Okay, so first off, I have to admit that I have never really used any of the plethora of battery backup cases available for iOS devices before. I’ve had a couple of backup batteries that just plugged into the dock connector, but never a case that would extend the life of my iPhone. I can also say that I’ve never really had any accessories for my iPhone that definitively changed the way that I used it. That is, until now. The Mophie Juice Pack Plus Outdoor Edition isn’t a perfect device, but it is extremely useful, and can definitely change the way you use your phone and think about battery life.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve certainly heard of the Mophie Juice Pack line of products before, and I knew that they are high-quality accessories with excellent reviews and a solid reputation. I just never thought I needed one before, so the price seemed a bit high to me. I always thought I got pretty good battery life from my iOS devices, and that, unlike other devices that I’ve used in the past, I wasn’t limiting my usage based on battery concerns.
However, after living with the Mophie Juice Pack Plus Outdoor Edition for a couple of weeks, I am seeing things a little bit differently. Your attitude and usage change quite a bit when you suddenly get double the battery life of your device, without doubling the size and weight.
When you unbox the Juice Pack Plus, you find that it is very simple in both design and operation.
The case comes in two pieces, the bottom portion with a built-in dock connector that the iPhone fits into, and the top section that simply slides and interlocks over the top. The case provides a snug, but not too tight fit. In fact, it manages to pull off the rare feat of being compatible with a rear screen protector. It is VERY snug, but it hasn’t marred my Best Skins Ever shield, and even though it takes a little more effort now, the iPhone comes out without too much trouble. Also, because the Juice Pack slides over the metal antenna band rather than the front of the phone, it doesn’t damage most front screen protectors, either. I always use screen protection, but not all hard cases designed for the iPhone play very well with them, so this made me very happy, right off the bat.
Having never used a Juice Pack, I was curious what I would think of the size and weight of the case during my testing. I have been using an Incipio NGP soft case for the last year, so I have gotten used to a fairly light case. Well, I have used the Juice Pack for two weeks now, and I have hardly taken my new iPhone 4S out of it. It is definitely a lot bigger and heavier than I am used to, but the extra battery life is worth the added size and weight.
The size tradeoff works for a couple of reasons. First of all, the design of the case is top-notch. If the Juice Pack didn’t feel good in the hand and didn’t have a great fit with the iPhone, then what would be the point? That isn’t the case here, as the rounded, soft-touch plastic back feels great in the hand, and is easy to grip.
Also, all of the ports, buttons, and cut outs line up perfectly and work reliably.
Mophie also went the extra mile of including a four step light up battery indicator on the bottom of the case.
The indicator shows the battery level when the button is pushed, so the lights aren’t unnecessarily draining the battery. When plugged into AC power, the indicator notes the charge level as it rises. So, as far as look and feel go,the Juice Pack is worth the extra weight, and even better, worth the price.
Second, the extra size of the Juice Pack adds plenty of protection to the back and sides of your precious iPhone. Under the soft touch exterior, the case is a double-injected hard shell.
Also, Mophie states that the rubberized color band around the outside of the case is shock-proof, adding to the Juice Pack’s fall protection.
Unfortunately, if there is one major shortcoming of this case, it is in the screen protection department. While a lot of iPhone cases, including my current Incipio NGP, stand out up to a 1/16″ off of the screen to protect it in a face-down fall, the Juice Pack is almost flush with the glass. If your iPhone 4 does anything besides falling straight down onto a completely even surface, then the glass will take a hit. For a case that is so good in every other respect, I would love to see Mophie address this in future models. Doubling the amount that the plastic protrudes past the screen would make a significant difference in the screen protection, without sacrificing the feel of the device.
Last, and maybe this is just me, but the extra size of the Juice Pack case actually works in favor of those with big hands and thumbs.
Since I got my iPad, my iPhone typing skills have steadily degenerated into a huge steaming pile. I am really bad at this point, especially with the phone in portrait orientation. A big part of the problem for me is not just the combination of small keys and big thumbs, but the size of the iPhone itself. Because the iPhone 4 and 4S are so small, it is difficult for me to hold the phone at an angle where it is easy to type accurately. However, with the added size of the Juice Pack, the iPhone is now MUCH easier to type on, especially in landscape. It now fits comfortably and naturally in my hand at the perfect angle. In fact, I typed a large portion of the draft of this review on my iPhone, which I would have never considered doing in the past.
So that covers size, weight, and feel. How about looks? As for the pure aesthetics, I’ll be honest. I personally prefer the color choices of the standard Juice Pack Plus line, especially the black case with purple trim (LSU fan here. Geaux Tigers!). However, the gray with orange trim of the Outdoor Edition certainly isn’t offensive, and this is a pretty common color combo for outdoor gear. Also, if you are planning to use the Juice Pack Plus Outdoor Edition in the woods or on the trail, the orange band is bright enough to come in handy if you drop it in a place where the iPhone would normally be difficult to see.
As good as the size and feel of the Juick Pack are, its best feature is definitely the battery life that it adds to the iPhone 4 and 4S. The Juice Pack Plus has a 2000 mAh rechargeable battery on-board, which more than doubles the iPhone 4’s normal output. It also includes a hardware switch on the lower-left side of the orange band that allows you to turn the Juice pack on and off as needed.
The inexpensive backup batteries and battery cases that I am familiar with charge your device any they are connected, so this was a big eye-opener for me. Having control over when you use the battery insures that you always have that reserve when you need it, which helps set the Juice pack apart from the cheaper competition.
Mophie states in their specifications that the Juice Pack Plus adds the following:
8 hours of talk time on 3G, 16 hours on 2G
7 hours of Internet on 3G, 11 hours on WiFi
44 hours of audio playback
11 hours of video playback
Wow! Even though the iPhone is a device that has a reputation for great battery life, the Juice Pack really takes things to the next level. (Well, until recently, that is. I know. Apple is working on it. Just to note, though, I have not had the extreme battery issues that some are seeing with iOS 5, even with the Juice Pack turned off.) I have used the Juice Pack Plus exclusively with my new iPhone 4S over the last two weeks. However, since I have only had my 4S for a couple of weeks and with those issues and Apple’s updates in mind, I didn’t do any formal battery analysis. My testing was purely anecdotal, but the results were no less impressive.
Like I said before, having the Juice Pack changed the way I use my 4S, because battery just wasn’t a big concern anymore. That is an important point, however, because I am pretty tough on devices when it comes to battery life. I tend to be a heavy GPS user, especially in the car. That’s usually not an issue for me, since it’s easy to top off my charge with a car adapter, but I found myself going without the cable on short car trips over the last week, and I never had a problem with the battery running too low at the end of the day. It’s really nice to not have to plug in EVERY TIME I get in the car, especially since I am on the go a lot during the work day. And as anyone who uses GPS navigation apps while driving will tell you, if you use the iPhone alone and don’t plug it in in the car, your battery won’t make it a full day.
The primary purpose of the Juice Pack Plus Outdoor Edition is to turn your iPhone into a reliable, portable GPS for outdoor use. A big part of making that happen is not having the battery die within an hour of firing up a navigation app, and if you’ve ever tried using an iPhone as a GPS on foot, that’s easier said than done. I’ve tried using Navigon’s MobileNavigator in pedestrian mode to get around in a couple of unfamiliar cities, and it killed the battery FAST. In fact, the first time I did this was with a 3GS, and it was under 20% by 1 PM. Ouch. Even with a fully charged backup battery I didn’t make it all day. What good is a mobile GPS with a dead battery? How about one you can’t use the way you want or need to because you fear the dead battery? Both equally suck, and aren’t of much use to anyone.
Armed with the Mophie Juice Pack Plus, this becomes much less of a concern. I’ve taken it on a couple of outdoor excursions, and have been very impressed with the results. I went to the Memphis Zoo this last weekend with my family and used the Juice Pack and its Outdoor Edition (more on this in just a bit) to track our progress around the park. The Juice Pack had a full charge when we arrived, but my phone wasn’t quite there, registering 81% when we parked the car. After over three hours of constant use with the GPS active the entire time, the screen at near max brightness and on a lot, and several pictures taken with the camera, the Juice Pack was just about empty, but my iPhone was still at 100%. I’d say that’s pretty impressive. It definitely exceeded my expectations.
Just for good measure, I recently gave the Juice Pack another go in the car with ALK’s CoPilot Live Premium on a roughly two hour drive from my home to Tupelo, MS for work. Unlike Mophie’s Outdoor Edition app, CoPilot Live keeps the screen on all the time by default. Also, since it was a bright day, I again had to turn the brightness up to near max to see the screen clearly. At the beginning of this test, the Juice Pack was again fully charged, but my iPhone was down to 61% this time. When my drive, which included 2 hours of constant GPS usage, a couple of phone calls, and some Siri dictation, ended, the Juice Pack was near empty, but my iPhone had increased its charge to 75%. Also, there was enough left over in the Juice Pack with one light on the battery meter to get the iPhone back up to 80% after it slipped due to heavy usage in a building with very poor AT&T reception.
I don’t have long-term personal experience with portable outdoor GPSs, but I have been using auto navigation apps since they first appeared in the App Store, and in my experience, the Juice Pack performed phenomenally. The iPhone 4S on battery alone would have been near death after two hours of that heavy a load, but with the Juice Pack Plus’ extra juice, I made it with a solid day’s use left to spare. For the mobile professional that relies on their iOS device for more than just occasional email and phone calls, and sometimes pushes the limits of normal battery life, the Mophie Juice Pack Plus is a true difference maker.
One thing to note here is that, to get all of that extra battery life, it can take a while to charge the Juice Pack Plus. This is especially true with the iPhone still inside. I use my iPhone to listen to music in bed, so I have gotten in the habit of taking it out and charging the Juice Pack alone at night, which insures a full charge to start the day. This isn’t a problem at all, but something to be aware of.
One thing you quickly learn as a reviewer is that nothing is perfect. All products or software inevitably have some drawbacks. I can even find a couple with the Juice Pack Plus, despite the fact that I love it and use it every day. I already mentioned my minor concerns with the lack of screen protection. However, there is another related to the Juice Pack Plus Outdoor Edition’s intended purpose to be aware of. Despite the name and unique color, there are not any other hardware differences between this and any other Juice Pack cases. While the case’s back is certainly substantial and durable, we’re talking about a device meant to be used outdoors, in places where you often can’t get out of the elements when rain or snow move in. The Juice Pack is not water proof or water resistant in any way shape or form, and just to be clear, it isn’t designed to be or marketed in this way.
However, since this particular model is geared toward outdoor use, it might be a good idea for Mophie to consider adding the kind of removable port plugs that you see on many ruggedized cases in their next version. This would at least give you a minimum amount of protection against water, or sand if you head to the beach with your phone in hand. This certainly isn’t a deal-breaker for me, but for users who are going to hit the trail for multiple days with using the iPhone and Juice Pack plus as their primary GPS, you need to be aware and plan ahead. In the Juice Pack Plus Outdoor Edition’s current form, packing something waterproof to store the Juice Pack and your iPhone in is essential.
Now that we have gone over the hardware, it’s time to take a look at the software side of the Juice Pack Plus Outdoor Edition. That comes in the form of the Mophie Outdoor GPS Maps and Tracking app, which is available free in the App Store.
The app was developed for Mophie by NeoTreks, and is based on their already-available AccuTerra app, which won the 2009 Apple Design Award. It is a full-fledged GPS mapping and tracking app that is geared toward the needs of hikers, hunters, and other outdoorsmen. While there are only a handful of reviews logged so far for the newly released Mophie Outdoor app, it is off to a very promising start with a solid five stars. While I wouldn’t say it is perfect just yet, I do agree that it is well-executed, and that it is a very good fit with the Juice Pack hardware.
When you first start the app, you are welcomed with a few different options in a Main Menu.
You can view the Users Guide (which unfortunately, is not a part of the app and requires Internet access), Download Offline Maps, go to your Library of saved excursions, or go into Tracking Mode. One of the few issues that I have with this app is its interface, and this menu is a good example. The menu itself is fine, but once you go into the app, you can’t get back to it unless you completely close and re-open it.
Also, the interface inside of the app isn’t impossible to follow, but it isn’t the clearest and most intuitive, either. It doesn’t follow the typical iOS model, with a menu bar at the bottom of the screen, but spreads the menu triggers across the screen. I’m guessing that this decision was to maximize screen real estate for viewing maps, but locations of all the app’s features isn’t completely clear to a new user. Thankfully, this isn’t a deal-breaker by any means. It just means that you have to spend a little time getting used to the layout, and where to go to get to different features.
The tracking features are the core of what the Mophie Outdoor app offers, and they work very well. When you first enter the Tracking Mode, you are taken to a default location of Yosemite National Park.
Tapping the Locate button in the bottom-left corner of the map triggers the GPS to find your current location.
Once the iPhone’s GPS is triggered, you can not only see your location on the map, but also your current latitude, longitude and elevation. For hikers and outdoorsmen, this information can be as important as looking at the map itself. Another positive to note here is that, despite the fact that the Mophie Juice Pack Plus covers the entire antenna surface of the iPhone 4 or 4S, the GPS reception is not negatively effected. I was able to get a lock, even inside of some buildings, without any trouble. However, I did have issues while in the center of a couple of more heavily constructed buildings. At this point, the iPhone GPS switches to using approximated location with cell sites, which you DEFINTELY don’t want if you are recording your journey. Fortunately, the Mophie Outdoor app gives you the ability to pause your journey if you stop or enter a building, so that your track doesn’t go crazy when you lose GPS lock.
Once the GPS lock is established, the Track feature menu becomes visible on the right side of the map.
This menu can also be triggered by the Track button at the top-right corner of the screen. You can start recording, pause, or stop a track, place a Marker on the map, take a picture with the iPhone’s camera, look at the Stats of your journey, or Clear your current trip.
Once you start recording, a green marker is automatically placed at your starting point, with green dots placed at intervals along your way.
Any markers, which show up as blue flags, that you place on your trail can be named and have a story added to them, and any pictures that you take will not only be saved to your Camera Roll, but will also be geo-tagged and embedded inside the KML file.
You can tap on the camera icons on the map screen to view the pictures in sequence.
When you are done with your journey, Mophie Outdoors saves everything in a KML file. The KML file type is the only one that Outdoor is compatible with at this point, but since it gives you access to track and trail information from Google Maps and Google Earth, it is a versatile way to start. It is my understanding, however, that other file types may be added at some point down the road.
Another great feature of the Mophie Outdoor app is the ability to not only share your KML files, but also export them to and import them from other sources.
For sharing your adventures or placemarkers, you can either email them, or post the details of the journey to your wall on Facebook.
Mophie Outdoor also gives you a variety of settings to use to customize your email output.
Again, since these files are compatible with Google Maps and Earth, it will be easy for the recipient to view the details of your journey without having this app, or even an iOS device.
While sharing lets others review your past journeys, Mophie Outdoors’ import and export features allow you and others to prepare for current and future excursions. There are websites with popular trail tracks and information recorded in KML format, primarily for use with Google Earth. However, you can make use of this same information with the Mophie Outdoors, giving you trail mapping and detailed information for an upcoming journey ahead of time. Also, thanks to the included export features, you can send your trail information, either past or present, to other travelers using the Mophie Outdoors app.
I have to say, I really like the fact that Mophie went beyond just sharing information for social or backup purposes, and added these very practical import and export features, as well. This can allow groups of people using multiple iPhones to get in sync before hitting the trail, as well as allowing users to share their past outdoor experiences for the benefit of others.
Unfortunately, there is a negative aspect with the Adventure and Placemarker features, but it actually has nothing to do with Mophie or NeoTrek. To cut down on the space and time taken for iOS backup of app information, many developers put files that could be imported and exported from other sources in the Cache and Temp directories inside their respective app’s sandboxed folders. In the past, these folders weren’t automatically deleted or altered by the OS, so they were a safe place for devs to “stash” app information. Unfortunately, without any warning, Apple changed how they handle Cache and Temp information in iOS 5, as the OS now periodically purges these directories.
This change to iOS was pointed out by Marco Arment, the developer of Instapaper, in a recent blog post. Unfortunately, as he points out, many apps will be affected by this, including his own very popular Instapaper app. Mophie Outdoor is another app that has been negatively affected, as well. I found this out the hard way, as the two lengthy adventure files that I originally saved during my testing were purged before I shared or exported them. Now they are gone for good. Again, however, this isn’t Mophie’s fault. Apple really should have given devs more of a warning on this, as not all of iCloud’s Document and Data features were rolled out for an extended period of the iOS 5 beta. Hopefully, Mophie and NeoTreks can come together and find an automatic solution, possibly using iCloud, for this issue so that users won’t suddenly lose their recorded data. For now, be warned that you need to share or export your saved data do it doesn’t disappear on you.
What good is an app dedicated to navigating if the maps aren’t any good? Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about that with Mophie Outdoors, since you have real-time access to Google Maps, and on-demand access to AccuTerra’s maps.
If aren’t familiar with AccuTerra, they make highly detailed and accurate topographical maps that are geared toward outdoor and trail use. As well as having on-demand access, you can also pre-download the AccuTerra maps that you need, and take them with you for use while you are offline. This is an absolutely essential feature, as you can often find yourself in places with spotty cell coverage, or none at all, when you are hiking or camping in the great outdoors.
Mophie Outdoors’s mapping features can be accessed via the Map button in the top-left corner of the screen.
First off from the Maps menu, you can select which Web Maps to view from Google’s Road or Satellite Maps, or AccuTerra’s Maps to view your tracks on.
There is one thing to note if you use the AccuTerra maps. They do not stream, like Google Maps do, and only high a regional zoom level is pre-loaded in the app. When you select AccuTerra from the Web Maps menu, if the map is zoomed in, the you get a message to put Mophie Outdoors into Grid Mode to select areas to download.
The Grid Mode is activated with the orange button at the top-center of the screen. Once activated, a message appears at the bottom of the screen, instructing you to tap and hold the areas of the grid that you want to download.
This ultimately helps to keep the size of the app down, as the AccuraTerra maps can be quite large when you have many loaded.
Another of the cool mapping features of the app is the ability to switch maps on the fly. Since your track is saved separately from the map data, you can switch between the map types whenever you want, even when viewing past adventures in your Library.
This is especially helpful, since the different map types have very different features. The AccuTerra maps are very accurate and show all of the topographical features very clearly, as well as trail and camping information that may not always appear on Google Maps. However, you cannot zoom in as closely with these maps. When you need to get closer and get more fine detail, as long as you have Internet access, you can use Google Maps. Google’s Satellite maps are especially helpful for this.
Next up from the Maps Menu, you have the Maps button, which allows you to pre-select AccuTerra maps to download to your phone in advance of a trip.
You are automatically presented with maps that are nearby your current location, but you can also select or search for the maps you need, as well. In addition to maps of all the US States, there are also maps available for specific State and National Parks.
Next, we have the Library, which stores all of your previously saved Adventures and Placemarks.
From here, you can view all of the saved content on your device, or access all of the aforementioned sharing functions. This is also where you access the app’s import and export features.
So overall, the Mophie Outdoors app is a very solid GPS mapping and trip recording application. It gives you access to up-to-date maps wherever you go, and does a great job of not only recording your journeys, but sharing them as well. Now we get to the rub- price. While the app itself is free in the App Store, many of the features actually require a subscription. When you purchase the Mophie Juice Pack Plus Outdoor Edition, you get a slip in the box that allows you to register for a one-year subscription to the app. After that, however, you will have to pay a $19.99/year subscription fee to retain access to all of the app’s features.
While the details aren’t necessarily spelled out on Mophie’s website or the app’s App Store page, my PR contact at Mophie informed me that the app will still partially function without a subscription. All of the mapping features will still work, but none of the track saving, photo, or sharing features will. Also, for those who want to purchase the app without the Juice Pack, it is still free in the App Store, but you have to pay for the first year’s subscription via an in-app purchase for $29.99. This accounts for the Juice Pack Plus Outdoor Edition’s higher retail price of $119, as opposed to $99 for a normal Juice Pack Plus. Like the Juice Pack Outdoor Edition, the subscription fee is also $19.99 after the first year for other users, as well.
While paying $19.99/year may not seem all that appealing, it is far cheaper in the long run than what you would pay for an PND geared toward outdoor-activities. That particular class of device tends to be quite expensive, with name brand units with color maps often running between $300-$500. When you consider the enhanced battery life that the Juice Pack Plus brings to the table, the convenience of carrying just one device, and the ease of updating the app and its content, the combination of the Juice Pack Outdoor Edition and Mophie Outdoor app becomes a very attractive option for iPhone users, and an amazing value to boot. As with so many things, you get what you pay for, and with the Mophie Juice Pack Plus Outdoor Edition, that is definitely the case. Those users who require a more rugged or waterproof device for their travels may want to look elsewhere or at least take some extra precautions, but for the majority of users, this product will be more than enough to meet their outdoor GPS needs.
The Mophie Juice Pack Plus Outdoor Edition is available from Mophie and a variety of other retailers for $119.95.
The Mophie Outdoors app is available for free in the App Store here. Subscription fees of $29.99 for the first year for other users, and $19.99 after the first year apply.
The Mophie Juice Pack Plus Outdoor Edition and Mophie Outdoors app were provided by Mophie for review on iSource. For further information regarding our site’s review policies, please see the “About” page.