I recently picked up an iPhone XS Smart Battery Case, for my iPhone X. I’ve previously owned the 6S battery case for my iPhone 6, and the iPhone 7 case. Let me first say that even though Apple has designed the case for the XS, it worked on the X running iOS 12.2.2 without any effort.
The two cosmetic issues of not being designed specifically for the X is that because the camera housing on the XS is slightly taller than the X, the cutout on the back of the case leaves a little extra space that wouldn’t be seen when using an XS. This is … fine, I know it’s there, but unless you make a habit of putting your camera six inches away from your target, no one else would ever see it.
The other issue is that the speaker grills on the XS are not symmetrical, but it is on the X, so the XS case doesn’t have cutouts that match that at the bottom. However, from what I understand, the additional holes on the X grill serve no purpose. They’re just there for aesthetics, so there is no loss of functionality. On the XS there is an antenna line on the exterior of the case, so Apple did away with the faux-holes entirely.
Comparing the new case to previous iterations, they’re functionally very similar. Some reviews have mentioned that there is no passive antenna array on the new cases, as there was with the 6S and 7 version. I did not rip the silicone off to verify this. According to Rene Riche, the XS case runs at a higher voltage that yields a total of 10.1 Wh of energy compared to 7.13 Wh for the iPhone 6/6s case and 8.98 Wh for the iPhone 7 case. Otherwise, it features the same Lightning pass-through that allows you to charge both the phone and the case, or hook up to a car stereo or iTunes without any issues. When using a “fast charging” setup such as an 18W charging adapter and USB-C to Lightning cable, the case and phone are able to leverage the additional power delivery.
I have mixed feelings about the new design of the bottom of the case, compared to previous battery cases. I really like that there isn’t a chin that extends off the phone anymore, although on the previous designs this provided a channel to redirect the sound to the front of the phone, which was great for watching videos and not having to cup the end of the phone with your hand to “boost” the sound towards your head. The more obvious solution to this is use headphones and not expose your audio with the world like an animal, but sometimes you just want to share.
The chin on previous versions houses the charging circuitry and controller for the battery. The lack of chin means these electronics have relocated to the back of the case. I think the new design looks better than just having a straight up hump in the middle of the case, although it means it’s not as easy to hold one-handed from the bottom. The hump in previous designs gave you a place to rest your pinky. (Yes, I do the pinky support the bottom grip thing which I’m sure is bad for my hand.) It’s harder for me to single hand type with the case on, but that could be like any form factor change, requiring some time to adapt.
Back in my day, the 4″ iPhone 5 felt “huge,” and now we have people palming the iPhone XS Max like it’s no big deal.
Usually, I’m caseless or use the Apple Leather Case which doesn’t have any coverage of the bottom of the phone. Because of this, I’m aggressive with my swipe gestures up from the bottom of the phone, but that is annoying with the addition of a case lip. If I actively adjust my swipe it works and doesn’t catch, so I have to train myself to do that.
Unlike previous iterations of the Smart Battery Case, this one has Qi charging integrated, and it is fantastic. I have about nine Qi chargers in my house now, so if Qi weren’t a supported option, I wouldn’t have even bothered to test the case. The Qi charging target seems smaller for the battery case than on the X without the case. I’ve become pretty accustomed to throwing my phone on a charger and getting it placed where it would juice up without much effort.
Many times I placed the case’d phone on a wireless charger it required adjustment to get it in the exact right spot. The Qi target is at the top of the battery bulge, so it ends up being the middle of the phone, but based on the layout one could expect it to be in the middle of the bulge.
The case came out of the box with a minimal charge, and I didn’t focus on giving a dedicated charge to the case that day (it can be charged wired or wireless, independent of the phone) so I think it was at around 7% when I went to bed. When I woke up 7 hours later, the phone and case were at 100% charge on both. After a morning banging away on it, I was at 87% on the case, 100% on the phone. As for heat while charging or in usage, I’ve not noticed anything hotter than I would on a naked phone.
One thing I would like to see is some more “Smart” around when the battery is engaged in the iOS battery status. Using the case means always being at 100% for the phone until the case is depleted, and it would be nice to see some statistics around the charge status of the case in this view.
One other concern: I did perceive a minor drop in signal strength when using the phone, for both LTE and Wi-fi. Putting the phone in Field Test Mode, I was able to see changes to “RSRP” and “SINR” values on cellular, with the case on and off in nearly identical conditions. I didn’t do this testing extensively or average out across different sites and times. I also didn’t test this with an XS, so while it is possible this is due to the case not being designed for the X, it could also just be expected for this case. I’m also not a wireless engineer, so I don’t truly understand what all the values mean and what all the variables are.
Wi-fi signal indicators also could be decreased when the case was on, in a corporate environment. I did not test throughput or any other values. I don’t want to speculate or say that my results are typical, so I’ll let someone who understands this more dig into it.
Overall, I think it’s a solid product, but it’s not for me. Sadly this is the same conclusion that I’ve come with previous iterations. I just don’t like a lot of extra bulk on my phone. My wife has gotten way more mileage out of me owning those previous case iterations than I ever did, using them 24/7 for many months during the release cycles. The extra battery helps offset a Facebook app that sucks it up like a Dyson does dirt on my floor. However she recently switched to an iPhone XR, and the battery life has been pretty stellar, to where the case may not be necessary.
With the aforementioned abundance of Qi chargers in my home, a general dislike of all iPhone cases, and an Anker battery with 72.36 Wh, featuring USB-C PD in my daily bag, I don’t think it’s worth it for me to have the extra bulk on the phone all the time.