mophie Juice Pack Air hands-on and impressions

mophie's Juice Pack Air -- better known as the planet's thinnest iPhone 3G extended battery and case -- doesn't officially go on sale until Tuesday, but we've been toying with one over the weekend in order to share with you whether or not it's a solid buy. We have to say, our early impressions are pretty positive, and if you're hankering to know more, follow us past the break for a few more details.

From a design and build quality perspective, the device is truly top notch. The hard plastic shell is sturdy, it fits our 8GB iPhone 3G like a glove and it doesn't impede access to the volume rocker, power button and vibrate / ring switch. The only shortfall we noticed was the proprietary Mini Dock Connector port at the bottom; in other words, you can forget about using this in your Dock Connector peripherals without first removing your handset from the case. On the bright side (literally, in fact), there are four LED indicators on the rear that show remaining Juice Pack life with a simple button press, and activating the built-in battery is as simple as flipping a toggle switch on the unit's bottom.

mophie claims that this extended battery can provide up to 4.5 additional hours of 3G talk time, 9 hours of 2G talk time, 4.5 hours of 3G web surfing and up to 5.4 hours of WiFi surfing. Additionally, it supposedly adds up to 20 extra hours of audio playback and up to 6 more hours of video playback. We couldn't bring ourselves to hanging around on the iPhone (and resisting the urge to hit up a nearby laser-filled rave, since we're being candid) to find out if this thing really could stretch to those lengths, but we can safely say that the Juice Pack Air will definitely add at least another full day of usage under what we'd consider to be "average" circumstances. Bottom line? We found no reason to not believe the claims, and found ourselves wondering if we'd ever see the meter drop.

The case does add a wee bit of bulk around back, but to us, it's hardly a deal killer. For giving users the ability to rely on heavy 3G web surfing without fear of running the battery dry within 24 hours, we feel the added bulge is a fair trade. With the phone installed, you're looking at a total depth of 0.75-inches, a height of 4.9-inches and a width of 2.59-inches. So, is it worth the $79.95? That'll largely depend on just how heavy a user you are. If you routinely find yourself struggling to minimize your iPhone 3G usage in order to savor that final 20 percent of life, this will definitely relieve those stresses. If you can't recall the last time you pushed your phone hard enough to run it dry within a day, you're probably just burning money.