Early in 2013, iPhone 5 battery cases were so few and far between that any new option was welcome; today, there are so many similar alternatives that new releases are hard to get excited about. Lepow’s latest battery case Pie ($90) is at least different enough to merit some attention. Shipped in far too much packaging — separate boxes for its key parts — Pie consists of a magnetically-attached battery pack, a thin plastic shell sized to fit the iPhone 5 and 5s, a small detachable Lightning to micro-USB cable, a longer micro-USB to USB cable, and a felt wallet storage case. The concept: you keep your iPhone in a thin shell most of the time, then quickly attach the battery only as needed for a boost.
Although we’ve seen the same detachable battery idea in Tylt’s Energi Sliding Power Case, Dog & Bone’s Backbone and other cases, Pie’s key differentiators are in battery capacity, case design, and physical size. The 3000mAh battery is both larger and more capacious than almost any iPhone-specific cell we’ve seen, nearly doubling the thickness of the iPhone 5/5s, albeit using a soft tapered shape akin to old iPhone 3G/3GS and iPod touch designs.
Because the battery is detachable and micro-USB based, you can use it with other devices, albeit somewhat awkwardly as it’s made to match the height and width of today’s iPhones. Silver magnetic attachment points make addition and subtraction of the battery easy, though they interfere a bit with the iPhone’s integrated compass.
Pie’s power output is pretty impressive. We were able to get a 134% recharge out of the 3000mAh battery — one full iPhone 5 recharge over 2.5 hours, plus an additional 34% over another half-hour — before the cell stopped supplying juice. That’s even higher than the impressive 127% recharge Energi delivered, and at a lower MSRP, besides.
The battery is otherwise somewhat sparingly appointed, though that turns out to be in the service of design efficiency rather than functional omissions. There’s no power or battery life indicator button; instead, you need to shake the cell to activate the four blue LEDs to learn how much energy is left inside. One micro-USB port doubles as the connection point for outgoing power to the stubby including Lightning cable, and works for incoming power with the longer white flat USB cable. While we wouldn’t actually use the included felt carrying wallet to hold all of the parts, Lepow could have followed all of its rivals and done nothing in this regard; the wallet, complete with card slots and a magnetic clasp, is better than nothing.
Pie’s biggest weak point is its case design. Shells generally offer underwhelming drop and scratch protection for an iPhone — the reason we rarely recommend them — and Pie’s thin, soft touch rubber-coated frame is no different, lacking top, bottom, button, and face protection. It doesn’t help that the bottom remains almost completely exposed when the battery is attached, or that the battery might be inadvertently dislodged from the case when taking the iPhone out of a pocket; heaven forbid you drop it on the floor. As much as we liked the battery’s raw performance, a battery case really needs to work as a protective case, and Pie is only so-so in this regard, with or without the battery attached. Note also that Pie is only available in three colors—yellow, orange, and a teal-like green—none of which is neutral; Lepow probably should have offered black and white, if not silver and gold, as alternatives.
Considered in totality, Pie combines an A-caliber battery with a C-caliber case, resulting in a flat B overall rating. The $90 MSRP makes it an attractive alternative to Tylt’s Energi and many other iPhone 5/5s battery cases, and if you can snag it at Lepow’s current $45 online pricing, you’ll likely think it’s a steal. But there’s no getting around the fact that the case isn’t particularly appealing in protection or color options — compromises that undermine an otherwise solid package. As-is, Pie is worthy of our general recommendation; we hope Lepow will offer a completely rethought and superior case for its next-generation version.
Company and Price
Model: Pie X-Series Magnetic Power Bank and Combo Case
Compatible: iPhone 5/5s