When the first iPhone 6 battery cases hit the market late last year. One of reader commented repeatedly that he was holding out for something with a female Lightning port on the bottom, rather than the currently ubiquitous alternative, micro-USB. Why would anyone care?Well, if an accessory can recharge using Lightning, the same charging cable you get with any iPhone can be used with its accessories, too. That means you’ll have one less cable to carry around, a convenience that inspired Apple late last year to offer accessory developers access to female Lightning connectors.
The rollout has been slow: there’s still no Apple-authorized accessory with a Lightning port, since Apple was still only previewing the feature early this year. But a developer called Aukey decided not to wait for Apple’s seal of approval. As of this week, it’s selling what it claims is “the first and the only portable charger in the world with Apple Lightning input port,” the PB-N30 3600mAh External Battery Charger ($36, sold on Amazon for $15). Given the low price, it’s no surprise that there are a bunch of caveats to consider, but if you’ve been jonesing for a battery with a Lightning port, now you have an option.
Let’s start with the positives. Aukey’s design looks like a bigger version of the original Apple Remote, an extruded pill shape measuring 4.85″ tall by 1.75″ wide by 0.45″ thick. It’s actually a nearly perfect match for the iPhone 5/5c/5s in height, looking smaller by comparison with the newer iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. There’s nothing on the matte black top except a glossy Aukey logo, and nothing whatsoever on the long edges or the bottom. One of the short edges contains specs in small print, and the other has a Lightning port marked “in,” plus a full-sized USB port marked “out.” For the most part, the design is so understated that it doesn’t look or feel cheap, and an included drawstring carrying case looks and feels nice, with enough room to hold the battery.
But there are compromises. Instead of an array of four to five LEDs, which would be common on batteries of this type, a single pin hole between the power ports has a barely visible light inside that glows white at 100%-60% power, green at 60%-20% power, and red when it’s at 20%-0% power. There’s no power button; the battery just turns on when it’s connected to a device, and off when it’s disconnected or out of juice. If you want to attach the battery to your iPhone — not a common feature of external batteries — you’re supposed to moisten a double-sided rubber grid of suction cups that sort of hold them together, the cheapest-feeling part of the set.
PB-N30 is a fine rather than great performer on the power front. Its USB port is capped at 1.5-Amp output, which is faster than Apple’s official 1-Amp iPhone spec, but slower than the 2.1-Amp speed that iPhone 6 models and iPads can handle. Consequently, it took roughly an hour and a half for the PB-N30 to bring a dead iPhone 6 Plus to a 72% charge before stopping, which is a few percentage points less than I expected for a 3600mAh cell with the largest iPhone. But as my tests of numerous iPhone 6 battery cases have shown, the same cell should recharge every other iPhone once, sometimes with a little extra juice to spare. I was able to completely recharge a dead iPhone 5c, discharge it, and add 37% more power for a total recharge of 137% before the PB-N30 ran out of energy.
Last but not least, no charging cable is included for the battery or your iPhone; Aukey sells the one shown below separately, with a 10% discount off the battery pack if you buy both together at Amazon. (Use code PUMCP5XL at checkout after adding both the cable and battery to your cart.) But Aukey’s cable, like Apple’s standard Lightning cables, is around 3 feet long. If you’re going to keep the battery and iPhone close together, a shorter Lightning cable like this AmazonBasics 4-inch version would be a better pick for that purpose, but probably not for recharging the battery. Did I mention there were compromises?
As external batteries go, PB-N30 has two virtues: it’s being sold cheap given its 3600mAh capacity, and has a Lightning port. At a time when incredibly high-capacity battery packs are becoming very affordable — but remaining physically large — Aukey’s design is fairly slim with enough power to fully recharge most iPhones. So if being able to charge both your iPhone and its battery with only one cable is important to you, this first-of-kind Lightning battery may be appealing. But if not, Aukey is currently selling an otherwise identical version with an included micro-USB cable for only $10. You can decide for yourself whether a female Lightning connector on an external battery is worthy of a premium; if nothing else, it’s nice that Aukey has brought both options to the table.