One of the other toys I’ve been playing with over the past few weeks is the Juice Pack Air from Mophie. I’m pretty sure the original Juice Pack was the first sled charger for the iPhone, and the Air is supposed to be a thinner, sexier, but slightly less juicy version with its 1200mAh battery. […]
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Review: Mophie Juice Pack Air for iPhone 3G/S

Mophie Juice Pack Air

One of the other toys I’ve been playing with over the past few weeks is the Juice Pack Air from Mophie. I’m pretty sure the original Juice Pack was the first sled charger for the iPhone, and the Air is supposed to be a thinner, sexier, but slightly less juicy version with its 1200mAh battery. It’s also  a more complete package than previous Juice Packs, since it features a complete plastic shell to shield everything on the iPhone 3GS except the screen.

Installation
The first time I put the Juice Pack Air on my hands turned as white as the back of my phone. This thing is a really tight squeeze. That’s great because it definitely will not fall off, but it’s also terrifying because if one speck of dust gets caught between the phone and the case it’s going to scrape your iPhone its very own grand canyon. Just like the first Juice Pack, you place the entire phone into the back panel and actually plug it right into the case at the dock connector. The thing that has changed with the air is the inclusion of a top panel, which you then slide right on top of the whole thing — making the Air look like a slightly bulkier version of most plastic hard cases.
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During the course of the last few weeks I’ve also been trying out other charging solutions and cases, so I’ve had to take the Air off more than a few times. I got a lot less terrified of taking it off until one day it scratched the chrome along the front of my iPhone. It’s not a huge scratch and you don’t really notice it with a case on, but the fact that it’s there at all definitely bugs me. The scratch is near the volume rocker, and it was caused by the sharp plastic edges of the top piece of the Air as I took the thing off. It’s the first scratch on my new iPhone, so it was a little painful, and I think the Air could really use a bit of softness along the edges as well as the inside. It might add a little bit of bulk, but it should reduce cases like mine where the phone was actually scratched by the case that was protecting it (which has happened to both phones I’ve used with the Mophie Juice Packs)
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Design
In terms of looks, I think the Air is a handsome little bugger. It swapped the rubberized texture of the original Juice Pack for a shiny plastic back, but it’s easy to hold thanks to its bulk. I’ve always found the iPhone 3G form factor much easier to hold than the 2G, and the Air isn’t any more slippery than the 3G’s back anyway. With the case installed you’ve got full access to the sleep switch, volume rocker and silent switchz, as well as small crevasses that actually angle the speaker sound outwards (which makes it seem louder). The only thing along the back of the pack is a button that activates a set of four LEDs that correspond to the amount of juice left in the pack. The Air’s power switch is along the bottom, right beside the micro-USB port for charging and syncing with iTunes. That’s right, I said micro, not mini, so most of the mini-USB cables you’ve accrued over the years aren’t going to work with this. Fortunately, Mophie includes a USB<->Micro-USB cable in the box.
Note that the screen is flush with the case

Note that the screen is flush with the case

If you choose to install the top panel you’ll enjoy full scratch protection and some light drop protection — but since the Air is itself a battery — I’d still be careful about dropping it. However, once you’ve installed an Air correctly, you’ll only need a good screen protector to completely encase your iPhone in armour. The drawback to all of that protection is that the thickness of the 3GS doubles — but I can’t see it getting much thinner than that until batteries get smaller.
Air on left, old 2G juice pack right

Air on left, old 2G juice pack right

Battery Life
Speaking of batteries, the biggest draw of the Air is the fact that it’s a battery and a case all in one — not just a set of armour, but a set of power armour. One of the setbacks in earlier models was the lack of a power switch, and it’s great to have one now. In terms of actual battery life, the Air seems to charge a good 70% of my 3GS before running dry, and I didn’t notice the pack getting all that hot while charging. It isn’t a full charge, but that’s what you get for a 1200mAh portable battery (the original Juice Pack featured 1800mAh). Again, the real boon here is that you get to choose when to use that 70% boost. Once you do run dry you can attach the micro-USB cable to charge the phone and then the battery pack (good prioritization there, Mophie).
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Conclusion
My opinions actually changed a lot over the course of this review. At first I was really happy about having a battery literally strapped to my iPhone for when I needed a boost. The Air was also pocketable and provided scratch protection like a hard case. However, once the Air actually scratched my phone I decided against the thing altogether. I really like my cases and batteries to be almost worry-free affairs, and the Mophie is just too sharp for me — especially considering the fact that I switch cases fairly often. That’s not to say it’s a bad product, but it probably does require a bit more commitment than most cases. Once you’ve got the Air on, it’s probably best to just leave it on and sync and charge through the micro-USB cable.
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At $80, the case certainly isn’t cheap — but if you think of it as an investment in a case (usually $40) and a battery ($25-40), it gets a bit more reasonable. The Air is great innovation, but until it gets safer and easier to install and use, I’ll stick to other solutions.
You can pick up your own Juice Pack Air for $79.95 USD from the Mophie website. It comes in black, purple, or white.

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