Qi2 is kinda underwhelming

April 20, 2024

Using MagSafe for portable battery packs has so many niceties versus Qi1:

  • Increased communication with the device, allowing for better efficiency due to better thermal management and charging
  • Easily view the charge percentage of the external battery when first attaching it, and at any other point right from the OS
  • Reverse-wireless-charging, so if you charge your phone while the pack is attached, the phone will charge up first and then send energy to the battery pack
  • Magnets for better charging reliability (no vibrating off the small charging zone and waking up to a dead phone) and better efficiency (induction points are perfectly lined up), though this point is almost always mimicked in Qi1 battery packs

Qi2 was supposed to be a glass of ice water to those in hell of Qi1, and I was hyped! Apple stopped making MagSafe battery packs themselves, and their old pack used Lightning instead of the newer USB-C, so I was excited to see third-parties bring MagSafe into the golden age of USB-C.

The reality though is… kinda lame right now with most of those benefits not being a thing?

Precursor: most “MagSafe” batteries are just Qi1

Fred from Scooby Doo unmasking some person who has a disguise on that says 'totally legit MagSafe' and when the disguise is off it's revealed it's just Qi1 with a magnet

So many magnetic battery pack makers say “MagSafe compatible” on the product page, which leads people to think they’re getting the more efficient charging of MagSafe as well as the extra functionality.

The word “compatible” is doing a lot of heavy lifting there, just indicating that the battery packs have a magnet in them and using just regular Qi1 charging. None of the actual MagSafe benefits are available. This means they’re kinda “dumb” and don’t communicate well with the host device, leading to hotter devices (and thus faster battery degradation) and lower efficiency due to energy loss as heat.

“Just use cables!”

Cables are much more efficient than wireless charging, so this sounds like a great idea until you try it, and going through an airport with cables dangling and potentially snagging on things is so, so much less convenient than just having a slightly thicker phone. I’d take a dip in efficiency for a massive increase in convenience, but if you can deal with cable charging while running around, I tip my hat to you.

That being said, the battery cases of yesteryear were a nice middle ground.

The only Qi2 battery pack is kinda lacking?

Despite being announced last year, there’s still like… only one manufacturer offering Qi2 battery packs: Anker. The rest are still “coming soon”.

Outside of only being offered in bulky sizes, Anker’s offerings seem to miss some of the biggest niceties of MagSafe, presumably through no fault of their own.

Firstly, Qi2 battery packs seemingly don’t even support OS level battery status! I can only assume this is an omission on Apple’s part rather than Anker’s, and is hopefully fixed in the future, but that was one of the aspects of Qi2 I was looking forward to the most. All you get is a slightly larger indicator of the phone’s battery level, but not the pack’s. Being able to easily see the percentage of your battery pack when using the phone and connecting it is super handy.

A minor one, but it also seems to get slightly warmer than Apple’s offering. Qi2 is supposed to also offer 15W of output whereas Apple’s battery was 7.5W, but Max Tech did a thorough review versus Apple’s old pack, and while it’s worth a watch, the tl;dw is that it seems to warm up quickly and slow down pretty considerably as a result (and be no faster than 7.5W).

Lastly, there’s no reverse wireless charging like Apple’s MagSafe pack has, so if you’re charging your iPhone over USB-C and have the pack attached, the pack won’t charge. You’d have to plug the pack itself in, which would transfer more heat to the iPhone rather than the other way around with MagSafe (I’d rather have the cheap battery pack get hotter, rather than the expensive iPhone).

Why Apple’s old pack is actually good

Apple battery widget showing status of MagSafe battery pack'
Credit: Apple

Apple’s offering on paper seems pretty great: smaller than the competitors, and integrates perfectly with iOS, meaning you get more intelligent charging and power delivery (and a cooler device), and you can see the status of the battery right in the operating system.

Two issues though: price/availability (at almost twice the competitors’), and the Lightning connector (in our beautiful new USB-C world, I do not want to be carrying a Lightning cable around anymore).

The first one’s indeed tricky. As Apple’s is discontinued, they’re hard to find, and there’s a lot of counterfeit ones online and in local classifieds, so be careful.

For the Lightning issue, the iPhone supports reverse wireless charging (Qi2 does not on iPhones as of April 2024), so if you plug in your USB-C iPhone with the pack still attached, it’ll charge up the battery after it’s done charging up the phone! No Lightning cable needed. In fact, even the new Qi2 batteries don’t support this, they only support plugging in the battery itself which charges the iPhone, which sounds fine, but the battery is the one inductively charging the iPhone, so the iPhone bears the brunt of the heat, rather than the other way around, which is less than ideal for battery health.

Lastly, Apple’s is much thinner than the competitor’s offerings. Which is fine, I don’t need to double my battery life, I just want to extend it when I know I might otherwise be cutting it close by the end of the day.

(Though one bonus for Qi2 battery packs is that they do support wired charging between the battery and iPhone though, unlike Apple’s, which would be a handy feature for charging faster in a pinch, but not a deal-breaker for me.)

“Apple’s battery capacity is so small”

There were some strange musings at the beginning complaining that Apple’s is only 1,500 mAh, while everyone else is 5,000 mAh, and that’s a perfect indication of why mAh is such a terrible unit for measuring batteries (the recent Vision Pro battery size story being another one). Battery capacity is a function of Amp-hours and crucially Voltage (multiply them together to get Watt-hours, an actual measurement of capacity), Apple’s battery uses twice the Voltage (7.6 V versus 3.7 V), so the actual capacities are 11 Watt-hours for Apple’s and 18.5 Watt-hours for others.

Further, if you take the smallest previewed Qi2 case: Belkin’s 5,000 mAh option (available in Australia), it’s 17mm thick, where Apple’s is only 11mm.

So Apple’s battery capacity being 40% smaller than Belkin’s (11 versus 18.5) kinda makes sense when you see that it’s because it’s 35% thinner.

End notes

All in all, maybe someone like Belkin will release their Qi2 and it’ll be faster, more energy dense, less hot than Apple’s, and have USB-C, but even then at least as of April 2024 it will still lack the super handy OS-level battery status, as well as reverse-charging. Maybe Apple will add those in iOS 18 and will be well in the world, or maybe Apple will surprise us all and release a new, USB-C MagSafe battery pack.

(Also, my one criticism of all battery packs is they and the iPhone really need a magnet connection near the bottom too, right now the top-half is secure but the bottom half can just swing around. That part kinda makes me miss old school battery cases.)