Over the years, Mophie has become synonymous with extending the iPhone's battery life. The outfit's range of battery-filled iPhone cases has garnered rave reviews across the industry, and even I religiously used one on an iPhone 3G. In more recent days, the company has cautiously expanded into a few new areas -- namely, building battery cases for non-Apple phones, and creating the contraption shown above. The Mophie Outride is an action-cam case that's designed to be strapped onto helmets, automobile hoods and any other place where your average X Games wannabe would look to capture extreme sports footage.
But, unlike the myriad rivals on the market today, the Outride doesn't actually include a camera. Instead, you're supposed to strap your iPhone 4 or 4S into it (an iPhone 5 model has yet to be announced), allowing the smartphone you already own to handle the bulk of the work. At first blush, it sounded like an ideal solution to me. After all, I'm generally in favor of convergence and consolidation, and as an avid traveler, having one less thing to carry (in this case, a dedicated camera) is a godsend. In practice, however, the Outride did little outside of convincing me that GoPro exists for a reason.
Mophie Outride action cam case reviewSee all photos
It should surprise precisely no one who's touched a Mophie case that the build quality here is exemplary. The $150 kit includes two cases (one that's entirely sealed for underwater use; one that's sealed save for a cutout so that you can actually use the touchscreen), a variety of sticker-backed mounting brackets, a handlebar mount, a tripod mount, a safety leash and a few other minor accessories. Each case also has a wide-angle (170-degree) lens apparatus that sits just in front of the iPhone camera, and Mophie provides a gratis app on the App Store that lets you view other Outride videos from around the world while also capturing / editing your own.
The cases themselves close tightly -- very tightly. It takes a fair amount of force to actually unclip the thing once your adventures are over, but that's probably for the best. It's also worth noting that the app enables the volume down button to toggle recording off and on, and conveniently, each case has a button extension (shown below) so you can do the toggling even with gloves on. That app also provides the option of recording at 720p30 or 1080p30 (iPhone 4S only), but outside of that, you won't find any video customizations at all. Granted, Apple doesn't provide any detailed manual controls on its own Camera app, so I wasn't exactly shocked to see this.
The wide-angle lens works fine when recording video (although it definitely bends the edges as if you were shooting with a bona fide fisheye), but it's no good for photos. For kicks, I loaded up Apple's standard Camera app while the Outride case was on, and found that image captures possessed black triangles in each corner. (Yes, this is the expected action with such a lens accessory strapped on, but I wanted to make clear that you'd need to take your iPhone out of the case if you want to take usable photographs.)
I also want to point out that sticker-backed mounts aren't infallible, and there's definitely a downside to having something as large as an iPhone strapped atop your helmet. While navigating an off-piste run in Montana, I routinely found myself having to duck more than I normally would for fear of branches ripping the Outride off of my dome. The cases managed to come into contact with a few trees, and amazingly, the sticker-backed mount held tightly... for about two hours. At one point, when I was attempting to get the phone out of the case while it was still affixed to my helmet, the sticker finally gave way and detached completely. Thankfully, I was stationary at the time, but had this happened on a run, I would've probably never found my phone. Why? Well, 95 percent of the Outride's shell is white. Snow is white, too.
In a nutshell, here's how Mophie expects you to use the Outride. You open up either of the cases, slap your iPhone into it, strap it onto a helmet or tripod, and start recording. It actually sounds like a blissfully simple solution. But the reality is quite different, particularly if you actually use your iPhone during the course of most days. You see, I found it far more difficult than I had imagined to have my iPhone captive in a case, exclusively used for recording video, and I'm guessing you might as well.
Once the iPhone is in the waterproof case, you'll have access to shockingly few of the phone's features. You can't touch the screen (which I get), you can't touch the power button and you honestly can't do anything beyond starting and stopping a recording. On the non-waterproof case, all of the above applies except for being able to touch the screen. Believe it or not, that gets pretty frustrating. You see, I first wondered why Mophie didn't place a button extension above the power button, much like it did with the volume rocker. The reason? If you ever toggle the screen off, you'd need to touch the panel to unlock it again and restart recording -- an action that's impossible with the waterproof case. That's an iPhone limitation, but by extension, it becomes an Outride limitation. What this means is simple: once you get your iPhone into the Outride, that display is staying on for the duration. And if you haven't tried it lately, leaving your iPhone panel on indefinitely is an outstanding way to drain its battery in around two to three hours.
It's strange, actually -- a product produced by a company that made its name on extending the iPhone's battery now has a product that'll render an iPhone's battery lifeless in record time. You might argue that other action cams won't last beyond three to four hours, but here's the thing: when your GoPro dies, you can still make calls using a separate device. And if it's you waiting at the bottom of a ravine from a dare gone wrong on a Double Black, you're going to want that phone to work.
In a less dire example, it's simply annoying to have one's phone reserved for video duty. Thinking of checking the trail map while waiting on the ski lift? Tough luck: your phone's strapped in a case on your head. Considering a quick email to your boss while recording some clips at the skate park? Hopefully nothing awesome happens while you're pecking away. In other words, you're giving up a lot when you give your iPhone the ability to do nothing but capture video. For those with an iPhone 4S hanging around collecting dust and an iPhone as their daily driver, you'll be in a much better spot to take advantage of the Outride. But, let's be honest -- that doesn't describe too many people.
Here's the easy part: the quality is great for the iPhone 4S, and pretty decent for the iPhone 4. Unlike most action cams, the Outride actually relies on you to provide the camera equipment. If you've ever recorded video with your iPhone 4 or 4S, you know what to expect. For a phone, these two do some pretty outstanding work, and the Outride's wide-angle lens does a great job of not diminishing the overall quality while providing a noticeably wider field of view. On the downside, both of the cases essentially mute any and all audio input. As in, you best only shoot video that you plan on laying an audio track over. Even voices are muffled to the point of being useless, so you're going to need an external mic setup of some description if you want to mix in any audio with your Outride video captures. You can hear what I'm talking about in the video below, which was ripped straight from the iPhone and uploaded without any post-processing.
It's also important to note that the length of your captures will depend on how much free space is available on your phone. Needless to say, it's fairly aggravating to be out on the slopes and have an excellent run go unrecorded due to a dearth of available memory. And, because it's an iPhone, you can't just pop a microSD card in and solve it on the fly.
The above video was shot in February 2013 at Whitefish Mountain Resort in Whitefish, Mont. I managed to capture around 28 minutes of off-and-on footage on my iPhone 4S, with my handset going from fully charged to entirely exhausted in just under two hours. I cut together some of the less boring parts using iMovie in order to overlay audio onto an otherwise quiet / muffled track.
Mophie's Outride case is fabulously built, but flawed on a number of important levels. First and foremost, it requires the use of perhaps the most important piece of technology that you'll have on your person: your phone. It's frustrating to have your handset held captive to a recording case, unable to send emails, reply to texts, easily receive calls or even check in on Foursquare. More problematic, however, is having your lifeline drained for the sake of a cool video -- if ever you needed your phone for emergency purposes while skiing, skating or enjoying any other extreme sport, it'd be the shame of all shames to have that device depleted when you needed it most.
There's no question that the iPhone 4 and 4S both record above-average video, but the case's design prevents audio from joining the party. That means you'll need to think up an external microphone arrangement, or be content with overlaying an audio track atop whatever footage you cut together. The real killer, however, is the price. One may be willing to deal with those aforementioned nitpicks if the cost were low, and being able to utilize a camcorder that you already own certainly sounds intriguing. But at $150, it's just $50 less than the GoPro Hero3 White, which offers a far more compact package, a microSD expansion slot and bundled software for managing the clips.
The Outride is an interesting concept that proves remarkably compromised in real-world use. The thought of using a camera you already own to capture extreme sports footage sounds all too appealing... until you realize that camera is also your phone, your emailing machine and perhaps your lifeline in a pinch.