The smart battery cases are just… so smart. Apple originally introduced them for the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus but in the day… the 3 years ago day. And they confused the crap out of customers and reviewers alike. Here was Apple, the company everyone accused of putting form over function so damn always, giving their flagship product a huge old humpidity-hump.
Like with camera bumps, though, Apple was letting physics win.
iPhone 11 Smart Battery Case: Technology Review
See, batteries aren't just thermal insulators, they block radio frequencies. And that meant they could waste a lot of the power they were supposed to be providing. Apple, by contrast, kept the battery away from the antennas and then added a passive radio array to preserve as much signal as possible.
Because of the tight hardware and software integration, Apple could also keep the iPhone in mobile mode, rather than plugged in mode, while charging. That meant more power-intensive processes and network activity wouldn't spin up, also draining the battery just as you were trying to fill it back up. Plus, the battery level was accessible throughout the operating system, on the Lock screen, in the widgets, via Siri.
It was an example of a couple of things Apple was working towards: showing how battery efficiency was just as important as battery capacity. Maybe even more so. And, that the iPhone could stay light, just until you needed to slap a battery slab onto it to make it thick.
I used it all the time while out gaming and especially while traveling. And I was high-key bummed when Apple didn't follow it up with an iPhone X Smart Battery Case in 2017…
Not until the iPhone XS and XR Smart Battery Cases in 2018.
Because of the new antenna systems, Apple no longer had to keep the hump so far away from the sides. So, they extended it all the way to the edges. They also got rid of the chin to make gesture navigation easier.
Same soft-touch silicone on the outside, micro-fiber lining on the inside.
The Lightning port had to slide back to share the same vertical space, but it also got passthrough so you could plug-in Lightning accessories like headphones and camera kits.
It got a bigger, dual-cell battery, as well as USB-PD, or power delivery, so it could charge faster, and got inductive coils, so it could charge more conveniently.
Apple also increased the smarts by giving the case dynamic control over the charging. If you're using a MacBook adapter, for example, and you give more power than both need, both will just suck down that power and fast charge. If you're somewhere in the middle, iPhone will fast charge up to around 50% first, giving the case anything that's left, and then start sharing power evenly with the case until full. If you're using a tiny iPhone charger, iPhone will suck up as much as it can, leaving nothing for the case until it's most of the way happy, and only then starting to share. If the iPhone is already full or the case is by itself, the case will fast charge.
So, what has Apple done with the 2019 Smart Battery Cases for the iPhone 11?
iPhone 11 Smart Battery Case: Now with camera button
In addition to keeping them updated year-over-year for the first time, which is something I dearly hope they continue to do well into the future, they've added a camera button.
First, with all the juice Apple has packed into the iPhone 11 series in general, you may be wondering if you even need a Smart Battery Case for it. Well, you may not. I've gotten 5 and a half hours of battery-crushing Pokemon and constant travel usage, and then some, out of mine, and easily over a day of light usage, a day and a half on the Max.
But, the Smart Battery Case will add 50% more to those numbers. So, whether your gaming, camping, conferencing, or doing anything else that involves being away from an outlet for an extended period of time, and you don't want the added weight and inconvenience of a battery brick, the Smart Battery Case will be the difference between running out of power — or just stressing the red zone — and having power — and panache — to spare.
As always, it takes a while to really review batteries, so I'll be pounding on these for the next couple of weeks and months, and let you know how exactly they hold up.
Back to that camera button.
Apple is a camera company as much as they're a phone, even a computer company. They make some of the best, and certainly the most popular, ultra-mobile cameras in the world. They're so much a camera company, the only reason I'm guessing we haven't seen a shutter button directly on the device itself is to keep hardware complexity trending towards simplicity.
But, we've got one on the case now. You press it for a hot second to launch the camera. There's enough of a sub-second delay built-in to reduce the change of accidental presses but not so much as it feels frustrating, like a chore.
Could it trip accidentally if it gets wedged up against something in your pocket or bag? Anything's possible but it doesn't seem likely.
Once the camera launches, you can press the camera, easily, quickly, just as much as you want, to take photos, or hold it down to take QuickVideo.
Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to work like the volume buttons and automatically trip the shutter in 3rd party camera apps like Halide and Obscura. You can still use the volume buttons for those apps but, for consistencies sake, it'd be nice to just have one shutter button to rule them all.
iPhone 11 Smart Battery Case: To be continued...
You can get more capacity for less money, but you can't get better technology, efficiency, or integration. If that doesn't matter to you, check out the alternatives. Amazon lists a bunch.
If it does, the Smart Battery Case for iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Max are available now for $129 U.S., in pink, black, and white. Alas, no product Red. At least not yet.
Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.