A review and comparison of the Juice Pack Helium and Air for iPhone 5

Frustratingly announced within a couple weeks of each other, Mophie’s Juice Pack Helium and Air are two battery cases for the iPhone 5. I’ve been a fan of Mophie’s Air cases for years, so of course I pre-ordered the Helium on day one, hastily filed an RMA request when the Air was announced, then decided to take the opportunity to compare them.

Both of these cases herald a very welcome change from Mophie’s previous Air design for the iPhone 4 and 4S, and I’ll get to that in a minute. There are two main differences between the Helium and the Air, the first being their key component.

The battery

The iPhone 5’s internal battery sports 1,440 mAh, a very meager bump from the 4S’s 1,432. The Helium has 1,500 mAh battery, while the Air packs a little more with 1,700. In short, I concur with Lex Friedman’s review in that the Helium won’t give you a complete extra charge, but it’ll get you in the neighborhood. I ran my iPhone 5 all the way to dead, blazing past the 10 percent warning with reckless abandon. On average, the Helium got it back to 75 percent, while the Air got it to 90.

Fortunately, the Air’s 12 percent battery bump over the Helium doesn’t feel like it affects the overall size and feel of the case compared to the Helium. Stats:

  • Helium: 2.49 in x 5.49 in x 0.59 in, 2.44 oz
  • Air: 2.60 in x 5.54 in x 0.63 in, 2.68 oz

I just don’t notice the Air’s slightly larger everything in regular use, which brings me to the only other meaningful difference between the cases.

The design

As you can see in my gallery, the Air (the (PRODUCT) RED version on the left in every shot) stands out from the Helium in two significant ways. The first is a silver band that runs around the side, which Mophie says helps with holding it all day. I honestly don’t notice a difference, though I do notice and like the slight rubbery texture of both cases. That texture does much more for making the setup easy to hold while not being too rubbery as to get caught and wrapped up in your typical (what I presume to be) cotton pants pocket.

The other big difference is that the Helium has openings for the mute, volume, and power buttons, while the Air breaks from Mophie’s past couple of cases and uses a pass-through button design. The Helium doesn’t have a lot of bulk on its sides so pressing the buttons through them feels easier than with previous cases. However, when done well, I prefer pass-through button designs, and the Air is no exception. They feel solid, like a natural (though still third-party) extension of the iPhone’s body, making its buttons easier to hit versus the Helium’s open slot design.

If you used a Juice Pack Air for the iPhone 4/4S, you probably scanned the entire article first to find this sentence, so yes: Mophie dropped that infernal snap-in design. You no longer have to place the left side of your iPhone in to fit the mute/volume button fittings, then press so hard to snap on the right side as to make you fear for scraping the iPhone’s antenna clean off.

Both the Helium and Air have a much more reasonable fitting. You pop off the bottom portion of the case (much like your typical ‘slider’ case) that houses the internal Lightning connector and micro-USB charging port, slide your iPhone into the case, and pop the bottom on to seal the package. Yes, I’m inclined to say “yep, upgrade” solely because of this change.

The headphone thing

If the headphones you use have a jack much thicker or shorter than Apple’s EarPods, you may have some tinkering to do. Apple moved the headphone jack to the bottom on the iPhone 5, which I welcome. But Mophie has to pack some key hardware into the bottom of these battery cases, which aren’t exactly getting any thicker.

Mophie solved this conundrum by including a headphone dongle and designing a slim cavity that is is just wide enough but slightly taller than the EarPod’s jack. I’m able to finagle it in pretty easily without having to pop off the bottom and run the chord through, but it’s not a perfect experience.

The Lightning thing

I am disappointed to report that both cases use a micro-USB connector. I was hoping Mophie would switch to Lightning so I could leave one more cable out of my bag. USB is probably cheaper for Mophie, and maybe it even saves some space; can anyone tell me otherwise?

The conclusion

I honestly don’t understand why the Helium exists. To be clear, the Helium and Air are both great, but do enough people care so much about such a small difference in size, weight, and battery to warrant two separate cases released just weeks and $20 apart? It would be more understandable if there were more space between the two, perhaps if the Air had a 2000+ mAh battery and the necessary increase in overall size. Then again, I don’t work in the battery case industry, so maybe Mophie knows something I don’t.

Long story short, if an extra tenth of an inch in size and $20 won’t bring your world crashing down, go for the Air. It has more juice, its pass-through buttons are easier to use, and there are more color choices like (PRODUCT) RED so you can help make the world a little bit better while picking up a great gadget.

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