Apple unexpectedly released its first ever iPhone battery case on Tuesday, the iPhone 6s Smart Battery Case ($99), which is compatible with the iPhone 6 or 6s. Coming in charcoal gray or white, the 1877 mAh battery case charges using Apple’s own Lightning cable, instead of a micro-USB cable which is generally used to charge most third-party battery cases. The case offers full side and button protection, and vents audio out to the front of the phone (the microphone now faces forward as well). Nothing else is included with the case — not an extra Lightning cable, nor a headphone port extender. The latter exclusion will definitely be a problem for some, as plenty of third-party headphones won’t work with the case. Notably, the iPhone 6s Smart Battery Case displays both the battery life of the iPhone and the case side-by-side in an onscreen widget. But there’s even more to this battery case that some might be missing at first glance.
Apple’s iPhone 6s Smart Battery Case certainly looks a bit odd. The location of the battery is obvious — there’s a big hump on the back of the case. Some have found this incredibly ugly, and though we’re not that offended, we do wonder why it wasn’t made to be more form-fitting, especially when you consider how the case was apparently designed to be used. (We’ll get to that in a bit.) It’s a one-piece design, which requires the more flexible top of the case to be folded back to fit an iPhone 6 or 6s inside. That part of the design is actually rather nice, and easy to use.
The case is covered in soft silicone, which won’t appeal to everyone — we’re not big fans ourselves, as it tends to pick up lint and smudges easily. A microfiber lining cradles the iPhone inside, and the inner portion of the case also has a small light which indicates if the case is charging (glowing amber) or fully charged (green). We wouldn’t mind this small light somewhere on the exterior of the case — perhaps on the bottom — but Apple likely assumes users will just pick up the phone and check the battery percentage. The complete lack of a power button is also a bit puzzling at first, but it eventually comes to make more sense. The case can be recharged at 2.4A max speeds, and output is typical 1A max.
In our normal battery tests, we completely drain the iPhone’s battery, then use the full external battery/battery case to recharge the iPhone, and see how much battery percentage the additional battery restores to the device. When we did that test on the iPhone 6s Smart Battery Case, we got…an iPhone 6s that didn’t have enough juice to get the iPhone up and going. The iPhone 6s kept trying to boot up, before failing over and over again.
The iPhone 6s Smart Battery Case doesn’t work like a typical battery case, though. It’s designed to drain the external battery first, and there’s no power switch, so once the iPhone turns on, the battery kicks in — and it doesn’t leave enough juice for the iPhone itself to remain on. We started the iPhone 6s at 2 percent battery capacity to complete our normal test, and we found that the case recharged the iPhone to 85 percent before the case’s battery was depleted — an 83 percent charge, which is less than impressive for the price. If you intend on using this like a “normal” battery case, you’re likely to be disappointed.
We believe the iPhone 6s Smart Battery Case is specifically designed to be used as the iPhone’s “first” primary battery. This makes even more sense when you consider the lack of power switch and the one port for Lightning charging. We think it makes the most sense to use this case as a daily case that stays on for most of the day, or all of the day. You would plug it in at night as you would an uncased iPhone 6s, fully charge both iPhone and battery case at the same time during the night, and go out the next day with both at full capacity. The case’s battery will be used first, then the iPhone’s battery. If you’re so obliged, you could shed the battery case after it’s used up all its battery, but we think it makes the most sense to leave this case on all the time. Apple hasn’t indicated exactly how this case should be used, but based on its design and the way the battery works, this is our best guess. It’s not how people typically use traditional iPhone battery cases.
And so, we did our standard Wi-Fi browsing test for the case, as we do for all of our iPhone tests. Smart Battery Case added 7 hours and 11 minutes of browsing time at half brightness, which makes sense, considering the 6s battery gave us 8 hours and 30 minutes of run time. In total, that works out to a combined 15 hours and 41 minutes of run time.
The battery levels are indicated onscreen, which is a nice touch, though it should almost be expected from an Apple-made battery case. Battery levels for the iPhone and Smart Battery Case can be viewed side-by-side, on the lock screen when first connected, then in a widget within the Notification Center. iPhone 6s Smart Battery Case requires iOS 9.1 or later, likely for this software feature.
Other notes: by using iPhone 6s Smart Battery Case fully charged at the start of the day, a user should put the iPhone’s own battery through fewer cycles. With a traditional battery case, you wait until the iPhone’s battery dips to a certain level, then you recharge the iPhone with the case battery. Then you have to recharge the case battery, too, and the iPhone again once the case battery runs out. There will be fewer iPhone battery recharges if this case is used daily, which should be a long-term benefit to those users who hold onto their phone for years.
While it’s been pointed out that the case has an additional passive antenna to aid in cellular reception, Apple’s not actually advertising this on its webpage for the Smart Battery Case, and it’s not mentioned in the manual. We’ve rarely seen such issues with most battery cases — the possibility apparently concerned Apple enough to include an antenna in the case, though not enough to promote the feature.
Apple’s iPhone 6s Smart Battery Case looks a little strange — some will write it off entirely because of its design — and it doesn’t pack a ton of extra power for the price. We also see the recessed headphone port as an issue. But Apple actually is trying to get users to “Think Different” with this case. The lack of power button and the lone Lightning port indicates Smart Battery Case is designed to be used as an everyday case. It essentially becomes part of your iPhone 6s, and you don’t have to think about the extra power — it’s just there. And yes, it can seem like an indictment of the phone’s own internal battery when you think about this way. But while some will write off iPhone 6s Smart Battery Case due to aesthetics, others may find they prefer using a battery case in this manner. We give it our general recommendation, while acknowledging that some may find this case far worse — or far better.
Company and Price
Model: iPhone 6s Smart Battery Case
Compatible: iPhone 6/6s