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iPhone XS Max Smart Battery Case review: A battery case that pulls its weight


Apple recently released a Smart Battery Case for the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR through its online store without as much as a press release. There had been leaks and rumors about an impending return of an official battery case from Apple for its iPhone line.

Apple last released a Smart Battery Case for the iPhone 7 in 2016 and didn’t release an updated case for the iPhone 8 and iPhone X.

The Smart Battery Case does is just what its namesake implies: A protective case for the iPhone that includes a battery for extending the day-to-day battery life of the iPhone.

For the past week, I’ve been using a Smart Battery Case on the iPhone XS Max and iPhone XR, and the short of it is that the added battery life far outweighs the added size.

The cases are identical in design, save for the changes in size and camera cutouts on the rear, so with that in mind, I’ll focus on my experience with my primary phone, the iPhone XS Max.

Design

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Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

The cases, which come in black or white, are priced at $129. The outside of the case is made of a soft-touch silicone, while the inside is lined with a microfiber lining. Also on the inside of the case is a single indicator light that turns amber when the case is charging, and green when it’s fully charged.

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Also: iPhone XS and iPhone XR cheat sheets

On the bottom is a Lightning port for charging and connecting accessories to your phone, along with cutouts for the bottom speaker and microphone.

The most noticeable design element of the case is the bump, where the battery is housed, on its back. The hump spans roughly 75 percent of the length of the iPhone, stopping just short of the camera cutout.

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Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Putting the case on an iPhone requires bending back roughly the top third of the case and sliding your phone into the case. Once in place, the case feels sturdy and doesn’t feel flimsy around the edges where it meets the display.

Even though I’ve overcome my reservations about carrying the iPhone XS Max, I wasn’t sure if my open mind to bigger phones would include the addition of a battery case. And while, yes, it does make the iPhone XS Max thicker and a bit heavier, the added size was something I quit noticing after the first day of use.

Really, outside of its unique design, the battery case doesn’t add much more to the overall size than what an Otterbox case would. Although I typically forgo the use of a case at all, preferring to take my chances with accidental drops, the added battery life is something I’m willing to make exceptions for.

Apple’s magic touch

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Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

With every new release, Apple loves to remind us that it can offer a level of integration no one else can, due to controlling the hardware and software, and because of that, the product and the experience benefit. Apple AirPods and Apple Watch are prime examples of this philosophy — and to some extent, so is the Smart Battery Case.

Typically, battery cases have a power button. You turn the case on when you need to charge your phone’s battery, and it keeps charging until it runs out of power or you turn the case off.


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With Apple’s Smart Battery Case, there isn’t a power button. Instead, when the case has a charge, the iPhone is constantly charging — depleting the case as it goes. Once the case no longer has a charge, your iPhone switches to its internal battery. At any time you can check on the status of either battery, either in the Battery widget in the Today view, or on the lock screen when you start charging the case and phone. 

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Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

All this is managed by iOS, because, well, Apple owns the entire stack — hardware and software — and uses that to ensure your iPhone battery isn’t damaged by constantly being charged.

Even how iOS and the case prioritize charging based on the type of charger providing power is unique. Apple refers to this process as Smart Charging.

  • Using the 5W charger that comes with each iPhone, the iPhone will charge first, then the case.
  • If you have a 10W or 12W charger — included with some iPad models — both the case and the phone will charge at the same time but at the speed of 5W each.
  • If you have an 18W power adapter, the iPhone will fast charge and once it’s full, the case will fast charge.
  • Finally, when using a 30W or higher wall adapter both devices will fast charge at the same time.

Furthermore, the new Smart Battery Case is compatible wireless charging pads. Any wireless pad that’s Qi-compatible will wirelessly charge the case and your iPhone.

When using wireless charging, the iPhone will charge first, followed by the case. Both devices will charge at speeds up to 7.5W, which is the maximum speed compatible iPhone’s can charge without the case.

Performance

All those fancy features don’t mean a whole lot if the case doesn’t do its primary job of prolonging the battery life of your iPhone.

For me, that meant not having to charge my iPhone XS Max for three days. For example, after charging the case for the first time, and making sure my phone had a full charge, I put on the case around three on a Friday afternoon. It wasn’t until Monday morning that my phone was under 10 percent battery and needed to be charged.

I repeated the same rudimentary test the following day, with my iPhone XS Max lasting a full three days before needing a charge. That’s roughly double the battery life I typically get from the XS Max on its own.

Also: Apple to iPhone owners: Why you need to upgrade to XR

Granted, every user is going to have a different experience in the exact amount of time the case adds to their use — but I do feel comfortable saying adding the case is not going to provide a minimal gain in battery life.

If you find yourself needing longer battery life from your iPhone, and the idea of carrying around a battery pack isn’t appealing, the Smart Battery Cases is an easy choice. At $129 it’s pricey, but for those who need the added battery boost, it’s well worth it. 

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