Quick thoughts on Apple’s MagSafe Battery Pack (2021)

This week, Apple released an iPhone power accessory that’s been anticipated since the release of the iPhone 12 series late last year. In recent years, they’ve put out “battery cases” shortly after new phones — you’ve probably seen them: rubbery phone cases with a hump on the back, often ridiculed. With the MagSafe infrastructure on the new phones, everyone’s been waiting for a battery pack (or power bank) that you can just slap on the back.

After some delay, it’s finally arrived for USD$99 or S$139 and only in white. Bit of a missed opportunity to add some pops of color there, like the MagSafe card wallets they make in yellow and blue leather. I think it’ll pair quite well with this Cloud Blue silicone case though.

On the price: Apple offers an intriguing spread of products at the $99 mark. You can get a HomePod mini in some countries, which is a great sounding smart speaker with serious processing power equivalent to an old iPhone. Or you could get a first-generation Pencil to use with most iPads still on sale. And least apparently worth the value is the braided solo loop, a strap for the Apple Watch made from recycled yarn. I think this battery pack sits squarely in the middle in terms of value.

The Good:

  • Slim (1.25cm) and lightweight as power banks go.
  • iPhone 12 Pro stays usable and comfortable enough to hold when in use (YMMV, my hands are large).
  • Starts charging your phone when attached; no buttons to mess with.
  • Integrates with iOS and foolproof to manage. Your iPhone will slowly draw power and keep temperatures low, stopping the recharge at 80% or 90% to preserve your battery’s lifespan.

The Bad:

  • Small capacity. Holds about as much power as an iPhone 12’s battery, but due to the inefficiencies of wireless charging, you can only expect it to impart an extra 50% or 60%, based on my experience so far. (Edit: I’ve tested it further and I think it may actually get you close to 80% of a full charge on an iPhone 12/12 Pro.)
  • It does its job pretty slowly, so while traveling and using your phone to take photos, it may make more sense to make a fast-charge pitstop from a regular wired power bank than to go about your day with this slab attached.
  • The pack can’t itself be charged wirelessly with a MagSafe charger or Qi pad. It may be technically possible since reverse charging from an iPhone works, but hasn’t been implemented.

My use case

I’m home most days, and if I were working I’d be doing that from a desk at home with MagSafe chargers, Qi chargers, USB-C to Lightning cables, and all sorts of equipment within reach. Why did I even buy this? Curiosity, boredom, and utter laziness to rise from the couch to plug my phone in as I drain it over the course of the day playing games and checking Twitter.

It’s worth mentioning that my 9-month-old iPhone 12 Pro currently has a battery health rating of 90%, which is abysmal. Most of the time, my iPhones rate about 97% after a full year of use. I don’t know what’s caused this one to degrade so rapidly: a manufacturing defect? My charging routine? My use of a wireless charging pad each night?

I wanted a way to conveniently extend the life of my iPhone so it can make it through a day without draining down past the 20% mark. When I do go out, I’m constantly worried about ending up with a flat battery. I need my iPhone to pay for things, take public transport, or get a cab at the end of a night. But I want to go out unencumbered, no bag, just pockets. With Apple Pay and other mobile payment platforms, I no longer carry a wallet most times.

Alternative solutions

As mentioned, one could use a regular power bank with a cable. They offer much larger capacities, are cheaper, and can charge faster (up to the 18W USB-C PD supported by iPhones). This does require carrying a bag or wearing cargo pants that have wires coming out of one pocket and going into another, though.

Or if a magnetic wireless solution is preferred, then there are again lower-cost alternatives from Anker, Hyper, Mophie, and many OEMs. These are usually half the price of Apple’s, slightly thicker and more unsightly, but offer a little more battery life. They also lack the OS integration and you have to start/stop charging with a button, although it’s easy to imagine future models hacking some iOS support the way fake Chinese AirPods are able to show up in the battery widget.

Personally, I think I’ll be keeping this for the peace of mind it gives when I leave the house empty-handed. It’s easy to carry separately in a jeans pocket, smaller than a phone or wallet, and has enough power to extend even a failing phone battery to last through a day and night of usage. It won’t get you through two days, but I don’t think that’s what it’s for. It’s a safety net, and a solution for lazy couch charging at home.

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