We have reached the point at which most smartphones are limited only by their batteries. Smartphone-makers, in their quest to add super-high-definition screens and increasingly powerful “brains” to ever-thinner devices, have hit the limits of current battery technologies and, as Time reported in April, the industry is unlikely to make any notable improvements to battery life any time soon. A cottage industry has sprung up around this problem, with dozens of websites offering the “Top 10 Ways to Save Battery Life!” and a number of manufacturers developing after-market solutions that promise to give your smartphone a few more hours of juice.
Fluxmob is trying to find a way to extend your smartphone’s battery life — and it’s doing so in a way that predates the battery cases that have become popular in recent years. The company’s first hardware product, the BOLT smartphone charger, has passed its funding goal on Kickstarter and is expected to begin shipping to backers in October.
BOLT is simple enough. It acts as both as a wall charger and portable battery for any USB-compatible device. You plug your smartphone’s charging cable into its USB slot, plug BOLT into the wall, and then charge your device as normal. When you’re away from the socket and need to recharge you simply plug your device back into BOLT and allow your smartphone to suck the battery life from its reserves. The device is smaller than a shot of 5-Hour Energy and is just a bit larger than an iPad’s wall charger, which means that it could easily be thrown into a bag or, as a last resort, pocket. (Cue the endless “Is that a BOLT in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?” jokes.)
Fluxmob co-founder Alan Tran says the ability to serve both as a standard wall charger and as a portable battery is one of the main goals with BOLT. Most people probably don’t want to carry around yet another charger. I can sympathize. Pulling all of the miscellaneous electronics chargers from my bag always feels a lot like the magic trick — sorry, illusion — in which a magician pulls a never-ending stream of handkerchiefs from his cuff. Just when I think I’m done there’s another tangle of cords, a forgotten plug, or a charger for a device I’m pretty sure I haven’t used since Bush was president.
Tran says that Fluxmob has already given its manufacturing partners the go-ahead to begin pouring the molds and prepare for full production. The company plans to introduce other BOLT-like products in the future, some of which will feature oft-requested features like two USB slots or a larger battery. International versions of the device are also expected to be developed, and Fluxmob will offer adaptors to international backers if its stretch goal on Kickstarter is met.
BOLT, of course, isn’t the only product promising to solve your battery woes. Smartphone case-makers like Mophie have been making devices meant to improve a smartphone’s battery for years, and have been well-regarded for their ability to help a smartphone survive SXSW and potentially double its battery life. Unlike BOLT, these cases don’t occupy any space in your bag; they simply slide onto your smartphone and go to work. Perfect, right?
Well, no. The trouble with battery cases is that they’re custom-made for a specific smartphone. Upgrade to a new device and you have to purchase another case. This can get expensive, often requires a few months of waiting after the smartphone is released, and leaves you with an old battery case for which you have no purpose. BOLT sidesteps those issues by supporting any device with a USB-enabled charger, which is to say, any device.
Choosing between the two will come down to personal preference. I prefer to use my smartphones without a case and often find myself in a position where the ability to charge others’ devices would be handy, so I’d choose BOLT. Others might prefer to know where their smartphone’s extra “juice” is at all times without having to worry about remembering to pack something in their bag. (And they might prefer not to share their precious battery with others, either. Jerks.) It’s your smartphone, you can charge it how you want to.
The only thing that matters is making sure those smartphones stay alive long enough to get us through a day. These devices and the services built upon them are more capable than ever before, and until batteries improve alongside the rest of our smartphones, companies like Mophie and Fluxmob are going to offer after-market solutions, whether they take the form of battery packs or itty-bitty external batteries that double as wall chargers.