Confession: even though the iPhone 4 is often celebrated for having a fantastic battery life, I still burn through mine pretty quickly. I guess I just use my phone a lot or something, but I don’t quite get the amazing usage time out of mine that other people do. If I don’t plug in and top off around midday, I’m pretty hurting for power by the evening (which can make going out after work pretty stressful). I’ve looked at some of the external battery pack cases in the past, but they’ve always been too bulky for my taste. As much as I need to have my phone alive, I also like it fitting in my pocket without feeling like I’m carrying around a 1989 Game Boy.
Fortunately, the folks at Incipio have a solution to both of these problems with their offGRID case. Not only will it recharge your iPhone when you can’t get to an outlet, but it’s small enough to fit comfortably in your pants (hey-oh!).
The concept is a pretty simple one: built into the case is a secondary battery that holds its own separate charge. Your iPhone slides into the top and plugs into the case’s dock connector. Once you see your meter start to dip into the red (or whenever you want), just press a button and the offGRID will start recharging your phone. It’s that simple and you can continue to use your phone as normal the whole time.
What sets the offGRID from other products of it’s kind though is that it is incredibly slim and adds very little in terms of excess mass. Obviously there is a degree of extra thickness involved, but it’s very acceptable. With the case on, it’s about the same size as an iPhone 3G/S. There is some added weight as well, but the whole package is still quite light overall. In fact, people who appreciate a bit of heft in their mobile devices will probably appreciate the extra few ounces (personally I always found a bare iPhone 4 almost frighteningly insubstantial).
So how does it perform? First, let’s look at it as a regular case. It’s adequately in this regard, but that mostly depends on your personal preferences. The back is curved (like a 3G/S), which I was never very fond of. I like to lay my phone down flat on a table sometimes while I’m using it, and the concave back means it wobbles when you tap near the edges. But on the other hand, it does feel more comfortable in your hand and wedges into your shoulder better when you’re in a pinch. The front of the case sits flush with the sides of the screen and doesn’t feature any kind of lip around the edges. Again, this is totally a preference thing. While it does mean your screen is directly on a surface when you lay it face down, it is easier to get right up to the edge when swiping around. The plastic is fairly sturdy, but it will do absolutely nothing to protect the face of your iPhone.
Aesthetically, it does look pretty sharp and is available in a variety of glossy colors. I have the white one and I quite like the way it looks with my black iPhone. Ironically though, it does look kind of stupid with white phones; the little black bar at the bottom with the power button and charging lights stands out too much.
The main draw of the offGRID though is obviously it’s back-up battery. You’ll be pleased to know that it does its job fantastically. It won’t quite double your battery life, but it will deliver an extra ~75%. I tend to turn it on when I get the 10% warning, and by the time the auxiliary battery is depleted my phone reads around 80%. Charging the offGRID itself does take a little while though, around 3 hours. But usually this is done overnight so it’s not that big of a deal. I also ran into a little bug where the phone won’t charge if the case is already fully charged. This is easily remedied though by unplugging it, turning on the offGRID, then plugging it in again. A neat little unintended perk I’ve found is that if you have WiFi syncing enabled in iOS 5, you can easily sync at the press of a button if you’re on your home network.
Unfortunately, there are a few problems with the offGRID. Because the case surrounds the bottom of the iPhone, it does block the speakers. There are little vents to let sound through, but it does muffle a little bit. Also, the hole for the headphone port is sometimes too small to allow for certain thicker jacks. And while removing top part of the case can easily solve that issue, this presents another problem: that piece is small and a bit fragile (I’ve already bent mine). I’m afraid that frequently removing it might break it.
The offGRID charges via microUSB, and this is both a blessing and a curse. The benefit is that it means you likely won’t encounter a situation where you can’t find a suitable charging cable. Since almost all other modern phones use the same charging input, if you go over to a friends house and find yourself running low there’s a good chance they can set you up. The downside, however, is that all of your docks and charging cradles are now useless.
The biggest issue with the offGRID, though, has to do with the iPhone’s camera, specifically the flash. Because the back of the case is a bit thick, the camera is recessed. Then when you use the flash, the light tends to bounce off the sidewalls of the little hole it’s in and creates a haze across the picture. It looks pretty terrible and makes shooting in the dark even more crap than it was before.
Other than that, the offGRID is pretty great. Honestly, the few problems I had were more nitpicks than legitimate complaints. I’ve been using mine for a few weeks now and I’ve yet to be disappointed. If you’re anything like me and always find yourself in want of an outlet, this is the case for you. It’s so liberating to be able to use my phone as much as I want and not being afraid of it dying.
The MSRP is $69.99, but you can find it through various online retailers for cheaper if you shop around.