I get good battery life with my iPhone X as is, and my home office lifestyle means I’m never that far from a plug, so I’m admittedly not the target market for a battery case. Nevertheless, the announcement of Apple’s Smart Battery Case for iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR piqued my interest.
I wanted to dip my toes in to see what using a Smart Battery Case is like. Read after the jump for some of my takeaways, and also be sure to check out our review from earlier in the week for a more thorough walkthrough of what’s new.
Does the iPhone XS Smart Battery Case work with iPhone X?
I own an iPhone X so I thought I’d get this out of the way up front. Yes, the iPhone XS Smart Battery Case works fine with the iPhone X. If you have the latest software update, there are no funny popups or warning messages. You plug it in and it just starts charging.
Physically, the iPhone X fits snugly inside the iPhone XS Battery Case, which is no real surprise as they boast largely similar physical dimensions. The main difference is the speaker grille and the camera bump metrics. The camera bump on the iPhone XS is <1mm larger than the iPhone X’s camera module. This means when using the Smart Battery Case with an iPhone X, there is a very small gap of empty space below the camera hole — just like trying to use an iPhone X with a XS silicone case. This distance is less than a millimetre and an average person is unlikely to even spot the imperfect alignment until you pointed it out to them.
The difference in speaker grilles is more obvious; the iPhone X has six speaker holes on each side of the Lightning port, the iPhone XS has only three on the left hand side. The XS Battery Case therefore only has three circular openings on the left hand side. However, this does not impair any function of the phone. The three leftmost speaker holes on the iPhone X essentially serve no purpose, and were included for aesthetic reasons only. The bottom mic can still pick up sound through the three holes that are present in the case. Audile sound from the bottom-firing speaker emanates from the right side of six holes, so the Smart Battery Case does not muffle the sound at all.
If you want a battery case for your iPhone X, the iPhone XS Smart Battery Case is a perfectly-good choice.
Okay, with that preamble out the way, here’s my takeaways from using a Smart Battery Case with an iPhone for the first time. The case promises protection and boosted battery life with more intelligence than a dumb battery pack, so let’s break down my impressions across those three axes.
The leading benefit of the Apple Smart Battery Case over the competition is the Lightning connector can talk to iOS and dynamically respond to the power state of the connected phone. This means the Smart Battery Case lacks an on-off switch. When connected, it prioritizes charging the iPhone first, case second. As the iPhone battery percentage exceeds 80%, the firmware shares charge between the case and the phone to prolong battery health as much as possible.
The ecosystem advantage lets you see the remaining battery of the case in the Today widget, and on the lock screen, when you connect or disconnect the case. However, there are still plenty of places in iOS which are clearly unaware of the Smart Battery Case and behave as if the phone was merely connected to a wall charger. The integration is not that deep.
The custom lock screen interface which breaks out the charge of the Battery Case and the iPhone is only shown briefly on the lock screen when the device is plugged in, or unplugged, from power. When walking around, the phone’s lock screen ignores the presence of the Case and will tell you that is ‘100% Charged’ incessantly — the same stat is displayed until the Case is depleted. It would be smarter if it could report the percentage of the case whilst that is being depleted, before swapping over to reporting the internal battery statistics. Swiping to the Today view to see the Batteries widget is less than ideal.
For example, in the Battery settings screen, for the entire duration of discharging the case, the graph will only show the state of the iPhone. This results in a pointless graph where every bar is maxed out at 100%. Ideally, this screen would be able to report the gradually-falling battery percentage of the case during these periods. For hours when Low Power Mode is active, the chart tints bars with a special orange color. It should have a similar designation for times when the Smart Battery Case was being drained.
Similarly, in the status bar, the battery icon simply displays the normal ‘battery charging’ icon whilst the iPhone draws power from the Smart Battery Case. This handling is very basic. It should really have a special icon to denote it is draining power from the Case rather than the phone.
Likewise, in Control Center, there is no acknowledgement that a Smart Battery Case is being used. Here is a perfect spot in the iOS UI to break out the battery status of the phone and case independently. It could have a second battery icon below the normal one to report the Smart Battery Case percentage, just like how iOS handles displaying dual SIM connectivity.
The utility of the Smart Battery Case is obviously highly dependent on how much additional battery life it can provide. Apple says that the iPhone XS can browse the web for 75% longer with a fully charged Smart Battery Case, or 9 additional hours of usage, compared with using the iPhone’s internal battery alone. (Note that the percentage improvements are less for the XS Max and XR, as the capacity of the internal batteries does not increase in the larger Smart Battery Cases.)
For my iPhone X, I took the 100% iPhone and Smart Battery Case off of the wall charger at 2pm. I was making a concerted effort to use my phone a lot for the purposes of the test, switching between browsing Twitter, surfing the web, checking email and playing Crossy Road and Words with Friends. However, I was not using it constantly. There were some periods of standby time interspersed in there. (If the Battery graphs in Settings were smarter, I could provide accurate usage numbers.)
The Battery Case was fully depleted at 10pm, eight hours after I had begun the 100%-to-0% test. My phone was 100% and the Case was at zero. I used my phone for a couple more hours like usual, and went to bed. It wasn’t until the afternoon of the next day where my phone finally ran out of juice as well.
The fact you can charge the case and phone by plugging into the Lightning port integrated into the case is a big advantage over third-party cases, which typically feature micro-USB charging. The Apple cases also support Qi charging. This means anywhere you charge your iPhone today, you can charge your iPhone encased in the Smart Battery Case too. The case’s Lightning port supports USB Power Delivery for fast charging, and will act as a passthrough for any Lightning accessory like mics or headphones. These are really nice factors to consider.
The Smart Battery Case shares a lot of similarities to the Apple silicone case. If you like the silicone case, you’ll be right at home. The material of the case feels identical to the touch, although I think the buttons on the silicone cases are superior to the Battery Case. The Smart Battery Case buttons are slightly harder to depress for some reason.
The Smart Battery Case surely provides more protection than either the Apple silicone or leather case; it is simply bigger and bulkier. If you drop the phone and it lands on its back, the case’s battery bump is surely going to take the brunt of the impact. The bevelled design of the case means the sapphire camera housing is literally raised off the ground.
The bottom of the case is greatly improved over the previous generation of Smart Battery Case. Mirroring the phone itself, the chin is minimal on the new Smart Battery Case. This is made possible by moving the Lightning port onto a different plane to the phone; it sits in the bulging back of the case.
Unlike the silicone or leather case, the Smart Battery Case has a lip on all four sides of the phone. Swipe gestures originating from the home indicator are therefore not quite as nice to initiate, as your finger bumps up against the overhanging case edge. This repositioning is something your fingers adapt to and your muscle memory learns to naturally work around it pretty quickly, so it isn’t a big deal.
Smart Battery Case compared to Apple leather case for iPhone X
The Smart Battery Case makes the phone noticeably heavier, there’s no getting around it. It’s thicker too, but I don’t care as much about that. I feel the weight constantly. That’s what I’m reminded of of every time I pick this phone up. The weight. It’s funnier how much more of a chore scrolling Twitter becomes. Playing one-handed Crossy Road is hard now; the weight of the case is mostly in the hump, so the center of gravity is offset and drags one side of the phone down more than the other.
People always say the Smart Battery Case is great if you are travelling and need to be online all day. For that kind of usage, I would really consider buying a portable battery over a phone case; it holds many times more capacity than the case will, you can use it to charge multiple devices and you can sling it in your bag between charges. Battery cases are best suited to people who need extended battery life year-round. Apple has made great strides with iPhone battery longevity in XS Max and XR but battery cases still have a sizeable market.
The Smart Battery Case is clearly the top choice for these people, with intelligent power management and featuring both wired Lightning and wireless charging support, even if there is still room for iOS to be even smarter about it.
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