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Dec 06 2011

PowerSkin for iPhone 4S Review

Christmas came early to Sprint this year. The iPhone 4S landed on their dock making T-Mobile the only national carrier left out in the cold, rarefied air of commercial winter.

I like this because Sprint is the carrier that I am committed to and it finally gave me the opportunity to see what all the hype was about on the iPhone. So far, so good. I like the phone…I really miss the 4G. That, however, is another story.

One of the issues that has gone around on the iPhone 4S is the battery draining very quickly. This does not seem to be a hardware issue as some people are seeing this behavior and some are not. Some foul combination of software seems to cause the problem.

I have recently acquired this issue. Like some festering infection it has rooted itself in my phone and there are times when I can literally watch the battery meter fall.

Luckily, it was just at this point that a PowerSkin arrived in my mailbox. Sometimes, I love my mailman.

The PowerSkin is a combination silicon shell and 2000 milliamp hour battery in a single package. The recycled silicon rubber wraps the back and sides of your phone in protection and hides a wee bit of power extension in the package as well! The case is soft and flexible where it is open to put the iPhone in but solid on the back of the case where the battery is located.

The iPhone PowerSkin weighs 2.9 ounces or a bit more than half of what the iPhone weighs. While this extra weight is perceptible it is the depth of the case that will make an impact. At .77 inches in depth it is basically doubling the iPhone in this dimension. While this is obvious, the package is well-balanced and I did not find it objectionable to hold or pocket. I did have a couple of people comment on the size of the case, so it is noticeable.

The iPhone slips into the case easily with cutouts for the camera and flash, headphone output and the mute switch. The volume buttons are covered by inset buttons on the case. While they did not line up precisely with the volume buttons on my iPhone, they worked perfectly.

The Apple sync/charge connector is replaced by a micro USB connector on the outside of the case on the bottom of the right side. Charging and sync all happen through this port and those functions have worked well for me. While it is a bit odd not using the Apple cable, I do like the fact that anyone’s micro USB charger works on the case and phone, as long as it outputs at least 500 milliamps at 5 volts. This gives me a bit more flexibility since the charging chip licensed from Apple is already in the case.

If you are an accountant you will understand what I mean when I tell you that the battery on the PowerSkin is a LIFO product. If you plug a dead phone and Powerskin up to your charger, it will start charging your phone first and not start recharging itself until the phone is completely charged.

When you unplug the charger, the Powerskin will use its power first and not start drawing from the phone’s battery until it is depleted.

The Powerskin website lists it as increasing your battery life “up to” two times. In my usage this was closer to an 80 percent increase in battery life, but that has been a HUGE improvement over what I had suffered with.

The bottom of the Powerskin has a button and 4 blue LEDs to let you know the amount of power stored in the battery. Pushing this button quickly gives you a reading and holding it for two seconds turns the output of the battery pack off. I experimented with both leaving the battery on and running the phone off the Powerskin until it was depleted and turning the Powerskin off and using it to recharge the iPhone when it got low.

The Powerskin would bring the iPhone back up to 100% charge from 20% in about 45 minutes and it would do this while I continued to use the phone. The total amount of time I could use the phone did not seem to vary greatly using it this way or leaving it on until it was drained. In either case, I am now able to use the phone hard all day without having to plug it into a charger at any point.

If the Powerskin and iPhone are dead when you plug them up you are looking at somewhere between 6 and 7 hours to charge both fully. Given that you are in essence charging a 4000 milliamp hour battery, this is not out of line, but you may have to plan for it. You do, of course have the freedom to charge the case and phone separately if you are more time constrained. The circuitry in the case seems to be very smart at handling all the charging functionality.

My phone has already tumbled to the asphalt twice since I put it in the Powerskin and it protected it admirably both times with nary a scratch or mark on the case or phone.

My only real concern with the case is having the camera lens and flash recessed so far in the back of the case. I was concerned how this would impact the white balance, the light sensing and the flash.

First off, I took two pictures in medium light setting with and without the case.

In the Powerskin

Without the Powerskin

While there are subtle differences, they do not drive me crazy and I find them both very acceptable.

Next, I took a couple of close up pictures with a flash in a fairly dark room.

In the Powerskin

Without the Powerskin

Again, my untrained eye does not see huge differences between the two.

Finally, I took a mid-range shot with a flash in a dark room. I am about 8 feet away from this door while taking these pics.

In the Powerskin

With no Powerskin

As you can see, in bad conditions with a flash in the mid-field the Powerskin does something to either the diffusion of the flash or the light sensor that washes out the picture pretty badly. I had similar results in a dark room at a farther distance, but the details were blurred enough they aren’t really worth posting.

CONCLUSIONS:

As a case, the Powerskin functions well. It is a little bulky, but it is serving another purpose so this is understandable. It fares well on the drop test and does a good job of protecting the phone while still giving you access to all of its functions. The iPhone can be quickly removed if necessary and the additional weight is more than worth the trade-off in functionality. If you are looking for protection for the front glass of the iPhone, you will need to add a screen cover to the package.

As a battery extender the Powerskin works extremely well. I have not had to plug my phone up to a charger during the day a single time since I started using it and generally go to bed with some power available. If you are a lighter user, the Powerskin will likely let you go a day or two between charges. Since the iPhone will run directly from the Powerskin, it will even allow you to use a completely dead iPhone as you are recharging it. PowerSkin’s website states that it will hold it’s charge for 6 months…but I did not have the patience to test this claim!

As a camera accessory it gets mixed marks. As long as you are not using the flash, the Powerskin has little or no impact and does fine in short range shots. It is only in mid-range and longer shots requiring the flash that the recessed flash hole seems to make a difference.

IN SUMMARY

The real issue in modern, portable technology is battery life. None of the functionality of your brilliant “smart phone” means anything at all if your dumb battery is depleted. PowerSkin is all about stretching that functionality for another couple of hours, another couple of contacts, another couple of emails or another couple of blog posts.

That is more than more power, current or simple juice. That is time…and time…is money!

Because of that, Powerskin is going on my approved list as constant carry. It let me finish this review and it could keep your phone alive and well charged.

PowerSkin® for Apple iPhone 4 (AT&T & Verizon) $79.99 (on sale now for $59.99)
PowerSkin
100 Sycamore Ave, Suite 200
Modesto, CA 95354Telephone:
(866) 972-5769

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