Battery packs for iPods and iPhones have waxed and waned in popularity every time Apple has released a new model with lower or longer run times — demand is highest when a new device can’t last for a full day of typical use before requiring a recharge. The iPad’s a different story: Apple built the first version to run for 10 hours of continuous use, and modestly improved the run time of the iPad 2. So the need for an external battery isn’t as great, but frequent travelers may have the need for extra power on the road, regardless. dreamGear’s new i.Sound Portable Power Max 16,000 mAh Backup Battery ($130) and PhoneSuit’s new 8,200mAh Primo Power Core ($100) are being targeted directly at such users, and we’ve tested them both for overlapping but similar reviews today.
The very idea of an 8,200mAh or 16,000mAh battery pack would have seemed like total overkill only a year ago—that’s nearly two to four times the power of the largest iPhone and iPod batteries we previously tested. But the iPad’s huge screen demands considerably more power than Apple’s smaller devices, and thus an 8,200mAh battery isn’t even enough to fully refill an iPad one time. In that context, it’s worth noting that while dreamGear and PhoneSuit’s batteries are targeted at iPad users, they’ve both been designed to work with other Apple and USB devices as well; iPhone users can expect roughly 5 full recharges from Primo Power Core, or 10 full recharges from Portable Power Max. iPods typically require even less power and can recharge even more times.
Primo Power Core is a mirror-faced, black glossy plastic-backed power pack that’s cosmetically one of the nicest we’ve seen for Apple devices. Built like an oversized iPhone 3G/3GS—a quarter- to half-inch larger in each dimension—it has a chrome bezel on the front that looks nice alongside the mirrored face, which lets three circular power indicators shine through, and tiny feet on the bottom keep it stable on a flat surface. The only things you need to remember are to turn it on and off with a small chrome power switch on its right side, and to carry the cables you want to use with it. PhoneSuit bundles it with a carrying case, wall power adapter, USB cable, and interchangeable tips that can be used with a variety of different devices, ranging from Apple’s line to competing Android phones and tablets. There’s also a 12-Volt output port for directly connecting some netbook computers to the battery, as well.
Despite its multi-device compatibility, Primo Power Core was clearly built with the iPad in mind. It features 2.1-Amp maximum output capacity—ideal for full-speed iPad charging, and not demanded by other devices, which it supports by falling back to lower output levels. It finishes transferring all of its 8,200mAh capacity to an iPad in three hours, and actually takes longer than that to recharge itself from the included wall adapter. PhoneSuit estimates that it can recharge an iPhone four times, an iPad once, and an iPod classic seven times, and uses a set of only three blue power indicators to let you know how much fuel remains inside.
The only bummer in our testing was that Primo Power Core doesn’t actually completely refuel an iPad or iPad 2. In multiple tests, we found that it it took three hours to give iPads 80% more power than they started with, suggesting that the 2.1-Amp charging process isn’t particularly efficient. We also noted that the unit’s three power indicators didn’t provide the sort of granular “how much is really left” detail we’d hope for from such a big battery, and PhoneSuit doesn’t include any obvious visual indication to show that Core has completely finished recharging itself; it just continues to flash all three circles indefinitely. We’d have preferred more status indicators and a solid “finished” light.
Are either of these new batteries really mainstream, given their high asking prices, relatively large footprints, and crazy power capacities? The answer’s “not yet, but we’ll see.” Given that Just Mobile sells the 4400mAh Gum Pro for $60, PhoneSuit’s decision to nearly double that capacity for $100 isn’t totally out of the ballpark, and the only disappointment in the otherwise well-conceived package is that Primo Power Core falls short of delivering the full iPad recharge that some users might expect from the company’s marketing. It’s worthy of our general recommendation and B rating on the merits of what it does do, though. Portable Power Max is obviously more expensive and larger, but it nearly quadruples Gum Pro’s capacity for only a little more than twice the price—while including a carrying case and wall charger, besides. There’s more than enough power inside for a full iPad recharge, plus more to go around for a partial second recharge, or use by additional, smaller devices. While it takes too long to refuel, it’s a bit better in execution, and delivers a lot more value for the same price than Kensington’s PowerBack, and way more juice than NeoSonic’s far more expensive LifePower. It’s worthy of our strong general recommendation and B+ rating.
Company and Price
Model: Primo Power Core
Compatible: iPad, iPad 2, All iPhones, All USB-Charging iPods