The International Consumer Electronics Show was filled with accessory companies that were showing blinged out cases, compact quick charging batteries and screen covers that can protect against a bucket of nails. Many of the accessories at the show looked similar. However, a few gems were spotted that looked nice, easy to install and capable of charging mobile technology quickly.
The narrowed down list of companies to test included Case-Mate, Wrapsol and Mophie. All provided samples to test and evaluate with my gadgets.
Each of the companies chosen to review compliments each other. Case-Mate makes cases from thin and stylish to very robust. Wrapsol makes a film technology for mobile devices. At CES, they show that their film can protect a smartphone from a height of several feet into a bucket of nails. Mophie engineers some of the best rated mobile charging solutions for the iPhone 4S and other USB devices, via their external battery packs.
The first Case-Mate case tested was their Phantom model, which were being swapped for current cases people were carrying around at CES. The case has a nice hard inner shell, with a rubberized outer casing. It has folding plugs for the power, headphone ports along with a covering for the vibrate switch. The Phantom has a cutout for the camera and flash on the back with proper space for the proximity sensor on the front. What I liked most about the Phantom was that it protects the iPhone 4S like no other hard case I have owned or tested. All of the hard cases that I have attached to iPhone’s previously, have broken in one way or another.
The second case tested was the Barley There Brushed Aluminum model. It was easy to install and looks nice in gold. It was the thinnest and most stylish of cases tested. It would be great with a screen cover, which Case-Mate also sells, but I wanted to try what Wrapsol had to offer. This case is recommend to those who are looking to add style and some protection to their smartphone.
Next up to test was the Carbon Fiber Case with holster combo. There are those who like to holster their smartphones for easier access, while others like slipping them into their pocket. This model provides the best of both. The clip on the holster rotates up to 180 degrees, for wearing in the vertical or horizontal positions. The carbon fiber looking leather on the case that fits around the iPhone, surrounds the inner hard shell, much like the Phantom. It provides some additional protection for the iPhone screen, but it could also use a screen cover.
The last iPhone 4S case tested from Case-Mate was the Jett Metal. It is less of a full case than it is a metallic bumper that surrounds the smartphone. It comes with a mini screwdriver that attaches the power, vibrate and sound buttons securely inside of the hard shell. The Jett Metal is a great option to those who want to keep as much of the iPhone aesthetic visible, while providing an aluminum alloy hard shell to protect it from drops or slides across a table. A screen and back cover would be recommended for use with this case, but not necessary.
The Venture with stand, for the iPad 2, was next for testing. Immediately, I liked the red lines throughout the leather-like exterior. While some cases cover the camera on the iPad 2, the Venture has a circular cutout, in addition to full access to all buttons, speaker and charging port. The build quality is higher on this case over others and it has button snaps to secure all flaps. There is a button snap to hold the entire case together and two to keep the iPad section to the back stand. The plush finish made it a nice case with a stand, over the simplistic hard plastic case that was attached before.
Finally, the Brushed Aluminum Case for Blackberry Torch 9800 series was tested on a T-Mobile 9810. The brushed metal exterior, on the main body portion of the case, matched nicely with the back slide section of the Blackberry. There is a second screen surround for the case, which is made of hardened plastic, to protect around the large touchscreen. There are cutouts for the camera, flash and microphone on the main body potion. Before the Brushed Aluminum case, it was too easy for fingerprints to cover the camera, which caused blurry photos. The case fixes that problem, while making it easier to hold the smartphone.
Mophie was an interesting company to see at CES, because they have a series of hybrid type products for gadgets, like the iPhone. They have several different kinds of battery cases and external battery solutions. Their juice pack air has even won a CES Innovations 2011 Design and Engineering Award.
Even though the juice pack air was a slimmer solution, the battery case tested was the juice pack plus. This was to evaluate how much extra time I could gain while subjecting it to a heavy workload. Their website claims a talk time on an iPhone 4 using 3G of up to eight hours, Internet use up to seven hours on 3G plus 11 hours on WiFi.
It comes in two pieces, so that for installation of the iPhone is done by simply sliding it into the case. It has cutouts for the camera, flash, headphone ports and a microphone plus vibrate adjustment switch. The battery included in the juice pack plus model comes with 2000mAh, a USB port, a four LED charge meter and buttons for the volume plus power. Even though the case covers the speakers on the bottom and connector, there are special holes to hear sound through and the case comes with a mini USB cable to connect and charge it to a computer. A voice note recorded with the battery case attached produced clear playback.
The battery case was able to go from the morning through another full day of use. I do not make voice calls on my iPhone 4. So that may be one reason why I was able to get so much use from the battery case. The iPhone 4 is used only for Internet access and the WiFi is turned off, when it is not near a hotspot. There is a recessed switch on the bottom that is there to turn charging on and off. By utilizing the switch for when the smartphone is not under heavy use, it allows the battery to charge the iPhone 4 faster. Syncing to a computer is still possible via a USB cable that Mophie generously includes.
The pros to the juice pack plus are that it kept my iPhone 4 going for several days and it did not seem to block any antenna reception. The only con was that it added too much length and width to fit in my current phone holster. That con will probably be fixed once battery technology becomes easier to mold and is capable of holding a larger charge, in a smaller form.
Mophie also engineers external battery packs for multiple devices, with varying power and amperage needs. The juice pack powerstation (RED) special edition was next for testing. Their website states the powerstation provides a 4,000mAh battery capable of a charging output of 500mAh, 1 A and 2.1 amp. Basically, the battery is able to charge everything from an iPhone 4, a Blackberry Torch, an Android dual-core smartphone, all the way up to a tablet, like an iPad 2. I have purchased other external batteries that take more time to charge the iPhone 4 and the build quality is not on par with the powerstation.
While the powerstation provides enough juice to run high use gadgets, like the iPad 2 tablet, it is unable to fully recharge one. The battery is compact enough to fit in a back pocket and has a soft-touch surface, a metal band, and an “invisible” six LED status meter. The battery pack is capable of being charged from high-current USB chargers and lower current USB ports on some computers. The battery came in handy many times with my dual-core Android smartphones. They use so much power during the day and while I am away from charging sources, many times into the late evening, I was able to keep power on all of my devices.
The pros to the Mophie powerstation are that it is compact, has quick charging circuitry, and it is rated to recharge an iPhone up to four times. One of the coolest things Mophie is doing with the special edition powerstation is that they are participating in Product (RED). Their website says they will contribute 5% of each special edition powerstation (RED) sold to The Global Fund to help eliminate AIDS. The cons to the powerstation are that it needs a larger capacity battery and its weight. Just like with the cons of the juice pack plus, these cons will probably disappear when battery technology evolves.
The trend at CES was that the accessories for smartphones were slimmer but more protective than last year and Wrapsol has certainly capitalized in the space. They had a booth setup with a hoop and a metal slide connected to a bucket of nails. The demo was to show off an expensive smartphone getting tossed into the hoop with nails at the bottom, over and over again. After a few times through the hoop, they showed the smartphone with no visible signs of abuse. I, along with others, was surprised to see their film technology so effective at protecting it.
The protective coverings would be tested next, over what has been tried before, on my personal electronics. The first of the Wrapsol films tested was the ultra front and back for iPhone 4S. It comes with eight pieces that cover the front, back, topsides and each bottom corner.
All of it was installed several times faster than any other clear film I have tried before, because of Wrapsol’s dry application process. The front and back sections of the film have small detachable handles to make it easier to align on the iPhone 4S. The best part of the case is that an extra body accessory for the iPhone 4S is almost unnecessary. Even though some will want a ruggedized case for their iPhone 4S, the Wrapsol film should be considered to cover the screen. It does a nice job of reducing the amount of visible fingerprints.
The other Wrapsol coverings tested were for the MacBook Pro 13-inch and iPad 2. The covering for the Macbook Pro came in three sections, where the computer would experience the highest probability for scratches. The film set included the bottom, back of the screen, wrist wrest and touch pad. They require a wet application process, because of the metal that the film needs to adhere to. The iPad 2 film covering came in two sections. The back film for the iPad 2 is also a wet application process. The problem with a lot of the clear screen protectors is that they leave bubbles. All of the mini bubbles were cleared up in about a day and a half. Like the iPhone 4S Wrapsol screen cover, the iPad 2 version also helps to reduce the amount visible fingerprints.
Cases, screen protectors and batteries are all gadget accessories to consider for protecting mobile technology investments and to fully utilize them. A big thanks to Case-Mate, Wrapsol and Mophie for helping to provide samples to test in my evaluation. All photos of the products above are courtesy of the respective companies, except for Mophie’s juice pack plus, which is my photo. There are many companies who make cases and adequate charging solutions for smartphones and tablets. However, for the price, design and engineering that the three companies above provide in their cases, wraps and products, it all ends up being a good value.