Antec LifeBar 10 Portable Charger Hardware Review

Antec LifeBar 10 Portable Charger Hardware Review

Oct 16, 2014

Yes, batteries in mobile devices have gotten better, but in the spirit of being prepared, it just makes sense to have a backup plan. Way back when, getting a couple extra OEM batteries was sufficient. Now, sealed batteries are more commonplace, and having multiple devices at any given time is not unheard of; in any case, all those extra batteries start to add up.

Nah, it makes sense to have a portable battery, and when it comes to mobile power solutions, few are as capable of Antec; hence, checking out the new LifeBar 10 Portable Charger is far from a chore.

It’s a slick-looking unit, with subtly angled corners gently pulling out octagon-ish shapings from “regular” cuboid. At one end, there is a 5V DC micro-USB port that is itself bordered by two USB output ports.There are LED lights and a reset button. The polished exterior is nice to hold, and size-wise, it is quite pocketable at 5.39 x 2.81 x 0.51 inches and 9 ounces. Visually, it feels like it manages to be be stoic and relaxed at the same time.lb2 The review package (retail) also contained a white USB cable and documentation.

It’s advertised as a 10,000 mAh charger, so expectations are high. The LifeBar 10 came with half a charge, so I was able to get it going immediately. I tried it with several devices: S5, M8 and several devices. The charging rate is equitable, even when used to charge other charging units. With two devices being charged simultaneously, I wasn’t able to discern any loss of rate. Little things like the LED flashlight also make it a bit more useful in a crunch.

Also, the standby time is fairly remarkable; It held charge over several days.

Antec, with this piece, shows it is possible to have a decent product that, well, isn’t ashamed of looking good. It is fine accessory, and if we should be so lucky, its manufacturer won’t tire of bringing similar style to the marketplace.

AR Health Series: Withings Smart Body Analyzer Review

AR Health Series: Withings Smart Body Analyzer Review

Oct 15, 2014

Health tools with a mobile component are especially compelling, and as such, we jumped at an opportunity to check out the Withings Smart Body Connected Scale.

The black (white is an option) review unit Withings sent us is pretty much ready to go. At first glance, the first thing that comes to mind is that somehow, the product pictures do not do it justice. It looks like a chiseled dark colored slab. frankly, it look dashing, managing to be modern without being Jetson-silly. The full dark look is accented, and the silver center piece highlights the whole package. The expected display is digital in nature, and still manages to effect art. The battery compartment is at the bottom of the unit, and there is a tab preventing the batteries from cycling; beneath that are two buttons for syncing and selecting units. It looks like a “traditional” scale, but clearly wants people to know it has an extra trick or two up its sleeve. Officially, it comes in at 12.8 x 12.8 x 0.90 inches and 4.62 lbs

The review (retail) box also contained four optional carpet feet which help prop the unit off the floor/ground, and it comes with the four AAA batteries needed to power the unit, and documentation.

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This thing begs to be used. Removing the tab allows the unit to get power, and this is confirmed by the welcome display. Getting on it gets it going, and it immediately starts measurements, but a big part of the health solution is the Withings Health Mate companion app; the app connects bluetooth-enabled Android devices seamlessly to compatible Withings products, and the Smart Body Analyzer is foremost on the list. Pairing (via Bluetooth) is done via the sync button on the bottom of the unit. The app prompts for readings and recordings; based off of profile information with1(like height and age), it measures weight and heart rate, computes BMI, gauges air quality, and otherwise tracks these metrics over time.

The app is the window to these results, and presents them in easy to understand formats, most notably graphs. Overall, the app is bright, with a nice design feel, allowing color to rebound off the white background. The app allows interface with other programs, like RunKeepr, BodyMedia and MyFitnessPal; it imports the stats from these apps. The app also collates data from other connected Withings products, and can be used for multiple people, and even can collect data in guest mode. Data can also be shared from the app, and with a Withings account, one can access data on the web.

I especially like the automatic user recognition, and the advertised four sensors are fantastic in practice.

It gets streaky fast, and that is almost to be expected with such a glossy finish. Data can only be sent singly; I would love the ability to send stuff in batches or ranges.

When it comes to accessories that enhance living, it’s hard to find better stuff on the market than this one. It works well, really partners with one health-wise and looks good doing it.

Simple.TV 2 HDTV Tuner Hardware Review

Simple.TV 2 HDTV Tuner Hardware Review

Oct 15, 2014

One of the biggest aspects of mobile technology is the ability to be entertained on the go. As streaming options become more ubiquitous, we are beginning to see more and more options for making our smartdevices even better media hubs.

So what happens when we toss together a media tuner with DVR sensibilities, a connected device, a usable companion app and the enviable drive to cut the cable cord? One might get an interesting device called Simple.TV 2.

This unit has several elements, and to completely test it out, Simple.TV sent us a monster review package that contained the Simple.TV and other pieces that are NOT usually sold with its own unit: an external hard drive and an HDTV antenna. These, along with a Simple.TV account and the companion Simple.TV Android app, are slated to work wonders.

The setup is fairly intuitive, even if a bit hectic in parts; the antenna goes up, and it (along with the hard drive are connected to the tuner itself. The tuner also needs to be connected physically to an internet-ready modem. The final pieces are to register the Simple.TV unit and find stations online via the scan utility. Now, I did find this part to be temperamental, but when it worked, I was blown away by the quality of the stream. It looked good, and sounded good. Individual series can be recorded, and live TV is also available. The “Guide” utility allows one to manage shows and to check available stations, and it is possible to search shows as well.

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My biggest gripes are the number of extra elements needed to make the stream happen, and the wired aspect of said elements. As noted, one needs an antenna, hard drive, and wired ethernet connection, in addition to power; the wired ethernet limits placement somewhat. I think a built-in hard drive would be an advantage; I think even the potential increase in sticker price would be worth get rid of one more accessory’s accessory. To be fair, the other elements can be used in other endeavors.

The channel scan can be a bit finicky as well, and there can be discrepancies in what is found on this and other similar peripherals. I would have also liked more control from within the application.

Is it it worth it? With soaring cable costs and the ability to use this setup with TVs and mobile devices, it’s definitely worth a look.

Automatic Smart Driving Assistant Hardware Review

Automatic Smart Driving Assistant Hardware Review

Oct 13, 2014

Yes, smartphone accessories are big business, and we enjoy using a variety of them. Still, the ways one can expand on “regular” smartphone functionality are ever expanding, and the Automatic Smart Driving Assistant is arguably one of the better ones.

It’s small, rectangular-cuboid, infinitely portable and possessive of the pins in the connected side. Functionality-wise, the Smart Driving Assistant works as an On-Board Diagnostic port plugin; it accumulates data and presents it with the help of the companion. The ODB port is the same one that might be used by one’s mechanic, so the information collected can be valuable.

Setup is relatively easy, and involves plugging in the accessory to the car, running the app and pairing to the unit via smartphone bluetooth. The built-in tutorial helps simplify the process even further, and the app even has a scanner contained to capture the vehicle VIN. The app then creates a car profile.

After pairing is completed, the app can give an idea of how the app can be useful. The vehicle make and model is prominently displayed, and there are numerical points that are mapped to measure mileage, time, fuel costs and mileage-to-gallon rate. The app is easy to manipulate, and also easy on the eyes. There are not a whole lot of frills in the app, and the data is presented in an easy format overall.

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Functionally, the unit does what it says it will do. It gives a periodic driving score which maxes out at 100 for the perfect driver; it rates metrics like highway driving, hard breaking and rapid acceleration, and creates a percentage score; it notes that the higher the score, the more one might save on cash over time. it also analyzes “check engine” codes, and monitors and acts upon crash alerts (where the unit and app react to serious impact). In the latter case scenario, the app can summon help in the event that the user is incapacitated or otherwise unable to get help him/herself. We were not able to actually test the check engine or crash detection uses (with good reason), but these advertised features — which do not require any extra subscription — feel good to have, even if they are heavily dependent on cellular coverage.

Using it in multiple vehicles is possible, but the singular profile makes it a bit harder to use one unit wih a household of drivers. It doesn’t interfere with other use of Bluetooth, though; some features might feel a bit redundant, which might make the $99 price tag a bit harder to swallow.

For an ultra-powerful, connected auto tool that can actually add to one’s life expectancy, this one is hard to sneeze at.

MEElectronics Sport-Fi M3P In-Ear Headphones Hardware Review

MEElectronics Sport-Fi M3P In-Ear Headphones Hardware Review

Oct 13, 2014

When it says MEElectronics on the package, we mostly expect quality. For sports people, the Sport-Fi M3P Headphones are definitely worth taking a look at.

Yep.

It’s a relatively demure pair of wired headphones, even with the pink unit MEElectronics sent us to review. it has ample cable (51 inches of it); it sprouts from the L-shaped gold-plated standard 3.55mm audio jack, flowing and delta-ing into the expected two wires that end with earbuds. The cable ends right before the actual earbuds are coated in black rubber, and possess a firm curve that is relatively adjustable; this “memory wire” is stainless steel and affords the unit the ability to conform to natural ear shape. The earbuds themselves are pink, and possess that memory material that expand in the ear.

Along the cable is a black accented piece that has controls and a microphone. In addition to the headphones, the retail packaging also has 4 pairs of earbud tips, a shirt clip and documentation. The headphones also come in black, purple, blue, green and white.
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This piece is an unapologetic budget offering aimed at active folks, and as such, the big question is how it works in the wild. The combination of the memory wire featureset and the moldable ends works quite well to create a relaxed fit; jogging, headbanging and such didn’t dislodge it in my experience. The memory wire’ design ensures a disciplined fit that isn’t rigid enough to cause discomfort, and the seal created by the tips followed the same concept.

And the sound? Well, it is quite adequate. It didn’t blow me away in terms of fidelity or clarity, but it is decent enough to enjoy music on, and the bass is pretty good. I liked the unity of the sound output. Phone calls are handled well via the built-in mic, though the audio can be muddy if the mic isn’t held close to mouth.

With sweat resistance added to the mix, the price is what might really set these apart; at $19.99 ($14.99 via some online shopping portals), these headphones mostly outperform their supposed price-point station.

TRENDnet Wifi Baby Cam Hardware Review

TRENDnet Wifi Baby Cam Hardware Review

Oct 7, 2014

As we become more connected, having everyday devices, gadgets and even appliances that can be accessed and/or manipulated via mobile device are becoming less of a novelty. I almost expect electronics I acquire to have such functionality when there is a bona fide use case involved.

When it comes to cameras and surveillance, some watchables are more valuable than others. When my daughter was born, I had eye fatigue from watching her. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. Something like the TRENDnet Wifi Baby Cam could definitely have come in handy.

The review packet TRENDnet sent us is clearly made to reflect the design aesthetic of the camera, which is mostly white and lime green with grey and black accents. It is pretty small, with the main “head” set on a base via swivel. The swivel is a nice touch, allowing for movement that is somewhat surprising in its rage. The front of the main unit as the lens embedded, and there are speaker perforations on the top, bottom and back of the main unit. At the very top is a WPS connect button, and at the back is a mini-USB port. As noted, it is diminutive, at 2.6 x 2.8 x 3.5 inches and 3.6 ounces. The package also contains a setup CD, mini-USB power source, mounting materials and documentation.

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Setup is not too difficult; the user documentation guides one step-by-step, and it involves connecting the device to power, and then connecting an Android-based device to the camera and setting up an account and then re-connecting to local wi-fi. The heavy lifting is done via the companion app, TRENDnet CloudView, which also serves as the control portal for the hardware. I like the fact that, via the newly set up camera credentials, additional devices hosting the app can access the camera as well.

After set up, this fixed camera simply works. There is a minimum of lag, but the different resolution options somewhat alleviate this. The speaker and microphone are especially useful, and afford the unit the additional feature of being a simple intercom. The LED light is a simple indicator, and the ability to play some of the included lullabies is a very nice touch. The subtle size does help it to be unobtrusive too. the camera snapping utility is easy to manipulate, and the viewing angles are quite adjustable.

It’s a wifi camera, so, the obvious need for reliance on connectivity can’t be dwelled upon too long. The app can be a bit temperamental at times, and the clarity of transmissions could be improved.

All in all, the efficacy of this solution translates beyond just baby monitoring, and this extended functionality is what makes it enjoyable to use. For a fixed unit, it is a vibrant option, and quite affordable.

Antec 4-Port USB Charging Station Hardware Review

Antec 4-Port USB Charging Station Hardware Review

Oct 3, 2014

I love my gadgets.

I’m told that as far as addictions go, it could be much worse, so there is that. With a family that likes to be connected, the most important resource in our home can sometimes be an unoccupied power outlet. With that in mind, and keeping with the drive to keep solutions simple, it’s relatively easily to see why a gadget like the Antec 4-Port USB Charging Station would catch one’s eye.

As with most things from Antec, the device looks sleek without being overly flashy, compact and seemingly well constructed. It is in the rough shape of a rectangular cuboid, except that the hard plastic exterior tapers into a curve on the one side of its 5x5x6 inch frame; it isn’t too heavy either at less than 13 ounces, and the sedate finish is only really broken by the USB ports and input slot. There is an LED indicator at the top; the package also comes with AC cable and documentation.

The four-port description in the product title pretty much tells us what to expect: it packs a pair each of 1A and 2A USB output ports so that one can charge multiple devices via this one piece. Officially, the wattage output tops out at 25W and 5A, uses AC input (100-240Vac, 0.8A, 50-60Hz) and offers temperature, voltage and short circuit protection.

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In practice, this unit simply works. The 2A ports do charge noticeably faster than the 1A ports, and I also liked the latent benefit of having a neater charging area, as it helps give a bit of structure to the wayward cables. I was able to use it with phones, tablets and external batteries. It works as advertised with everything I threw at it. Because of it’s size, it is also infinitely portable, and is perfect for the go bag.

It’s probably not something I would have thought about prior, but is something I’d now rather not be without. The power hub is easy to use, and just makes sense to have.

TruGlide Pro Universal Stylus Hardware Review

TruGlide Pro Universal Stylus Hardware Review

Sep 26, 2014

Walk with me…

There was a time the stylus was a sign of having arrived. Why? This was before smartphones, when Palm and WinMo battled to win the PDA market. True capacitive touchscreens as we know them were not on the scene yet, and a good stylus was more important than having fingers.

Then, in 2007, a lot of that changed.

As screens get bigger, brighter and more responsive, styli have made a comeback. As tablets and smartphone (and everything in between) become more comprehensive means of data entry, and creatives use digital tools to output thought, having tools that mimic traditional modes of data entry is especially invaluable. This is where tools like the TruGlide Pro Stylus are potentially worth their weight in gold.

The review unit Lynktec sent us highlights the units design; once removed from the packaging, it was surprising how elegant it feels, more akin to a high end pen than a prototypical stylus. The body is mostly grey, with a black screw-in front and a black clip. The tip is made out of a microfiber (5 mm conductive), with the stylus main body having an aluminum finish. Dimensions-wise, it comes in at 6 ounces and 4.7″ in length. It looks good and feels natural in hand.

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The stylus comes ready to use; first, I tried it out as a navigation tool in lieu of my finger. In my experience, it works exceptionally well, and each screen I used it on recognized it with ease. When I used it to for notes, it took some getting used to to write, but I was able to glide in reasonable cursive very quickly. Drawing works too, but I did feel like I’d be better off with the optional digital paintbrush, which can be screwed on.

I did like the fact that the microfiber tips can be replaced and/or swapped out with other ends. I think i would have preferred a more tapered tip, but the stock one is far from shabby.

The extensibility trumps most drawbacks, and the minimalist design works to underscore its effectiveness. It’s an enjoyable extension, and one that practically begs to be utilized.

The TruGlide Pro Stylus can be purchased for $24.99 via the Lynktec website.

enCharge Power Jacket Case Hardware Review

enCharge Power Jacket Case Hardware Review

Sep 26, 2014

You’re device battery is probably not bad. Wait… hold the rocks for a hot second.

I understand that y’all smart-device newbies think it’s bad, but trust me: power management has come a long way. There is still so much more that can be done, yes, but if the amount of OEM batteries I have carried over time is an indication of the progress we have made (three down to zero), I think we can gently tap ourselves on the back. It wasn’t too long ago that I foreswore devices with non-user serviceable batteries; my last two devices actually had/have sealed batteries. Go figure… having a device that lasts 24 hours on one charge might not be that futuristic after all.

Still, being prepared is the name of today’s mobile game, and this is why external batteries seem to be the most talked about mobile accessories. Finding device-specific cases that double as external power sources is also an option, and the enCharge Power Jacket Case looks like the tool many a user could get used to… as a semi-permanent tool or ad-hoc solution.

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The review unit that Mobile Fun sent us was the black model (there is also a white version); the unit shows the deliberate crafting to make it fit the M8. The “main” back of the piece is molded in hard plastic, with a micro-USB piece at the bottom off-center, made to fit the corresponding micro-USB piece port on the M8. Beside that there is a cutout for audio cable, and on the back, there are holes for camera and flash. Towards the top, one finds and extensible portion that can be pulled to facilitate quick insertion and removal of the device. On the bottom, front, towards the right, there is an on/switch that toggles juice from the unit when needed; on the back one finds a kickstand.

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I have seen and used several battery cases, but hadn’t seen one with a front cover. I liked that this one did, as it is a nice touch, with cutouts for speaker grills. When the device is in use, the front flap can be folded out of the way.

Insertion was relatively easy; with the way I like to use battery cases (as a temporary solution in a pinch), putting one one and removing can be points of contention. Not for this, as putting it on and taking it off was painless. The unit came with a charge, so I was able to check out the real world usage immediately. Pressing the on button gives an immediate measure of power left via four (4) blue LED lights, and it charges thus.

I like the protection afforded, and the size of the battery (4500 mAh), and adore the fact the device can be charged while in use. On the flip side, it does add some bulk to the device (which is almost an expected hazard), and the flap can be stubborn with regards to completely covering the front.

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At $47.99 (via the Mobile Fun website), it feels like a decent value when protection and utility are considered, and the ease of use is a cherry on top.

Evernote Smart Notebook Review

Evernote Smart Notebook Review

Sep 25, 2014

Recording inspiration is serious business. For creative people, the ability to jot down an idea or bring a concept to live via sketch is priceless. Even in a digital world, here are times when the hand written note on the fly cannot be surpassed.

For folks who cherish traditional notebooks, Moleskine is a well-known commodity, and its collaboration with mobile/web note-taking utility Evernote spawned the interesting Moleskine Evernote Smart Notebook. The underlying idea is to create a solution that allows for the digital capture of handwritten notes, and access to these notes via Evernote.

The Moleskine Notebook itself is the size of a thin, small book, coming in at 8.25 x 5 inches. The dark leather that makes up the cover features embossing of different types, most notably the Evernote logo in the center. On the back cover is a lime green band; there is also similarly colored strip for bookmarking. On the inside back cover, there is a pocket that contains smart tags and documentation, and the pages (192 of them) are noted to be FSC certified and pH neutral. Altogether, it looks professional, reasonably sturdy and feels quite mobile.

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As a soccer coach, I had some great opportunities at a recent soccer tourney. I am used to entering coaching points and on-the-fly stats via smartphone and Evernote, but then you have glare and such to contend with, plus, there is always someone that assumes you’re playing poker during the game. As such, it does feel a bit more natural using a “regular” notebook. Also, as I tend to use each game as an opportunity to isolate things to work on in practice, after games, I tend to have all sorts of diagrams and notations.

It was easy physically replacing my coach’s jotpad with Smart Notebook. The ruled lines help guide entry and even diagrams, and I had no problem using to gather training points and the like. The moment of truth is the image capture, and this is effected with the help of the Evernote app.

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Now, I think the Android app could have a better capture utility. The iOS version seems to be a bit more robust with regards to alignments. Smart tags are great in theory, but not really functional in the Android app, and the OCR did seem finicky with non-printed writing. Finally (and this is more a function of the Evernote app), downloading Skitch is needed for further annotations.

All in all, while this item is not new, the question one must ask is whether the Moleskine Smart Notebook makes one more productive.

In my case, it did.

Vaavud Mjolnir Wind Meter Hardware Review

Vaavud Mjolnir Wind Meter Hardware Review

Sep 10, 2014

Say what you want, but I believe measuring the elements is a manly pursuit. As such, at the risk of stroking my ego, I just had to check out the Kickstarted Vaavud Mjolnir Wind Meter.

The review piece itself comes in decent packaging; the wind meter itself is surprisingly light, almost scarily so. The exterior is mostly plastic, so if one was looking for something of similar heft to Thor’s Hammer, this might be a shock. The review piece fits in the palm, and made me think of Mickey Mouse’s hat, what with the red top unit with cups that logically rotates about the axis. The bottom base unit is black, and tapers into a 3.5 mm male audio pin. Altogether, the pieces are loose, but not badly constructed, and I did like the labeled carry pouch that came with the packaging. For reference, it also comes in green and white.

To use the meter, the companion app Vaavud Wind Meter needs to be installed from the Play Store and running. With the wind meter intuitively inserted in the audio jack of the device running the companion software, the user needs to tap “start” in the app, and then the hold the device above his/her head to catch the winds in the cups. During this time, the app uses a progress bar to note the progress of the data collection; when it stops, the information can be consumed in graph and numerical form. The sequence can then be repeated if wanted.

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The app itself has different segments; the first (as described) measures the wind. The second is a visual map, and the third is a listing of historical readings. To access the latter, it is necessary to register an account with Vaavud.

I found the whole system to be a fun diversion, but there were a few times it was quite useful: radio-control helicopter flying, kites, even while measuring gusts of wind on the soccer pitch. The system boasts the ability to read 2 – 20 m/s (up to 48 m/s on some Android phones) with a precision of +/- 4%. I was not able to scientifically measure that, but my informal testing did rack up similar readings at the same time.

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My biggest gripe is that it does not work on all android devices (it requires the device to have a magnetic field sensor,and a compatible one at that). The plastic build did give me some pause, too, but to be fair, the lack of electronics in the hardware was actually a good thing in my book. Overall, it works well, is a great science lesson on its own, and can be used both for leisure and otherwise.

The Mjolnir Wind Meter is available for $40 via the Vaavud website.

TYLT Energi S5 Sliding Power Case

TYLT Energi S5 Sliding Power Case

Sep 5, 2014

Okay… we love TYLT. Duh.

But would we like its Energi S5 Sliding Power Case compelling? Let’s see.

The review unit TYLT sent us is a two-piece combo affair; it’s made up of a hard plastic protective case, and the battery sleeve too (the box also contains a USB cable). The sleeve is mostly black, hard plastic, with cutouts for the S5 rear camera and speaker grille. There’s also an “on” button on the back under the company logo. There’s also a charging port at the bottom, and a male input micro-USB port on the inside of the sleeve.

The protective case is a bit more intricate in design, with grey accents on the edges (it also comes in blue). The edges are designed to raise off he screen, which is useful for when the device is ace down. All the necessary cut-outs are available: charge/sync, infra-red, audio aux cable, camera, and speaker grille. The wake button and volume rocker on the sides are protected by designated overlay that allows them to work naturally.

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The former allows the device to fit perfectly into the latter. After getting the device enveloped in the case — and it is a tight fit — it’s time to side the cased phone into the charging sleeve. In theory, it looks easy, and involves opening the charging flap on the S5 and moving the case along the inside of the sleeve till the aforementioned charging piece fits snugly into the S5′s charging port. In practice, however, the designed snugged fit is a double-edged sword, and it takes some careful finagling to get the two pieces matched up.

Together, there is noticeable heft and girth added; it’s not transformed into a rick, but if one’s hobb is to gaze at the one’s device (hey, don’t judge), one might be somewhat discomfited. The device is well protected though, and in that regard, one might forgive the partial loss of slightness.

As the consummate portable charger, the power case mostly delivers. he review unit arrived with a full charge, and when the on button is engaged, the device is actively charged in a safe matter, even when being used. I was able to use all other functions of the device, and the standby power is admirable, as is the ability to charge the S5 fully from the initial charge.

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My biggest gripe is the smoothness of assembly (and taking the units back apart). in my perfect world, the Energi Case would be a portable, on call accessory. In other words, the sleeve would reside in my gear box until it was needed, and then, taken off when the phone is reasonably topped off. In my testing, taking the cased device off the phone isn’t easy; maybe my nervousness with regards to busted charging ports is to blame, but because of the design, I didn’t have an easy go of pulling the case off the device. This means, with regards to what i wanted to do, the case feels semi-permanent.

All in all, it’s a great product mostly restricted by its specific target. I’d like to see the concept on more devices, but for the S5 owner who wants power on the go, there are not a lot of better options.