Product Review: Mophie Juice Pack Pro

For people who are hard on iPhones

Through the generosity of Police1 Editor-in-Chief Doug Wyllie (who doesn’t have an iPhone, else he would have kept it for himself), I recently received a Mophie Juice Pack Pro for evaluation. It protects the phone and extends battery life, but at the expense of size and access to a few features.

The Juice Pack Pro is for the iPhone 4 and 4s only. It ruggedizes the phone to MIL-STD 810G standards, which means you can toss it around, drop it, and even get it wet, but it probably won’t survive a dunk in the toilet. It also incorporates a 2500mAh external battery with a stated 150% of the internal battery’s capacity of 1420 mAh. If the internal battery is going dead, flip a switch and the external battery charges it back up. In theory, you can get about 2.5X the operating time as compared to the bare iPhone.

The case comes fully assembled, and has a manual that omits any directions on how to get it apart. It occurred to me I wasn’t the first person to be disassembly-challenged, and I quickly found this video made by someone who was similarly mystified but succeeded in opening it. Trust me, it’s not intuitive, but it does reinforce the idea that the case isn’t going to come apart accidentally.

The case separates into three components: a front cover with a rigid screen protector that retains the touchscreen capacity, a base that plugs into the sync/recharge port on the bottom, and a cover for the rear and sides that incorporates the extra battery. It’s held together by friction and secured with a rubber shell. There is also a sturdy plastic holster/belt clip that snaps around the whole thing. If your favorite feature of the iPhone is its svelte form factor, you won’t like this case. It makes the phone about 15 percent longer and three times as thick as a bare iPhone.

There are rubber, pass-through buttons and covered ports for the home button, headphone jack, power switch and volume controls, but you can’t get to the slider switch that mutes the phone. I’ve used that a lot to silence the phone during meetings. The same thing can be done through a software control, but the slider is a lot faster.

The lower two corners have protected rubber ports for the battery switch and a micro-USB connector. When the iPhone’s internal battery gets low, you flip the battery switch and it recharges from the external battery. The recharge feature doesn’t shut off automatically when the internal battery reaches 100 percent, and keeping the switch on will drain the external battery.

On the bottom of the case there is a button and four white LEDs. Press the button, and the number of LEDs that light up indicate the charge state of the battery. This is a nice feature to eliminate those unpleasant “I’ve got plenty of battery left” surprises.

Recharging and syncing the phone with the mother ship requires a micro- (not mini) USB cable supplied with the case. These are the teeny-tiny USB connectors that one other of my electronic toys also uses. The smartphone industry seems to be standardizing on mini-USB plugs for charging and connection to a PC or Mac, and I’m not sure why Mophie decided to go with this more obscure connector.

The case is rugged and sturdy. I’m not going to try it out, but I suspect the iPhone would survive a drop onto concrete from the six-foot height it occupies when I’m talking on the phone. The case comes with an optional thin-film screen protector, but my iPhone already had one of these in place, and I left it there. They’re close to impossible to apply without getting bubbles underneath the plastic.

At $134 from Amazon ($150 retail), this isn’t a casual purchase for most of us. But if you’ve dropped and broken your iPhone or are prone to do so, it’s a good investment. If you’re thinking about upgrading your iPhone when the new model comes out (predicted to be September 2012), you might want to put off purchasing this case. Reports are that the new iPhone will have a different charge/sync connector that won’t be compatible with older accessories and cables. 

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