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Computerized Investing > May 17, 2014
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by Wayne A. Thorp, CFA

$129.95 for powerstation XL; $69.95 for PowerPak Ultra

Comparison of two high-capacity mobile power banks.

As consumers accumulate more and more mobile devices, their need for power also increases. There are times, however, when we aren’t near an outlet to charge our power-hungry devices. This has led to a number of mobile “power banks” being produced that allow us to plug in and recharge when we’re traveling or otherwise away from an outlet. I have reviewed several such power banks previously and have two new ones I put up against each other, head-to-head: the mophie powerstation XL and New Trent PowerPak Ultra. Both offer high power capacities, 14,000 mAh for the PowerPak Ultra and 12,000 mAh for the powerstation XL, but offer very different performance at very different price points.

Out of the Box

This review is very much a study in contrast, which was apparent as soon as I unboxed both devices. The mophie powerstation XL has more of a sleek “buttoned-down” look to it, with black rubberized coating against brushed silver edging. The New Trent PowerPak Ultra is much “busier,” with its orange casing and black rubber edging. It’s evident that the PowerPak is trying to appeal to the more outdoorsy types, as its build gives it the appearance of being able to handle its fair share of bumps. The New Trent website makes mention of the PowerPak’s “rugged scratched-resistant exterior and ribbed casing,” but doesn’t offer any specs as to its tolerances. That being said, I feel pretty confident that the PowerPak would fare better in more extreme conditions than the powerstation XL.

The PowerPak Ultra has a bigger footprint than the powerstation XL, measuring 5.6 inches by 3.1 inches by 1.1 inches versus 4.5 inches by 2.8 inches by 0.91 inches. Surprisingly, the powerstation XL actually weighs in nearly 20% heavier than the PowerPak Ultra (15.49 ounces versus 13 ounces). This offered the first indication that the PowerPak Ultra might not be all that it appears.

Both power banks have USB ports to charge two devices simultaneously: a 2.1A high-speed port for tablets and a 1A port for smartphones and other USB devices. The powerstation XL’s USB changing ports, as well as the micro USB port, are exposed to the elements. In contrast, the PowerPak Ultra’s two output USB ports and the micro-USB input port (used to recharge the pack) are covered with plastic flaps that protect them from water and dust. Again, however, New Trent doesn’t offer any specifications regarding the power bank’s water resistance.

The mophie powerstation XL has four battery indicator lights that light up when you press the battery button on its side. The New Trent PowerPak Ultra also has four lights that glow when you press the button on its face.

Both power banks comes with micro-USB charging cables, but neither comes with its own power adapter.

Performance

The New Trent PowerPak Ultra has a slight leg up over the mophie powerstation XL by way of a slightly larger battery capacity, 14,000 mAh versus 12,000 mAh. This means I can, in theory, charge my iPhone 5 and its 1,440 mAh battery 9.7 and 8.3 times, respectively. Likewise, I can charge my iPad Air and its 8,820 mAh battery 1.6 and 1.4 times, respectively.

However, as I have learned from testing other power banks, the quoted battery capacity very rarely lives up to real-world testing. With the PowerPak Ultra, I was able to go from 0% to 85% on my iPad Air in roughly four and a half hours, even with the “high-speed” 2A port. By contrast, I was able to fully top off my iPad Air from 0% with the mophie powerstation in roughly the same amount of time as the PowerPak Ultra, even though its stated battery capacity is nearly 15% less.

Price

Call me a cynic, but I when I compared the price of the PowerPak Ultra ($70) to that of the powerstation ($130), I stopped and took note. Granted, in my mind, mophie is more of a known quantity so it may be able to command a premium price, but the PowerPak Ultra is almost half the price yet is more “rugged” and claims to have 15% more battery capacity. After my real-world testing, it would seem that New Trent’s pricing makes up for its lack of follow-through in terms of performance.

Overall

These two portable power banks offer tremendous battery capacity when you are away from an outlet. I usually pack one in my bag when I am flying in case I get stranded in an airport, or for use on longer flights. On paper, the New Trent PowerPak Ultra has all the advantages: higher battery capacity, rugged design and tremendous value. In reality, the mophie powerstation XL beats out the PowerPak in terms of performance, even with its slightly smaller battery capacity. That being said, I am not sure the performance issues of the PowerPak Ultra are “bad” enough for me to rate the powerstation XL above it. I would give both qualified recommendations, dinging mophie for its price and New Trent for its overstated performance.

Pros

mophie powerstation XL

  • Comparable battery performance to New Trent PowerPak, even with smaller capacity
  • Two ports, one high-speed 2A port

New Trent PowerPak Ultra

  • Two ports, one high-speed 2A port
  • Tremendous value given its claimed battery capacity
  • Rugged construction with port flaps to protect from water and dust+

Cons

mophie powerstation XL

  • Expensive relative to other power banks of similar capacity and performance
  • Power adapter not included
  • Heavier than New Trent PowerPak Ultra even with smaller footprint

New Trent PowerPak Ultra

  • Falls short of mophie powerstation in performance, even with greater reported capacity
  • Power adapter not included
  • Larger footprint than mophie powerstation XL

mophie powerstation XL & New Trent PowerPak Ultra

$129.95 for powerstation XL (currently $124.95 from Amazon.com); $69.95 for PowerPak Ultra (currently $69.95 from Amazon.com)

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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