Review: Apple's iPhone Smart Battery Case finally grows up

Posted:
in iPhone
After taking a year off -- much to the chagrin of iPhone X owners -- Apple recently released a new version of its Smart Battery Case. This time, it comes with new features, a refined design, and is available for the first the first time in a larger size.

Apple iPhone Smart Battery Case
Apple iPhone Smart Battery Case


We went hands on with the new cases on launch day, and have been using them ever since to get a better picture of them over a longer period of time. While they still have their kinks, they are overall improved on the past designs.

The basics






Let's dive in with a few of the basics regarding the new cases. If you are familiar with Apple's silicone iPhone cases, you'll be familiar with the Smart Battery Cases. They have the same look and feel -- just with a big hump in the center. Silicone clads the outside of a rigid body lined with microfiber to help protect your phone.

The top portion of the case is flexible, which serves multiple purposes. First, it makes it easy for cellular signals to pass through without covering the entire phone back in a battery. Second, it bends back to make it easy to insert your phone.

Apple iPhone Smart Battery Case
Apple iPhone Smart Battery Cases


By keeping the battery case one piece, you don't have hinges, clips, or other rigid attachments that will inevitably break as we've seen happen on third-party cases for years.

The battery on the back also now extends all the way to the bottom, which gives a better appearance, allows for more capacity, and is more comfortable to hold. It also reduces that "chin" that used to sit below the bottom of the phone. This portion is now slimmed up, making the case as a whole smaller in appearance than before.

Capacity

Internally, Apple has packed a 1369mAh battery, but that doesn't tell the whole story. Instead of one large cell, Apple put in two smaller ones and wired them up together. This let them keep that amperage the same, but double the voltage. When you look at the power output in watt-hours, you get a better picture. The new cases have 10.1Wh output compared to only 8.98Wh of the last generation case.

Apple iPhone Smart Battery Case Lightning port
Apple iPhone Smart Battery Case Lightning port


In usage time, we saw a good 75 percent longer use out of our iPhone XS Max with the battery case on. As an example, we put it on our phone Thursday and got through all Thursday, all Friday, and most of Saturday. We did get about 20 minutes of charge time when we used it with wired CarPlay, but otherwise, we went charger-free for the entire time.

Apple says you should see 20 hours of internet use, up from 13 without the case.

Daily use

The goal of the Smart Battery Case is to work in the background, without you ever needing to think about it. They do give it the "smart" designation for a reason.

Apple iPhone Smart Battery Case
Apple iPhone Smart Battery Case


Whenever you charge up, the phone is always the priority. It gets the charge first, then the case gets charged up.

The case uses Lightning as input, which is ideal. That means regardless of if you have the case on the phone, you only need one cable. If you use a USB-C Lightning cable with USB-C PD, you can also fast charge the case, same as the iPhone.

There is a small LED on the inside of the case, useful when you're charging the case by itself -- but less so when the phone is in the case.

Apple iPhone Smart Battery Case wireless charger
Apple iPhone Smart Battery Case wireless charger


This all offers a lot of interoperability between the phone and the case, letting you always stay charged without changing any of your habits or cables. It even works with wireless chargers too.

A concern we had was how bulky these cases would be when actually having to carry them around. This concern was amplified on the XS Max, which is the first plus-sized phone Apple has developed a battery case for.

On our iPhone XS, this was mostly a non-issue. It added heft, but not enough to be a problem. We noticed the weight more readily with our iPhone XS Max. Bigger case, means a heavier one.

Worth the grown-up price tag?

No matter the model you choose, the new case will run you $129. That isn't a small sum. We've heard from readers who quickly compare Apple's battery case to much more "affordable" options found on Amazon or eBay.

Apple iPhone Smart Battery Case
Apple iPhone Smart Battery Case


This isn't quite an apt comparison though. Those cases that use Lightning are not MFi certified, which means they could potentially damage your phone while charging. They also frequently use micro USB, requiring a second cable to charge up. Whichever port is used, won't work with data like video out, USB adapters, headphones, or CarPlay. Moreso, they don't support USB-C to Lightning fast charging or wireless charging.

Apple also tightly integrates the case into iOS with slick animations and the battery case capacity in Notification Center. Your iPhone also knows when the Smart Battery Case is being used. Other cases trick your phone into thinking it is plugged into power and will ramp up power-intensive tasks. The Smart Battery Case prevents that, keeping the case lasting even longer.

A more appropriate comparison is between the new Mophie Juice Pack battery case or the Moment battery case, both of which are near the $100 price point, making Apple's no longer looking so pricey.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Where to buy

You can buy the new Smart Battery Case in black or white for the iPhone XR, XS, and XS Max for $129.
Louise7
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 21
    Moving that hump to the bottom in my opinion makes it worse. Not only is it ugly with the camera area looking like an intrusion rather than a protrusion, and I'm sure it rocks on the table when the near top of the screen is used while sitting on a table.
  • Reply 2 of 21
    Andrew_OSUAndrew_OSU Posts: 244member, editor
    Moving that hump to the bottom in my opinion makes it worse. Not only is it ugly with the camera area looking like an intrusion rather than a protrusion, and I'm sure it rocks on the table when the near top of the screen is used while sitting on a table.
    There is no rocking at all while sitting on a table. It also still needs the opening for antennas and keeping the case one piece. Mophie cases had a bad habit of breaking where the two pieces went together on their cases. A one-piece design negates that issue. Far better this way.
    toysandmemacguibb-15forgot usernamewatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 3 of 21
    There's another huge benefit for this case. It reduces the use of the phone's main battery and therefore extends its life. In using this case my main battery rarely drops below 50%. After a year and a half my X is already at 90% for battery condition. This case should significantly reduce future erosion.
    macguiforgot usernamewatto_cobracommentzillajony0
  • Reply 4 of 21
    Good review. Have the case and you're spot on. I don't see any downside to it, and didn't see any in your review - so why 4 out of 5? What would have given it 4.5 or 5?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 21
    Andrew_OSUAndrew_OSU Posts: 244member, editor
    doctwelve said:
    Good review. Have the case and you're spot on. I don't see any downside to it, and didn't see any in your review - so why 4 out of 5? What would have given it 4.5 or 5?
    It is still large, heavy, and pricey. Overall a great accessory that I enjoy, but those are still considerations for a lot of people.
  • Reply 6 of 21
    d0ggd0gg Posts: 6member
    "Whichever port is used, won't work with data like video out, USB adapters, headphones, or CarPlay. Moreso, they don't support USB-C to Lightning fast charging or wireless charging."

    Are you referring to the new Apple case or the knock offs on Amazon? Cuz if the Apple case won't support passthrough for CarPlay…. screw that noise.
  • Reply 7 of 21
    Andrew_OSUAndrew_OSU Posts: 244member, editor
    d0gg said:
    "Whichever port is used, won't work with data like video out, USB adapters, headphones, or CarPlay. Moreso, they don't support USB-C to Lightning fast charging or wireless charging."

    Are you referring to the new Apple case or the knock offs on Amazon? Cuz if the Apple case won't support passthrough for CarPlay…. screw that noise.
    Apple's port does work with all of those -- including CarPlay. Third party cases dont support data which includes headphones, CarPlay, adapters, card readers, etc.
    roundaboutnowwatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 21
    I just bought  this case over the weekend.  Love it. It’s a little bulky but it works better than other battery cases I’ve tried. Even though this case doesn’t say it, it DOES work without any problems with an IPhone X WITH updated IO!! my batteries life is down to 87%. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 21
    macguimacgui Posts: 1,262member
    Apple proper hasn't extolled the benefits of this case as reviews like this have.

    Phil248's use case alludes to a problem with batteries in general- the more frequently they drop to low capacity, the sooner charge cycles eat up their longevity. 

    Keeping the phone's battery constantly charged while the battery case handles the first line of defense is brilliant, and tech you don't get with third-party battery cases.

    As for the looks, there's not much that can be done about that and still have a very functional case. Covering the antennas means the phone works harder to find a signal, and generates more heat, which isn't good for either battery. The Apple case avoids that. I have no issue at all with the aesthetics.

    The only issue I have with this new version is the same as that of X owners — there's none for my phone, the SE. 

    Apple, make one and take my money! (I know it won't happen, but that was a little cathartic.)


    MadtigerLouise7thtwatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 21
    Do we have any info whether this case has passive antennas like the previous version??
  • Reply 11 of 21
    macguimacgui Posts: 1,262member
    Madtiger said:
    Do we have any info whether this case has passive antennas like the previous version??
    It does not. The new phones have a new antenna system and the battery is relocated and designed to work with the phones' antennae.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 21
    Chemist83Chemist83 Posts: 2unconfirmed, member
    I bought it and I love it. I only get like 2 days though but I'm on it all the time. Speaking of battery degradation. My iPhone X is at 97% and I have been using i every day since launch, even after buying my iphone xs max. I have 240 charge cycles. I still get 50% battery usage after a 12 hour constant usage. I'll probably buy another case for the X when I have more money.
    edited January 24 watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 21
    Steves Jobs would never have allowed Apple to release such an ugly product. He never did.
  • Reply 14 of 21
    gordoncy said:
    Steves Jobs would never have allowed Apple to release such an ugly product. He never did.
    Is there a dislike button?  Come off it.

    My kids asked me for these cases and they love it.  My youngest son still has the iPhone 7 version so we compared them side-by-side and he is QUITE envious of his older brothers' XS versions.  The difference is substantial.  It's a great product for those who need it.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 21
    Can you charge the battery case seperately from the iPhone? Or do they need to be connected? For example, plugging one in while the other charges wirelessly; or, hopefully, side by side on the AirPower.

    Also, what happens if you both plug it in and place it on a charger at the same time?

    I've never owned a battery case, so I apologize if these are stupid questions.
  • Reply 16 of 21
    crowleycrowley Posts: 5,831member
    Japhey said:
    Can you charge the battery case seperately from the iPhone? Or do they need to be connected? For example, plugging one in while the other charges wirelessly; or, hopefully, side by side on the AirPower.

    Also, what happens if you both plug it in and place it on a charger at the same time?

    I've never owned a battery case, so I apologize if these are stupid questions.
    Yes, you can charge the battery case independently, it has an LED on the inside of the case that shows when it's charging.

    I've no idea what happens if you try to charge it wirelessly and with a wire at the same time.  I imagine the same thing that happens with an iPhone, whatever that is.
  • Reply 17 of 21
    Louise7Louise7 Posts: 3unconfirmed, member
    I have just bought the Xs version for my X and it works perfectly fine  
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 21
    Louise7Louise7 Posts: 3unconfirmed, member
    Calany01 said:
    I just bought  this case over the weekend.  Love it. It’s a little bulky but it works better than other battery cases I’ve tried. Even though this case doesn’t say it, it DOES work without any problems with an IPhone X WITH updated IO!! my batteries life is down to 87%. 
    Has your battery life gone down since using the battery case? 
  • Reply 19 of 21
    I purchased mine when they were first announced for my Xs (I had previously used the earlier version with my 7 and really liked it).

    I've nicknamed it "Moby" as it looks like a white whale.   It performs beautifully and I can get three days of my normal phone use without needed to charge both the phone and Moby.  It has not interfered with any of my car mounts or stands.

    It does however add a lot of weight and size to the Xs, but fortunately it is very easy to get on and off so I switch it out for the Totalee clear thin case for evenings out.

    One note of caution, this case is NOT water safe, even thought the Xs is water safe for up to 3 m for short times.  So if you are taking it boating be sure to use a waterproof bag.
  • Reply 20 of 21
    Weird thing...before Smart Case, my battery health was 99%.  After using Smart Case on my XS for 5 days, battery health is 100%.

    Not sure if this is due to case or iOS beta 12.2??  Anyway, cool beans!
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