Power-Up Your iPhone – Mophie Helium vs. Mophie Air vs. Sony Portable Charger [Experience]

Mophie Helium and Air Juice Pack“You have 20% battery left.” We’ve all seen this. It feels like a doctor is telling you that you have 2 hours to live, because let’s be honest, you can’t live without checking Facebook or Instagram every 10 minutes, which is what got you here in the first place. Fortunately, companies like Mophie understand your needs and have designed several battery cases to make sure you’re always in the loop. Today we’ll be looking at 2 models, the Helium (1500 mAh) and the Air (1700 mAh). As a comparative feature, I’ll also review an external battery pack (the Sony PS Portable Charger, but this can apply to all external battery packs) to outline what works best for you.

Note: I’ve come to realize my posts get a little long, so I’ll try and keep it short and to the point. I’ve also added a Tl;dr section to each paragraph, which summarizes what I said in that section in one sentence.

Helium

IMG_9591-2A simple and sleek iPhone case that adds about 1.5cm in height and almost doubles the thickness, carrying a 1500 mAh battery which is advertised to give you back 80% of your battery.

IMG_9592-2The back includes a switch to turn the case on and off as well as a 4 light battery level indicator for the case itself. With the added height, Mophie has included two speaker grills on the front face to redirect sounds towards the user.

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IMG_9587-2IMG_9596-2There are cutouts for all the buttons, audio jack, and the camera (with no interference with the flash), but since the case uses a micro USB port to charge, it has covered up the lightning port.

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The micro USB acts as a replacement for the lightning connector, which allows for connecting to a computer to sync or charge – a nice convenience since it is a commonly found cord (also supplied with the case). Due to the deep audio jack hole, a special cord is included that extends the jack outside. It’s another piece to carry and I wish Mophie would reconsider the design, like plugging the hole and making the jack flush with the case itself.

The Helium is marketed to provide an additional 80% extra juice, with a 500 charge cycle, after which the case will then drop to provide less than 75% of it’s original capacity.

Tl;dr – it feels great in the hand, it claims to recharge 80%, you can now use a micro usb cable, but at the same time need to carry an extra audio jack cable to use your headphones.

Informal Testing

Let’s put their claims to the test. So I tried to keep the context of this test as realistic as possible. I had my iPhone 5S (battery capacity = ~1570mAh ) at 15% and a fully charged Helium case.

  • 11:00 AM – I lightly used my iPhone for 5 minutes. Right around that time, the bottom of the case started to get warm (as it always does during charging, even if I don’t use it).
  • 11:10 AM – My iPhone battery went from 15% to 20% in 10 minutes (0.5%/minute) while under normal usage (scrolling through Facebook at about a quarter brightness).
  • 11:13 AM – A few minutes later I decided to lock my iPhone and see if the case would cool down; it’s always alarming to have a warm/hot object connected to my iPhone, as there are many cases of smartphones exploding due to heat.
  • 11:32 AM – 32 minutes in, the case is consistently warm and indicates that it’s half full,  and my iPhone is at 49%,  so it’s charging at about 1%/minute. I decide to lightly use it again and unfortunately the case does heat up.
  • 11:57 AM – My iPhone is at 70% and the case indicates that it’s now empty.

Note: While recharging the case itself (without the iPhone inside) through USB, there are no heat issues.

Tl;dr – the case gets warm while charging the iPhone and charges at a rate of 1%/minute, up to a total of 65% in about an hour.

Great

  • Provides an additional 65% charge (compared to the 80% advertised) in about an hour, depending on your usage during charging
  • Soft exterior rubber finish
  • I find it adds better ergonomics, a thicker object to hold that curves to your hands
  • Audio is redirected to face the user
  • Replaces the proprietary  Lightning cable with a commonly found micro USB cable
  • Protective enough to prevent scratches on the case, also has a raised lip around the screen to prevent scratching on surfaces

Not So Great

  • Over long periods of usage, it gets tiring to hold such a long object, needing to move your thumb up and down the screen can be annoying after awhile (thumb zone rule)
  • Dedicated audio jack cable is another piece to lose that you will need to use headphones (the contrary would be if you use wireless headphones)
  • The cutout of the volume and lock button are very deep and actually hurt to get to due to sharp edges
  • Even though this case covers your iPhone, it is just as precious as your iPhone, so dropping this case would fill you up with just as many regrets as dropping your bare iPhone
  • Adds weight to the iPhone as well as complicates carrying this in a pocket due to it’s size (looking at all you skinny jeans owners)

Air

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Since the Air is so similar to the Helium, I’ll avoid going into detail about it, and instead only point out what the difference is. The Air is marketed to provide an additional 100% extra juice, with a 500 charge cycle, after which the case will then drop to provide less than 75% of it’s original capacity.

Tl;dr – it also feels great in the hand, uses a micro usb cable for charging and syncing, and still requires a audio jack extension cable.

Differences

There are two major differences worth pointing out between the Helium and the Air:

  1. The main difference is the battery size. Sporting a 1700 mAh battery pack, it advertises giving you an additional 100% charge.
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  2. The volume and lock buttons are covered and include dedicated buttons to access.

Tl;dr – it has a bigger battery and has dedicated/covered volume and lock buttons.

Informal Testing

  • 7:29 – I start charging my iPhone at 15% with the Air at full charge.
  • 7:40 – Charged to 28%, an increase of 13% in 11 minutes (1.2%/minute, more than double the rate of the Helium), case still indicates 4 lights (near full charge), so I used Facebook Messenger for about 5 minutes.
  • 8:10 – My iPhone is now at 58%, an increase of 30% in 40 minutes (0.75%/minute), the battery indicator on the case now blinks 2 lights (half the capacity), and the back of the case has gotten quite warm, but nothing alarming.
  • 8:31 – iPhone is now at 80%, an increase of 22% in 21 minutes (1.05%/minute), the back is consistently warm, and the case now indicates 1 blinking light.
  • 8:40 – Final charge of the iPhone is at 88%, an increase of 8% in 9 minutes (0.89%/minute), the case is now out of charge.

So in 1 hour and 11 minutes, the Air has provided 73% additional juice at an average of 0.97%/minute (with little to no usage during charging). Compare it to the Helium, which provided 65% at an average of 1%/minute. That’s a whopping 8% additional charge!

Tl;dr – you’re paying $20 more for an additional 8% charge.

Great

  • Provides about 73% charge (compared to the 100% advertised) in about 1 hour and 11 minutes, depending on your usage during charging
  • Soft exterior rubber finish
  • Case feels sturdier and less creaky parts compared to the Helium
  • Dedicated button covers, so no digging into the case to reach the volume or lock button – very comfortable to use
  • Audio is redirected to face the user
  • Replaces Lightning cable with a commonly found micro USB cable
  • Protective enough to prevent scratches on the case, also has a raised lip around the screen to prevent scratching on surfaces

Not So Great

  • Only a 8% charge difference in charge for a $20 difference in price tags
  • Poor ergonomics due to the extra height from the case, which disrupts the thumb zone rule
  • Dedicated audio jack cable is another piece to lose that you will need to use headphones (the contrary would be if you use wireless headphones)
  • Protects from everyday scratching, but I wouldn’t feel safe about dropping this case from any height
  • Also a skinny jeans hater

Tl;dr – The mere fact that the buttons are more accessible justifies the price, but this should be included in the Helium to begin with!

Helium or Air?

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Just based on the comfort and sturdier build of the Air, even though it is $20 more, should justify you choosing it over the Helium. If you don’t care about the case and rarely touch your external buttons, then go for the Helium. I don’t recommend basing your decision on the larger battery size, just because the variability in the charges, they can come pretty close.

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To be fair, there are a lot of factors that play into how your phone gets charged. I’m sure if my phone was on airplane mode, if it was turned off, or if I had bluetooth or wifi turned on or off, it would all  provide different results, which is explained in their FAQs page.

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When purchasing specialty cases like a battery case, you need to realistically consider whether you need that full charge to begin with. You should observe how often your iPhone goes below 10%, what time of the day is that? If it’s during the night, then you may be at home or around a jack that you can charge your phone. Will changing your charging patterns solve your battery issues?

Charging your iPhone to a full charge at night usually covers most of my days usage. You may be charging every other day, so simply changing your charging patterns can save you from spending money you don’t need to. It could also be more efficient to just buy a spare third-party Lightning cable and carry that around in your bag if you have access to a computer sometime during the day, you can give your iPhone a quick boost. I would recommend this type of case to users who are on-the-go for most of the day.

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So if you enjoy traveling a lot, hiking, or just being in areas where you won’t always have access to an outlet or USB port. You’d be buying it for a safety reason, which is what I see this case to be targeted as. Otherwise, it’s not worth dealing with the bulky size this case adds. Note: if you decide to buy either case, be sure to check out their product FAQ (Helium, Air) page for details on how to optimally use the cases!

Tl;dr – if you want a case that feels good, get the Air, if you don’t care and want to save money, get the Helium.

Wait, There’s More!

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I also wanted to include a charging option that may be more suitable to most people who are interested in having that extra charge – external batteries! I’ve included a test with the Sony PS Vita Portable Charger below. The benefit of an external battery is that they aren’t constrained to only charging your iPhone. It offers a standard USB port that you can plug any cable into to charge your devices.

Depending on the quality of your external batteries, the rated output will vary, which may restrict the devices you can charge. That’s why investing in a decent one to begin with will be a better investment! In regards to testing, the Sony PS Vita Portable charger has a rated output of 5V/1.5A with a capacity of 5000 mAh. The iPhone 5S charges at 1A, so this charger will charge your case at the maximum speed an iPhone 5S can handle. These things matter when you consider an iPad charges at 2.1A, so the Sony charger would take longer to charge than if you used the supplied outlet charger from Apple, that charges at 2.1A. (Details about charging iPhones and iPads can be found in this article).

Informal Testing

Now onto testing!

  • 3:42 – iPhone starts at 18% with the Sony PS Vita Portable Charger at full charge
  • 3:55 – Charged up to 31%, that’s 13% in 13 minutes
  • 4:34 – Now at 73%, an increase of 42% in 39 minutes, no signs of any heat issues from the charger
  • 5:31 – Finishing at 99%, an increase of 26% in 57 minutes, the Sony charger now shows a red light indicating low battery. (Purely speculation after this point) This abnormal length may be due to how iPhone’s charge, they discharge at 100% even when plugged in, which is meant to savour your battery in some way. So the case may be that my iPhone was at 99%-100% for awhile and I only noticed some time after that.

So with so much mAh left in the Sony charger, I decided to use up some of my iPhones battery and charge it again.

  • 10:37 – iPhone starts charging at 61%
  • 11:08 – Charged up to 89%, that’s 28% in 31 minutes.
  • 11:37 – Stopping at 98%, the Sony charger still showing a red light, meaning there’s actually still some juice left.

Verdict

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That’s an additional ~120% of battery with more to spare! The great part about it, I only paid around $25 for this charger (and it’s proprietary cable to charge itself, but that won’t be the case for all external batteries)! Even better, is that this can be shared, used on other devices, and won’t get in the way when you don’t need it. Yeah you’ll need to carry an extra item, but leave it in your bag, and you’ll never have to worry about not having enough batteries again!

Recommendation

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Get an external battery. It’s cheap, versatile, small enough to not be a burden to carry around, and doesn’t add any bulk to your iPhone. There really is no downside!

You can grab these items at the following retailers:

Helium ($79.99): Apple, Best Buy, Future Shop, Amazon

Air ($99.99): Apple, Best Buy, Future Shop, Amazon

Sony ($49.99): Best Buy, Future Shop, Amazon (currently $19.99, you can price match this at Best Buy or Future Shop to get it for even cheaper!)