Hands On With Apple’s $99 Smart Battery Case

0/11 Replay Gallery More Galleries

Hands On With Apple’s $99 Smart Battery Case

In a fairly uncharacteristic move, Apple launched a new product today with little to no fanfare. Called the Smart Battery Case, it’s a $99 wrap for the iPhone 6 and 6s meant to compete with the likes of the Mophie Juice Pack.

Looking for a battery case? Wondering if its worth making the jump from one you’ve already got? Here are our initial impressions, after spending a bit of time with the case strapped to my phone.


The Box

Though the box only mentions the iPhone 6s, it’ll actually work with the iPhone 6, as well. The two devices are basically identically externally, after all.


And everything inside of it..

No surprises, here: the case itself, the instructions/warranty info, and a little diagram showing how to put your phone in the case.

Unfortunately missing: a Lightning cable. Given that the case uses Apple’s relatively new Lightning cable and can be charged independently of the phone, it seems like throwing in a Lightning cable only makes sense — plus it’d help justify that $99 price tag.


Just a bit of give…

Unlike many third party battery cases which are made up of two interlocking pieces, Apple’s is a one piece ordeal. The bottom two thirds are pretty firm, while the top third has just a biiit of give to let it hinge backwards, making it easy to slip the phone in.


And yeah, it's pretty easy.

Once you realize you need to bend the top back a little (as Apple clearly demonstrates in that aforementioned diagram that I totally ignored), it’s pretty damned easy to snap in place.



Most third party cases tap microUSB for charging the case, as Apple is a bit strict about how others use Lightning. You can find some cases that use Lightning, but they generally won’t be able to do everything — you might need to take the case off to use those cases off to transfer data over Lightning, for example.

Since Apple has full reign over the protocol, the case can do everything the phone’s own Lightning port can do.


The Hidden Light

There’s a status indicator tucked inside the case for when you’ve got it charging on its own — once you slip your phone in, it’ll hide behind your handset. It’s amber while charging, and turns green once fully charged.

I wish they’d gone with some sort of multi-LED status indicator to display charge status, so you could check if your case is ready to go without slapping everything together or finding a Lightning cable.


The Innards

There are a few nice touches within the case itself. Nothing earth shattering, but it all comes together quite nicely.

A smooth, suede-like material inside makes it feel pretty high-end, with the added bonus of cleaning up all those fingerprints off the rear of your phone whenever you slide it in.

That chamber pictured next to the Lightning plug, meanwhile, funnels sound forward from the iPhone’s speaker. It’s not going to boost the sound a whole lot, but it keeps you from having to cup your hand near the bottom of your handset to hear your jams


The Home Turf Advantage

Given that they control both the hardware and the software, Apple gets to pull a few tricks that the competitors can’t. They can take over the lockscreen, for example, to show the case’s charge and your handset’s charge independently.

Curiously, as far as I’ve found, these icons only show for a few seconds when you first put the phone into the case, or when you plug/unplug a Lightning cable. After that, it fades back to the standard lock screen. I wish it stayed onscreen.



Alternatively, you can see the battery levels of each device in a widget in your “Today” screen. It didn’t pop up by default for me when I popped the case on, though — I had to go into the “Today” screen, swipe to the bottom, and add it in.


The Design

As with everything Apple has ever built, the design is a big point of discussion.

My thoughts on the design, so far: is it gorgeous? Nah. It gives your iPhone a growth. But, if I’m being honest, I… don’t think I’ve ever seen a battery pack that wasn’t kind of uggers. And the hump, while controversial, actually feels really nice in the hand; it makes the device contour to my hand a bit better, giving my pointer finger something of a ledge to rest on.



+ It’s built very, very well, and feels like a $99 case should.

+/- The design is a love-it-or-hate-it kind of thing, but the same goes for pretty much all battery cases. While not as much of a looker as the bare iPhone, that hump is actually pretty nice to hold.

– $99 price tag seems a bit steep for what you get, particularly given that the long established competition offers similarly sized batteries for less, and much bigger batteries for about the same price.

+ That price, though, comes with a few perks: the aforementioned software-level battery indicators, and the fact that, with full Lightning compatibility, you… basically never need to take this thing off unless you get tired of it.

– I do really wish this thing came with its own Lightning cable, though. That it doesn’t seems really bizarre to me.

If you want a bigger battery on your 6S but still want that shiny Apple logo on the back, or want a case you rarely have to take off, the Smart Battery case gets the job done. If you’re just looking for an battery case for occasional long days, I’d consider the competition.