With the launch of Mophie’s Juice Pack Helium and Juice Pack Air, proper battery cases for the iPhone 5 are starting to make it to market almost six months after the handset’s launch. Apple’s tight control over Lightning connectors has forced many companies to find workaround solutions, such as strapping a battery to the back of the device and connecting in some way other than a built-in connector. iKit’s NuCharge for iPhone 5 ($79) falls between first- and second-generation battery case solutions in elegance of design, but it’s one of the top options we’ve tested in raw power performance.
Like the very first battery cases we saw from uNu and iBattz, the actual case portion of NuCharge is a hard plastic shell, a protection alternative we’d normally disregard on its own. This shell leaves the top and bottom edges of the iPhone unprotected, and doesn’t provide any sort of protective lip to protect the glass front. On the other hand, it does allow for full accessory compatibility once the battery is detached. Some of the battery cases we’ve seen require adapters to use the headphone port, and completely block the Lightning port. Neither of those are issues here.
The battery is a separate component, snapping into place on the back of the case when necessary. Compared to those from uNu and iBattz, it’s a lower capacity—1900mAh, as opposed to 2500mAh—but it’s also thinner. iKit claimed that the battery was engineered to avoid becoming warm, as well as to provide a full iPhone 5 recharge despite its somewhat diminutive size, a point we discuss below. The soft touch-coated plastic battery sits flush against the edges of the shell, and has a nice rounded shape. There’s also a kickstand built in. The most unique part, however, is how it connects to your iPhone 5. Instead of requiring you to provide your own Lightning cable, or having a plug fixed in place, there’s actually an Apple-licensed Lightning connector on a short rubber lead that nestles into the battery pack when not in use, and has just enough length to connect to the phone’s port when necessary.
NuCharge comes with a brushed metal backplate that can slide into place when the battery is not needed, and doesn’t impact phone reception. The company will offer replacement covers for $19 each, including color variants of the brushed metal, and versions called “brushed leather.” A Micro-USB charging cable and cleaning cloth are included in the package.
Like most battery packs, NuCharge has a power button and LEDs to display the battery level, plus a Micro-USB port for recharging. Based on the average results of our previous battery tests with the iPhone 5, we expected the 1900mAh cell to be able to provide a charge of roughly 85%. While the actual number did fall somewhat short in our testing, the performance was better than we expected: in a little over an hour and a half, NuCharge was able to bring a fully depleted iPhone 5 to 93%. It’s a pretty impressive result, and close enough to a complete recharge—you might be able to eke out a little extra life if your iPhone is partially charged when it begins the recharging process.
As of today, iKit’s NuCharge offers the best combination of aggressive pricing, features, and performance when it comes to iPhone 5 battery cases. We still don’t love the shell, but pretty much everything else here works, and works well. If you’re willing to accept less than ideal iPhone 5 protection, you’ll get almost a full recharge in a relatively slim package that can be slimmed down even further when not needed, and you don’t have to provide your own Lightning connector. The fact that it’s officially licensed and not using knockoff plugs is also reassuring. With all this in mind, NuCharge earns our strong general recommendation. This is a very good option overall.
Company and Price
Compatible: iPhone 5