There's a price to be paid when it comes to owning high-powered smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S III and the LG Optimus G... and I'm not just talking about those lengthy contracts we have with our cell phone providers. You've surely had the experience of being out for the day, doing your thing, only to realize that the battery on your mobile device is about to run dry. You're nowhere near a charger, nor do you have the time to tether yourself to a wall outlet for an hour to top that thing back up. What can you do?
The good news is that there is an assortment of portable battery packs out there that address this very need, but how can you know which one is the best one? Are they all really the same? In this shootout review, we take a look at three such universal battery solutions, all of which allow you to charge just about anything that takes a USB connection. We have the TYLT PowerPlant, the Antec PowerUp 6000, and the Rosewill External Backup Battery.
Entry #1 - TYLT PowerPlant for Mobile Devices
You might remember when we took a look at the TYLT Energi at CES 2013 earlier this year. That was a battery pack that came with both a built-in USB cable and the necessary prongs to plug it into a wall outlet. The TYLT PowerPlant follows in a similar kind of philosophy, except it doesn't have the power prongs.
What you get instead is a a little brick of a battery, boasting 5200mAh of capacity. There is a rubberized swing-out USB cable that you can get in your choice of microUSB (as depicted), Apple 30-pin or Apple Lightning. In addition, there is an extra USB output under the flap, plus the microUSB input for charging the PowerPlant itself. There is also a series of indicator lights on the other side to tell you the current charge level.
Overall, the design of the TYLT PowerPlant is good, especially having the built-in microUSB "flex arm" cable for added convenience. It is definitely on the thicker side, though, so it may not be as pocket-friendly as some of its slimmer competitors. At 5200mAh, it is also the smallest capacity of the three batteries we're reviewing today. I also found the rubber covering flap to be a little finicky, especially since you can't fold it away completely. It can get in the way, depending on how you want to use this.
The TYLT PowerPlant retails for about $60.
Entry #2 - Antec Mobile Solutions PowerUp 6000
As nice as the design may be, though, the Antec PowerUp 6000 lacks in any kind of "bonus" feature that you may find on some other portable battery packs. There is no built-in USB cable like the TYLT battery. There is only one USB output, so you can only charge one device at a time. It is nice that the single USB output is 2A, though, so it'll charge your devices faster and it is compatible with larger products like the Apple iPad.
The build quality is very good and going with the matte white finish means that you don't have to deal with any nasty fingerprints. There are also no added flaps or other moving parts, aside from the single power button on the front that is made from a slightly different textured white plastic from the rest of the exterior casing.
It lacks the bells and whistles, but it's clean, it's simple and it's straightforward. The Antec PowerUp 6000 USB Battery Pack lists for $59.99.
Entry #3 - Rosewill 7800mAh External Backup Battery
And finally, we have the descriptively-named Rosewill 7800mAh External Backup Battery. Aesthetically, I'd say it's the least pleasing of the bunch. It's made with a cheaper glossy plastic material and it's also physically the largest, making it more difficult to shove into your pocket. While it also has battery indicator lights, they're also the least elegant with the plastic casings being clearly visible on the front. The weight distribution is noticeably uneven as well, with more weight going toward the bottom (rounded) part of the battery.
What it lacks in elegance, though, the Rosewill battery certainly makes up in value and functionality. There are two USB outputs here, allowing you to charge two USB devices simultaneously. It's also the largest battery of the three here, giving you a full 7800mAh of juice. That's almost enough to charge certain phones four times over. And look at all those accessories that you get. The included tips and cable will make this battery compatible with a huge range of devices.
Perhaps the biggest driving force behind the Rosewill battery, though, is the price. While the TYLT and Antec batteries sell for about $60, the Rosewill battery is just $38.99. It's cheaper, but it provides more power. If you're looking for value, this seems like the better way to go.
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In my testing, it appears that all three batteries allow for a power pass-through. What this means is that you can plug the battery into the wall (using a USB power adapter), and then plug your device into the battery, effectively charging both at the same time. With the Antec unit, I had to connect my smartphone to the battery and initiate the charging process before plugging the battery into the wall for this to work, but it did work.
It's hard to say which of these three batteries is the best, because they each have something about them that make them more desirable than their counterparts. I really like the "flex arm" cable built into the TYLT PowerPlant, for example, but I prefer the aesthetic design and feel of the Antec PowerUp 6000. The Rosewill battery is, by far, the best value as it provides the most juice for the least amount of money. I think I'd like the Rosewill battery better if it was physically smaller, as it's almost twice the physical size as its competitors.
By the narrowest of margins, I'm giving this victory to the Antec PowerUp 6000. It feels the most compact, mostly because it is the slimmest (although it's not that slim), and it provides more than enough power for a day or two on the road. The design is the most elegant too. I just wish it had more than one USB output.
This isn't to say that this Antec battery is the best USB portable battery on the market, as there are tons of other options out there. Some have capacities north of 11,000mAh and others are designed as slip-on cases for specific phones. The one you ultimately choose will depend on your priorities and your preferences.