The popularity of the iPhone has led to a gallery of iPhone accessories, from cases to speakers to backup batteries. We think the latter category has the most practical products, especially when you consider the iPhone 3G's variable battery life, so we've made an effort to review various models like the Mophie Juice Pack and the iPhoneck. Richard Solo, a small company based in California's Marin County, has jumped into the space as well. Its newest product, the 1800 iPhone Backup battery, builds on the success of its earlier models, the 1200 Backup Battery and the original Backup Battery. It offers a slimmer shape, plus a small flashlight and a laser pointer. And, of course, it will zap your iPhone 3G or iPhone classic back to life when needed. At $69.95, it's a bit more expensive than comparable products, but it delivers the goods.
Like its predecessors, the Solo 1800 is more of a secondary battery for your iPhone, rather than an emergency charger. That means you'll need to charge it before it can deliver the needed juice to your handset. That may sound inconvenient, but we think that it is a workable arrangement. The Solo 1800 measures 4.41 inches by 2 inches by 0.51 inch and weighs just 2.3 ounces. That makes it compact and portable by all accounts; we had no trouble stashing it in a bag or pocket. The casing is plastic, but it feels sturdy in the hand.
The Solo 1800's connection port sits at its top end. Since it protrudes slightly from the battery, Solo included a plastic cover to protect the connection pins from accidental flexing. The battery also comes with two "support braces" (one for the iPhone classic and one for the iPhone 3G) that will hold your handset firmly in place during the charging cycle. On the bottom of the Solo 1800's front face are three indicator lights and the buttons for the integrated flashlight and laser pointer. Directly opposite, on the rear face, you'll find a power switch for the light and laser. And at the bottom end, there's the flashlight, the laser, and the mini-USB port for the charging cable.
The Solo 1800 is compatible with not only iPhones, but also with iPod devices. The catch is that with some iPods, the headset jack won't be accessible when you're using the battery. With any device, however, the charging process is the same. First, power the Solo 1800 battery with a full charge from a standard electrical outlet, a cigarette lighter, or a computer. The retractable charging cable stretches up to 2.42 inches, and although separate adapters are required for electrical outlet and cigarette lighter charging, they come included in the box. The wall charger also has a 110-to-240-volt converter for international travel.
It should take about 5 hours to fully charge the Solo 1800 on your initial use, but subsequent chargers may take less time. An indicator light will let you know when it's ready to go. Once charged, however, the Solo 1800 will hold its charge more or less indefinitely. You then can use it to top off your iPhone for brief periods or give it a full charge when it's about to die. We fully charged our iPhone in 90 minutes when we had less than 10 percent of battery life left. You can charge both devices at once: your iPhone will charge first and the backup battery second. You also can use your iPhone with the Solo 1800 attached, but it is pretty cumbersome.
The Solo 1800 has a capacity of 1,800 mAh. Solo doesn't give any promises on how many hours of talk time the 1800 will deliver, but we were able to get a day of heavy use on our iPhone, which is pretty much standard. Of course, your actual battery life will depend on how you use the phone (3G use, screen brightness, etc.). Also, while Solo promises that the backup battery can last through 300 complete charge/discharge cycles, its lifespan also will depend on how you use it. As with a cell phone, it's best to use it fully and give it a complete recharge the majority of the time.
Like the Solo 1200, the 1800 offers a small flashlight, but it also adds a small laser pointer. They worked exactly as you might expect; just remember that you need to flip the power switch to use them. We're not sure why you need a flashlight and a laser pointer in a backup battery, but they are there for the taking. In any case, the Solo is a convenient and easy-to-use way to power your precious iPhone.