Whenever you buy a new smartphone, chances are you’re going to look into a few accessories to purchase along with it, like a protector film or a tempered glass protector and a case. Films and other kinds of screen protectors are mostly harmless, in that they add very little thickness to your handset and, depending on their quality, they feel very similar to swiping on the glass coating itself. Cases, on the other hand, are a different story. There is a slew of different options for the various devices out there. Most of them are ugly, too, and add thickness to your device, making it feel very different in your hand. However, for some of us they’re indispensable, seeing how they protect our phones from our clumsiness. Yes, a phone without a case looks and feels nicer, but when you spend a considerable amount of money on a new handset, you would be pissed if you bricked it by accident.
I recently switched to an iPhone SE because I needed an iOS device to do localization testing for apps for the Apple ecosystem and because a backup phone is a good thing to have when I’m out of office. I had a look at a few cases on offer out there, but finally decided on giving the Mophie Space Pack a go. In case you didn’t know, Mophie manufactures smartphone cases with a battery bank built-in, with some models (such as the Space Pack we’re reviewing here) also allowing greater storage capabilities. The Space Pack is available in five different colors, although the storage capacity varies depending on the one you choose. For example, the red one I purchased is only available in the 32 GB variety, whereas the black one is the only that’s available in the 64 GB version. Refer to the table below to know the color and storage space combinations. In this review we’re going to have a look at the red version, but these considerations apply to all the models in the Space Pack’s lineup.
|16 GB||32 GB||
When purchasing from Mophie, you may also choose to add a desk and/or car dock. These are products that are sold separately and can be used without the Space Pack. We’ll also take a look at the desk dock.
Packaging quality and content
The packaging the Space Pack came in is superb: It’s nice to look at, very robust, it also allows you to the front upwards and have a look at what the case looks and even try to press the button to check the battery’s remaining charge. Opening it is easy inside you get all sorts of goodies, ranging from a USB cable to an extension cable for connecting a pair of headphones to the phone. This is because the bottom of the case as some height to the handset. This can be a good or a bad thing, depending on how you feel about the iPhone overall height, but seeing how this isn’t a simple protective case, it makes sense that they had to put the additional storage and battery pack somewhere.
Additionally, you also get a user manual that covers all you need to know in two pages, while the rest is devoted to warranty information. For some reason, the manual is glued to the back of the packaging for some reason I couldn’t fathom. Overall, you’re better off referring to the manual you can find on Mophie’s website, rather than relying to the one in the package.
The dock’s packaging, on the other hand, is a completely different story. I actually needed to damage the package in order to get it to open. Inside it, you’ll find the dock itself with a rather stiff non-removable USB cable and three fittings that in theory should allow you to adjust the slant at how your phone sits in it, but in actuality makes it unwieldy to look at, so I never use them. You don’t get a USB AC adapter, which is a bit disappointing, seeing as the dock is charging only and in my opinion you should plug it to a wall instead of a computer, where its usefulness is greatly diminished. Thankfully, the unit seems sturdy enough and has some weight to it, so it won’t move around when you try to place your phone in it.
The Space Pack isn’t the skinniest skin (no pun intended) on the market. As I mentioned, it combines a battery pack and additional storage in a single unit, meaning it’s thicker (16 mm) and heavier (79 g) than other offerings available today. It’s made of plastic, meaning you cannot snap your phone inside like you would in a silicone case, but instead you’re supposed to detach the two parts, slide the phone in the top part and then plug the bottom one, provided with a male Lightning connector, to the phone. Doing so will prevent you from using Lightning cables for charging and transferring files to your handset. At the bottom, in fact, it a female micro USB connector. This choice puzzles me a bit and I contacted Mophie to know why they went with this design choice. If and when they’ll answer, I’ll update this article. My guess, though, is that Apple doesn’t license third parties to manufacture Lightning female connectors. This is both a good and a bad thing, because as good as Lightning is, replacement cables are rarer and more expensive than USB ones. After using the case for a couple of weeks now, I still find myself missing the Lightning connector, especially its ability to be connected in either way.
The bottom of the case features two small grilles that “move” the speakers from the bottom to the front, which is useful for people who hold their phones with the little finger on the bottom and end up inadvertently covering one or both speakers. Mophie claims that this gives you richer sound, although the difference I noticed is minimal and I can’t exclude it’s more a matter of placebo effect than of actual sound improvement. The bottom adds a couple centimeters to the overall length of your phone and makes it thicker, with the result of making your phone feel different in hand. It doesn’t feel wrong by any means, but it’s a noticeable difference.
This also means that the headphone jack is unreachable by “normal” means, which is why a short extension cable is included in the box. Some may argue that they could’ve integrated the jack inside the case, but they would be wrong. Whenever something is plugged to the headphone jack on the phone, the speakers are muted. Overall, the extension cable is a practical, if not particularly elegant, solution to this issue.
The back is mostly plain. It’s matte, which will help avoiding getting your case full of fingerprints after a few weeks of use. Here you will also find four LEDs that will light up when you press the button to the left to indicate the remaining charge in the battery pack, and a sliding switch allowing to turn the recharge process on or off. I suspect that the slider switch will die well before the battery pack starts to lose its potential, and would’ve preferred a system where I could do both things using the button only.
In order to use the additional storage space provided by the Space Pack, you will need to download and install its app from the App Store. The install process is mostly painless, only requiring you to press the button on the back of the case for the app to recognize that you’re actually using the Space Pack. From here, you can manage the files added to the Space Pack, view the current charge of the battery, and also tap the Wifi icon to connect wirelessly to it and manage your files from another device. Doing it is achieved by entering the IP address you’re shown in the app, followed by a five-letter security code. Transfer rates were about 25 Mbps. Nothing spectacular, but in line with what the iPhone SE can do.
The battery pack included herein is 1700 mAh, which is slightly bigger than the iPhone SE internal battery and Mophie claims it gives you another full charge. But does it?
Of course it doesn’t. Battery packs manufacturers base these estimates on the assumption that your phone is going to be turned off while being recharged. The main draw of battery packs, however, is that they allow you to charge your phone when you’re on the go and low on battery, so chances are you’ll keep it turned on during the charging process.
To test how the Space Pack performs in this regard, I charged my iPhone and the Space Pack itself up to 100%, then used the handset as I normally would. The full charge was completed at 5:30 PM and I reached 1% at 9:40 in the next morning, for a total of 16 hours and 10 minutes of battery life. Not that bad, to be honest. At 1%, I turned on the battery pack and let it do its thing. It completely discharged in about an hour and the battery was back at 45%, which let the phone run till late evening. Not that bad, but nowhere near a 100% improvement, as stated on the packaging.
The bottom line
In closure, I have to say that the Space Pack is certainly a useful product if you’re constantly on the move and don’t want to take an external battery in your bag. The price tag, however, is a bit steep. For comparison, a “normal” silicone cover, a battery pack, a Lightning to SD adapter and the 32 GB card to go with it will set you back around 80 €, whereas the Space Pack costs 179.95 €. What you’re paying for here is the convenience of having all those items combined into one, with additional bulk to your phone to go with it. You should choose if you really want to spend more than double that amount for this convenience.