Mophie caused a bit of a double-take by introducing not one but two rechargeable external battery cases for the iPhone 5 within a few days of each other. The Juice Pack Helium offers a sleeker body, but the Juice Pack Air, announced later, offers more stamina. I’ve been testing the latter for nearly a week now, and it lives up to Mophie’s good reputation, with a single trade-off that may or may not influence your buying decision.
The Juice Pack Air for iPhone 5 will look and feel familiar to owners of previous Mophie Juice Packs. It has a rubberized texture that makes the matte back extra grippy, a smooth black plastic band extending around the entire sides of the device, and a button on the back that lights up indicators showing how much battery is remaining. Some of the elements have shifted to make up for the new iPhone’s design: the battery indicator and activation switch are on the back, not the bottom, and the micro USB port is on the bottom surface where the Lightning port would be on an iPhone 5 without a case.
One of the few unfortunate changes caused by the iPhone 5′s redesign is the shift of the headphone port to the bottom, which is where the business end is on Mophie’s battery pack cases. That means that on this Juice Pack Air, there’s around a half-inch hole any headphones have to go through to get to the iPhone’s 3.5mm stereo port. Mophie includes an extension cable to make sure your headphones will work no matter their design, but it’s an extra bit to keep track of and potentially lose, and that’s never good.
Overall, the Juice Pack Air feels like a quality accessory, however, and all the pass-through switches and buttons work well. There’s even mesh on the front-facing speaker ports, which do enhance sound to my ear, and an appropriately wide opening on the back to accommodate the camera lens and flash without impeding mobile photography.
The Juice Pack Air claims to be able to provide around 8 more hours of 3G talk time and Internet use, 8 more hours of LTE browsing, 10 hours of Wi-Fi web, and up to 40 more hours of audio playback or 10 more hours of video. Mophie says that’s up to 100 percent the normal battery life of your iPhone 5. I happened to be able to test charging a dead iPhone 5 from a drained state with a fully-charged Juice Pack Air, however, and it only got the iPhone up to around 80 percent charge. Your mileage may vary, however, and 80 percent from a cold, dead battery that has lain empty for a while is still pretty impressive, and in everyday use I found it was as close to doubling my iPhone 5′s life as made no difference.
The Juice Pack Air gets warm while charging, but that’s nothing new and I mention it more to make new users aware than to cite it as an issue. New users should also note that the Air features pass-through charging via the supplied micro USB cable: You can plug it in overnight and the iPhone inside will charge first, with the case getting its fill afterwards. One thing missing in this version is pass-through syncing, however. That could be a problem for some, but I can’t remember the last time I’ve done a wired sync of an iOS device, so it doesn’t bother me.
The Juice Pack Air is a solid performer, which isn’t surprising, given its pedigree. It has the same general downsides as its predecessor (mostly that it adds bulk to the iPhone), and loses a few tricks. But most won’t miss the lack of pass-through syncing now that iPhones are much more autonomous devices than they were in the past. And the Air for iPhone 5 is slightly thinner than the version for iPhone 4/4S. If you need the extra power that a battery case provides, the Juice Pack Air remains the case to beat.