I hate phone cases. I have friends who have their iPhones in OtterBox Defenders and the like and I find them garish and cumbersome. I hate having a phone that gets slimmer with each successive generation and having it end up perpetually having the heft of a brick. It stinks.

That being said, there are good reasons to use those cases. If I am skiing in the winter or canoeing in the summer, I will use a water resistant case or even a waterproof iPhone bag but for me those are edge cases. In general, I just buy AppleCare+ and use an Apple Silicone case for my iPhone and if I do drop or break my iPhone I accept I’ll pay the sub-$100 fee and get it repaired or replaced. I also have several TwelveSouth HiRise stands strategically placed around my house and office so when I’m in one of those places for a while I can simply dock my phone and it charges while remaining usable. In my daily life I’m simply never far from a charger and my phone remains protected but also in a very slim profile case.

So why consider a battery case at all? There are two use cases that have popped up for me in the last few months. In one scenario, I find myself traveling a bit more for work than I have in the past as I am now in more of a client facing role. This means more time on planes and Uber-ing around than even a year ago when I traveled maybe once a quarter. The other scenario is that my overall phone usage seems to be going up and not down as I thought it might.

Travel scenario

When traveling my phone is indispensable. From calling an Uber, to answering work emails on the way to the airport, to getting through security and boarding the plane, to keeping up with family and friends in idle moments neither my Apple Watch or iPad Pro can fully replace the iPhone and as such I’m constantly on it.

In my backpack, I keep an Anker 20,800 mAh battery and retractable Lightning cables but this requires basically not using my iPhone while it charges. Sure I can physically tether my phone to my backpack but this is far from ideal though I’ve done this plenty of times sitting at the gate waiting for a plane. If your phone were nearly dead you really needed power it’d do but it’s not practical to use it unless you have a scenario where it can charge where you wouldn’t normally use it (example: while in flight on a plane when my backpack is stowed).

Daily Use scenario

During work hours, my Apple Watch is a boon because my phone doesn’t get used as much. All calendar reminders, emails, and text messages appear on my watch and my phone is idle in my HiRise which is charging. However after work hours I find that social media and iMessage hits my phone hard. Not to mention my Apple Watch is constantly communicating via Bluetooth to the 6s. When I had an iPhone 6 Plus I found the battery life to be great but the overall size to be cumbersome. Advances like Low-Power mode are great but I’d argue that the battery life of the 6s really isn’t as good as it needs to be for heavy users.

The Two Contenders

I own the Anker 2,850mAh iPhone 6s case and I also own the Apple Smart Battery case for the iPhone 6s. Full disclosure: I am a huge fan of Anker’s products. Founded in 2009 by former Google employees, they make a wide range of quality consumer electronics at reasonable prices. I own many of their products and when I heard they had a case similar to the Juice Pack cases that Mophie makes but at far lower prices, I had to pick one up.

If you’ve never used one of these cases, they’re made of two pieces and contain an extra battery. The battery in the iPhone 6s is 1,715mAh and the battery boasts in the Anker case is 2,850mAh and the box bosses +120% extra battery life and in my testing it didn’t fail to deliver a hefty surplus of power. There are two things I dislike about it. First, the plastic of the case feels a little slippery. I didn’t find it to actually be slippery but it wasn’t great to me. The second thing is that Anker (and seemingly all third party battery manufacturers) make the external port a micro-USB port. I hate this. If I had to guess it’s because they don’t want to pay the licensing fee but I desperately want them to put a Lightning port as the external facing slot. The Lightning port has been around for nearly 4 years. I like not having to care which side of a cable is “up” when inserting it which despite having a 50% chance of getting right I seem to get wrong 100% of the time. Also, I carry Lightning cables already … I want to leverage those and not have to carry a micro-USB around just for this. Just like the Juice Pack, it has a push-button power button and an LED indicator of remaining charge. You can either let it run constantly until it’s out of power or let your iPhone run off it’s own battery and then use it to recharge … It’s up to you. The thickness of the Anker case is not as bad as I’d expect either. Additional heft is just a fact of life with these things but it’s not as bad as you’d expect. That’s not to say it’s great but it’s good.

That being said it’s a fine case and at ~$30-40 USD you really can’t go wrong with it.

The Apple Smart Battery case takes a somewhat different approach. At ~$100 USD, it’s triple the price of the Anker case. It’s sporting a considerably smaller battery at 1,877 mAh. You would think that this alone would make it worse than the Anker case.

Not quite.

The elastomer covering is less slippery than the Anker case. Not in a way that would make it “sticky” but it has a “grippy” feel. It also sports a Lightning jack as its external facing charge port. There’s no arguing it’s not a pretty design. It makes my iPhone 6s look like it’s pregnant and about to give birth to an iPhone 4s. After a while it becomes less noticeable to the point that my friends and coworkers occasionally comment on it but it’s not nearly as obnoxious as I would’ve assumed it would be. It doesn’t feel like I have as much of a case on my iPhone as it does when I have the Anker case on.

One of the reasons the external facing Lightning port is a big deal is that if my use case is to leave my phone in a case other than the standard silicone iPhone case then I need to put it on one of those many TwelveSouth HiRise stands I own. What’s great about those stands is that I can pull out the hidden Allen wrench and adjust the stand to accommodate any case on my phone. The kicker is that it has to use the Lighting port. Right away, that rules out the Anker (or any other such case) because of the insistence on using micro-USB.

A couple of other differences in the Apple case versus the Anker one is that the Anker has an on / off switch. The Apple case does not. If you put your phone in the Apple case, it will use the battery until it’s drained. The Apple case also has a bit of integration into iOS where the external battery status is displayed next to the internal battery case. Neither of these are selling points but they don’t make the experience any worse.

Verdict?

For daily use, I stick with the Apple Battery Case. If I leave the house between 8:30 and 9 AM with a fully charged phone and case, I can use the phone normally to moderately heavy and the case will last until about 3:45 PM. That’s ~7 hours where my iPhone doesn’t need a charger. Since I have TwelveSouth HiRise stands scattered about but also near my workstation at home and my cubicle at work it’s more than ample considering I’m never far from a charger anyway. This battery basically gives me the battery life I’d get from an iPhone 6s Plus. I’m not going to run out of juice before midnight no matter what. Despite being kind of ugly it’s got the right amount of utility. Is it overpriced? No doubt. 

If I’m traveling I am more likely to use the Anker case or at least have it charged and at the ready. I don’t travel with the TwelveSouth HiRise stands so my biggest reason not to use the case doesn’t exist on the road. Since my usage is heavier while traveling and have less of an opportunity to charge (theoretically) the additional capacity is helpful. 

My ideal case doesn’t exist but would be a hybrid of the two of these. If the Anker had an elastomer covering with an external facing Lightning connector it would be my go-to battery case in any scenario.