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Computerized Investing > May 25, 2013
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by Wayne A. Thorp, CFA

$79.99

One-piece silicon rubber battery case for iPhone 5

When Apple introduced the iPhone 5 last September, it left accessory makers scrambling because of the new Lightning connector. The charging and syncing port replaced the 30-pin Apple Dock connector that the company had been using on previous “iDevices” such as the iPod, iPad and iPhone. This also left consumers with a collection of “useless” accessories (unless you use an adapter). However, it also meant that for many months I had to go without a battery case for my iPhone 5. Some companies found creative ways to overcome the new connector, such as iBattz with its Mojo snap-on battery extender. However, it wasn’t until the last couple of months that integrated battery cases with Lightning connectors came to the market. One of them is the PowerSkin for iPhone 5. I reviewed the PowerSkin for iPhone 4/4S last year and found it to be a functional and affordable option. At the time, however, I still preferred mophie juice pack plus for iPhone 4/4S, mainly because of how well it had protected my phone.

Out of the Box

The first thing I noticed when I opened my new PowerSkin case was that its designers were paying (more) attention to aesthetics with this version. The new model has tapered edges, compared to the iPhone 4/4S model that was simply a black rectangular piece of silicon rubber. While I place more emphasis on functionality, the old model made my iPhone 4S look like a rubber brick. As a result of the redesign, the new model is nearly 16% thinner, while the height and width went unchanged (2.5 inches by 0.65 inches by 5.1 inches). Interestingly enough, however, the thinner design didn’t reduce the weight, as it still weighs 2.88 ounces. Even more surprising, though, is that the PowerSkin for iPhone 5 has a smaller battery capacity than the iPhone 4/4S model (1,500 mAh versus 2,000 mAh). This begs the question of where the “extra” weight came from.

The PowerSkin is a one-piece case, which differentiates it from many others that are two-piece “sliders.” One of my biggest complaints with the iPhone 4/4S model was that when installing the iPhone, you put a tremendous amount of stress on the connector and port since it was in a fixed position while you were sliding in the phone from an angle. This also made it someone difficult to remove the phone from the case. However, the new PowerSkin case has the Lightning connector on a dongle that allows you to easily plug it into your phone and then insert the phone into the case. This makes installing and removing your phone much easier and doesn’t put unneeded stress on your phone or the case. To finish installing your phone, the silicone sides wrap around the edges of the phone.

Just as with the previous PowerSkin model, the case does not offer full-screen protection. However, the edges of the case keep the screen from touching when you lay it screen-down on a flat surface.

The PowerSkin for iPhone 5 has cut-outs for the phone’s rear-facing camera, ringer on/off switch and headphone jack. However, if you use headphones with an “L” shaped jack, you will have to use the earphone extender that comes with the case, as it will not be long enough by itself to plug into the phone. For those who frequently use headphones with your iPhone 5, this may be a deal breaker, as I found the sound quality to be all but unbearable using the extender.

There are also buttons to control the volume. On the left side of the case is a micro-USB charging port. You can use the USB-to-micro-USB charging cable to plug the case into a third-party USB charger or the powered USB port of a PC. You can also use the USB port to sync your iPhone without having to remove it from the case.

On the back of the case, near the bottom, is a battery indicator button. Pressing this button will illuminate up to four blue lights to indicate the battery level. Holding the button down for two seconds will also turn the charger on and off, which means you can preserve the battery until you need it. However, I did find the button to be a bit temperamental and didn’t always turn off the battery.

Performance

When looking at a battery case, I judge it on two main criteria: protection and battery life. Even since I got my first iPhone, I have rarely used it without a case. For me, a case is not a fashion accessory; it’s protecting my investment. The case offers good protection on the sides and back and has been able to protect my iPhone from a few drops.

PowerSkin claims that the 1,500 mAh battery will add about 70% more battery life to your iPhone 5. Seeing what a battery hog the iPhone can be, especially on a 4G or LTE network, you can almost never have too much battery capacity. When the battery is completely drained, it takes about three or four hours to completely recharge.

Overall

In some ways the PowerSkin for iPhone 5 is a step forward from the 4/4S model. In other ways, it’s a step backward. The case definitely has a better look to it and shaving off some of its thickness makes it a bit less bulky. From the standpoint of a case, it performs admirably.

However, PowerSkin sacrificed battery capacity in order to make the case thinner. Compared to the 4/4S model, there is 25% less capacity for a phone that is even more power hungry. Not knowing this, most would be thrilled with adding an extra 70% of battery life. Call me greedy.

In the end, my biggest complaint with the PowerSkin for iPhone 5 is that it has a smaller battery. The second is that I can’t use my favorite ear buds because they have an L-shape and the earphone extender’s sound quality is abysmal. But the PowerSkin for iPhone 5 keeps my iPhone charged throughout the day and protects it from life’s bumps and drops. At $79.99, this is a price worth paying.

Pros

  • Extends iPhone battery life by about 70%
  • Solid case protects phone
  • Thinner than 4/4S model

Cons

  • Smaller battery capacity than 4/4S model
  • Poor sound quality when using earphone extender

PowerSkin for iPhone 5

$79.99

Wayne A. Thorp, CFA is a vice president and senior financial analyst at AAII and editor of Computerized Investing. Follow him on Twitter at @WayneTAAII.


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