Mophie has been making after-market battery add-ons for the iPhone for years, of course, but recent experiences here with the iPhone 6s Plus, 7 Plus and 8 Plus have led me to investigate the latest Juice Pack Air designs. These ‘Plus’ iPhones have largish batteries and should give a day’s full use, but in practice iOS 11 can suck even these dry on a big day out and which of us hasn’t had issues eking out the last few percent battery on the train home from a concert? The Juice Pack Air is a premium all-in-one solution, with some obvious advantages… and disadvantages.
The concept and sales pitch first though – who is this type of accessory aimed at? In my life, the following is a semi-regular occurrence, maybe once every few weeks – whichever phone I happen to be using. I’ll be on a big day out, either business or pleasure, and I’ll be on the way home and my phone is on its last legs in terms of battery, after mountains of camera, GPS and general use. Just when I want entertainment or a Twitter fix on the train home, the battery is down to less than 20% and I’m getting worried.
The traditional solution is to plug in a powerbank and, trust me, I have plenty of these. And they work just fine. The only downside is that you’re then carrying and using your iPhone with a cable hanging off it for the next hour and this is inelegant, to say the least. The Mophie Juice Pack Air, here in the classic two-part design, carry the day by slotting onto the phone directly and supplying a boost charge with no dangling wires.
True, when in place, the Juice Pack Air significantly adds to the weight (an extra 103g) and thickness (an extra 6mm) of the phone, but I don’t think Mophie expects an owner to use their iPhone in the pack 24/7. But when you want maximum capacity, with Juice Pack Air ‘on’, the iPhone 7 Plus (and 8 Plus) has around 5300mAh (and 5000mAh respectively) in its tank, and that’s more than enough for the heaviest possible daily use. Maybe even for a weekend’s hiking?
Although I’m only looking at the Plus models here, the same argument can be made – and more – for the smaller iPhone 7 and 8, of course, wherein their out-of-the-box batteries are roughly doubled.
So yes, you have to decide ahead of time that you’ll need to (pre-charge and) ‘don’ this accessory, but the solution does work. When not in place, the Juice Pack either stays at home or lives in the briefcase, ready for slapping on at (say) teatime and then you’re good to go for as long as needed.
It’s good to see Mophie embracing the future, getting there ahead of Apple itself – the Juice Pack Air has a Qi wireless charging coil in the back, meaning that when your phone is encased, you can still pop it down on a wireless charging point in a shop or café and it’ll start trickle charging. Yes, we know the glass backed iPhone 8 Plus has native Qi charging too, but at least you don’t have to say goodbye to this when putting the Mophie on.
Squeezing all this into an extra 6mm isn’t trivial, but the Juice Pack Air is beautifully moulded and, when assembled around the iPhone 7 Plus or 8 Plus (the latter is a slightly tighter fit), the whole feels a little like an iPhone Plus ‘Plus’!
The downsides and caveats are partly obvious – the already quite large iPhone 7/8 Plus are made taller and thicker and heavier. But, again, this isn’t for everyday use and when you need the capacity you live with the bulk. The other caveat is that – disappointingly – this charges via microUSB rather than Lightning, and it’s not clear why. Technical limitations with Lightning, perhaps? Or just licensing costs? We should be told… A microUSB cable is supplied in the box, of course.
But it all works. Pop the cased iPhone 7 Plus/8 Plus on a Qi charging pad (hey, Mophie make those too!) and it charges away happily (at up to 1A). Plug in the charger and the current is split between phone and Juice Pack Air, i.e. they both charge at the same time. And, crucially, when you’re charge is running low on the phone, just long press the flush button on the Juice Pack Air’s back and the accessory is now charging the phone. You’ll lose a little of the extra capacity in the transfer process. As a rule of thumb, you’ll be able to claw back 2000mAh or so from a fully charged Juice Pack Air.
If you do get a Mophie-branded ‘charging base’ then you also get magnetic alignment. One was sent in for review as well and magnets in the base and in the Juice Pack Air ‘line up’ the Qi coils for maximum efficiency. The magnets do mean that you can’t just pick up the iPhone though – the base tends to come too! So you have to use two hands to lever the two apart, but this is an acceptable compromise for the guaranteed alignment, I feel.
What of physical obstructions? There’s no headphone jack to worry about on these iPhones, of course. The bottom speaker is covered, but there’s a moulded acoustic baffle here that deflects the sound to be ‘front-facing’, and this works really well. Ditto sound heading into the bottom microphone.
The Juice Pack Air comes in five colours (love the deep red one), though I’m reviewing the stately but boring black option here. There’s a matt finish and this does tend to collect finger grease marks – but then so does any case and that’s the whole point of a case, surely – to take the knocks and dirt so that your phone doesn’t have to? I was impressed by the raised top and bottom edges of the Juice Pack Air – these protect the iPhone from face down drops.
All of this design, technology and fit and finish doesn’t come cheap though. The caveat mentioned is the price and there’s no getting round the fact that the best part of $100 (or local equivalents) is on the high side for an accessory – especially when a power bank of similar capacity would be 20% this price (at most).
Whether the Juice Pack Air is worth it to you will depend on your use case. If you need such a beast only once a month (or less) then live with the power bank and a dangling cable. If you need extra capacity in a more streamlined form, as here, once a week then this could be an excellent investment, especially if you have the smaller iPhone 7 or 8 (i.e. not the Plus models). In my case, the once a week rule absolutely kicks in and on such days I’d swap out my regular case for this Mophie Juice Pack Air, knowing that I’m then heading out the door with a 5300mAh (or thereabouts) phone that can withstand anything the day has to throw at me.
You can get more information and buy on Mophie’s site here.
Do you use or plan to use a battery pack for your iPhone 8 Plus or iPhone 7 Plus? Let us know in the comments.