easily as any iPhone, M10BK’s larger enclosure is even less suited to pocketing than the iPhone 6 Plus, and is best kept separately in a bag. The thin top edge of each battery has two outbound USB ports — one 2.4-Amp for peak speed iPad and current iPhone charging, plus one 1-Amp for older iPhones and iPods — plus a micro-USB input port to recharge the battery itself.
To get the prices down to affordable levels, APC stripped out some of the arguably unnecessary frills that we tend to see these days in USB batteries: these cells are completely plastic, with glossy black tops and bottoms, matte edging, and only one button — a green one — that doubles as an on switch and remaining power level indicator trigger. Press the button when nothing’s connected and you’ll see the four bright white LEDs illuminate to show the current power level, followed by a quick strobe to signal that the battery is powering off. Pressing the same button when a device is connected leaves the white lights on until the power is drained or the device is disconnected. It’s great that you needn’t fuss with other buttons or worry about turning the power off; M5BK and M10BK do an atypically good job with a single button.
APC also has dropped the wall adapter that used to come with UPB10 in favor of including a micro-USB to USB recharging cable. Very few USB batteries these days come with wall adapters, but those that do — uNu’s Ultrapak Go and Tour, for instance — now tend to use the adapters for atypically fast charging. The only real issue with M5BK and M10BK is that they recharge at 1.5A speeds, which is faster than older batteries but not as fast as the Ultrapaks. Consequently, you can expect to leave M10BK connected to even a fast USB port for the better part of a day to bring it back up to 100%, an issue that many but not all high-capacity battery packs face. The smaller M5BK will take half as long.
Up until now, it wasn’t totally clear how the latest iPhones and iPads would do with various battery capacities, but we’re beginning to get a sense of the performance levels. We were able to use M5BK to deliver a 112% recharge to the 2915mAh cell inside the iPhone 6 Plus, with the first 100% taking 2 hours and 48 minutes — about par for the course with a 2.4A power source. By comparison, the Retina iPad mini (now aka iPad mini 2, with the same 6471mAh battery as the upcoming iPad mini 3) was able to recharge exactly 100% from the M10BK in 3 hours and 35 minutes. Both were right on track with our expectations, though it should be noted that APC’s “typical number of charges by device” estimates are based on small-sized phones and tablets alike, and will obviously vary by device. Unlike the iPad Air, the iPad Air 2’s battery is only slightly larger than the iPad mini 2/3 batteries, so a 90% recharge for that particular full-sized tablet wouldn’t be out of the question.
Overall, M5BK and M10BK represent compelling values for their respective $40 and $60 prices: each version delivers ample power for its target device type — iPhones for M5BK, iPads for M10BK — as well as full-speed device charging and smart power management features that same- and higher-priced rival batteries lack. Our only concern is the pace at which both batteries themselves can be brought back to full capacity, which is more of a problem with the M10BK than its smaller brother. For that reason the M5BK merits our high recommendation, and the M10BK falls just a hint short, but it’s also a very good pick if you need the extra energy.
Company and Price
Compatible: All iPads, iPhones + USB iPods