IPhone Case Won’t Cure Cancer, Might Avert It: Rich Jaroslovsky

My iPhone works pretty hard. My iPhone case should, too.

One of the best things about Apple Inc.’s iconic wireless phone is what techies call “the ecosystem.” There are so many in use -- more than 42 million of them have been sold since its 2007 launch -- that they create an alluring market for makers of doodads from alarm-clock docks to enhanced camera lenses.

So when my old case showed signs its end was near -- the leather having passed from weathered to weather-beaten, and the ratcheting belt clip ratcheting no more -- I decided to conduct an audition for its replacement.

Not content with mere protection for the phone, I went looking for things that would provide greater benefits: longer battery life, more functionality for the phone, and maybe even a little more peace of mind for myself on the fraught question of whether cell-phone radiation poses a cancer threat.

Battery life is near the top of just about every iPhone complaint list, right alongside AT&T Inc.’s service. The Mophie Juice Pack Air ($79.95 from mStation Corp.) doesn’t help with dropped calls, but it does more or less double the time between iPhone recharges.

The Juice Pack Air is a two-piece hard plastic shell that adds a little less than half an inch to the length and 2.66 ounces to the weight of the phone. Built into it is a rechargeable battery that at the flick of a switch can be used instead of the phone’s battery, or to replenish it. A button on the back and a series of blue lights let you check the status of the case’s battery.

No Access

With the Juice Pack Air, you no longer have access to the dock connector on the bottom of the iPhone. Instead, you’ll use an included micro-USB cable to connect the phone to your computer, synchronizing their contents while simultaneously charging both the iPhone’s battery and the case’s.

In my tests, the case worked as advertised, delivering a full or near-full new charge, depending on how depleted the iPhone’s battery was. The one thing missing was an AC adapter for the Juice Pack’s cable; you’ll have to bring along your own, for those times when you need to use a wall outlet.

If you’re looking for something similar in leather, specialty retailer Brookstone Inc. sells one made by Dexim for $69.95. The battery is contained in a hard plastic insert inside the flip case, which is held in place by a Velcro flap. While the battery worked fine, I didn’t care for the gap between the top of the phone and the back of the case, and the lack of a way to check how charged-up the backup battery is.

Hugging Your iPhone

Case-Mate’s new $99.99 Hug won’t extend the iPhone’s battery, but does make it easier to recharge; just lay the phone down atop the included wireless charging pad. The downside: You have to remove the case to sync the phone with your computer, or to use it with an AC adapter if you happen to be away from the charger.

The Power A Universal Remote Case ($59.99 from BDA Inc.) is one of those ideas that sound great in theory, but are a bit of a pain in the real world. The thin plastic two-piece case provides the iPhone with an infrared transmitter; used in conjunction with Power A’s free application from the iTunes App Store, it’s capable of replacing up to 20 remote controls -- for your TV, cable box, DVD player, and whatever other gizmos, gadgets and appliances you have in your house.

Teaching the device is kind of tedious. Point the remote and the iPhone at each other. Press a button on the iPhone’s screen. Press a button on the remote. Then repeat. And repeat.

Upside Down

Since the transmitter is on the bottom of the iPhone, you’ll have to teach yourself to turn it upside down when you want to use it as a remote. At least the phone’s built-in accelerometer can automatically reorient the buttons on the screen for you.

Also, you’ll have to slide off the transmitter to sync or recharge the phone. There’s an extra piece for when the phone isn’t being used as a remote; just make sure you remember where you put the transmitter. I was afraid I’d lose it.

You can easily get a vigorous argument going about the health risks of radiation from wireless phones. The Pong case ($59.95, from Pong Research Llc) is for those who don’t feel like waiting around for the debate to be settled.

The Pong is a lightweight, one-piece rubberlike jacket that fits snugly around the iPhone. What’s important about it is found on the inside of the case’s back -- a series of flat rectangular panels that, the company says, redirects radiation generated by your iPhone’s antenna away from your head.

When the Pong case first appeared last year, Wired.com published an item on the company’s claim, concluding it “smells fishy.” Then Wired took the case to a testing lab. Its conclusion: The case did reduce radiation levels.

Just how big a worry radiation should be depends on a lot of things, including how and how much you use your phone. Still, while protection of my iPhone is an important consideration in choosing a case, protection of me ranks higher.

(Rich Jaroslovsky is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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