Apple MagSafe Battery Pack Hands-On | The Smarter and More Efficient Way to Power Your iPhone

Apple MagSafe Battery Pack on iPhone 12 Pro Max 11 Credit: Jesse Hollington / iDrop News
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Apple’s new MagSafe Battery Pack has begun arriving in stores this week — and in the hands of iPhone users — offering an efficient new way to get some extra power for your iPhone 12 while you’re on the go.

As with many of these cool little accessories that Apple makes, the new MagSafe Battery Pack promises to be more than the sum of its parts, and while it doesn’t match the raw power specs of many of the MagSafe-compatible battery packs out there, it offers a few unique features that might just make it worth the slightly higher price of entry.

For one thing, since it’s naturally MagSafe-certified, you’ll get the full 15W charging speeds out of it. While this only works if you actually plug it into an external power source — it only charges at 5W when being used as a battery — it does make the $99 asking price more palatable, as it can also double as a standard $39 MagSafe charger at home or in your office.

It also packs in a few other unique features, such as tight iOS integration that not only shows you the battery’s charge level, but also keeps your iPhone operating more efficiently when it’s running from the battery pack.

The new MagSafe Battery Pack also finally uncovers the hidden reverse wireless charging feature in the iPhone 12, allowing you to recharge the battery back from your iPhone.

That will be a huge bonus for those who regularly plug their iPhone in to use with CarPlay, since it means you’ll be able to ensure that your battery pack gets charged on those long road trips.

Apple MagSafe Battery Pack First Impressions

My pre-ordered MagSafe Battery Pack showed up on my doorstep this morning, and while it’s still too early to say much about how well it’s going to hold up over time, it’s made a solid first impression.

Firstly, if you were expecting a silicone or rubbery design similar to Apple’s earlier Smart Battery Cases, you’re not going to find it here. The MagSafe Battery Pack is made from smooth, hard plastic, with some light padding on the business side to help avoid scratching your iPhone in the event that you decide to use it without a case.

Speaking of which, it seems to work fine through most cases. Naturally, Apple’s MagSafe cases are fully compatible, and will hold the battery pack on nicely, but it can also charge through any standard iPhone case — just be aware that the magnetic attachment won’t be quite as strong in this case (no pun intended).

The colour is actually a bit of a matte off-white, so it doesn’t quite match up with the AirPods or AirPods Pro — if anything, it’s a bit closer to the Apple Pencil in both look and feel.

Using the MagSafe Battery Pack is about as simple as you’d expect. You just snap it onto the back of whatever iPhone 12 you have, and it will begin charging immediately.

There’s also an extra magnet below the main MagSafe ring to help with alignment, although it’s not so strong that you won’t be able to spin the battery pack around if you want to.

If you’re running iOS 14.7 you’ll also be able to see the battery pack appear in your Batteries widget, although interestingly this doesn’t seem to be fully present just yet in the current third beta of iOS 15.

Instead, users on the iOS 15 developer or public betas will simply see a “Generic UPS” device. This still shows the charging status, however, it just doesn’t recognize it as a MagSafe Battery Pack. This will probably change in the next beta.

Like Apple’s other MagSafe chargers, it’s only the magnetic ring and the iOS integration that’s special here — the MagSafe Battery Pack otherwise works just like any other Qi charger or battery pack. This means you’ll be able to use it to charge your AirPods or AirPods Pro, as well as older iPhones and even Android devices.

Not surprisingly, it won’t charge the Apple Watch, but that’s been par for the course with Qi chargers for years — the Apple Watch requires smaller and denser coils than most wireless chargers offer.

In fact, since the MagSafe Battery Pack only charges at 5W when it’s not connected to external power, it’s not going to be much different from any other battery pack. However, connect a 20W+ charger to its Lightning port, and you’ll get full 15W charging speeds with an iPhone 12, or 7.5W speeds with older, non-MagSafe iPhone models.

Apple’s Case for External Batteries

Although the new MagSafe Battery Pack is the first wireless battery pack that Apple has released, the company has actually been making iPhone Smart Battery Cases since the iPhone 6s back in 2015.

There were many undeserved complaints made about Apple’s battery cases even back then, and it’s not surprising that some of these have been carried over to Apple’s latest MagSafe Battery Pack.

Make no mistake, at $99 the MagSafe Battery Pack doesn’t come cheap, but it’s also unfair to declare it as overpriced merely because it only offers a 1,460-mAh capacity.

Sadly, over the years, many folks have been trained to think that mAh, or milliamp-hours, is the only valuable measurement of battery power, but unfortunately, that measurement is only relevant when comparing batteries that are equivalent in other ways — such as the batteries in various iPhone models.

The trick is that there’s another important factor that determines how much actual power your battery pack can generate, and that’s the voltage it operates at. Milliamp-hours determine how much capacity is stored, but as any high school electronics student knows, power is about wattage, which is calculated as amperage times voltage.

The more accurate measure of a battery’s power is expressed in watt-hours (Wh), which is dependent entirely on how many volts that battery operates at, and this is where Apple’s MagSafe Battery Pack actually punches above its weight class.

You see, all of Apple’s iPhone batteries operate at 3.81V. This means that even the big 3,687 mAh battery in the iPhone 12 Pro Max is only rated at 14 Wh. The much more common iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12, which both use 2,815 mAh batteries, comes in at 10.7Wh, while the little iPhone 12 mini only clocks in at 8.48Wh.

If you only compare milliamp-hours, the MagSafe Battery Pack’s 1,460 mAh seems to be really low, but the catch is that the battery pack operates at 7.62V — double the voltage of the iPhone 12 batteries.

This means that it’s actually roughly equivalent to a 2,920mAh battery — slightly above that of the 6.1-inch iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro models. Its 11.13Wh rating also bears this out.

In other words, assuming perfect charging efficiency, Apple’s MagSafe Battery Pack actually has enough juice to fully charge up a standard iPhone 12, and more than enough for an iPhone 12 mini.

Now, since wireless charging is inefficient at the best of times, the real-world numbers are obviously considerably lower than that, but not nearly as low you might think if you only look at the raw mAh capacity rating.

Further, the higher voltage rating on Apple’s MagSafe Battery Pack provides for more efficient power transfer in a much more compact design.

Apple Has Another Trick Up Its Sleeve

Still, you may be thinking that even 2,920mAh for $99 doesn’t sound like such a great deal when competing battery packs offer substantially more capacity for half the price.

While you’d be right in raw numbers, Apple’s MagSafe Battery Pack is a special case for two very important reasons.

First off is the fact that, thanks to the intelligent communication with iOS, your iPhone still knows it’s running from a battery. This means that it will still run in the same power-efficient mode that it would with no battery pack attached at all.

There are some things that your iPhone will only do when it’s plugged into an external power source. This includes things like iCloud Backups, syncing large numbers of photos and videos, and running power-hungry on-device algorithms like analyzing your photo library for faces and objects.

The problem is that whenever you attach most external battery packs, the iPhone just sees an external power source. It has no way of knowing that’s actually a limited-capacity power source like a battery. So, iOS will happily go into full-power mode, thinking that it basically has unlimited power to draw upon.

The reason Apple’s external battery cases were called Smart Battery Cases was because iOS actually recognized them as battery cases, and not an endless source of AC charging current. Hence, your iPhone would stay in a more power-efficient battery mode when using the case. Apple’s MagSafe Battery Pack naturally does the same thing.

This brings us to the second point, which is Apple’s actual design philosophy for external batteries. For years, most users have treated external battery cases and battery packs as chargers — using them to recharge your iPhone when it goes dead, or nearly dead. However, as I wrote back in 2015, Apple’s Smart Battery case proved that we’d all been doing it wrong for years.

Like the MagSafe Battery Pack, Apple’s Smart Battery Case lacked a switch. The purpose behind that was readily apparent: Apple intended that you put your iPhone in the battery case at the beginning of the day, and then run from the external battery before depleting your iPhone’s internal battery.

This was significantly more efficient for two very important reasons:

  1. Firstly, it automatically reduced the number of charge cycles that you needed to put your iPhone battery through. All lithium-ion batteries have a limited number of charge cycles — 500 in the case of an iPhone — before they start to deteriorate and hold less power (and cause other problems). If you’re only using your battery case to juice up your iPhone at the end of the day, you’re draining your iPhone battery and using up charge cycles when you don’t really need to. It makes much more sense to burn through the battery in a more affordable battery case than put unnecessary wear and tear on your main iPhone battery.
  2. Secondly, it was an inefficient use of battery power. It takes more energy to transfer power into a battery than it does to simply power your iPhone from that battery. In other words, any battery case or external battery pack will go much farther if you’re simply running your iPhone from the battery than if you’re using it to juice up a nearly dead iPhone. Whether it’s a wired or wireless battery pack, your iPhone will draw all of its power from it first, before it draws anything from its own internal battery.

While Apple’s Smart Battery Cases were very obviously designed to be primary power sources rather than simply rechargers, everything we’ve seen about the new MagSafe Battery Pack suggests that it’s in the same category.

This is also obvious when you consider the 5W rating — something that’s unavoidable with only an 11Wh battery inside. The slower power transfer speed isn’t going to be an issue if you’re running from the MagSafe Battery Pack rather than waiting for it to recharge your iPhone battery.

In other words, the best way to use Apple’s MagSafe Battery Pack — or any battery pack, really — is to put it on your iPhone at the beginning of a long day, and draw power from it exclusively, using your iPhone’s built-in battery as the backup power source.

This will make the most of the power from the external battery pack, which will be operating your iPhone, rather than trying to charge it, while also reducing the wear and tear on the battery inside your iPhone. Get it here.

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