July 20, 2023 at 4:12 p.m.
- MagSafe is a “wireless” charging technology using a magnetic disc attached to the back of an iPhone.
- A MagSafe charger uses a wired connection to a USB-C power adapter.
- MagSafe only charges at 15W, but the iPhone 14 Pro Max can handle 27W through its Lightning port.
- Apple’s MagSafe solution costs almost $60, with $19 for the power adapter and $39 for the MagSafe charger.
- MagSafe charging generates more heat, which deteriorates and ages your battery faster.
What is MagSafe Charging?
MagSafe has been around for almost 20 years. Apple first debuted the technology with the 2006 MacBook Pro — its first Intel-based machine.
The original MagSafe’s primary goal was to protect your MacBook. It didn’t use induction charging. Instead, a magnet fastened the power cable to the MacBook’s charging port with a relatively weak bond. If someone tripped over the cord, it would detach from the MacBook without pulling it onto the ground. This is why it was called MagSafe.
For a long time, Apple used MagSafe on the MacBook as a safety feature. In 2015, the company introduced the Apple Watch, which used a genuine magnetic induction charger. Included with every Apple Watch, this magnetic charger doesn’t carry the MagSafe name. Instead, it’s called the Apple Watch Magnetic Fast Charger.
In 2020, Apple launched its first MagSafe-compatible smartphone, the iPhone 12. Although it kept the MagSafe name, safety wasn’t the core consideration. For Apple, MagSafe is all about selling accessories, many of which are useless or counterproductive. If someone trips over a MagSafe cable attached to an iPhone, it will likely yank the smartphone off the table. Where’s the safety?
How Does MagSafe Charging Work?
Although the MagSafe charger has a wire, the industry considers it to be wireless charging since there’s no port on the device. Instead, your iPhone contains a magnetic coil, and the charger attaches without a port. Just imagine the wire sticking out of the MagSafe charger doesn’t exist, and you’re charging wirelessly!
Two magnetic coils are involved in MagSafe charging. The primary coil is located in the charger, with the secondary coil placed in the back of your iPhone.
Using inductive charging, the primary coil produces a magnetic field received by the second coil. It’s one of the least sophisticated types of wireless charging.
Much cooler wireless charging methods are available; however, Apple plays it safe with MagSafe. It’s possible to charge devices with radio frequencies over a distance of 33 feet. Apple doesn’t use this technology yet.
Medical devices, watches, and RFID chips use this advanced radio frequency wireless charging technology. After all, you’re not going to plug a USB cable into a defibrillator implanted in a patient’s chest cavity.
Some radio frequency-powered devices don’t even have a battery. They get all of their energy from a nearby RF transmitter.
MagSafe Doesn’t Protect Your iPhone From Cable Snags
Apple’s original MagSafe was all about safety. If someone tripped over your MacBook’s charging cable, MagSafe ensured that, at worst, all you’d need to do is plug in the cord again. This was back when Apple cared about Mac users and created long-lasting notebook computers.
(My Mac Mini completely froze while writing this article, necessitating a cold reboot! Where’s the quality, Apple? Even my Windows laptop has yet to freeze and fail so spectacularly. How the tables have turned!)
The iPhone’s MagSafe charger is worse than a charging cable. If you trip over a MagSafe cord attached to an iPhone, it will probably yank your costly device to the ground. That’s also true of your Apple Watch. If you trip over a Lightning cable connected to your iPhone, you may also pull your smartphone off the table. Neither MagSafe nor a Lightning cable guarantee cord safety, but the latter is faster, cheaper, and prolongs battery lifespan.
MagSafe is Overpriced and Slow But Doesn’t Create Sparks
MagSafe doesn’t come with your iPhone. Although there are non-Apple MagSafe chargers, in general, it’s best to avoid cheap chargers. Some are fire hazards. If you want a safe MagSafe experience, Apple’s inductive charger costs $39. Sometimes you can find it for less from other retailers.
Elaborate charging stands will magnetically charge your iPhone, Apple Watch, and AirPods case. Some are expensive, and others are so cheap they’re likely junk. We don’t recommend any of these.
The Lightning cable that comes with your iPhone can charge at up to 27W, depending on the power supply. That’s over twice as fast as a 15W MagSafe charger because it loses energy with its looser coupling. The lost energy creates heat, which deteriorates the battery.
Nothing is better than a direct cable connection for charging. MagSafe’s only advantage is that it won’t create sparks. So if you need to charge your iPhone when there’s a natural gas leak at your home or office, that’s the only time MagSafe is safer. The extra heat generated by induction charging is bad for your iPhone’s battery.
MagSafe Shortens Battery Lifespan
Induction charging only captures some of the energy released by the charger. Extraneous energy generates heat, which will shorten your iPhone battery’s lifespan. If you read the fine print, Apple admits to this flaw:
As with other wireless chargers, your iPhone or MagSafe Charger might get slightly warmer while your iPhone charges. To extend the lifespan of your battery, if the battery gets too warm, software might limit charging above 80 percent.
We have a better idea for extending your battery’s lifespan and saving a few bucks — don’t use MagSafe. Just use the charging cable that came with your iPhone. It’s superior in every way, except if your home has a natural gas leak. How often does that happen? If it does, plenty of other appliances in your home could spark a fire. It’s a ridiculous scenario, but that’s literally the only way MagSafe is safe.
If you want to go MagSafe with official Apple products, it will cost $39 to $59, depending on whether you already own a USB-C power adapter. That’s a lot of money to charge your phone slowly with extra heat that shortens your battery’s lifespan.
Lots of MagSafe Problems
In our research and experience, we’ve found that MagSafe is a hassle. It doesn’t always work. Sometimes you need to restart your iPhone to accommodate software defects. Compare that with a Lightning cable, where you plug it in, and it just works.
Also, you must turn on your iPhone for MagSafe charging to work. Integrated electronics don’t fully control its charging. Instead, iOS needs to handle charging directly.
With a Lightning cable, you can turn your iPhone off while it charges. This helps it energize faster and with almost no heat, which preserves battery lifespan.
MagSafe is Better than Qi
Although Apple’s MagSafe works with the iPhone 12 or later, you can use a Qi wireless charging mat with the iPhone 8 and every Apple smartphone up to and including the iPhone 14. It may come in handy if you’re traveling, but it’s one of the worst ways to charge your iPhone.
If you use a “wireless” induction charger, MagSafe is a better option than Qi. Apple’s solution is faster and generates less heat than Qi, due to its tighter coupling.
One problem with Qi is that it can only charge an iPhone at 7.5W. MagSafe charges at 15W, and a Lightning cable can power up your iPhone in a few hours at 27W.
Qi also generates more heat than MagSafe. The nice thing about MagSafe is that the connection fits perfectly. With Qi, there might not be as good of a connection with the iPhone’s charging coil. If so, it will generate more heat than MagSafe, which will shorten your battery’s lifespan.
Qi is a generic wireless charging solution, so it doesn’t fit the geometry of an iPhone. If you must use a magnetic charger, MagSafe is better because it fits perfectly. With tighter coupling, less energy escapes, which creates less heat.
Best Way to Charge iPhone
In this section, we’ll cover two ways to charge your iPhone — rapid charging and slow, safe charging intended to preserve battery lifespan. Both are cheaper, faster, and prolong your battery’s lifespan better than MagSafe.
If you need to charge your iPhone immediately, use a 27W power adapter (or greater) and a Lightning cable. After you plug in the cord and your phone starts charging, shut it down. Your iPhone will charge faster, and it won’t get warm. Using this method, you can fully charge an iPhone 14 Pro Max from 0% to 100% in two hours. After two hours, turn on your iPhone, wait for it to power up, and remove the cable.
If you really want your battery to last a long time, use one of the old iPhone chargers. Older 5W power adapters still use a USB-A to Lightning cable. If you’ve owned iPhones for a long time, chances are you have all of these lying around the house many times over. I have at least four of these old-school power adapters and maybe eight cables, and I never bought them. They all came with iPhones and other Apple products.
If you’re using an older iPhone charger, turning off the power will generate even less heat. It takes about five hours to fully charge a powered-down iPhone 14 Pro Max with a 5W charger. It’s best to do this at night.
If you don’t believe us, try it yourself. Plug your iPhone into a charger, wait a few minutes, and feel the back. You’ll notice it’s a little warm. Now shut down your iPhone and wait a few minutes. It’s cold again, but it’s still charging.
Charging your iPhone while it’s running will always generate heat. Sometimes you need to do this, as Apple takes this opportunity to sync with iCloud. Given iOS’s need to sync while plugged in, it may be best to charge your iPhone for an hour with it on, then turn it off for the remaining time.
Really, it’s the last 80% of charging that’s most stressful for your phone. If you don’t need a full battery, it’s best to stop charging at 80%.
Apple’s Optimized Battery Charging delays the 80% to 100% saturation charge until just before you use your iPhone. I have an LG laptop that lets me switch off charging above 80%. I’ve had it for three years and use it solely with battery power, and it still works for 8-10 hours on a single charge.
It’s easy to keep your iPhone battery in top condition. Just ensure your iPhone doesn’t get too warm, and try to avoid charging to 100%. If you need a full charge, top off your phone immediately before you need it.
Better Uses for Inductive Magnetic Charging
Wireless charging is an incredible technology, but it has much better applications than powering your iPhone. Some may think it’s cooler to slap a magnetic disc on the back of an iPhone instead of plugging in a Lightning cable. Whatever floats your boat.
Apple offers some innovative MagSafe accessories. Just because we don’t like MagSafe charging doesn’t mean we hate the entire feature. MagSafe cases, external batteries, and other gadgets are pretty cool. You can even charge AirPods on the back of your iPhone.
Wireless charging has much broader implications for electric vehicles. Imagine if you could charge your electric car while stalled in traffic. Wireless charging may line future freeways, enabling your electric vehicle to fill up during your drive. Electric vehicles would be a fraction of the price if they didn’t require massive batteries.
Apple developed MagSafe because some customers wanted it. They saw Qi and other wireless charging systems working with Android and became jealous. Android fans tend to rub it in when they have something the iPhone doesn’t have.
I use the magnetic charger with my Apple Watch because there’s no choice. I understand it’s a bad idea to put a charging port in a waterproof and dustproof device. But I can feel how warm my smartwatch is whenever I charge it, even for a few minutes. That can’t be good for the battery!
MagSafe has a “gee whiz” appeal. It seems futuristic. It may be Apple’s way of improving water and dust resistance with its flagship smartphones.
The EU is pushing Apple to ditch Lightning. For now, they claim all smartphones must have a USB charging port. We’ve read the EU’s legislation, and it’s full of loopholes and amendments.
We don’t believe Apple will install a USB-C port in future iPhones. Instead, the company will likely go with MagSafe all the way. They’ll supply the charger but not the power adapter. Since the MagSafe charger plugs into a USB-C power adapter, this will likely satisfy EU regulators. We’re fairly sure that the iPhone 15 will be completely portless, with MagSafe being the only charging option.