During the time that I owned my iPhone 4 and 4S, those phones spent most of their lives in a Mophie Juice Pack Air. That battery pack got me through some of those scary situations where I had spent a couple of hours geocaching, making calls and sending texts, only to find that I was down to 5 percent of charge capacity and was nowhere near a power outlet. So when the iPhone 5 came out last fall, my first thought for a case was a Mophie product. It took a few months, but now the Mophie Juice Pack Helium (US$79.95) is available to protect and power the iPhone 5.
Like the Juice Pack Air, the Helium is a wraparound case that cradles your iPhone. There's a Lightning connector in the bottom of the case that plugs into the appropriate port on the iPhone 5, and the case has openings in all of the right places for the various switches and the camera. The bottom half-inch or so of the case features two forward-facing speaker ports that facilitate listening to phone calls or music.
The case is charged through an included USB to micro-USB cable; in most situations, Helium users will just use the iPhone 5 AC adapter and plug in this charging cable instead of the Apple-supplied cable.
On the back of the case are the traditional white LEDs to indicate charge level when a small button is depressed. There's also a lock button on the back -- this can be set to standby (red indicator) or "On" (green indicator). Mophie recommends charging the Helium and iPhone, placing the Helium in standby mode, and then using the iPhone's battery until you need the Helium's extra capacity. One flip of the lock button to "On" gives you access to an extra 1500 mAh of capacity, which is about 80 percent of built-in capacity of the iPhone 5.
There are two case colors at launch -- dark metallic and silver metallic -- but if history is any indication then there may be other colors available at a later date. The casing is made of the same soft-feel material that other Mophie cases have used, which seems to hold up to the abuses of daily life rather well.
The case comes with an audio jack pass-through cable, but it isn't necessary to use it if you have a standard pair of Apple earbuds. It appears that the pass-through cable is only needed if your cable end has a larger diameter than the port in the bottom of the Helium.
One final note: while previous Juice Packs have just had a side-mounted micro-USB port for charging, the port is on the bottom of the Juice Pack Helium and has two rather sizable flat metal pieces near the port. I'm not sure why this design change has occurred, but it makes me speculate that Mophie is either going to come out with a charging dock for the Helium and other future battery packs, or perhaps work with accessory manufacturers on products that accommodate charging a Helium just by dropping it into a dock.
As with its predecessors, the Helium is a cinch to install. You simply pull the case apart, slide the Lightning connector into the port on the iPhone 5, then slide the rest of the case down from the top of the phone until it mates up with the bottom. It only takes a few seconds to remove the case if you want to use something like an Olloclip for taking closeup or fisheye photos.
Charge time is estimated at between two and three hours. The Helium is designed to charge both itself and the iPhone 5 simultaneously.
The Helium, despite being advertised as 13 percent thinner than any other case produced by Mophie, still adds bulk and weight to the iPhone 5. With the Helium installed, the iPhone 5 / case combo weighs in at 6.4 ounces. A "naked" iPhone 5 weighs just 4 ounces. The thickness of the case is .59 inches (15 millimeters), while that unclothed iPhone 5 is only 7.6 millimeters thick. Basically, the Helium is going to almost double the thickness of your iPhone 5. It's a trade-off: you can either have a thin iPhone 5 or an iPhone 5 with a lot more battery capacity. You can't have both.
Frankly, I'm one of those people who loves the peace of mind that comes with having a fully charged iPhone and Juice Pack every morning. I know for certain that regardless of what I do with my iPhone throughout the day, I'm going to have plenty of power left in case of an emergency. For me, the penalty of adding 60 percent more weight and doubling the thickness of my iPhone 5 is worth it. For others, having an slender iPhone 5 might be the big thing, in which case an external battery pack is going to be a more intelligent decision.
Mophie has once again hit the ball out of the park with the Juice Pack Helium. The company was a pioneer in battery cases for iPhones and has done six years of research and development in this field. That work shows in the clean lines of the Juice Pack Helium and the efficient manner in which it keeps your iPhone 5 protected and powered.
- Well-constructed by a leader in the iPhone battery case market
- Juice Pack Helium is easy to install and remove
- Case offers good protection while providing up to 80% more battery capacity than a standalone iPhone 5
- Dark metallic and silver metallic colors nicely compliment the design of the iPhone 5
- Competitively priced with the other early entrants in the iPhone 5 battery case market
- Case is designed and tested to not interfere with phone reception
- Adds weight and bulk to the iPhone 5, as do all battery cases
Who is it for?
- iPhone 5 users who put their phones through a lot of work in a regular day and need protection and power in a well-built and reasonably-priced case