Remember AirTags?

I’ve found a use for mine, but I have a distinct suspicion that Apple has forgotten about them.

The AirTag is such a strange little product for Apple. They feel like the most ‘me too’ device the company has launched in recent memory. I don’t think we’ll ever see an AirTag 2; in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they quietly slip from the shelves altogether at some point in the future.

There’s nothing wrong with AirTags. But, then, there’s nothing really wrong with the MagSafe Battery Pack, either. It does the job intended and looks pretty nice, to boot.

However, like its coin-sized tracking device cousin, Apple’s latest MagSafe accessory for the iPhone 12 is simply an incredibly odd product.

It’s not a charger

I’ve bought a few power banks in my time.

I’ve lost all of them.

I’m not the sort of person who needs regular access to a portable phone charger. I rarely leave the house for more than a few hours, and if I am going somewhere overnight, I’m never far from a wall plug.

I get the need for this stuff, though. Some people regularly run their phone battery down to just a few single digital percentage points and need a top-up. For them, the ability to boost their battery while out on the road can be a lifesaver.

The MagSafe Battery Pack doesn’t really do this. It charges biblically slowly (at a rate of around five watts). I have no idea how long it would take to fully charge a low battery on an iPhone 12 – or if it’s even possible – but that clearly isn’t what the MagSafe Battery Pack is designed for.

It’s a battery preserver. Which, at £99 is a little hard to swallow, given the much cheaper, cable-based competition – most of which do actually charge your phone when connected.

Despite this, I understand why it’s so slow. Apple is concerned about heat, and preserving your battery until you reach a wall plug is still pretty useful.

Revealing MagSafe’s inherent flaw

I love the MagSafe hockey puck charger; it has completely replaced the ancient way of charging my iPhone via lightning.

Unfortunately, it has thus far been the neatest use of MagSafe I’ve experienced. And this is for one very simple reason; the magnet arrangement on the iPhone 12 works perfectly if the thing you’re attaching is circular. If it’s any other shape, nine times out of ten you’ll need to manually align it once attached.

I love the use of magnets in tech – it’s such a smart, tidy solution for combining stuff and ensuring lids remain closed. But the therapeutic joy of attaching two magnets is eroded when you realise that your MagSafe Battery Pack is skew-whiff.

This happens all the time. The MagSafe Battery Pack never appears to sit squarely on the back of my iPhone 12 unless I adjust it manually. It’s completely un-Apple, and affects accessories like the MagSafe Wallet, too.

It appears to be the lower half of rectangular MagSafe accessories which causes the issue. The circular magnet is where the majority of the grip is, leaving the rest of the accessory to simply swing out of line, pendulum-fashion.

This doesn’t impact the Battery Pack’s performance at all. It’s just messy and irritating.

It’s not exactly inconspicuous

I’ve read a few reviews of the MagSafe Battery Pack which have suggested that it isn’t quite as big as it looks in the product shots.

It really is.

This is a bulky little thing on the iPhone 12 Pro. It adds significant weight, too. Once attached, your phone feels like an entirely different, more cumbersome device – particularly when tapping on the screen. Texting with the Battery Pack attached, for instance, feels like you’ve accidentally picked up a prototype Blackberry from 1998.

The weight will be an issue for some people. When I first attached the Battery Pack to my iPhone and took it out on the road, it weighed heavily in my shorts pocket and resulted in a bulge that could have taken out a passing bus if I swivelled too quickly.

It’s big. And, to be frank, reveals why the old-fashioned cable-based power banks make much more sense. The MagSafe Battery Pack is designed in a way that suggests you should be able to carry it around while attached, but in reality, it’s simply too bulky. Power banks have always been designed for use when you’re sat in the pub at 2%, or while huddled around a campfire. They’re not really portable in the truest sense of the word.

There’s no suggestion from Apple that the MagSafe Battery Pack is waterproof, either, therefore when it’s attached, your iPhone is transported back to an era when IPX ratings were the stuff of dreams.

When you pop this thing on the back of your iPhone, you need to be ready for a rather more treacherous and ham-fisted smartphone experience.

There isn’t really any Apple magic

If you’re expecting AirPods-like magic from the MagSafe Battery Pack in exchange for the Apple Tax that has been mercilessly slapped on top of the price, you’re in for a surprise.

There isn’t any.

This thing attaches via magnets to the back of your phone and will appear in the battery widget on iOS (although, unfathomably, the icon they’ve picked is that of a lightning cable). That’s it. I was expecting some kind of fancy animation to appear on the screen when attached – you know, to perhaps reveal how much battery is remaining in the pack itself.

But that doesn’t happen, either. You just get the usual ‘I’m now charging’ sound effect and the resulting lighting bolt on the battery icon.

A bit more effort was required here I’m afraid, Tim.

So, is it worth it?

The MagSafe Battery Pack has one thing going for it: convenience. But it is trounced by the competition in nearly every other respect. Plus, the convenience on offer isn’t solving a problem that exists; for most people, power banks don’t need to be attachable-portable.

However, if you do want Apple-like convenience, I’d suggest looking to Belkin, which has its own MagSafe power bank. It charges slightly faster at 7.5 watts, provides a visual indication of the remaining battery life on the device itself and charges via USB-C. And it’s less than a third of the price of Apple’s.

The charging method is one of the biggest deal-breakers for me with the MagSafe Battery Pack. Unsurprisingly, Apple has opted for lightning as the charging method. This makes sense when you consider the fact they’re still using it for the iPhone.

But for me – and I suspect many others – I no longer use lighting for my iPhone. I use that MagSafe charging puck, which means I have to go hunting for a lightning charger if I want to top up my Battery Pack. It’s as irritating a task as it is for the AirPods Max, and will inevitably result in me charging the Battery Pack too infrequently for it to be useful.

The MagSafe Battery Pack is a tough sell. At £99/$99 it’s vastly more expensive than the competition, and its weight and bulk do reveal the inherent flaws with this first version of the iPhone’s MagSafe system.

I’d skip it. Stick with your external, cable-based power bank. Ironically, it remains the most elegant, effective solution for charging your iPhone on the go.

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