Over the past few weeks, Mophie has released two new battery cases for the iPhone 5: the Juice Pack Helium (above, right) and the Juice Pack Air (above, left). Both cases are similar in functionality, but both offer their own unique pros and cons. Read on after the break for our reviews.
The Helium and Air cases actually share a very similar design. Externally, the main way to differentiate the two cases is by the coloring. The Helium cases ship in either a dark or light metallic color, and the Air comes in either black, white, or red.
For a battery case, both options actually feel nearly as thin and light as each other. Neither case adds much bulk (compared to Mophie’s iPhone 4/4S battery case for example) to the iPhone 5′s thin design. Both cases are made from plastic materials, but both options feel very solid and high quality.
When you slide your iPhone 5 into each Mophie case, you will feel how solid and high quality the covers are. Additionally, the caps the connect the Lightning port into the bottom of the iPhone 5 slide on tightly. You will never feel like the cap will fall out. I had an easier time pushing an iPhone 5 into the Helium than in the Air, but it was not a major difference. As noted by @MTPFlyers, it appears that Mophie may be shipping two slightly different designs of the Helium (video comparison).
The black texture of the Air case does seem to easily pick up and show oils and dirt. However, this seems like a minor issue in general with matte black textured plastic. This was not an issue for me with the somewhat dark coloring of the Helium case.
Because Apple moved the iPhone’s headphone jack to the bottom of the device next to the charging/dock connector, Mophie had to get a little creative. Because the bottom of the iPhone 5 requires the Mophie bottom cap for charging, the earphone jack on the iPhone 5 is not flush with the bottom of the Mophie case. Because of this, connecting earphones to the iPhone 5 with a new Mophie case on would be extremely difficult if not nearly impossible. To relieve this issue, Mophie includes a handy earphone adapter with both models. While the adapter works great, carrying around the extra (small) cable might be an inconvenience for some. Small cables also tend to get lost.
Like most iPhone 5 cases, both Mophie options include ports (with varying degrees of protection) for access to the volume switches, sleep/wake button, and cameras. You can charge the iPhone 5 and the Mophie battery via mini USB at the bottom of the case. The USB cable is included.
The bottom caps of both cases also include speaker holes that are meant to improve the sound that normally comes out of your iPhone 5′s speakers. Both cases seemed to activate ever-so-slightly louder sound than an iPhone 5 without the case.
Overall, both cases include similar protection and overall ruggedness. However, these cases are in no way a substitute for heavy-duty cases like the Otterbox lines. It is, however, a solid solution that is more protective than a standard, battery-less, ultra-thin case.
While, overall, the cases offer similar protection, the Juice Pack Air seems to be slightly more protective when it comes to protecting your iPhone 5′s external mechanisms and ports. As you can see in the image above, the Helium (pictured on the bottom) has a raised design so your iPhone 5′s volume switches are likely protected from very minor falls. However, the Air fully covers and does not expose the iPhone 5′s volume buttons. I had no issue with using the covered volume up and down buttons in the Air case, but the covered mute switch took a little time to get used to. It was somewhat difficult for me to activate initially, but after using the case for a couple of days, it loosened up and has remained a non-issue ever since.
As seen in the image above, the Helium (pictured on the bottom) does not actually cover the sleep/wake button, but the Air (pictured on top) completely does. Pressing both buttons through the cases have not been an issue.
Like the Mophie iPhone cases that have come for previous iPhone designs, both of these iPhone 5-compatible models offer a quick way to measure how much battery the case is storing. Like older MacBook models, you can simply click a button to see a battery meter light up. When you do not want to rely on the battery from the case, you can also easily switch it on or off.
The Helium’s battery pack is 1500mAh while the Air holds 1700mAh. Both cases have packs that are safely above the 1440mAh pack that is built into the iPhone 5. Mophie provides what this means in terms of extra juice for your iPhone 5:
My non-scientific tests seemed to have similar results. It is clear that the Air offers comparatively better battery performance to the Helium. However, the Helium’s battery is good enough to add substantial life to using your iPhone 5 each day.
Compared to models of the Mophie cases for previous iPhone generations, the Helium is much slimmer all while still offering great battery performance. However, in comparison to the iPhone 5 Juice Pack Air, it does not feel much lighter or thinner. I, for one, do not really notice any external differences other than color. I just know that the Air offers more juice than the Helium. For someone who is more concerned about battery performance than price, choosing the Air over the Helium is an easy choice. However, for $20 less, the Helium is a fantastic option.
The dark metallic Helium cases is shipping now, while a lighter color option is shipping in late March. The Helium costs $79.95. The black Air is shipping in 7-10 days, while the Product(RED) and white models begin shipping on March 22nd. The Air costs $99.95.