The Apple iPhone is one of the 21st century's most iconic consumer electronics products, widely lauded for its slick design, intelligent features, and smooth performance. Yet mention battery life and even the most ardent fanboy is likely to make for the taxi rank in a huff. Put simply, the 1,400mAh-odd battery in the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 just isn't ample enough for many consumers, myself included. Based on mid to heavy usage, it doesn't stand a chance of seeing out the day unless recharged at regular intervals.
Enter Mophie's Juice Pack Plus. Part case, part phone charger, it could be indispensable for many who require constant access to email or don't fancy losing Google Maps access in a dodgy part of town. I therefore welcomed the opportunity to test one with my iPhone 4S.
Measuring 128.7 x 65.3 x 18mm and weighing 71g, there's no denying that the Juice Pack Plus is a bulky accessory. Tack it on to your iPhone and you have a device that weighs over 200g, heavier than the chunky 185g Nokia Lumia 920. It's also twice as thick as the 9.7mm-deep iPhone 4S, so you're going to have to compromise the slimline physique of your Apple handset if you want to boost your battery.
Some will happily make the trade-off; others will find the idea abhorrent. Many, I suspect, will react a bit like me and view the Juice Pack Plus as a worthwhile compromise as long as it effectively extends battery life.
Size aside, the Juice Pack Plus is a fairly attractive case. The exterior of the hard shell is coated with a textured rubber that gives it added grip and enhances protection against accidental knocks. I even dropped it from chair height several times and it bounced off our office's hard carpet with a nice spring, indicating that the "shock-proof rubberized band" is more than an aesthetic touch. Fashion-forward iPhone users will be pleased that the Juice Pack Plus comes in a range of bold colours, including red, purple, yellow, and magenta. I can confirm that the latter caught many-an-eye on the morning commute, but professional types might prefer the black or white/silver versions.
Having used a Mophie Juice Pack Air in the past, I found build-quality to be a shortcoming. For instance, the case divides into two sections (in order to slide the phone in) and I used to find that the top section never secured itself firmly with the lower section. This has been improved for the Plus but you might still accidentally separate the sections upon pulling it out of a particularly tight pair of jeans.
The Juice Pack Plus' raison d'être is charging phones and the 2,000mAh battery packed into its chassis ensures it accomplishes that task. However, you should be aware of a several things.
First, it takes its sweet time charging itself up. Despite the manufacturer's assertion that "normal charging will take only two to three hours," my experience of the Plus points to a considerably higher figure: multiple tests confirm an average flat-to-full charge time of around 4.5 hours. If you plan ahead this shouldn't be an issue, but it's definitely a bit of a bore.
Secondly, even though the Juice Pack Plus quickly recharged my phone up from five per cent to a full charge in around 2.5 hours, it was left rather depleted. In fact, despite switching to standby mode when I neared full charge, the best I got out of the Plus on a secondary run was a measly half-hour of juice.
Then there's how ably the Juice Pack Plus prolongs the battery life of your iPhone. Mophie advertises the Plus as providing "more than double the battery life" of your Apple handset, saying it will furnish an extra seven or eight hours of talking and surfing. While I can report that I could use my phone for twice as long as normal, I didn't experience those lofty figures. That said, it's hardly unusual for devices to fail to live up to their on-the-box promises - the iPhone, which claims a 3G battery life of eight hours, being an obvious case in point.
Either way, the extra battery life bailed me out on a number of occasions when I needed to send a key email or make a last-minute booking. It also saved my bacon when lost somewhere between Brighton and Lewes walking on the Sussex Downs.
The Juice Pack Plus doesn't offer any jaw-dropping features, but its controls are generally effective. The volume and power button overlays are responsive, and the camera slot is amply proportioned so as not to obstruct shooting. Mophie even claims that its speaker ports are sound enhancing, but I won't attest to that as I rarely project music externally from my iPhone. The toggle switch on the bottom left of the chassis is useful, allowing you to switch between active charging and standby modes.
Indeed, the Plus' biggest strength is its ability to charge intelligently. If your smartphone battery is low, it will transfer juice from the pack to your device; if your handset is already adequately charged, it will deplete the juice pack first. The LED lights on the bottom of the frame show the level of charge available and are a neat touch. Only the entry point for the iPhone's ring/silent switch is poorly thought out - it's fine for slender fingers but fatter ones will find their access to the button restricted.
The Mophie Juice Pack Plus has some flaws - its bulky frame is a bit unwieldy, the fit between the two sections could be more secure, and it takes an age to charge up. It will also set you back around £85, which we think is too expensive (although shop around and you might find it for almost half that). So why does it still merit a decent rating? Well it did protect my phone and doubled the length of time I could use my phone away from a power socket, which is, after all, the two main goals of the product.
Ultimately, whether or not the Juice Pack Plus appeals to you depends on your priorities. Some people aren't willing to compromise the iPhone's design by slapping a hefty bit of plastic on it, while others wouldn't dream of leaving home without a backup charging option. For me, my profession demands 24 hour access to the Internet, so while I prefer to flaunt my iPhone in the nude, I also like to keep a charging pack handy for emergencies. Granted, the Juice Pack Plus could be better, but it's a competent enough companion for your iPhone.