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.

Week 25.21: Spacing out

  • I noticed once again that my AirPods Max battery was draining faster than normal while not in use. Coupled with intermittent stuttering/connections issues, I decided to call it a hardware fault and contact Apple support for a replacement. One came via courier within two days and I am now listening problem free.
  • After several months of distracted 10-minute reading sessions, I finally finished Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age in one concerted go. I read Snow Crash in 2019, Cryptonomicon in 2020, and this makes three. I’d really like to just chain them and keep going but/because the density and brilliance of ideas in his work is staggering. If the stuff he was writing 15 years ago is just beginning to look like our future at present, I can’t imagine what he’s thinking about today. I could read one of his newer books and find out, but first, a break.
  • I decided to pick up Andy Weir’s new book, Project Hail Mary, after seeing some positive reviews, and it’s a return to the formula of a science-based, plausible, AND interesting life-threatening problem solved in the first person that worked so well in The Martian. I barely enjoyed his last book, Artemis, but I’m halfway through this now and can’t put it down. It’s about another guy in space, slightly adrift, needing to ‘science the shit out’ of a crisis.
  • I finished the Eizouken anime series on Netflix and can recommend it although it’s not so bingeable. It works well as an episode or two a week. What’s it about? A trio of high schoolers learning to produce anime. I thought it would be like Shirobako, but that one’s set in the real world of running a business, whereas this one is not grounded in reality and just works as a deconstruction cum demonstration of animation and filmmaking techniques you may not normally notice. It must have been so gratifying to work on this as an animation artist; it literally screams ‘appreciate me!’
  • Videogames: Played a bit more Persona 5 Strikers but am not really feeling it. It’s an example of the game getting in the way of the story. As a beat-em-up, it’s just not much fun especially after coming from Yakuza and Judgment. Started and finished Coffee Talk which is an indie game where you act as barista to a cast of cafe regulars and see their stories and relationships unfold. That’s it, you just make coffee and click through dialogue. A nice little afternoon killer. Went back to the Doom reboot on PS4 for a bit of mindless FPS action. That one’s an example of story getting in the way of the game.
  • Speaking of backstory in games, Mythic Quest’s second season is coming to an end on Apple TV+, and it’s a half-hour sitcom I’ve really enjoyed as a person who hates half-hour sitcoms. Both seasons play with a single flashback/world-building episode in the middle, which sounds like a bloody annoyance but the resulting achievement is art.
  • I also finished watching The Falcon and the Winter Soldier which looks like a lot of tight movie money but plays out like a lump of TV fat. It’s often corny and disrespectful of the viewer’s time. But it does raise the bar for action sequences and production design. I haven’t seen Loki yet, but if it doesn’t deliver then I may just burn through the rest of The Mandalorian in fast forward and cancel our Disney+ subscription.

Meta-sabbatical observation: This was the first week where I’ve felt the days start to blend together. When we went to meet some friends on Saturday evening and someone said they’d come from somewhere other than the office, I asked, “oh did you have the day off?” thinking it was Friday. That wasn’t the first time I’d lost track of time. Perhaps I need more milestones and structure for the weekdays. I’ve started a to-do list of things to get done or try out.

Week 24.21

Went out just once for leisure purposes; we’re in partial lockdown after all. Saw an exhibition of Chinese ink paintings by Chinese-Singaporean artist Cheong Soo Pieng.

After 35 hours of virtual oden eating and street thug harassment, I finally finished Judgment on the PS4 with most side cases solved. I usually don’t enjoy tonal inconsistency, but I can’t get enough of how the Yakuza games (I include this one) just jump from serious melodrama to comic absurdity. You can be searching a murder scene for clues but also follow the sound of mewing to find hidden cats for bonus points. Some PI cases have you spying on suspected criminals, while others have you hanging expensive lingerie up on your roof to bait a local panty thief (who uses a drone). I can’t wait to revisit these characters in the sequel later this September.

Also finished watching all 24 episodes of Steins;gate 0 at 1.25x speed. I think I would have enjoyed it a bit more had I remembered the ending of the first series a bit better (it’s been a decade). So the ending of this was an anticlimax because I didn’t follow how the big problem was being solved — tying up time travel loose ends is more work than usual.

We finally saw our last remaining episode of Izakaya Bottakuri on Netflix. It’s a rather corny and harmless Japanese drama about two sisters who run a little izakaya they inherited from their parents. Most episodes involve a regular customer’s backstory and some closeups of food being fried. The one noteworthy thing about the show is how every episode has a character describe their beverage’s selling points in great detail: usually a domestic craft beer, or regional sake made with some special process. After the end credits, the lead actress comes back to hold up the bottle and talk about tonight’s alcohol selection. It’s blatant content marketing, but I am quite alright with the idea of a TV show bankrolled by booze companies!

I enjoyed Guy Ritchie’s new film, Wrath of Man, which stars Jason Statham in the kind of badass role he’s perfected over god knows how many similar outings. But it’s probably one of his best. I appreciate what Ritchie brings to what would otherwise by a straightforward heist and revenge story: heaps of style and chronology jumping for the hell of it.

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Of course, it was also WWDC week. No new hardware products, but the curtain came back for iOS 15 and while there aren’t any big, must-have features to look forward to, some very nice quality of life upgrades all around. I’m especially looking forward to quicker on-device Siri, tags in Notes, and more intelligence in Photos. iPadOS could have gone further and pushed the new M1 chips with pro-level apps or even a goddamn calculator, but all we got were the long-awaited cleanup of the multitasking interaction model and free placement of last year’s widgets, plus everything else new on the iPhone side.

I may be remembering things wrong, but there wasn’t any news on the Apple TV apart from spatial audio support, and watchOS is just grinding out more of the same, expansion pack style, with new workout and mindful activity types.

Spatial audio is quite a big deal, though. I recently watched some Dolby Atmos enabled videos content on my new iPad with AirPods, and it really works. With the launch of Atmos music tracks on Apple Music this week, I spent some time listening to old and new tracks to put it through its paces. I tend to agree with everyone who’s observed that the rock music examples are generally terrible, and the effect works best on jazz and classical music — where even studio cuts usually strive to reproduce the context of a live performance. The new spatial remixes of vintage jazz records have more atmosphere and you can point around you to where each player seems to be seated. Perhaps it’s like colorizing old photos, gimmicky and impure to some, but bringing them closer in space and time nonetheless. I think the technology is a positive development.

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Next week: More reading. Wanna crush your Goodreads challenge? The New York Times Book Review has published a list of recommendations. I’ll be trying some of them out soon.

Week 21.21: Partly immune, getting into the rhythm of rest, and asking What’s A Computer?

I got my first dose of the Moderna vaccine. Although most people say the side effects (fevers, full-body aches, headaches, oversleeping) are really only felt with the second dose, I was apprehensive. It turned out okay, kinda mild muscle ache on the one bicep and some tiredness that I can’t be sure isn’t just my normal sluggishness.

Step 1 of the vaccination process at a community center

Community infection cases have been on the rise. The new measures I mentioned last week have kicked in, so there’s no more dining out or meeting in groups, which is expected to bring numbers down in another week or two. Until then, this is how it looked this week.

Infections in the community:
Mon: 21
Tue: 27
Wed: 34
Thu: 27
Fri: 30
Sat: 22
Sun: 21

My vacation time started on Tuesday, so the four weekdays were mostly spent lazing about and looking at screens. I watched my money go up but mostly down. I continued checking my work email and following up on a few messages, out of habit. So this process of unwinding looks to take awhile; I don’t really feel like my break has properly begun.

I started journaling privately again, to have a record of how I’m spending my time. Perhaps these public posts will become shorter and more to the point over time as a result?

I got back to playing 2064: Read Only Memories on the Switch after a long time. My initial reaction to it was disappointment, mostly in the clunky non-touch UI and annoying voice acting, so I put it aside after half an hour and haven’t touched it in maybe a year? I figured I should get some mileage out of the purchase and tie up loose ends before playing other games. I finally finished it on the weekend. It’s better than I thought it’d be, but wouldn’t recommend you get it if you already have a healthy backlog of games to get through.

This week was also the release of the new iPad Pro models. My 11” in silver arrived Friday, and wow it’s a nice change from my last one. Face ID in concert with the Magic Keyboard makes me really glad I got this and not the iPad Air. You can just open it up, tap the space bar, and the thing unlocks and you’re in (like on a MacBook with Apple Watch).

Finally able to enjoy spatial audio with a screen bigger than my iPhone’s, I sat down to watch two episodes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier on Disney+, and let me tell you, it actually justifies Apple’s use of the word “magic”. I can’t wait to hear the new Atmos mixes for albums on Apple Music. Yes, it made me kinda regret not getting the 13” model with the XDR screen. Maybe next time.

Speaking of Apple Music, Muji has put nearly all their BGM albums up for streaming. I bought a couple of them as CDs back in the day — you may recall their corrugated cardboard sleeves for sale on the shelves beside those wall-mounted CD players by Naoto Fukasawa. I tried looking these up years ago and was disappointed there was no way to get them digitally. Prayer answered.

In TV land, we found a way to watch the latest season of Gogglebox, which I still highly recommend to everyone. One of the episodes started to show the new season (#6) of Line of Duty, and we had to stop there because we hadn’t seen it yet. Netflix only has up to season 5 right now. One entire Sunday later, and we finished the whole season and are now completely done with the series.

Week 19.21

  • With more community cases of COVID again, Singapore went back into our second-mildest form of lockdown, stepping back from Phase 3 to Phase 2. This means groups dining out and meeting up are again restricted to 5 people at most, down from 8, and there are limits on how many homes you can visit in a day. Gyms are kinda sorta closed, depending on how strenuous the exercises you’ll be doing are. I think this is a weird compromise and inconsistency to keep people happy and unalarmed. Better to just close it all across the board.
  • We got this news on Tuesday while out as a group eating some very nice Korean BBQ (eating this has happened more frequently in recent times than in my whole life). Our in-person Friday breakfast plans at work were also canceled just to be safe, and it makes you wonder if things will get even worse and we’ll be back to Phase 1 (stay home unless absolutely necessary) at some point this year.
  • At the very least, because the new-old rules only went into effect on Saturday, our plans to attend a Vivaldi concert on Friday were unaffected. It was originally scheduled to be at the Marina Bay Sands, but the venue got moved at some point to the Arts House (the former Parliament office building), aaaand the email was unread in someone’s inbox which led to a mad last-minute dash in order to make it before doors closed.
  • On May 5th, Lazada had a 5.5 sale event, which had me scrolling around for at least an hour looking for a deal I actually wanted. I didn’t find one, but I did discover that small businesses have imported Apple’s HomePod mini (which isn’t officially on sale in Singapore at all, no one knows why) and are selling them online. I exaggerate; this wasn’t actually a surprise to me, and I’d long already taken the stance of a betrayed, aggrieved, and wronged Singaporean Apple evangelist, deciding that I would not crawl through the filth of the gray market to buy the damned things like I really wanted them. If Apple doesn’t want to sell them to me, FINE THEN.
  • It’s a different story when you’re on a store page looking at them with a big BUY button at the bottom. I ended up ordering two and they’re here now in my home, and they are quite marvelous. I’ve put one in our home office where a Sonos One unit used to be, and it absolutely compares in terms of sound quality for the small space. In the bedroom, it’s a huge usability upgrade from the Beolit speaker we had in there which took a full two minutes to boot up and connect to WiFi each time. Now I can call out “Hey Siri, play rain sounds” at midnight and get straight to peaceful sleep.
  • For the living room, though, I would love one of the original HomePods if they still made them. Even if you had like three or four in a larger space, I don’t think they put out the same power. But in a small room? These are half the size and half the price of the Sonos! If Apple can’t sell a load of these now, something has gone really wrong.
  • Videogames: I love the Yakuza games, and have been wanting to buy Judgment aka Judge Eyes, a sort of spiritual spin-off made by the same team. It’s just that the Asian PlayStation store is run in a weird Chinese-centric way that means the Chinese language version can go on sale a couple times a year, while the English version has stayed locked at full price since it came out. This week, I noticed it finally changed, just S$22! I got it immediately, and got excited about one more thing to do during my sabbatical.
  • Also this week… Sega revealed its sequel: Lost Judgment. That explains the price drop then. It looks great and comes out in September. I’m really going to have my hands full.
  • And to cap that all off, Nintendo also revealed Game Builder Garage for the Switch. If you wanted to learn how to make games, and actually create something on the same console you already play on, there’s been Dreams on the PS4. I’ve also been a bit intimidated by how complex and rich some people’s creations are on that, and it doesn’t look like something I’d master quickly. I have much higher hopes for what Nintendo has to offer. I expect it will be a gentle learning curve, and I look forward to making small, simple experiments that might eventually lead to the realization of a game idea I’ve had for a little while.
  • I really can’t wait to have more free time in June.

Week 17.21

  • This may have been the first time that an Apple event week coincided with my birthday week. Expectations of having a present to buy myself were high, but when it turned out that only the iPad Pro in 12.9” size would be getting the mini-LED display technology I’d been waiting for, and that the damned thing would cost me about S$3,000 in all (with AppleCare+, Pencil, and Magic Keyboard), I began to have second thoughts. After a little deliberation and rationalizing, I ordered myself last year’s iPad Air as a good enough substitute. Normally, you’d expect to receive it in a day or two, but perhaps because of Covid, its ETA was next week instead.
  • And then on the weekend, I started to doubt the wisdom of not buying the latest and greatest, because I knew it would grow to become a nagging dissatisfaction. It would only cost an additional S$360 to go from a 256GB WiFi iPad Air to a 256GB WiFi iPad Pro 11”. That money pays for (roughly in descending order of importance to me): a smoother and brighter ProMotion display; the M1 chip for more future-proof performance; Face ID; four speakers instead of two; LIDAR and additional cameras, including the new front-facing one with Center Stage; supposedly “studio-quality” microphones; and Thunderbolt/USB4 compatibility. Sounds like a good deal, doesn’t it? A pity about not having mini-LED on the 11”, but it’s clearly a better device regardless. So I’ve canceled the iPad Air and will have to wait at least another month for the Pro to go on sale.
  • The other nagging thought I had was that maybe some new features in iPadOS 15 this year will be exclusive to M1-bearing iPads. These iPads have 8/16GB of RAM for the first time (actually listed on Apple’s site!), which makes them the hardware equal of the M1 MacBooks. What if… developers of Mac apps could elect to publish quick iPad versions? I don’t have a Mac of my own anymore, and a way to occasionally manage and transfer files to hardware devices like my Kobo would be welcome, so any app interoperability would be amazing. What if you could run an iPad over two displays for double the multitasking? If any of this comes to pass but leaves the iPad Air out, I wouldn’t even be able to look at it, let alone use it for the next three years.
  • TL;DR: the iPad Air is great and more than enough to get stuff done, but if you want slightly nicer bits, you might want to pay more for the 11” Pro. And I’ve decided that I am the type of idiot who would wallow in eternal regret if he didn’t spring for the nice bits.
  • Because it’s a birthday month, the wanton overeating continued. Cake, pizza, cocktails, wagyu beef bourguignon, a lavish slab of kueh salat from a Michelin-starred restaurant, and a lovely bit of smoked pork collar at a wedding lunch I had the privilege to attend. Tonight, we’re going out for more Italian. There’s yakiniku scheduled in a few days. It’s irresponsible but no one has stepped in to stop me.
  • I’ve slowed down on Star Trek: Legends, mostly because it’s so bug ridden I think I’m better off waiting for another update before continuing.
  • I enjoyed some of Marvel’s Runaways comic series a few years back, but didn’t know it was turned into a TV show for Hulu. Three seasons of it are now available on our local Disney+ and it’s very bingeable, as we found out this weekend. The less you know going in, the better. Most synopses give away too much in the first sentence alone.
  • A few weeks ago, HEY.com started selling t-shirts with their logo on them. Knowing that they’re really ads for their service, they priced them low; apparently at cost. As an enthusiastic early adopter and current user, I had to get one. It finally arrived in Singapore on my birthday, which was a nice coincidence.