LifeCHARGE iPhone 5 and iPhone 5S MFi Approved Battery Booster Case
LifeCHARGE is an Ontrion Group company specializing in the production of portable power banks and smartphone battery cases. Based in Dallas, Texas, they are entering this ever fast growing market with prices anyone can afford. What about the brand, quality, and functionality? Today we will answer all of these questions by taking a look at one of their second generation releases of the Apple iPhone 5 and Apple iPhone 5S battery case.
MFi stands for "Made For <Insert Apple 'i' Product Here>. In this case, this MFi approval stands for "Made For iPhone". MFi licenses must be obtained from Apple as it serves as a standardization for their products. This allows external developers to provide complimentary products that is guaranteed usable with the associated Apple products. Generally MFi devices are chargers and docks, and now the LifeCHARGE battery case. Hopefully this clarified what the 'MFi Approved' means in the title.
A Glance In A Minute
The LifeCHARGE battery case comes off with a squarish-boxy feel. This has changed quite a bit compared to their previous corner snap-on flip-case. It now offers a much better feel as well as protection because sides are now completely covered. Like always, a hard plastic feel can be experienced. Lastly, the insert and removal is quite convenient providing those with a great option of using this case selectively.
Box and Packaging
Like always, LifeCHARGE employs the minimalist packaging. You won't see much other than the magnetically held flip storage box. Thanks to the two magnets, there really is no redundant plastic packaging in sight serving this eco-friendly purpose. If you take a closer look at the image, the case will bump up the overall size. I personally don't mind this as I feel that I can maintain a better grip. However, this is me coming from a background of using large 5-inch devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S4 with an Otterbox Defender case. In my case, I am still able to hold the iPhone case in one hand so I do not mind it too much especially when this case can provide a full charge.
140 x 63.2 x 15.75 (mm)
I made a very lengthy explanation inside my LifeCHARGE power bank review explaining the output current and the importance of using a high quality adapter. It is quite lengthy as it takes up two sections so hopefully I can summarize in a nutshell here. Feel free to take a look at the full explanation especially if you want to see the internal circuitry workings. The key figure you should be looking at is the charging current. The stronger or faster the current, the faster the battery case will be charged. In this case, the current is measured in terms of amps, which we will denote with ‘A’ for short. A laptop provides about 0.7 to 0.8A, most wall adapters provide 1A with some providing up to 2.1A. Of course, a 2.1A charger will charge the battery case faster than a 1.0A charger. This is probably the wrong section to be talking about this, but the iPhone battery case does not come with a wall charger. A micro-USB to USB cord is provided so any other device with an USB port can be used to recharge this case. It takes quite a while to charge the case through a computer so definitely consider buying a wall charger. We will touch more on this later on in the review. If you wish, feel free to jump to the section of my experience with the charging of the device.
Taking A Look Inside
As usual, as well, the LifeCHARGE commits to a very effective packaging. The inner flip out panel provides some key information regarding the battery case. However, reading the manual tucked away beneath the case is still recommended. On the right side, you can see a clear plastic window revealing the battery case. As usual, once again, the case is slid out from underneath. There is a very small compartment made of a green cardboard like paper wrapping the micro-USB to USB cord in place. This will serve as the charging cord for this device. We generally throw out the packaging after opening it, but I strongly advise against it. Like the two power banks I have reviewed, the packaging is great for storage. The magnetic held flap means no icky-sticky glue or residue on the package. The battery is designed for everyday usage, but those that wish to use it selectively can as well. This is why this second generation case features a two part removable top for easy insert and removal of the phone. The first generation focused more of a snap on, reminds me of how they positioned the case with the Galaxy S4. As of right now, I envy iPhone owners and here’s why below!
First Look and Feel
After taking this case out and holding it in my hands, it felt different than expected. There’s actually not much of a rubberized feel to it. If you’ve ever held an Otterbox or Go Ballistic case, you will know what I mean. The former features silicone while the latter uses TPU, but both are relatively hard rubberized shells on the outside. I don’t really feel that way with this case. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t really a disadvantage. My Otterbox is pretty much a dust magnet now. Perhaps that is a bit of an exaggeration, but the back is prone to gathering dust scraps. Having a much less rubberized coating solves this problem. In terms of this case’s ability grip surfaces, it falls short. That’s not to say that the case slides very easily across a table, but it will slide off any surface at an extreme angle. This case is not fully rugged and so take caution for outdoor usage. Cases like the Otterbox Defender, LifeProof, and Dog & Bone take protection very seriously. They specialize in extreme drop shock protection, water/ moisture protection, dirt, and dust proofing. So what exactly is this case good for?
Are You Protected?
One of the biggest trade-offs with battery cases is that they are big, bulky, and much of their design goes to incorporating a battery in an efficient manner. Their primary focus is not on protection. We can see this with the first generation iPhone LifeCHARGE case. It packs a battery at the back, but leaves the sides exposed to knicks, bumps, scratches, dents, and anything else your creative mind can draw up. There has been quite an improvement with the second generation case. If we take a look at the sides, top, bottom, and back, we see that this case only exposes what needs to be exposed. Let’s start off with the sides.
We have the volume rocker on the side of the iPhone and so naturally this is exposed to us. If we take a look at the openings, we can see that just enough is exposed to allow the volume rocker and lock switch to be easily accessed. Notice how It’s a much bigger hole rather than two small holes where the volume rocker buttons nest tightly in them. I have seen some cases do this and I’m glad LifeCHARGE isn’t one of them that does this. This is probably better explained through the lock flick switch. Let's take a look at the case from a side view.
A View of the Volume Rocker and Lock Switch
You will probably notice that these openings are bigger than necessary. This is actually be design as it makes these buttons more accessible. The hands-on experience will really help to explain this. The idea is what if you are in a dimmed room or need to fumble the side for a unlock or to adjust the volume? If you want to navigate it based on its position rather than looking for the correct button or switch before configuring it, this would be quite difficult if it's a perfect fit. Not only that, it would make the lock switch much harder to adjust. Nevertheless, this design still wraps a shell around the two buttons and switch. Draco Design is probably the only company that doesn't wrap a shell around key components of a phone so this isn't something you have to look too detailed into.
Top and Bottom View
Hopefully for efficiency purposes, this works out. The opening with the micro-USB port is the bottom side and the other is the top. The top is just another hole for the power button. I feel that the opening is a bit bigger than necessary to get the job done, but it's there so can't complain. The bottom is a headphone jack. Thankfully, this is opening is also bigger as to ensure a perfect fit with most headphone jacks. Some headphone jacks are in a different formation and so have trouble plugging into some phone cases.
We will take a look at the micro-USB charging just a bit later on, but this view also provides a better picture of how the case looks like. As you can see, the two sides of the case are slanted inwards. This is to provide a good grip even as this case adds a bit of bulk to your iPhone 5. Judging by the extension outwards, the thickness is less than the phone itself so you are really just getting pure battery. I felt that I could still maintain a good grip on my phone even when using it with one hand, which I could not do with my Galaxy S4 Otterbox Defender case. Although that isn't a battery case, this is and it just goes to show how it is able to keep the size under control.
A Look On The Back
The camera hole is pretty much unavoidable unless you never want to take pictures. The good thing is that there is still a wrap around so we're not talking about the edge of the phone just grooving in and then out. There is still some kind of frame or support giving it the rectangular boundary.
Let's focus on the bottom right of the battery case. The first four bars are LED light indicators for the battery level. Now if a full charge is 100%, we can assume that each LED light indicator represents 25%. The last bar is really a button to turn on the battery case. Before we move onto the performance in terms of how long the case takes to recharge or how long it takes to charge an iPhone, we will look at just the physical details a bit more.
Keeping It Compact
Looks like LifeCHARGE is changing this up a bit with the iPhone 5 battery case. Back when I reviewed the Galaxy S4 battery case, the whole bottom portion was pretty much dedicated to the LED indicator lights and power button. This is a complete change in design. Rather than having these LED indicator lights and power button spread out horizontally throughout the bottom of the case, it now sits in the bottom right corner. This makes it very convenient for right handed people to turn over their phone with the case on it and press the power on button to give their phone a quick battery boost. This isn't to say left handed people will have trouble turning on the battery case. After all, the iPhone 5 isn't as wide as other phones so there should be no problem with reaching across the phone to press the button.
I admit the power toggle button is a bit small. My fingers are quite skinny and this includes my thumb so press down on the power button isn't too difficult. However, a colleague of mine was playing around with the case and it didn't work so well for him. For him, he had to use his nails to press down on the button. In this case, a circular button design would probably be better as it would take more of a thumb shape. Doing a bit of math, this will maximize surface area for which the thumb can make contact with, which will allow for a much better power toggling.
Finally, can you tell me how many LED indicator lights or bars are lit at the moment? The correct answer is three, but this probably took you a while to figure out didn't it? The issue here is that the LED indicator lights are not isolated internally. What you are seeing in the image is actually spillover of an active LED light over to an inactive LED light's display window. This battery case has a screw-less design so there is no official way to open it up. The best you can do is probably just estimate the battery remaining in the case. For example, just round it down to two bars remaining if you can't really tell if there's two or three bars remaining. The LED indicator light will eventually start to blink down to one bar. This just means the the battery is running low and it is time to recharge the battery case.
Taking A Look Inside
Before we can actually review the performance, we need to take a look at the inside. More specifically, we need to take a look at how the iPhone 5 will fit in. The first thing you'll notice is that the technical specifications are engraved in the inside. I guess this is beneficial for if, in case, you lose your instruction manual and need to consult it. Other than that, nothing much can be said about it. The engraving job looks good and there's no sign that it will come off from scratching it.
Unlike the previous generation battery case, the inside of this battery case is not made out of felt. It features the same hard, rubberized plastic feel. I would have preferred the felt as it is less likely to scratch or make markings on the iPhone 5, but this doesn't seem to happen with the current choice of materials. It's a bit hard to see, but the bezel edges are raised just a tiny bit. This will prevent the screen from touching any surface when the phone is placed faced down. There is a slightly tighter fit when trying to put the case on with an iPhone that has a screen protector on. Some screen protectors are thicker than others and the iPhone I tried it out with had one of the thicker screen protectors. It was a tight fit, but I managed to get the phone inside. This is just something worth noting in case you are getting this case and a screen protector at the same time for maximal protection.
Opening It Up
This is an image showing the process of putting an iPhone into the case. This case actually opens up into to. There are teeths at the sides to lock the upper half and lower half in place so you don't accidentally pull apart the case when trying to get it out of your pocket or something. I like this design much better than the snap-on design seen with the earlier generation LifeCHARGE iPhone battery case and the LifeCHARGE Galaxy S4 battery case. Why? Well, this design prevents denting or knicking the corners of the phone when trying to click the phone in place. The sides and back of the phone slide right against the surface of this battery case. It is a perfect fit so there is absolutely no need forcefully try to insert the phone in place.
Lining Up The Port
One thing to pay close attention to is the port. Make sure the charger port lines up perfectly or else there could be some problems with the charging. I found that you have to give the phone a slight push inwards before the charger port is fully connected to the phone.
Another thing you'll notice in this image is the fact that the case somewhat attempts to redirect the sound. Since there is a chunk of plastic at the bottom to house the charging port receiver, it adds a bit to the existing size. Notice that there are some holes and the idea behind that is probably to redirect the sound if you are blasting music away on your iPhone. The iPhone 5 has speakers opening or more like facing downwards. The case makes an attempt to redirect it forwards towards the user instead of blocking off the speakers all together seen in quite a few battery cases. This should deliver a better sound, but user experiences will differ.
The Apple iPhone 5 houses an 1,440 mAh internal battery. Meanwhile, the battery case provides up to 2,300 mAh in terms of capacity. This would mean that the case is capable of charging the phone about one and slightly over a half times. Of course, this is theoretically speaking as, after all, rechargeable batteries loose about 20% to 30% of their load after first usage. This is probably more noticeable with power banks as they attempt to compact quite a few batteries together and this can lead to issues such as over heating and a faster lithium-ion battery wear and tear. Efficiency is often an issue affecting batteries and better built batteries can retain about 80% of their efficiency compared to less well-built ones, which sits to even around 60% of their efficiency. As for this case, I was able to get one full charge out of it, bit it was quite slow. The battery case isn't capable of producing a very high output like seen with wall chargers. Wall chargers can deliver outputs up to 2.1A. This case is nowhere near that and so it does take much longer. It takes about a majority of two hours to charge. In the next section, I will be going over the decision making process of who should consider this battery case.
There are a few things to keep in mind as these charging tests are performed. The iPhone was not being used, but that doesn't mean there aren't active background processes and services. Depending on the applications you have downloaded and how resource intensive they are, this will affect how fast your battery will charge. The amount of battery that they are consuming could offset the charging all together. Network connectivity can also affect the battery charging time. The iPhone I used was configured with a push mail server and I believe that was a great offset to the charging time. My recommendation is to turn on the battery case just to help yourself get through the day rather than relying on it solely as a charger.
The time it takes to charge the battery case is also very dependent on how you choose recharge it. Wall chargers will typically be much faster compared to a computer, but this may not always be the case. A 2.1 A wall charger will significantly recharge the battery case faster compared to a 1.0 A wall charger. It takes about three hours and three quarters of an hour to charge the case to full from my laptop. Using my Samsung 2.1A wall charger, it took slightly under an hour and a half to charge to full. If you are considering investing into a wall charger, be very careful not to choose a cheap no-name brand. The more expensive wall charger power adapters have better integrated circuits to control power and current flow. This will minimize the risks of explosion and fire.
Is This For You?
Battery cases aren't for everyone so I hope to not only provide a review, but also a guide to help those interested decide whether the LifeCHARGE iPhone 5 battery case is suitable for them.
The battery case is very easy to take apart so we're not looking at something which you may not want to take apart too often. You can take this apart as often as you like so it offers a good mix of uses. For those that simply wish to have an extra battery boost for occasional but somewhat frequent longer road trips and not so much day to day use, this battery case will be perfect. Because it is very easy to take apart, it doesn't take much effort to take it apart and store it in its original box. When this battery case does needs to be used, simply take it out and insert your phone into it. This whole process takes a matter of a few seconds.
This case won't complicate docking too much. If you have a stereo system which you dock to play music, the case is going to have to come off. Like I said before, this isn't one of those cases where you leave on and never touch again. However, this may not be the case for you if you feel that this is going to be a great inconvenience.
For commuters like myself that wish to have another power source for emergencies, then this battery case will get the job done. I can definitely relate this to my own experience. I take the train quite often so you can imagine the heavy reliance I have on my phone. A battery case is something like a reassurance. I've actually tried to cut back my usage quite a bit so my phone can actually last me a whole day most of the time. Occasionally, it does not. When these days come, I'm glad to know I'm in good hands having a spare battery so my phone doesn't die on me as I make my way home to recharge it.
This case is not built for protection and it was never meant for it anyway so it's definitely not something you should consider if you want protection against drops, bumps, scrapes, and so on. I lean towards one of the more extreme forms of protection and got myself an Otterbox case, which I swap out with my battery case depending on the circumstances. This case will be able to take a few bumps and scrapes, but that is about it. Don't expect your phone to survive a twenty-feet fall. Don't ask me, I've seen some crazy stuff on YouTube featuring people throwing their phones off tall buildings, running it over with a car, and even trying to drown them. Why? I guess mainly because they can, but I assure you that you CANNOT do that with this case. This case will probably protect your phone as much as one of those cheap $5 plastic sleeves you find off the streets - it's good for a bump or scrape, but nothing more.
Other than the compact design with the LED indicator lights and power toggle button, this battery case feels quite solid. It is more along a budget line product for those that don't have too much to shell out for a case like Mophie. LifeCHARGE is a much smaller player and only recently on the scene. I really like the new design with the "boxy" look and feel. Although it lacks the flip cover as seen with the previous model, I don't think it deserves a point down in any way. It is definitely a case to consider whether you are on a tight budget or not.