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The Best iPhone 5 Battery Case is the Lenmar Meridian

By Alexander George, The Wirecutter

If you need a battery pack case for your iPhone 5, there are a handful of options that are Apple-approved--meaning, their charging technology will continue to work throughout multiple software updates. We like the Lenmar Meridian the best because it can take a dead iPhone 5 to full charge with its class leading 2300MAh power rating, is easy to attach and remove, and is simple to operate.

If you need a battery pack case for your iPhone 5, there are a handful of options that are Apple-approved -- meaning, their charging technology will continue to work throughout multiple software updates. We like the Lenmar Meridian the best because it can take a dead iPhone 5 to full charge with its class leading 2300MAh power rating, is easy to attach and remove, and is simple to operate.

Why A Battery Case?

Battery cases give you a thin, unobtrusive backup power source built right into the case. The design is easier to carry than external battery packs that require you to haul a charge cable around with you, but what you gain in portability over an external battery pack, you lose in charge capacity. For example, the Satechi Energy Station 10,000, which is our pick for best external battery, has almost seven times the charge capacity of the popular Mophie Juice Pack Helium. But if you consistently run your iPhone battery dry before the day is through and don’t want the hassle of plugging into an external battery pack, these cases are your only option.

Amazon is full of obscure brands with iPhone 5 battery cases, but we wouldn’t buy anything that’s not Apple-approved. Nick Guy, iPhone case guru at iLounge, and best iPhone/iPad case reviewer in the world, explained it to me: “I’m 99.9% certain none of [the no-name models] are licensed. I think in general it’s better to stick with something that won’t potentially stop working.” We wouldn’t gamble $70-plus on an unlicensed model and as such, we didn’t bother considering any that did not explicitly mention that they were “Made for iPhone”, “Apple Approved” or something similar.

Our Pick

There are very few reviews of iPhone 5 battery cases, but iLounge has the largest assessment and it’s one of our trusted sources for iPhone gear. They gave the Meridian a B+, which makes it one of the two highest-rated iPhone 5 battery case. For iLounge, as with us, picking a battery case comes down to having a high power to weight and price: “[The] Meridian’s biggest advantage relative to rivals is its performance to price ratio. Despite adding only a couple of millimeters of extra thickness, Lenmar has squeezed a 2,300mAh battery into the $90 Meridian, which is considerably more capacity than the $100 Juice Pack Air’s 1,700mAh cell.” The Meridian even bests the newer Mophie Juice Pack Plus. They have similar bulk, with the Juice Pack Plus weighing 2.68 ounces and the Meridian weighing 2.2 ounces, but the Mophie has 200 fewer mAh battery capacity and costs $30 more.

Simply put, with its 2,300mAh battery, the Lenmar Meridian is currently one of the highest-capacity battery cases available.

Unlike most other cases, the Meridian can take a totally dead iPhone 5 to a full 100 percent charge.

Unlike most other cases, the Meridian can take a totally dead iPhone 5 to a full 100 percent charge. We admit that for most users looking to extend the iPhone 5′s battery life to last through the day, the few hundred mAh that separates the cases that only take a dead phone to 90 percent is probably insignificant, but we’re thoroughly impressed by hardware that can push through to full recharge. For the few fractions of an inch of size and 2.2 ounces of weight it adds to the iPhone 5, that’s an exceptional figure. Especially when you consider the fact that our formerly recommended Mophie Juice Pack Air weighs almost half an ounce more (2.68oz), yet has a 600mAh smaller capacity.

Controls are straightforward: to turn the charging on or off, you hold down a single button on the back. A single LED above tells you how much charge you have left.

The Meridian, like almost all battery cases, charges itself via micro-USB. You can plug the case in for a charge by itself, or you can leave it on your phone inside of it and give power to both the phone and the case with one cable.

The Meridian’ s formal dimensions are 5.4 x 2.5 x 0.6 inches. (Amazon’s listed dimensions are much larger, but those figures include the packaging; I converted the actual case’s millimeter figures on Lenmar’s site and got those figures). For comparison, the iPhone 5 is 4.87 inches tall, 2.31 inches wide, and 0.30 inches deep. The Meridian adds a little under half an inch to the phone’s height, and 0.3 inches to its thickness. The Mophie Juice Pack Plus, on the other hand, measures 5.60 x 2.63 x 0.70 inches, making it larger overall than the Meridian on all sides — again, it also weighs a significant 0.47 ounces more than the Meridian. With either case, you’ll add some bulk, but Lenmar managed to squeeze a 200mAh bigger battery into less space than Mophie.

Lenmar managed to squeeze a 200mAh bigger battery into less space than Mophie.

In addition to its impressive performance, the Meridian also fits the iPhone 5 perfectly. Unlike other cases, its battery is in one piece on the lower part of the case. The top is a lightweight piece of plastic that snaps into place, which makes assembling and removing the whole rig very easy. Besides the bulk conservation, we like how the Meridian is designed so that all the heft is near the base of the phone, near the Lightning port. While the Mophie’s thickness is spread throughout the phone’s length, the Meridian feels nicely balanced, especially while navigating menus or holding it up to your ear for a call.

The exterior is made of rubber-coated hard plastic that’s grippy, but slick enough to not stick to your pockets. Like most battery cases, the Meridian has channels under the speakers, and when we made calls with the case on, the other party could never tell any difference in the sound quality.

Lastly, on Amazon, the Lenmar Meridian has 4/5 stars.

Drawbacks

In our tests, the Mophie Juice Pack Air and Plus beat the Meridian in two categories: drop protection and button access. As we’ll explain, those advantages aren’t great enough to make either one a better buy than the Meridian. (It’s worth noting that both brands come with one-year warranties, neither of which covers damage from drops, or even “normal wear and tear“).

The Meridian, like the Juice Pack Helium, has no button covers. Unfortunately, the recessions on the Meridian that give you access to the volume, vibrate, and the sleep/wake buttons are deep, so it takes a bit of reaching to operate, which iLounge found in their review as well. That said, in everyday use, I had no problem activating each of those buttons with one hand. It’s only a minor inconvenience that’s worth all the battery that you get with the Meridian, but it’s a feature we’ve come to expect from basic protective cases, and would make the Meridian truly excellent.

The extra size on the Mophie Juice Pack Plus goes towards impact protection that — as iLounge describes, “a thin lip around the screen [recesses] the front glass against most drop damage.” Because Mophie’s battery cases are secured by two almost-equally meaty sections of battery (the Meridian is the bottom battery section, with a plastic top), they’re more durable. Both are made of the same rubber-coated hard plastic.

With an iPhone 5 inside, we sent them over the edge of counters and from chest-high onto hardwood floors, carpet, and a concrete sidewalk…

We conducted side-by-side drop tests with the Mophie Helium, Juice Pack Plus, and the Lenmar Meridian. With an iPhone 5 inside, we sent them over the edge of counters and from chest-high onto hardwood floors, carpet, and a concrete sidewalk several times for each case. All except for one drop in which the Helium slightly separated, the Mophies stayed attached and took the impact of the fall. Besides exterior scratches, the cases remained intact and actually never stopped charging the phone. Because the Meridian has the entire battery is set in the lower part of the case, the top plastic piece popped off about half the time we dropped the case from waist-high (note that we tested the model with the matte rubber exterior, and we figure the hard plastic red and white models would likely be more fragile). The Meridian’s plastic top piece never actually broke and always slipped back on to the phone easily, but we can imagine it’d give in to abuse more quickly than the Mophie cases.

These tests, however, are deliberately extreme. Battery cases’ first priority is as a power sources first. Protection, as long as it meets the basic requirement of not breaking from minor impacts, is more of a side effect. The Mophie Juice Pack Plus’s drop protection and button covers are, for us, not enough to justify its 200mAh power deficit and, more importantly, the extra $30 price tag. For a battery case that’s portable, ergonomic, and has enough juice to give you the confidence to use your phone with impunity throughout the day, we’d get the Lenmar Meridian.

Other Competition (AKA Why Not Mophie?)

Mophie is the top seed of this product category, but there’s no good reason to get a Juice Pack over the Meridian. While their Juice Pack series of iPhone 5 battery cases are pretty impressive, none of them can match the Meridian’s price and performance. Even their flagship model, the just-released Juice Pack Plus, only has a 2,100mAh battery — that’s still 200 fewer than in the Meridian. Besides not being able to charge as well, the Plus costs $120, or $30 more than the Meridian. The Plus gets points for having integrated buttons that make it easy to operate the phone with the case on, but the price hike and second-place performance make it a much worse value than the Meridian.

Mophie also has two other cases: the Helium and the Air, which have 1,500mAh and 1,700mAh batteries respectively. The Air costs $100 and the Helium is $70, but because they can’t come close to fully recharging an iPhone, we wouldn’t recommend either to anyone who needs really extended battery life.

There’s also the XPAL PowerSkin. We spent some time with it and were not totally impressed. While the Mophies and Lenmar use a solid two-part separating design, the PowerSkin has a unibody rubber-like design with a small Lightning plug on the bottom while the upper part of the case slides over the top of the phone. Unfortunately the silicone material slides all over the phone and makes the sleep/wake button difficult to reach. All this might be acceptable if it offered better performance, but it’s 1,500mAh battery is bested by the competition, and loses to both in the build quality arena. For now, we’re ready to rule out the PowerSkin.

i-Blason’s PowerGlider is a popular option, but it isn’t Apple-authorized, which means there’s the possibility that an iOS update may lock out charging from the case.

Besides Mophie’s lineup, the $85 iKit NuCharge is the biggest competitor to the Meridian. What the NuCharge lacks in raw power it makes up for in versatility and ergonomics, but we’re not convinced either strength makes it better than the Meridian. The case’s main unit is a thin, clear plastic perimeter protector with a flat back. (We don’t think this design wouldn’t be even worth considering for a basic iPhone 5 case, but the side bands are thin enough to make button operation easy enough). The battery, which attaches to this plastic unit, matches the perimeter of the iPhone. Unlike the Mophies or the Meridian, the NuCharge’s back-mounted battery has a removable Lightning plug that you plug into the phone as needed. That’s sort of a deal breaker.

Wrapping it Up

We’ll be researching and reviewing iPhone 5 battery pack cases as they become available, but for now, if your needs fit the criteria we’ve outlined, the Lenmar Meridian is a great buy.

This story originally appeared in The Wirecutter, published 6/13/2013 and reprinted with permission.