Sunday, March 4, 2012

Mugen Extended Battery for the Galaxy Note - 4500mA of staying power

Is this the extended battery you're looking for?

Battery life. The final frontier of convergence. The great challenge facing all smartphone owners... ...or at least those who actually use their convergence device for more than simple telephony (if you caught a faint whiff of a derisive sneer with that comment, it's because I meant it).

I can virtually guarantee that if you're here reading this you have at some point complained about your present phones battery life, and probably every smartphone you've owned before it too for that matter. I can also be almost certain that you've invested a fair amount of time investigating and experimenting with ways to extend it. Be that dimming the screen, scrupulously avoiding light coloured wallpapers, meticulously micro-managing your sync activities and data usage, flashing custom ROMs, or just plain curtailing your use. One thing nearly of all these things have in common is that you're compromising your use and enjoyment of the device.

You might think to yourself, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if there was a way I could have the battery life I need, but without having to curb my use?", and "Why hasn't anyone done something about that?". Well fortunately for you Mugen have attempted to do something about it. Question is, just how good is it?

The first thing that needs to be established in any extended battery is does the battery live up to it's manufacturer-purported mA specification?

Time and again I see people spending peanuts on batteries that promise increased capacities, only to be disappointed. Sometimes, when I'm feeling particularly uncharitable, I think they deserve it. I mean, it doesn't take a great deal of critical thinking to realise that a cheap-ass battery, from some random no-name manufacturer, claiming an increased capacity but no added bulk isn't legit. Does it?! Life lesson: if it sounds too good to be true, IT IS. I guess sometimes greed and wishful thinking just come together to override reason.

Anyways, rants about idiotic purchasing habits aside, how does the Mugen do? Great, as expected. I've had a few Mugen extended batteries now, and without fail they have lived up to the stated mA rating. For me that surety is one of the best reasons to purchase a Mugen (well, that, and they don't explode or fuse like others do from time to time).

On it's second charge the battery managed 43 hours of total use, with 6&1/2 hours of screen-on time. I kept the screen at 100% throughout that time to really tax it, with the screen set to normal brightnesses and with a couple more charges under it's belt I think the Mugen will easily top 7 hours and maybe even approach 8 hours of screen-on time. That's impressive, especially when you consider how 'active' my screen-off standby time is. In standby I have an extremely busy gmail account on push, 10minute Twitter updates, half hourly RSS reader and Parcels tracker updates, and also hourly Facebook and Weather updates.

The fit and finish befits a product for use with your $1000 phone

                There is of course a lot more to making a good extended battery than just increasing the battery capacity. The custom rear casing needs to fit well, the finish has to be of a high enough quality and a few more less obvious things besides. Fortunately Mugen also excels in these areas too. The fit is perfect, and importantly elements like the camera lens and S-Pen bay are perfectly aligned. There is even more to it that that though, for example the camera lens recess is sloped at the edges so as not to throw shadow over the lens or distort the projection of the flash, and it handily stops the Note from resting on the lens when lying on surfaces. The S-Pen is similarly improved a bit with the extended battery in place - it's much easier to locate and draw out the S-Pen with the Mugen fitted. The extended battery here emulates the same slightly blue-tinged colour of the Note's backing plate, but improves on the grip factor with both the material used and the texture applied to it.

It gets even better than that though, as Mugen have seen fit to include a kickstand on the custom rear casing. For me this is a killer, and sadly oft overlooked design feature. Naturally you will never have owned a phone quite as well suited to viewing this way than the Note, with it's behemoth 5.3inch Super AMOLED HD screen.

The awesome kickstand!

There are of course a few minor quibbles I can level at the extended battery. Firstly, the wonderful kickstand appears to be constructed from plastic, a materials choice that baffles me a little considering the build quality on offer in every other aspect of the Mugen extended battery. Secondly, and again this is a very tiny blemish, you can't mute the speaker any more by placing a finger over the grill. Obviously this isn't a deal breaker by any means, but it is a handy little thing that I find myself doing fairly often when I realise I should have muted the phone, or perhaps want to get the little bit more granular control over the noise level whilst gaming.

This isn't part of the review per se, but when I realised that about the speaker I had an excellent thought for a design feature - designing the casing to function as an acoustic amplifer! Getting improved external speaker output would be a really nice sweetener into the bargain right? [Mugen: You can hook me up with a free lifetime supply of your batteries for my phones for that amazing bit of design concept wizardry].

Anyways, random musings of would-be amateur inventors aside, let's wrap this review up.

The most important question, obviously, is: should you buy the Mugen extended battery? If you are already looking for an extended battery then the answer is easy - yes. Buy it. Buy it now. I'll grant you it is more costly than lots of others out there, but you're getting what you paid for in either camp, and personally if I'm paying anything I want good build quality and materials, and more importantly a safe battery that lives up to it's manufacturers mA rating. That's a constellation of requirements that those other products are rarely able to completely live up to. Mugen's does.

It becomes a more complex question to answer if you're less sure about your need for it, particularly if you're a bit more concerned with aesthetics and form, rather than pure function. I sit a little bit in either camp, if I'm perfectly honest (a bit shallow, me). I want the battery life, but I don't want to fugly my phone up either (not that the Mugen does that particularly, but there's no denying it's less svelte at around twice the thickness). If that sentiment resonates with you than you need to think about your use-case scenarios, and whether you have a real need for it. For myself I definitely do - it's magic for battery-hammering MHL sessions watching HD video or playing emulators, and it's also magic for travel or days when your battery just has to be a total road-warrior and stand up to sustained heavy use.

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