Now that over a dozen different Lightning battery cases are available, iPhone 5 users have a wide variety of options with varying price points, designs, and battery capacities. Few have earned our high recommendation, but most have been good enough to be generally recommendable, with price-to-performance concerns having the greatest impact on prior ratings. This week, we received a new option: Ventev’s new Powercase 1500 ($80) appears to be competing directly on pricing and features with Mophie’s Juice Pack Helium, a reasonably-designed case that’s nice, but somewhat overpriced and underpowered. As a lesser-known challenger, Powercase 1500 has a couple of small advantages, offset by a couple of small disadvantages.
Whereas most of the iPhone 5 batteries we’ve tested include 1900mAh or larger batteries, Powercase 1500 follows Juice Pack Helium in using a smaller 1500mAh cell—a decision Mophie justified by pitching Helium as its thinnest case yet. By contrast, Powercase 1500 is actually several millimeters thicker than all of the iPhone 5 versions of Juice Pack released thus far, which is partially the result of Ventev’s use of a snap-on front bumper to protect the iPhone 5’s edges. You pull the bumper off, slide the iPhone onto the Lightning connector on Powercase’s bottom, then reattach the bumper to seal the case together. Some points in the bumper feel so thin that we’d imagine they’ll fracture with repeated attachments and detachments, a concern that Mophie’s rigid slider-style design eliminates. It’s also worth mentioning that Powercase 1500 is sold solely in the soft touch-finished matte gray color shown here, with a glossy orange interior that’s completely obscured when an iPhone’s inside.
Ventev’s arguable edge on some rivals comes from Powercase 1500’s unusual bottom design. A firm plastic housing surrounds the Lightning connector, but doesn’t extend further towards the left and right bottom edges of the iPhone 5. This design theoretically eliminates the need for headphone port extenders, since the bumper extends only a few millimeters past the port’s bottom. However, the hard plastic port hole is so small that only Apple’s own recent headphone plugs—and ones similarly designed—can fit inside. Rectangular holes similarly provide access to the bottom microphone and speaker, so there’s no need to reroute their audio through echo chambers, and sound quality is not harmed in any way. Still, Powercase 1500 is otherwise nearly identical to Juice Pack Helium in height and width, plus thicker, so you’re not really saving much at all in physical volume by choosing this option instead.
As is customary for iPhone 5 battery cases, recharging the case is accomplished through a micro-USB port—here mounted on the side rather than the bottom—while a small orange rear button illuminates up to four yellow lights to indicate remaining power. A micro-USB charging cable is included, enabling the case to be refueled at 1-Amp speeds from a compatible USB port on a computer or a self-supplied wall adapter; the case does not pass through power to the iPhone while it’s recharging. Omitted from this design are top and side button protection; like Juice Pack Helium (but not Air or Plus), there are instead just pill-shaped holes where the controls sit. This puts Powercase 1500 at a modest protection disadvantage relative to the best iPhone 5 battery cases we’ve seen, but it’s similar in this regard to other designs with bumper-style frames.
Powercase 1500’s battery performance was pretty much as expected. It refueled a completely depleted iPhone 5 to the 70% mark in a little over one hour, several percentage points better than the average 66% we saw with Juice Pack Helium. Unlike Mophie, which pitched Helium as capable of an 80% recharge only to fall short, Ventev merely claims that you’ll get “up to 6 hours of added talk time” from this battery—that’s around 75% of the device’s promised 8-hour standard capacity, and close enough to accurate.
Given the choice between Powercase 1500 and Juice Pack Helium for the same $80 price, we’d have to go with Helium: Mophie’s case design is better overall, and although Powercase 1500 ekes out a few extra points of recharging energy, that’s the biggest advantage it offers over a competitor that’s relatively expensive and underpowered by comparison with rivals. This is a fine first battery case from Ventev, and better than merely okay, but more aggressive pricing would have helped it to stand out from an increasingly large crowd of alternatives.
Company and Price
Model: Powercase 1500
Compatible: iPhone 5