Review: The Volta by Sonnet Technologies - Macenstein

Review: The Volta by Sonnet Technologies

Posted by Lab Rat

Ever since getting my 60 GB video iPod, I have found myself using its video capabilities more and more. Where I used to listen to music all day at work, now I find myself just as often listening to movies and video podcasts to help get me through my day. And while Apple’s recent firmware upgrade for the 5th generation video iPods increased my iPod’s video battery life to a whopping 6+ hours, I still need to recharge my iPod periodically, or risk running out of juice for the commute home. Since Apple cheaped out on the extra iPod cables in recent years (anyone else remember when Apple included both a FireWire AND a USB cable with each iPod? And they were long enough to actually USE, too!), that means remembering to bring my sole charging cable back and forth to work each day as well.

Enter the Volta by Sonnet Technologies.

The Volta is a near-perfect external battery charging/boosting system. When used with a fully charged 5th Gen iPod, Sonnet claims the Volta can deliver up to 16 hours of video playback, and over 80 hours of audio playback. Our tests seemed to prove that Sonnet actually UNDER sold the Volta’s capabilities, as we consistently got an average of 18 hours and 35 minutes of video playback (encoded at Apple’s new full-screen 640×480 settings), and somewhere between 83 and 90 hours of audio-only playback (I can’t be sure exactly, the unit drained itself during the night some time into day four. That’s right, day FOUR!).

Above: The Volta ships with the battery, USB 2 dock cable, clip, and belt clip.

Unlike other battery boosting solutions relying on AA batteries and delivering so-so performance, the Volta has a Lithium-polymer battery that charges via the Apple USB dock connector. And also unlike those other solutions, the Volta actually looks pretty nice. The Volta’s base (which is thick enough to to hold the iPod upright for video viewing) has four tiny LED lights to indicate the charge level. On the back of the base is the power switch. Other than that, there is little to take away from the Volta’s streamlined form. The main housing is made from aluminum with a glossy black finish that matches the black iPods perfectly, but doesn’t look out of place on a white one either. Just slide the iPod onto the Volta’s dock connector and attach the included iPod clip to secure the two together. For owners of the thinner 30GB iPod models, Sonnet includes a spacer pad to keep the iPod from sliding around. The fit and finish on the Volta is solid, and the device feels extremely well made. However this build quality comes at the expense of weight. While the Volta is not quite as thick as the 5th Gen iPods, it weighs almost as much (4 oz compared to my 60Gb iPod’s 5.4 oz) so you are not going to be using the Volta while jogging (although perhaps Sonnet thinks you might, as the include a belt clip as well).

The Volta ships with a black USB 2.0 to iPod Dock cable (measuring a full 16 inches longer than Apple’s shortened Dock cable) which you connect to the back of the Volta for charging . One odd thing I noticed, I was able to charge my 5th gen iPod with Sonnet’s cable, but not my 4th gen iPod, which charges without incident over Apple’s USB cable.

Unfortunately, you cannot charge a Volta with the iPod attached, as a fully-drained Volta, together with a fully-drained iPod, would draw in excess of 700 mA, and would exceed the USB spec of a 500 mA maximum draw. Luckily, most Macs these days ship with an abundance of powered USB 2.0 ports. Charging a fully drained Volta takes a little over 5 hours.

Above: The Volta’s base allows it to stand upright for video viewing.

Once fully charged, you can use the Volta with your iPod in one of 2 ways. First, you can use the Volta as a charging station, connecting it to your iPod only when your iPod runs out of battery. The Volta is good for about 3 full iPod charges before it needs charging itself, so for some people, bringing the Volta on a short trip might eliminate the need to bring a separate iPod charger. The second way to use the Volta is as a battery boosting solution. To do this, just leave your iPod connected to the Volta and use as you would normally. This is how I chose to use the Volta the majority of the time, as I am not what you would call an “active” iPod user. I am usually sitting at my desk, or in the car when listening to/watching my iPod, so I did not mind the extra weight and girth (despite my making a big deal about the extra size and weight, the 5th gen iPod/Volta combination is only slightly thicker than the old 3rd and 4th generation iPods, and still easily fits in a standard jeans pocket).


Honestly, I only have one issue with the Volta, and really it goes back to an issue I have with the iPod itself. As any long-term iPod owner knows (long-term meaning over 15-minutes) the iPod scratches VERY easily, making a protective case pretty much a necessity. Unfortunately, the Volta forms such a tight fit with your iPod that you cannot use a case of any kind with it. Even my personal favorite, the Invisible Shield, didn’t work all that great with the Volta. Despite being only millimeters thick, it still made it hard to squeeze my 5th Gen iPod into the Volta, and upon removing the Volta two or three times, I saw that the Volta’s mounting clips actually began to push the Invisible shield off the iPod where it connects, thus ruining the pristine look one would buy the Shield for. Shield Zone actually makes a variant of the full body Invisible Shield that protects only the screen, and this may be the only protective option available for those who wish to use the Volta on a regular basis. I would like to suggest to Sonnet that they create some sort of case to protect the front of an iPod when mounted in the Volta, even if just for a soft case for traveling. I feel such a case would be much more useful than the included belt clip.

Above: You can see the Volta rubs away at the Invisible Shield at the two points on each side where the Volta’s clips connect to the iPod.


The Volta is my new favorite iPod accessory. It made a recent car trip with the family a much less stressful affair. The Volta delivered enough juice to “hypnotize” my children with kids shows for 6 hours (each way) to Virginia to meet relatives, as well as to entertain them once we got there. Sonnet has a real winner with the Volta, and if you travel often, watch lots of battery draining video, or are just one of those iPod users who always seems to forget to charge their device, then the Volta is going to be your most important iPod accessory since the ear bud. Just be careful how you store and handle it, as your iPod’s screen is left pretty much unprotected in the Volta.

The Volta by Sonnet Technologies

Price: $69.95

Pros: Dramatically extends battery life, solidly built, looks great, rechargeable battery, allows iPod to stand up for video viewing

Cons: Not compatible with iPod cases, even the Invisible Shield; leaving your iPod’s screen exposed is asking for trouble.


One Response to “Review: The Volta by Sonnet Technologies”
  1. 40 year old virgin says:

    I want this but I think it is too expensive.
    Sonnet, do will you take $55?

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