MagSafe Battery Pack Review: Breaking the Ecosystem

Rating:
4/10
?

  • 1 – Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 – Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 – Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 – Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 – Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 – Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 – Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 – Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 – Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 – Absolute Design Nirvana

Price: $99

MagSafe Battery Pack
Peter Cao

The MagSafe Battery Pack is a product I was waiting for since the launch of the iPhone 12. I’ve been a fan of Apple’s Smart Battery Case in the past, and the MagSafe Battery Pack was a product I was hoping to completely fall in love with. Unfortunately, the MagSafe Battery Pack did not live up to the hype.

Here’s What We Like

  • Sleek, comfortable, and light design
  • Fast charging when plugged in to a 20W or higher power adapter
  • Integrates with iPhone and iOS

And What We Don’t

  • Aggressive battery management forces iPhone to drain instead of battery pack
  • Incapable of wirelessly charging itself
  • Can’t attach other MagSafe products such as wallet to it
  • Slow 5W charging when on the go
  • Reverse wireless charging is painfully slow
  • Can’t fully charge any iPhone 12 (including the mini)
  • Expensive

The biggest draw for me is the fact that it’s no longer a case, therefore it’s not specific to a phone. That means when I do my yearly iPhone upgrade, I can simply detach it from my old phone, and attach it to the new one. But after more than a month of using it, I can say that the battery pack is fundamentally flawed and is overall not a great product. I find it tough to recommend this product to anyone.

One Too Many Issues: A Fundamentally Poor User Experience

Hand holding a MagSafe Battery Pac that's charged 97 percent.
Peter Cao

I typically like starting my reviews with what I like most about the product, but in this case I’ll start with what I don’t like because the fundamentals of this product are … well … bad. First and foremost, the MagSafe Battery Pack only charges at five watts when on the go. On the surface, that isn’t great, but at the very least, it’ll hold your phone’s charge? Right?

Yes and no. Due to the inherent inefficiencies of wireless charging, you’re looking at closer to two to three watts (about 60% efficiency) in real-world use. An equivalent wired five watt wired charger is capable of around four to four and a half watts (90 to 95% efficiency). Bundle that with the fact that the MagSafe Battery Pack tends to completely stop charging at the sign of heat makes for a poor experience. But more on that later.

Translating that to real-world use, we’re looking at an experience where if you’re doing anything beyond texting, scrolling Twitter or Reddit, or listening to a podcast, the battery pack will simply stop charging and switch to your iPhone’s internal battery instead. This continues until you complete your “heavy” task, or put your phone to sleep.

And I have worse news if you’ve already invested in the MagSafe ecosystem. If you’ve bought accessories such as the MagSafe Duo wireless charger, the MagSafe charging puck, or heck, even something simple as the MagSafe wallet, it’s all rendered useless if you plan on keeping the MagSafe Battery Pack attached all day. While there’s a set of MagSafe magnets that enable it to attach to your iPhone, there’s not a set of MagSafe magnets on the other side of the pack to attach a MagSafe charger or MagSafe wallet.

Yep, that means that while the pack can wirelessly charge your iPhone, the pack itself can’t be wirelessly charged. To a certain extent, that’s understandable because you’d be losing so much energy purely to heat. But it would’ve completed the package in terms of the MagSafe ecosystem. Instead, omitting it inherently screws over people (like me) who’ve invested in other MagSafe products.

Charging and iOS Integration: It’s Smart!

MagSafe Battery Pac on a stone table.
Peter Cao

Despite the major downsides, there are a few things I love about the battery pack, such as the lack of a power button, or any buttons really. Some might see it as a downside, but I love the fact that it automagically starts charging as soon as I attach it and stops when I remove it. It’s a small, but a nice quality of life feature.

And while you can’t charge the pack with a wireless/MagSafe charger, the wired charging is very smart. If you use a 5W adapter (highly not recommended), it’ll pass all the power onto your phone first, up to around 80%. From there, it’ll begin charging the battery pack up. The same goes for any charger that outputs less than 20W of power.

With a 20W or higher power adapter, you’ll juice up both the battery pack and the iPhone simultaneously. Using this method, you’ll get the full 15W MagSafe charging speed. In my experience, a 30W adapter seems to be the sweet spot. Anything higher than 30W sees little to no speed increases, and using a 20W adapter is fine, but a tad slower.

Cool, but that’s all while plugging your Lightning cord into the MagSafe Battery Pack. But what happens when you plug your cord into your iPhone? As it turns out, the iPhone 12 series of phones have a hidden reverse wireless charging feature. If you plug your charger into your iPhone with your MagSafe Battery Pack attached, your iPhone will start wireless charging your MagSafe Battery Pack (aka “reverse wireless charging”).

A MagSafe Battery Pac and MagSafe wallet.
Peter Cao

No matter which power adapter you use, reverse wirelessly charging the MagSafe Battery Pack is painstakingly slow. With this setup, the battery pack waits until your iPhone charges all the way to 100% before it starts charging itself. In my testing, using the Apple 20W power adapter, and a completely depleted iPhone 12 mini, it takes a whopping nine hours to fully charge both the iPhone and battery pack using this method. As Apple says, plugging directly into the iPhone is really only intended if you need to transfer something to your Mac, or to use wired CarPlay—not to charge the MagSafe Battery Pack.

Charging the battery pack on its own is pretty speedy. It takes roughly an hour to charge just the pack without attaching it to my iPhone. Charging both my 12 mini and the pack itself while plugged into the pack took around three and a half hours. In both cases, that’s with a 20W charger. Using a 30W charger shaved that time down to 45 minutes without the phone and three hours with the pack attached to my 12 mini.

Battery health wise, the MagSafe Battery Pack tries to keep your phone at around 90%. That way it’s not constantly charging/discharging your phone at 100%, which should in turn help with your iPhone’s battery health. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always keep the phone at 90%. With moderate use, my 12 mini steadily stayed around 85 to 92%.

Likewise, when slapping the MagSafe Battery Pack onto my 12 mini from dead, it took about three hours to charge it up to about 80% before the pack was completely depleted. Doing the same test on my wife’s iPhone 12 Pro, the phone hit around 65% before the pack was completely dead. In both of these tests, the phones were completely idle. Only waking the phone up every half hour to check the charge. Unfortunately, that means the MagSafe Battery Pack is unable to charge any of the iPhone 12 phones up to 100%.

Design: It Looks Good!

MagSafe Battery Pac lying in hostas next to a tree.
Peter Cao

But if there’s one saving grace about the MagSafe Battery Pack, it’s the physical design. The pack is thin, light, and more importantly, features curved corners. This makes it extremely easy and comfortable to hold for long periods of time when attached to your iPhone.

Thankfully, unlike previous battery products from Apple, the MagSafe Battery Pack uses a hard plastic versus the rubberized material, which would routinely attract lint and other fine particles.

In the month I’ve used it, the pack has managed to maintain its white color. I’ll be curious to know how well it ages as we enter the fall/winter where I’ll be wearing pants with tighter/smaller pockets.

My only real complaint about the design is that the alignment magnet (the bottom magnet) isn’t terribly strong. With my 12 mini, clicking the sleep/wake button to lock my iPhone will shift the MagSafe Battery Pack to the left ever so slightly 90% of the time. When putting it or taking it out of my pocket, it has the same slightly shifting issue as well. Fortunately, this doesn’t interfere with charging whatsoever and is purely an aesthetic problem.

Conclusion

MagSafe Battery Pac in hand.
Peter Cao

I think it’s pretty clear that I don’t think the MagSafe Battery Pack from Apple is worth the money. Usually, you can say, “Yeah, the ‘Apple Tax’ is worth it if you’re in the ecosystem.” Sure, it has great integration with your iPhone, and the design is sleek. But fundamentally, the MagSafe Battery Pack isn’t all that reliable.

In a way, the MagSafe Battery Pack is the evolution of Apple’s older Smart Battery Cases. It is meant to stay attached to your phone from the moment you get up, till you go to bed. That way, if you do some heavy tasks on your phone, the pack can quickly juice you back up to around 90%. However, I’d imagine most users want the battery pack for when their iPhone’s battery is low and want to quickly juice it up.

That makes the MagSafe Battery Pack incredibly frustrating for folks who heavily use their phones all day. Long workday or going on a hike? You simply can’t depend on the MagSafe Battery Pack to get you through the day. The MagSafe Battery Pack seems to be built for moderate phone users. For those who whip out their phone to play Pokémon Go for 30 minutes and then proceed to put their phones back in their pocket for an hour. For those who need to shoot a 4K60 video for an hour and send it to their friends and again, putting their phone away for a while after they’re done.

All in all, I would highly suggest you pick up an external battery pack and use wired charging instead. For me, I’m sending my MagSafe Battery Pack back to Apple. Hopefully, the next revision to the product adds support for 15W MagSafe charging on the go, and the ability to charge the pack itself with a MagSafe charger.

Here’s What We Like

  • Sleek, comfortable, and light design
  • Fast charging when plugged in to a 20W or higher power adapter
  • Integrates with iPhone and iOS

And What We Don’t

  • Aggressive battery management forces iPhone to drain instead of battery pack
  • Incapable of wirelessly charging itself
  • Can’t attach other MagSafe products such as wallet to it
  • Slow 5W charging when on the go
  • Reverse wireless charging is painfully slow
  • Can’t fully charge any iPhone 12 (including the mini)
  • Expensive

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