Review: iKit NuCharge external battery for iPhone 5
Ever since losing our power for 7 days during Hurricane Sandy, I’ve grown rather paranoid about the idea of not being able to use my iPhone for more than 6 minutes. Unfortunately until recently the selection of external batteries for the iPhone 5 was pretty anemic. But in recent months a number of companies have stepped up to the plate, including a new face on the scene named Shark Design, who is currently raising funds for their NuCharge external battery case on Kickstarter. We were lucky enough to get a preview unit to test out, so let’s see what we thought.
Fans of iPhone battery cases are likely familiar with the “Mophie”-style design, which has proven effective, but has necessitated adding a Jay Leno-esque chin to the devices to accommodate the charging connection, and often ends up blocking direct access to the Lightning and audio ports. Shark Design has come up with an interesting work around for their case, which consists of an integrated Lightning cable which can slide out from the case during charging, and be tucked away when not in use.
This design has both its advantages and disadvantages, but for the most part I actually prefer this design for day-to-day use. When not charging, the NuCharge is actually a bit slimmer than most battery cases, and certainly shorter.
Shark Design claims the 1900 mAh battery will double the iPhone’s battery life, although we were never able able to get higher than an 86% charge from a completely dead iPhone (see ISSUES below). Still that’s pretty impressive, and more or less in line with what we’ve seen from other batteries.
Given that the battery is the heaviest part of the iPhone, it’s no surprise that adding another battery to the back of your phone would add a bit of heft to your device. While not unbearably heavy (and probably no heavier than the original iPhone WITHOUT a battery case) the added weight means for many the NuCharge may not cut it as your “everyday case”, although Shark Design hopes to have gotten around this issue by making their battery pack removable from the case itself. What this means is you can either remove the battery when you do not need it and swap it with one of their stylishly colored back plates (thus making the case more or less a regular old iPhone case), OR you could buy ANOTHER NuCharge battery, and actually keep swapping as needed as you drain them during your next extended power outage.
Design-wise the case consists of a rubber “holder” section which is VERY tight (some might say too tight) which clips on to either the battery pack or protective back plate. When used with the battery pack, there is a thin kickstand which can pop out to make hands-free video viewing enjoyable – a nice touch I used more than I thought I would. There is the requisite power button, a quick push of which will light up a set of 4 LEDs to indicate charge level (press and hold to turn charging off).
Because the NuCharge is designed differently than other cases where your iPhone is “docked” all the time, charging the iPhone is a little bit different. A small Lighting cable slides out of the bottom of the case, and plugs into your iPhone’s Lightning port. This makes for a somewhat less elegant look while charging, but makes for a smaller profiler when not charging, which is an acceptable trade-off in my view as I’m not charging my iPhone as much as I’m NOT.
The NuCharge charges itself via an included micro USB cable, and can simultaneously charge your iPhone if you leave it plugged in to the NuCharge’s Lightning adapter. However, what the innovative design of the NuCharge allows you to do is have unfettered access to your iPhone’s Lightning port, meaning you can either charge your iPhone as you normally would when possible and save the case’s battery for emergencies, or even charge both your phone and NuCharge simultaneously for a faster charge. What I like most about this design is that I like to be able to use my car charger Lightning cable and have easy access to the audio cable while driving without having to remove the case, or buy yet another micro USB cable to leave in the car (I’ve already spent $80 on extra lightning cables to pepper throughout my home, car and office, thank you very much).
Most of my issues with the case are quite minor, but the only issue worth mentioning I had was that at first I thought that the NuCharge could not resurrect a completely drained iPhone. After using my iPhone to the point of it shutting down (thanks to Clash of Clans), I connected the NuCharge to the iPhone and waited. After 5 minutes of nothing, I disconnected, reconnected, pushed the ON button, nothing. So I thought the NuCharge didn’t have enough juice to jump the iPhone, and gave up. However, 2 days later I tried again, and just let the iPhone sit there after plugging in the NuCharge’s cable, and sure, enough, a full 16 MINUTES LATER, I heard the familiar iPhone “Chirp” and then charging began. Starting from a drained battery seemed to sap an extra 9% from the NuCharge as well, as we couldn’t get past 75% from a dead charge. So perhaps the lesson here would be to plug your iPhone in to the NuCharge somewhere between the 20-10% battery remaining warning messages.
The only other issue I had really was that until I watched the kickstarter video above, I could NOT figure out how to get the battery off the rubber holder. It was on so tight that I felt like I was breaking it whenever I tried to pry it off. After seeing that it was really a “sliding” motion you needed to perform, I eventually got the battery pack off, and subsequent unmountings were easier. I guess “RTF” manual applies here.
I really like the NuCharge’s angle on charging, and love the freedom of being able to have access to all ports while still having the ability to charge when on the go. The ability to swap battery’s (assuming you buy an extra battery) will prove useful to some power users, and the ability to remove the battery completely and use one of NuCharges many colorful faceplates to turn the NuCharge into a light-weight everyday case is nice. The NuCharge is currently looking for funding on Kickstarter, and I urge anyone looking for a versatile on-the-go charging solution for the iPhone 5 to consider donating and get this on the market.
Price: Depends on your kickstarter donation
Pros: Slim design, access to all ports, kickstand for viewing, interchangeable faceplates and swappable batteries
Cons: Case is tough to remove, takes a long time to jump start a completely drained iPhone battery