Are Cheap MagSafe-Like Adapters for USB-C Worthwhile?
Much as I’m amazed by the performance of my M1-based MacBook Air, I miss MagSafe. And by MagSafe, I mean the original MagSafe charging plug technology that Apple introduced in 2006 on the first MacBook Pro. Inspired by magnetic power connectors in deep fryers and Japanese countertop cooking appliances, MagSafe made it trivially easy to plug and unplug the power connector.
The big win of the breakaway magnetic connector was that you couldn’t trip over a power cord and damage the power jack or pull the MacBook onto the floor. I can’t say if MagSafe ever saved me from such a calamity, but I appreciated using it for many years across several MacBook models. There was something so utterly satisfying about pushing the power plug toward the MagSafe jack and having it latch on with a solid thunk. Equally gratifying was being able to grab a MacBook off the desk with the merest wiggle to detach it from power.
The main complaint I ever heard about MagSafe came when Apple weakened the magnets in MagSafe 2. Several people accidentally disconnected the connector and pushed it up onto the MacBook just as they closed the screen onto it, breaking the screen. Andy Ihnatko also once complained to me that MagSafe connectors tended to get disconnected when working on soft surfaces like messy hotel beds. Regardless, MagSafe was justifiably popular with most people.
Apple’s desire to move to a single jack that could do double-duty for power and communications was the beginning of the end for MagSafe. USB-C offers those capabilities with a generally well-designed connector that is both slim and bidirectional. The only thing USB-C is not is magnetic.
Happily, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman has published rumors suggesting that Apple plans to bring MagSafe-like charging back to the MacBook Pro line when it releases the next high-end models based on Apple silicon. But that won’t do those of us with an M1-based MacBook Air or MacBook Pro any good.
Enter Magnetic Charging Nubbins
There is a fix for people like me, who don’t plan to buy a new MacBook Pro purely for a better charging experience. Thanks to Marc Zeedar, who recommended one of these products in TidBITS Talk, for turning me on to this product category.
Magnetic charging nubbins, which are readily available on Amazon from a variety of random Chinese manufacturers, have two parts. A tiny USB-C nubbin sticks out slightly from the side of the laptop, and an L-shaped magnetic connector connects to your existing USB-C charging cable on one side and grabs onto the nubbin with the other.
There are two types of these connectors for sale, those that support both power and 10 Gbps data transfer, and those that focus on charging, supporting just USB 2.0-level data transfer. I think relying on a magnetic connection for any data transfer is a terrible idea—it’s far too easy to disconnect accidentally. The data-focused magnetic nubbins are also quite a bit larger since they need more pins, so they may block two ports. I can’t recommend them.
However, for about $20, you can get a two-pack of the power-focused magnetic nubbins with support for up to 100-watt charging. Marc Zeedar recommended this set from Anmone, whereas I ended up buying a seemingly identical set from Fonken because they came in black and white instead of just black. (I thought the color difference might help distinguish between the charging cables for Tonya’s 2016 MacBook Pro and my M1-based MacBook Air.)
In real-world usage, the magnetic nubbins are as simple as I’ve described. I plugged the nubbin into one of the USB-C ports on my M1-based MacBook Air, plugged the L-shaped magnetic connector into my USB-C charging cable, and then slapped the two together to make a charging connection. A little blue LED illuminated to show the connection had been made correctly, and the MacBook Air made its happy little bong noise to indicate it was slurping down power. Disconnecting from power was just as easy as it ever was with the old MagSafe—I just hold the power connector down as I pick up the MacBook Air. Check out my quick video to see it in action.
In all honesty, the user experience with the magnetic nubbin isn’t as good as Apple’s MagSafe. Either the magnets aren’t quite as strong, or the “outie” design of the magnetic nubbin means that it’s more readily subjected to shearing forces that break the connection. The old MagSafe ports were “innies,” which made their connections a bit more secure. The other problem is that the standard Apple USB-C charging cable is thicker and less flexible than the old MagSafe charging cable. That makes it a little harder to connect successfully since the magnetic connector has to align perfectly with the nubbin, and it’s more likely to be disconnected by movement.
I also don’t love the L-shaped design. Apple went back and forth on that, with both a T-shaped design that had the cable perpendicular to the edge of the laptop and an L-shaped design that routed the cable parallel to the edge of the laptop. I preferred the T-shaped design before, too—it just feels more natural to me.
Another slight downside is that the nubbin is small enough that it’s a touch tricky to extract from the USB-C port if you need the port for something else. It’s not that hard, but it can be a little frustrating if you just cut your fingernails. I also wouldn’t be surprised if some percentage of them broke—for $10 each, I don’t expect high-end manufacturing.
Finally, some have noted that only one side of the L-shaped adapter has an LED, rendering it harder to determine if it’s connected when the LED is facing down. While I understand the criticism, I consider it more of a feature than a bug, since there are times—hotel rooms while traveling, notably—when I cover overly bright LEDs with carefully placed socks.
All that said, after a few weeks of usage, Tonya and I are happy with the magnetic charging nubbins on both of our laptops. If you’ve been missing MagSafe as well, I think they’re worthwhile, given how inexpensive they are.
Glad I could inspire you to write this, Adam!
And I agree exactly with your conclusions – never use a magnetic connector for data, and while these nubbins aren’t perfect, they’re quite nice for the price.
One tiny niggle to add. While I love that they connect with any orientation (convenient depending on the direction of your power cable), mine only have an LED charging indicator on one side, so sometimes it ends up upside-down and you can’t see it. In those cases I tend to listen for the Mac’s “connected” charging ping, but sometimes that’s hard to hear, and the lightning bolt on the menubar icon can be too small to see.
Also, twice I had mine connected (light was on), but my computer didn’t seem to be charging, but that is rare and a tiny adjustment to the connector made it start charging.
Overall I am very pleased with these and they make connecting my Macs to charge much easier, and when I want to grab a laptop and go somewhere else, it’s trivial and I don’t have to muck with USB-C (which tends to plug in quite firmly).
A good point about the LED, and I should add that in. I actually see it as a feature because there are times (hotel rooms) where I really don’t want the LED to be super bright, and having it pointed down might dim it sufficiently that I don’t have to put a sock over it.
Volta cables are definitely worth checking out as well. I just picked up one of their new 100W Spark cables and usb-c tips and it works great. They also have a lifetime guarantee. The price is a little steep, but overall it’s a quality magsafe alternative.
I wouldn’t call 20€ cheap. But the MagSafe-Like adaptor was the first accessory I bought for the Air. I use the laptop on the lap so the adaptor is absolutely necessary.
Mine is a bit larger than the ones shown here which means that I can only use one port. The nubbins aren’t easily detachable from the laptop.
The connection to my headset isn’t good and sometimes the headset loses connection.
Agreed, never understood the calamity of those complaining about the loss of mag-safe charging when you could buy one of the many alternatives.
But looking at the new Apple Silicon SoC power usage, rapid charging and all day and then some battery life; makes me wonder if it’s only ever going to be plugged in at night or maybe during lunch and that is it. Reports of 20 hours on the 13" MBP M1 while under load even. Reports of the battery lasting days with casual usage patterns. The need to plug it in to use it will be virtually gone.
When the next generation of processors ship and Apple delivers even more performance while maintaining the same power efficiency I won’t be able to pull my wallet out fast enough. I was going to build an AMD Threadripper workstation but decided to wait for GPU’s. Well that was a mistake and now the CPU’s are 2-3X MSRP as well. I bet Apple won’t have any problems delivering product when they ship.
From what I’ve seen, we are witnessing a massive disruption on par with the iPhone and iPad. It will take a long time for PC’s to catch up. Merely using an ARM design won’t be enough. Apple has at least a decade head start and the Apple Silicon is not an ARM design but merely an ARM clone that can run the ARM instruction set and it does it better than most other designs.
Right after I bought my new MacBook Air M1 I almost pulled it off a table by tripping over the power cable. I decided that I was going to figure out a MagSafe solution. I ended up buying a two Ansbell Magnetic USB C Adapter, 9Pins Magnetic Adapter for $19.99 each. I liked the l shape connecter and they work great for both power and USB. I also bought a two-pack of USB-c to USB adaptors for my legacy headphones and other older USB accessories. With the adaptors, they are a bit Rube Goldberg but it’s worth it not worrying about tripping and dropping my new MacBook Air which btw I just love!
Here’s what I bought:
I’ve had two of these adapters. Both stopped working in fairly short order for no apparent reason, so I’m reluctant to buy another. My newer Air is superior to my old one in every other way, but I really, really miss the MagSafe charger.
I have backed a number of Magsafe style cables through Kickstarter. The best I have found is from https://chargeasap.com. They stand behind their product, their current cable, the Infinity series, comes with a 15 year warranty. Some of their original cables had some issues with their pins, but this is their fourth incarnation, and they have learned a lot. My favorite feature is you can get different tips, so one cable can be used with lightning (iPhone, iPad), USB-C (new portables), and Micro USB (Android stuff). And the latest iteration has stronger magnets.
Granted, they are not cheap, but in the long run, are less expensive than constantly having to replace cables or accidentally breaking your device due to tripping over a cable.
For my macbook pro is searched and found on Amazon a great mag adapter tradename Upmely for about $ 20
Has strong magnet, and IF one picks a usb cable carefully, does not block adjacent port.
And it works in both directions with with a green light on outside to show charging/use
Have only used it for charging
As an alternative for a M1 MacBook Air, maybe consider a compatible USB-c battery pack. To avoid draping the power cable through an area where it could be kicked or tugged.
A battery pack is also more versatile to charge phones etc.
Great to find this….glad I’m a TidBits subscriber. I’ve been trying to sort out which of these options to get for the MacBook I just bought on a Costco Black Friday deal. I should have looked at TidBits first.
So I went to chargeasap.com, impressive product. There’s a Black Friday 50% off deal right now (BF2021 is the code), so I have no gripes (other than the $9 shipping fee!). I ordered.
Thanks for the recommendation @luisc. The company has some excellent Cyber Monday deals (and an enlightened approach to shipping outside the US), so I’ve ordered a cable.
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