Sunday, January 18, 2009

Hardware Review: A tale of two iPod battery extenders

A tale of two iPod battery extenders

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I had the best phone on the market but not enough time to use it before my battery ran out. My iPhone 3G works great, but eats battery way too quick. When my hometown got 3G, if I didn't charge up at some point, I couldn't make it a single work day without running dry.

Two different type of chargers recently came on the market with clear benefits and drawbacks to each. The odds are that one of these will greatly help you extend the usefulness of your iPhone 3G.

Richard Solo

First, is the Richard Solo 1800 battery backup for the iPhone ($69.95 at www.richardsolo.com). Richard Solo was started by Richard Thalheimer, the founder of Sharper Image. I tried their previous version without much success and thus declined to review it. The 1800 is a complete redesign of their previous model. The 1800 has a much longer battery life than earlier models, and some very serious thought went into the overall 1800 package. The unit includes a car charger as well as a wall charger. Either charger can charge both the 1800 and the iPhone at the same time. If that wasn't enough (but wait, there's more), the 1800 has a built-in flashlight and laser pointer. Yes, freakin' lasers (hat tip to Dr. Evil).

All these great accessories wouldn't do much good if it failed in it's primary mission of charging the iPhone 3G. Fortunately, it does a great job of quickly and effectively charging the battery. However, it has one major drawback in that it is very difficult to both charge and use the phone at the same time. The 1800 is about the size and thickness of the current iPod Nanos and sticks out from the bottom of the iPhone. This means it's nearly impossible to charge the phone while in your pocket. Richard Solo includes a connector to keep the battery firmly connected to the iPhone while in use, but it wasn't firm enough to keep the battery securely connected to the iPhone on a regular basis. I use it in my office sometimes while keeping the iPhone on the desk in speakerphone mode.

Even with the 1800's awkward design, it is still a great product and I use it frequently. It fits effective along with my iPhone car mount so I use the Richard Solo charger to charge both the 1800 and my iPhone. While talking on the phone with the 1800 connected is difficult, it's perfectly usable while using the iPhone for watching videos or simply surfing. In particular, I was easily able to leave both connected in the seat pocket of the airplane and let it pick up a charge while I had to turn off my electronic devices. It will charge most iPhones and iPods. However, one key disappointment with the 1800 is that it has no battery level indicator meaning I didn't know how much charge was left in the 1800 as it charged my phone.

Mophie

Using a completely different design concept is the Mophie Juice Pack ($99.95 at www.mophie.com). The juice pack combines a basic external case along with a battery extender. When attached, the juice pack adds about an inch of thickness to the bottom of the iPhone and makes the overall unit slightly thicker. Nothing too bulky. Unfortunately, you can't use the iPhone with any other external case while using the Mophie no hard case and no silcone cases. The only type of protector that works with the Juice Pack are the plastic screen or case overlays. The Juice Pack is designed to be the exclusive external case for the iPhone.

When I tested the Juice Pack, I refused to take my iPhone out of my home. I was simply too afraid to carry around a partially naked iPhone. Who carries around an iPhone without some kind of protection? Apparently so, because after I used the Juice Pack for a day in my home and ventured out with my Otterbox securely protecting my iPhone, I found a vast majority of people I saw have no protection whatsoever. Naked, exposed and vulnerable iPhones out in the wild. If your iPhone is traveling naked, then the Mophie is absolutely perfect for you. Not only do you get extended battery life, but you get protection for your iPhone. While Mophie claims you can charge the iPhone and juice pack at the same time, I could not replicate these results; when my iPhone was plugged into the Mophie and the Mophie was plugged into the wall, only the Mophie charged, not the phone. Similar to the Richard Solo, the Mophie comes with it's own USB charger and power adapter. Because the Juice Pack is designed to act as a external case, it is device specific and thus you can't use an iPhone 3G juice pack for your iTouch.

Trying to compare the capacity in the real world between the Mophie and Richard Solo was impossible for me. I couldn't use the Richard Solo all day because it didn't fit into my lifestyle and I was too afraid to keep my iPhone only partially protected all day with the Mophie. After a few hours of use on a nearly drained iPhone, my Mophie was down about 30 and I couldn't tell with the Richard Solo, but both devices fully charged my Phone.

Which do I recommend? For those that don't use protection because it's too bulky (I could make some analogies here, but that will be major TMI), the Juice Pack is a decent external iPhone protector that extends your battery life, and probably the life of your phone. If you don't have an external case, the Mophie pack is clearly the better choice. If you are looking for the Red Bull quick-pick me up recharge, than the Richard Solo 1800 is great for you. Not only do you get the power boost, but the accessories are pretty cool as well. The Richard Solo is $30 cheaper to boot. However, you can't use those worthless Sharper Image Gift cards to purchase the Richard Solo!

Richard Solo 1800
Pros: Multiple chargers, other useful functions of battery pack
Cons: For ergonomic reasons, generally can't use the charger while using the phone

3 out of 5 dogcows
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Mophie Juice Pack for the 3G
Pros: External case, slim design, battery indicators
Cons: Requires removal of any other external case

3 out of 5 dogcows

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Article was republished by the Lawrence Apple User's Group 2.0 here as well as other groups listed on the right