One of the big questions I always hear from newbies to the iOS world is "Why are there battery pack cases for the iPhone but not for the iPad?". That's a really good question, and one that I couldn't honestly answer. Now Digital Treasures has done the inevitable and created the Props Power Case for iPad mini ($79.95) as well as two larger versions for your full-sized iPad ($89.95 for 8000 mAh battery, $119.95 for 12000 mAh battery). In this review, I'll take a look at the Props Power Case for iPad mini to give you an idea of the usefulness of these juiced-up cases.
The Props Power Cases use the tried-and-true folio case design with a prop (hence the name) for watching videos hands-free in an upright landscape orientation. The material covering the outside is a black leatherette with red stitching that looks pretty good, and there's a magnetic strap to hold the case cover closed. The inside of the case a stippled rubber-like material that makes propping the iPad at a number of angles a snap. The iPad is held into place by flexible plastic corner pieces. On the iPad mini cases there are four of these pieces, while the full-sized iPad case includes a fifth piece on the right side of the iPad to help hold it into place. As you'd expect, all of the cases include a hole for the rear-looking camera.
The big difference with the Props Power Cases is the thickness of the cover. That's because it holds a flat battery pack. On the bottom of the battery pack you'll find an input port (used to charge up the battery from any standard USB power source), four status LEDs indicating the level of charge, an on button to test the battery level and start charging your iPad, and a micro-USB power output port.
With the battery pack, the case weighs a bit more than your standard lightweight iPad mini case. The Props Power Case for iPad mini weighed in at 0.945 lb, more than doubling the weight of the standard mini (0.68 lb).
A USB to input port cable is included for charging, and there's a micro-USB to female USB adapter cable that can be used with your usual iOS device charging cable to plug it into the battery. Note that you can use the Props Power Case to not only charge up your iPad or iPad mini, but just about any other electronic device.
When plugged into a USB power adapter (in my case, I attached it to a powered USB 3.0 hub), the blue power level LEDs light up to indicate that charging is occurring. As the battery charges, each of those lights will blink in sequence until the pack is fully charged, at which time all four blue LEDs remain steady.
I found that getting the iPad mini into and out of the plastic corner pieces was quite easy. Each of the pieces has a slight "lip" on it that holds the iPad securely in place. Remember the magnetic strap I described above that holds the case closed? It also sticks to the back of the case when you are using it as a stand, perfect for keeping it from flopping over onto the screen while you're watching a movie.
As with most folio-type iPad cases, the Props Power Case includes magnets in the cover to turn the iPad on when you open the cover and off when you close the cover. I found that whether or not this worked was highly dependent on making sure that the cover was aligned properly on the right side when closed, and that it often didn't line up the way it should. That's not too much of an issue for me, as I enabled the lock sound so I could hear when the screen was being turned off.
The battery pack in the iPad mini has a capacity of 4400 mAh according to iFixit.com, which means that the pack should be able to provide about 1.8 charges to a mini. That's different from what the back of the Props Power Case box says; it notes that it will provide "up to a 100% power boost for your iPad mini." I'm not sure exactly which number is correct, but it should be reassuring that you can at least bring an "empty" iPad mini up to a full charge.
The Props Power Case specifications are a bit shaky on the expected lifetime of the battery pack as well. For the iPad mini, the user guide listed the battery as being able to handle 300 - 500 charge / discharge cycles.
The Props Power Cases for iPad and iPad mini look like they're fairly solid and well constructed battery folio cases that can add anywhere from 50 to 130 percent more power to your device depending on the model. While they're not the most stunning cases I've ever seen, if you need on-the-go power and protection for your iPad, the Props Power Cases are definitely worth looking at.
Good capacity, providing anywhere from 50 to 130 percent more power to your iPad depending on the model
Well-constructed, with very good protection from drops and falls all around the iPad
Status LEDs are very useful in determining charge and discharge levels
Not sure why Digital Treasures picked white cables for a black case
Cover magnets may not necessarily turn off your iPad when the cover is closed due to issues with getting it properly aligned
Who is it for?
The hard core iPad user who needs additional power for his or her device
Have an iPad mini? Here's your opportunity to win a Props Power Case for iPad mini from TUAW and Digital Treasures.