An extremely well-executed product for any iPhone 3G user. Mophie definitely gets shiny, as the Juice Pack Air is unbelievably glossy while at the same time very protective of the precious contents it encases. It fits like a glove, works as it should, and looks really smart in the process. That Mophie asks $20 less than the original Juice Pack for iPhone 3G is just brilliant.
Ask any moderately serious iPhone 3G user about the device's biggest weaknesses and most will say battery life and the unit's susceptibility to scratches. Mophie's Juice Pack Air iPhone battery pack attempts to address both of these issues simultaneously, with a companion product to the very popular Juice Pack for iPhone 3G. I take my power-hungry iPhone 3G for a spin with the shiny new Juice Pack Air to see if for $79 you can have it all.
The Mophie Juice Pack Air iPhone battery pack strikes me as a beautiful product. It may be hard to believe, but the Juice Pack Air is shinier than the iPhone 3G itself. People generally like shiny, and I'm no exception. I was sent a gloss black model for evaluation, which looks absolutely stunning with the black iPhone 3G. The product comes attractively encased in trendy packaging, so for 79 bucks, the unboxing experience is as good as it gets.
I would choose the black Juice Pack Air anytime...
I have seen photos on the web of the white iPhone 3G with the white Juice Pack Air iPhone battery pack. That is pretty hot, despite my preference for the black iPhone. I also must mention that the Juice Pack Air comes in a third color: purple. A quick check to the Mophie website reveals that purple is currently on backorder. Either it is more popular than I imagined, or the purple is in less abundant supply. Anyway, it's nice to have choice.
Design, Durability & Operation
The Juice Pack Air iPhone battery pack appears to be made out of plastic, although the very thick glossy paint makes the product feel much richer than painted plastic. The glossy finish also seems relatively scratch resistant, although I think that with time, it may fare no better than the back of my iPhone 3G. Slipping the iPhone into the Juice Pack Air iPhone battery pack is very easy, and the docking connector inside lines up perfectly. The curved edges of the iPhone 3G really lend themselves well to being encased by a form fitting, snug enclosure. Cutouts for the buttons, headphone jack, and camera lens are present, and do not impede their operation at all. As far as build quality is concerned, this is right up there with the best iPhone 3G accessories. An impressive showing.
After sliding the iPhone 3G into the lower part of the case, the top protective piece is easily popped onto the top and snaps in place with a positive click. Once done, the iPhone appears to be beautifully protected and not a whole lot thicker. However, it would be wrong to imply that the Juice Pack Air iPhone battery pack is not noticeable, as its weight with phone is rather substantial, and the whole thing no longer is very pocketable. This may pose issues for some who like to tote their phone in pants or shirt pockets, and you likely won't continue to do so once you're using the Juice Pack Air.
The iPhone 3G with the Juice Pack Air is now as thick as a deck of cards.
Protection-wise, the Juice Pack Air iPhone battery pack does a great job of encasing the iPhone (except the screen, obviously) with thick, durable-feeling plastic. As you can see from the photos, there are slight gaps deliberately carved out of the case in the area around the iPhone's microphone to allow sound to reach the iPhone. Folks on the receiving end of my calls reported no change in the sound quality, or character of my voice, so I can attest to the effectiveness of the overall design from an audio perspective. The super shiny finish has that ebony piano gloss to it, and from my experience, is about as durable as the curved back of the iPhone 3G. That is to say, scratches do appear and it's really difficult to say how they were caused. Naturally the black color doesn't help to hide the scratches so really it is best not to sweat it. The Juice Pack Air iPhone battery pack is, after all, a case. It's supposed to take the bumps and scrapes to protect the phone. It is easy to get caught up in obsessing over how to keep both phone and case pristine. I'd say you're better off using your phone and living your life.
Should you be one to insert and remove your iPhone 3G from the Juice Pack Air and happen to misplace or damage (or wear out) the sliding top cap, Mophie thoughtfully offers replacements on its website for $7.95.
Because the glossy finish may not be to everyone's liking, I think Mophie might do well to build another version of the Juice Pack Air with the finish of the original Juice Pack - that is to say, a matte, soft touch finish with cushioned side traction grips. They can leave the lizard green insides off, thank you very much.
Using the Juice Pack Air iPhone battery pack is pretty simple. Charge it up via the included micro USB cable (it takes about two hours), and it will automatically charge your iPhone 3G should the phone be mounted in the case at the time. Charging the phone plus the Juice Pack Air does take longer, somewhere in the neighborhood of 3+ hours, but unless you want to take the phone out of its case all the time, you really have no choice. Use the iPhone as normal, and when your phone battery is running low, just flick a switch on the bottom of the Juice Pack Air iPhone battery pack to start re-charging your iPhone. This operational model is somewhere different from, say, the Macally PowerLink, where a runtime boost is delivered by way of a separate device that does not charge the phone.
Syncing the phone can be done as you'd expect, provided you've got the micro USB cable handy. Unfortunately, there is no docking connector on the bottom of the Mophie battery pack, so all those docking accessories (e.g. Griffin Simplifi you have your iPhone will be of no use unless you take the iPhone out of the case.
A major factor in why the Juice Pack Air iPhone battery pack is cheaper than the Juice Pack is the capacity of the battery. Where the original Juice Pack packs an 1800mAh Li-Polymer battery, the new Air houses a slimmer, lighter 1200mAh version. Naturally, battery life and charge time are impacted accordingly, but one still ends up with a very capable battery pack that balances form factor with the need for juice.
While I did not test the recharge time for a completely dead iPhone (draining a battery completely is hard on the battery), I did see the Juice Pack Air take a 20% remaining iPhone 3G back up to nearly 100% in one short hour. Of course, the phone and Juice Pack Air did get fairly warm during the charging process, but if your phone needs a quick boost, it's nice to know Mophie is available to save the day. There is enough capacity in the Juice Pack Air to get one good charge from its battery in a scenario similar to ours. If you drain your iPhone battery completely, you can expect the Mophie to give you nearly a 100% charge before its battery is spent.
If you are not so kind to your iPhone and end up with its battery completely drained, the Mophie will be able to charge your dead iPhone and bring it back to life. If your phone is really dead, after engaging the charge switch it will take a few minutes before the phone is usable. Charging your iPhone in this way is called a "charge cycle". Mophie rates the Juice Pack Air iPhone battery pack at 500 full charge cycles. And for clarification, Mophie states on their website and in their manual, Partial cycles don't count as full. So, you can charge your juice pack 10% of the way 10 times before it counts as a complete cycle.) Don't be afraid to top it off! After 500 cycles, its fully charged capacity will be less than 75% of the the capacity when it's new.
Back to that little switch. Hidden from regular view is a little engage switch that requires a pointy fingernail to activate. Once activated, the Juice Pack Air iPhone battery pack will recharge your iPhone's internal battery. When done, you can leave the switch alone, or turn it off. Mophie's FAQ states that turning it off will save power and recommends doing this. I understand that having the ability to choose when to charge the phone is a good thing, but I don't understand why the battery pack can't be smart enough to determine when a full charge is reached, and not continue to draw power.
This switch might be my only real point of contention, as the original Juice Pack does not utilize such a mechanism, and appears to have the added benefit of being able to power the iPhone when the iPhone is mounted in the case. This means you can preserve precious power (and charging cycles) on the internal battery and draw only from the Juice Pack's battery. Should the Juice Pack's battery age and perform worse over time, it is easy to replace it, rather than the iPhone's internal battery. From everything I have read, and from my own use, the Juice Pack Air iPhone battery pack seems to lack the ability to power the iPhone. This limitation is masked by Mophie touting the added benefits of the little switch.
Mophie is not alone in selling these runtime enhancement products, however they do appear to market the trendiest, and most attractive looking battery packs. The competitive products are, in no particular order:
Mophie Juice Pack - the original half-case Mophie with the green insides and soft-touch matte finish. Specifically molded to fit only the iPhone 3G (or a previous model for the 1st generation iPhone), it does not fit iPod touch, although Mophie makes a specific iPod touch product.
Macally PowerLink - A 2GB flash drive and small, 270 mAh runtime boost for your iPhone. More of an emergency accessory than a true battery extender. The PowerLink cannot charge your iPhone.
Kensington Mini Battery Pack and Charger for iPhone and iPod - the little product with the huge boring name, this $49 USD device features 1000 mAh capacity and the ability to recharge an iPhone. This can extend your talk time for a claimed 3 hours. It is a bit larger than PowerLink, with a squarer, stubbier shape that matches the width of iPhone. Unlike the PowerLink, it does not include 2GB of flash memory and cannot replace the iPhone USB sync cable, but does include a tiny, retractable cable for USB charging.
PowerStick by Ecosol - appears to be a more flexible recharging solution for many portable devices on the market. Utilizing 9 different adapters to achieve compatibility, it is shaped like a USB flash drive and offers 750 mAh of capacity.
Provides about 5 extra hours of Wi-Fi use
Charges iPhone 3G while in case
Slimmer and lighter than the original
Flawless glossy finish
Fully encases the iPhone for max. protection
Micro USB port requires rare cable
Renders docking accessories useless unless case is removed
iPhone 3G can't report Juice Pack Air's remaining capacity
Glossy finish shows scratches easily
Cannot power phone without charging the iPhone
Given the iPhone's popularity and well-known battery life issues, Mophie creates another winner with its new Juice Pack Air battery pack for iPhone 3G. Nobody else seems to offer the benefits of extended battery life with such a stylish case form-factor. I applaud the attempt to make a slimmer Juice Pack, and think that this model is the one to get because of the full protection. Should Mophie offer the Air in a soft-touch anti-slip version and remove the pesky, awkward power switch, there would be absolutely nothing left to wish for.