In the Eye of the Beholder, The Apple Smart Battery Case is Still a Bit Ugly

Apple fans were left double-checking their calendars Tuesday morning, with those like me absolutely sure that a time warp had transported us to April 1st upon learning of Apple’s surprise release of the Smart Battery Case for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s. This is the first battery case that Apple has ever released in the 8-year history of the iPhone and it introduces some interesting issues, not the least of which is that its design looks awful. But we’ll get to that in a moment. First, let’s recap what this Smart Battery Case is all about.

iphone smart battery case

iPhone battery cases are nothing new, of course. Companies like Mophie have offered a variety of battery cases for several years. But Apple has always remained absent from the product category, with many believing that the company’s release of its own iPhone battery case would tacitly concede that the device’s built-in battery life isn’t “good enough” on its own.

Such an argument isn’t necessarily persuasive when it comes to the larger iPhone 6s Plus, which has relatively good battery life for its size, but the 4.7-inch iPhone 6s doesn’t have as many fans when it comes to battery running time, which is perhaps why the Smart Battery Case is thus far (and perhaps permanently) exclusive to the smaller of Apple’s two current iPhone flagships.

Turning to the specifics of the Smart Battery Case itself, Apple unsurprisingly provides few technical details about the case’s components and capacity, but Apple’s website does boast notable improvements in talk time, Web browsing, and audio and video playback:

Charge your iPhone and battery case simultaneously for increased talk time up to 25 hours, Internet use up to 18 hours on LTE, and even longer audio and video (“up to 20 hours“) playback.

For those keeping track of the tech specs, those numbers represent a net increase of 11 hours of talk time, 8 hours of LTE Web browsing, and 9 hours of video playback over the iPhone 6s’s default battery life. Compared to the advertised battery life of the similarly priced Mophie Juice Pack Air for the iPhone 6s, Apple’s Smart Battery Case falls 2-3 hours short in each category. But that’s almost certainly due to the Smart Battery Case’s …ahem… “unique design.”

When you stick a battery of any useful size on the back of your smartphone, it’s understood that you’ll end up with an increase in overall thickness. Unlike Mophie products and most iPhone battery cases from other manufacturers, however, Apple’s Smart Battery case doesn’t increase the the thickness uniformly, and instead relies on an absurd-looking “hump” in the center of the case.

iphone smart battery case whiteIt’s not even a subtle or gradual change. The battery for the Apple Smart Battery Case is like a plateau extending out of the Great Plains, and it creates an overall look that makes us seriously question if Jony Ive took an ill-timed vacation during this product’s development. We’re looking forward to getting our hands on the case — Apple is taking orders now with delivery and retail availability later this week — but Apple’s high quality product shots make the case look problematic for everything from sitting comfortably in your pocket to resting flat and stable on your desk.

mophie juice pack air iphone 6

It’s not all bad, however, as “only Apple” is able to offer some unique features that are unavailable to other battery case makers. First, and perhaps most importantly, the Smart Battery Case will use a genuine Lightning port on its exterior for charging and syncing, which will allow owners to stick with Lightning cables for all of their iDevice and accessory charging needs. Other companies like Mophie require the use of Micro USB to charge the battery case and iPhone within.

The second interesting advantage — and possibly the reason for the product’s “Smart” designation — is a new feature that lets the battery case talk directly to iOS, letting users see the charge status of the case on their iPhone’s lock screen and within Notification Center. Whether these two advantages are enough to overcome the reduced battery capacity compared to similarly-priced competitors and the “interesting” design remains to be seen, of course, but I’ll report back with more thoughts once we have the case in hand.

The Apple Smart Battery Case is available for order now in both Charcoal Gray and White color options for a list price of $99.

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