With a 1200mAh rechargeable polymer Lithium-Ion battery inside, a Dock Connector on top, and a USB port on the bottom for recharing, RichardSolo’s new Smart Backup Battery Pack ($50) is in essence a cosmetically remixed version of Kensington’s earlier Mini Battery Pack and Charger — with small differences and a bit of additional value. Made mostly from black metal with power lights on their fronts, both of these products look and act as if they came from the same designer and factory; either one is a good spare battery option for most iPod or iPhone users.
The single biggest difference between these two products is their shapes: Kensington’s is clearly shaped to match the width and shape of a fifth-generation iPod or iPod classic, while RichardSolo’s has a more unusual squashed tube shape that resembles long-since-discontinued iPod minis and iPod nanos, not possessing the exact same thickness as either model. Both hang off of the bottom of any Dock Connector iPod, or iPhone, and consume roughly the same physical volume, but the Smart Backup Battery Pack protrudes more from the bottom.
This design choice would have made some sense to us had the RichardSolo battery exposed the headphone ports of any iPod nano or the iPod touch, but like the Kensington design, it doesn’t; for these iPod models, both batteries thus serve solely to recharge the iPods when they’re not in use, unless you’re willing to give up audio output.
Thanks to their top-mounted headphone ports, the iPod classic and iPhone can both be used while the Smart Backup Battery Pack is attached, and iPhone’s speakerphone continues to work pretty much as it does normally.
Another major difference is RichardSolo’s inclusion of a wall charger, something that Kensington doesn’t include in its box. The absence of this feature from Kensington’s package was a surprise given that it calls its product a “Battery Pack and Charger;” there, you actually had to depend on a computer to do the charging. RichardSolo’s included USB cable attaches to a matching wall adapter, or your computer, providing you with two different ways of keeping the battery up to par.
What’s not too different is the Smart Backup Battery Pack’s longevity. In our tests, it let a completely discharged 160GB iPod classic run for 7 hours of continuous video playback—the same as Kensington’s battery.
We also used it to keep a first-generation iPhone running on a cross-continental trip, and though you won’t double the iPhone’s standard run time, you can expect to see an added 50%-60% performance for any of its features, give or take a little. A minor issue is that RichardSolo’s remaining power indicators aren’t as useful as Kensington’s, basically letting you know that the battery is fully charged, charging an iPod, or dead. We’d call the labeling a little less than “smart;” you’ll want to just make sure the battery’s topped off before depending on it.
Overall, the choice between RichardSolo’s and Kensington’s $50 batteries is almost a wash: both deliver the same general level of run time and USB connectivity, with Kensington’s employing a slightly better physical design and indicators, RichardSolo packing in a wall charger, and neither offering as much to iPod nano and touch users as iPod classic or iPhone owners. We’d initially be inclined to buy the RichardSolo product solely on the basis of its better value, but the way that it sticks out of your iPod or iPhone is a little off-putting, and people actually did look at us funny when we were using the iPhone in public with it attached.