iPhone XS Smart Battery Case Review

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The new iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR Smart Battery Cases are here. No, it's not a dream. It's not a drill. Apple has really made new iPhone Smart Battery Cases for the new iPhones. And... they may not be pretty, but they're pretty damn good.

What's new with Apple's Smart Battery Case

March 20, 2019: Apple adds new Pink Sand color to the Smart Battery Case lineup

Apple has added a third color to the Smart Battery Case lineup for iPhone XS. The new Pink Sand color has a spring theme vibe to it, which might mean we'll see new colors every season. Or, it may be intended as a compliment to the gold iPhone XS.

Smart Battery Case: Previously...

I loved the previous Smart Battery Cases. Yes, they were ugly, yes they were expensive, but the technology inside it made them the most efficient cases on the market. They did so much more with so much less. Apple put function ahead of form and wow but did a lot of people lose their minds.

Here's why, from my earlier preview:

Instead of covering up the radios with non-RF transparent battery, Apple cut it away on the sides. Yeah, leaving the stuff of Dieter Ramm's worst design-is-how-it-works nightmares — a hump the likes of which you could never not see — but also something that not only didn't interfere with reception but actually included a passive antenna to boost reception. That way, rather than start screaming for signal, the radios could keep their chill and your phone could really get its charge on.Also, iOS could understand the difference between the case and a plug, so the iPhone could stay in mobile mode. That way, none of the more power intensive and expensive processes spin up, all the chips could still race-to-sleep, and the charging could be as fast and efficient as possible.

Now, we have a new set of Smart Battery Cases — For iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR

What about iPhone X?

Yes, the XS case will work with the X. Mostly. You might get a warning, but you can dismiss it. The camera housing is a bit smaller, so it's not a perfect fit, and the speaker and mic holes aren't aligned, so it's not perfect acoustical performance, but if you don't care about any of that, you should be fine.

Smart Battery Case: What's the same?

With the new iPhone Smart Battery Cases, Apple has kept a lot of the characteristics that defined the original: Same soft-touch silicone exterior, rigorously tested for durability by Apple to make sure it protects both the battery cells in the case and your iPhone. Same bendable top so you can easily slide your iPhone in and out. Same micro-fiber interior to keep your iPhone clean and pristine.

Close up of iPhone Smart Battery Case charging light

Same charging light on the inside, so you can see when it's charging by itself without an iPhone, and same integration with iOS so you can see on the Lock screen or on the battery widget what the charge status is with an iPhone in it.

Same buttons that are a little stiff but generally nice and clicky. And, yeah, still no switch so you can manually turn the charging on or off.

Apple still wants to manage that for you. And, in all fairness, they do a good job. Your phone might get a little warm when it's pulling power from the case, but Apple's hardware and software takes care of preserving battery health, so you don't have to waste time micromanaging it.

And while the case still makes the phone kinda heavy, which is why I always eye roll so hard every time someone says "don't make a case just double the battery size!", it was designed so you can leave it on all the time if you're living that best road warrior life and you really need to.

Smart Battery Case: What's different?

Apple has also used the new iPhone Smart Battery Cases to make some changes for the better. The hump… is now more of a rump. It extends out fully to the sides and the bottom now. It doesn't look any less awkward, so if you hated the way it looked before, not help for you here. But, if you liked the way it gripped, you'll like the way this one grips as well.

White iPhone XS Smart Battery Case, view from the back

iPhone XS Max Smart Battery Case in white (Image credit: iMore)

The chin is also gone, which makes it easier to use gesture navigation. It also means, when combined with the new radio engineering, that the case is even more RF transparent than ever. So, unlike the previous generation, there's no longer a need for a passive radio array.

Apple accomplished this by staggering the Lightning in port. Instead of stacking it on top of the lightning out, it now sits behind it at the back of the case.

It offers full Lightning Passthrough, so you can charge and use any accessories with the case on just as if you were plugging them directly into your iPhone.

It also supports USB-PD, or power delivery, so you can fast charge using a Lightning to USB-C cable and USB-C power adaptor. And, it's also go Qi-standard inductive charging and fast charging, which isn't as fast as wired but can be way more convenient.

The way the Smart Battery Case charges is also super interesting. Apple calls it Smart Charging, of course.

The iPhone gets priority, then the case. But it depends on how much power you're giving it. 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.

Smart Battery Case: Conclusion

The battery in the iPhone Smart Battery Case is bigger than ever. I hate giving numbers because lazy comparisons have made spec sheets borderline toxic and battery efficiency is far more important than battery quantity, but there are 2 cells now instead of one, so you're getting 1.4 additional watt hours and almost 400 more milliamp hours. But, again, efficiency, not quantity is what matters.

Black iPhone XS Smart Battery Case, view from the back

  • The XS version increases talk time up to 33 hours, Internet use up to 21 hours, and Video playback up to 25 hours*
  • The XS Max version increases talk time up to 37 hours, Internet use up to 20 hours, Video playback up to 25 hours*
  • And the XR, get ready for this: increases talk time up to 39 hours, Internet use up to 22 hours, and Video playback up to 27 hours

It does come at a price, though:

$129.00, for each and all versions. And that is expensive. But, with Apple, you're paying a premium for a premium product.

You can often get less expensive alternatives, but sometimes they're really just cheaper — not always made with the same quality of materials or tested to the same extent, and don't often include the same technologies and integrations.

So, if that matters to you, Apple has you covered. If not, Amazon will always have other options.

I'm super careful when it comes to power, the way some people are when it comes to scratches. So, whatever you get, stick with the big brand names, because shortcuts with batteries can lead to short-circuits in real life. And lithium-ion isn't something you ever want to mess with.

The Smart Battery Cases currently come in black and white. No product red, at least not yet, and no other colors, even for the astoundingly colorful iPhone XR.

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Rene Ritchie

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.