It is no secret that mobile power has become a huge issue for most of us. IOS, Android, Blackberry…we may all argue about whose is better, but the bottom line is that we all need extra power for our devices at one point or another. My job takes me on the road several nights a week — without charging possibilities — so this is a big issue for me all of the time. I have numerous external batteries and even a solar-powered charger that I carry with me in my gear bag and in my athletic bags. One problem I have with all of these is size, and most of them plug into my iPhone and hang off of the end.
Third Rail Mobility has developed the Third Rail System which solves this issue along with many more. I was fortunate enough to get a Third Rail System for the iPhone 4 to review; let’s take a look.
The Third Rail System is an all in one phone solution consisting of a slim case and a lightweight smart battery that can be added or removed anytime it is needed. I have tried battery cases and not liked the bulk and weight they add, and I have tried external batteries but did not like how they would hang off the end of the phone. The Third Rail System allows me to keep a slim case, add and remove battery power as needed without adding a lot of size or bulk; I can also use it to charge other devices. It is truly an innovative system.
The slim case is a slider design; it will add minimal size and virtually no weight to the phone. I have still been using my slim case I got free from Apple daily since it provides some protection but does not add any bulk. The Third Rail case is similar in size, so using the system never changed the feel of my iPhone.
The sync port slides in and connects to the top then snaps into place. The case will add about 1/2″ to the phone on the bottom to allow for the sync port. There are holes for both the microphone and speaker. I like how the speaker port helps deflect the audio from the phone. The bottom of the case includes a micro-USB port and a switch. The micro-USB port is used in charging as well as syncing, and the package includes a micro-USB cable. Syncing with my computer was no problem; it behaved just like my usual Apple cord. The switch on the bottom of the case turns the smart battery on and off. When the battery is connected, flipping the switch to the orange will keep the battery from charging the phone; this is a great feature.
The Third Rail System sports a super small smart battery that measures in at 3.29 in x 1.83 in x 0.27 in; 1.4 oz. I was extremely surprised at how small the battery was. Basically, it is a hair smaller than a credit card and about a quarter of an inch thick. The battery is small enough to carry just about anywhere. It could actually be carried in a pocket comfortably, whereas none of my other batteries could say the same. Three small prongs and four small posts are on the bottom of the battery on the side that will connect to the phone.
The outside of the battery is glossy, sporting the Third Rail logo as well as three more contacts for stacking batteries. I had no issues with carrying the battery and damaging any of the parts. The end of the battery contains a micro-USB IN port for charging and an OUT port which we will discuss shortly. There is also a small button that will light up five LED’s to indicate the amount of charge in the battery.
The battery is considered smart because it includes a micro-circuit (with its own processor), memory, charger, ports, power monitor and firmware. Basically, the battery is like a small computer. The battery is designed to maximize performance by communicating with other smart batteries and the iPhone. That is a lot of technology in a small package. Once you have the system, extra batteries can be purchased and stacked. By stacked, I mean, you can connect them just like you do to the back of the case and stack up to six batteries at a time. Those batteries can then be charged together at one time and transfer power so you have at least one that is full. Stack fully charged batteries to get extended power options.
One of my favorite features of the Third Rail System is the ability to use the battery as an external charger for other devices. A micro-USB adapter is included in the package that connects to the OUT port on the battery. Now you can connect any USB device and get power from the battery. A great example would be for a Bluetooth headset or iPod. This makes the battery a completely multi-functional product.
There are several ways to charge the Third Rail System. To just charge the phone, you can simply connect the micro-USB cable to a charging source and it will work just as the normal Apple cord would. To charge the battery, connect the cable and it will charge just like the phone would. You can also connect the battery to the case and charge both together. This even works with stacked batteries. The phone will charge first then the batteries. If an external device is also connected, it will charge simultaneously with the battery. So far, I have found that the battery charges rather quickly and provides about a 60%-70% increase in my phone charge. That is with some use while the battery is connected.
I have been really impressed by the Third Rail System. While the only case currently available is for the iPhone 4, they company does plan on adding to the lineup. They also promise that all future products will be compatible with the current technology as well as backward compatible. The future looks exciting for the entire system. Out of all of the charging solutions I have tried, this one is by far the most innovative. I love the thin case and the variety of charging options. The USB adapter and ability to charge other devices makes this a must have for anyone looking for mobile power.
MSRP: $89.99 with options to purchase extra batteries and cases.
What I like: Slim case; tiny external battery that can be removed, and the ability to charge other devices
What Needs Improvement: I would like to see the edges of the case rise above the iPhone glass to provide more protection on the phone’s screen