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Gallery Photo: Mophie Juice Pack Air and Helium for iPhone 5
Gallery Photo: Mophie Juice Pack Air and Helium for iPhone 5

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Mophie Juice Pack Air and Helium: the extra battery life your iPhone 5 desperately needs

When you need your iPhone 5 to last all day and more, prepare to bulk it up

Smartphone batteries pretty much suck. With rare exceptions, manufacturers have decided that a thin and light phone is more important than one with stellar battery life. Phones used to last days between charges, but today's smartphones are lucky to last a single day before tapping out. This isn’t more evident than with the iPhone 5: Apple managed to make a phone slimmer and lighter than the previous iPhone 4S, but its mediocre battery life stayed the same. While Motorola has released a couple of smartphones with colossal batteries (the Droid RAZR Maxx and RAZR Maxx HD), Apple has been content with keeping the battery life the same across a few generations of the iPhone. It’s possible to get the iPhone 5 to last all day with light usage, but most heavy users find themselves charging it throughout the day to get it to last from dawn to dusk.

That's where Mophie's line of Juice Pack cases comes in. Mophie has been making cases with built-in batteries for the iPhone ever since the iPhone 3G in 2008 and it finally released iPhone 5-compatible versions earlier this year. As someone who constantly deals with a dead smartphone, I’ve relied on Mophie cases to get me through the day for years. Therefore, I was eager to try out the new Helium and Air cases for the iPhone 5 to see if they could solve my battery dilemmas.

Design / performance

Going the distance

This is how you get through the day

The Juice Pack Helium and the Juice Pack Air are pretty similar: both are sled-style cases that you slide the iPhone into. The cases essentially double the thickness of the iPhone, and add about 62 to 68 percent more weight to it. Both have soft-touch finishes, and on / off switches and capacity meters on their backs. The differences between the two are minimal: the Helium is ever so slightly thinner (0.04 inches) and lighter (0.24 ounces), but has less battery capacity (1,500mAh vs. 1,700mAh) than the Air. The Air also has better build quality, with pass-through style buttons for volume and power instead of the Helium’s simple cutaways.

Mophie says the Helium will get you 80 percent more battery life from your iPhone 5, or roughly an additional six hours of talk time before you need to plug it in. In my tests, the Helium was able to recharge the iPhone from zero to about 66 percent full before running out of juice. Though that's not quite up to Mophie’s claims, it's plenty enough to get most anyone through the day without having to worry about their iPhone dying during happy hour at the bar. You won’t be going a solid two days with heavy usage on the Helium, but you can take full advantage of your iPhone’s features without being concerned too much about the battery dying on you.

Similarly, Mophie claims that the Air case will net 100 percent more battery life, or an additional eight hours of talk time. As with the Helium, my tests with the Air didn't quite match Mophie's claims — a full charge from zero brought the iPhone to about 80 percent full — but it kept me off an outlet the entire day, and even into the next day if I played my cards right.

The Air has more capacity and a better build quality than the Helium

Both cases suffer from the same drawbacks: the way you slide the phone into the case can leave marks and scuffs on the iPhone (and sure enough, I noticed some blemishes on my black iPhone 5 after using them), and the two halves of the cases can be really hard to separate, making it a pain to take the phone in and out of the case. That wouldn't be so much of a problem, except that the Juice Packs' micro-USB ports don't allow for syncing or data transfer — they just charge the battery. That means whenever you need to sync your phone with your computer over USB, or if you tether your iPhone over USB (which I do often), you have to pry the case off the phone. Also, because the headphone jack is located on the bottom of the iPhone 5, the cutaway to access it through the Juice Packs is pretty deep. Mophie provides an extender with the cases to enable headphone cables to reach the deeply recessed port, but I didn't have any trouble using the case with a number of headsets and no extender, including Apple's EarPods. If you have headphones with a right-angle plug on the end, prepare to carry around that silly adapter.

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That leaves the question, which one should you buy? Frankly, it's a no-brainer to me: the Juice Pack Air is the one to get if you are looking for a battery case for the iPhone 5. I'm not really sure why the Helium exists — the size and weight difference between the two cases is practically imperceptible, and if you are going to use a battery case that bulks up your phone, you might as well get as much extra capacity as possible. The Juice Pack Helium can be had for $79.99, but my advice is to spend the extra $20 for the better-made, longer-lasting Juice Pack Air, which sells for $99.99. Until Apple releases a Maxx version of the iPhone — and by all accounts, that will never happen — the Juice Pack battery cases are the next best option.

That leaves the question, which one should you buy? Frankly, it's a no-brainer to me: the Juice Pack Air is the one to get if you are looking for a battery case for the iPhone 5. I'm not really sure why the Helium exists — the size and weight difference between the two cases is practically imperceptible, and if you are going to use a battery case that bulks up your phone, you might as well get as much extra capacity as possible. The Juice Pack Helium can be had for $79.99, but my advice is to spend the extra $20 for the better-made, longer-lasting Juice Pack Air, which sells for $99.99. Until Apple releases a Maxx version of the iPhone — and by all accounts, that will never happen — the Juice Pack battery cases are the next best option.

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