Accessory brings MagSafe-style connectors back to anything with USB-C

Commentary: ThunderMag handles data, not just power, and works with any Thunderbolt or USB-C device.

Stephen Shankland Former Principal Writer
Stephen Shankland worked at CNET from 1998 to 2024 and wrote about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
5 min read
Innerexile's ThunderMag magnetic connector works will remind MacBook customers of Apple's older MagSafe technology, but it works with both Thunderbolt and USB-C devices, too, not just power cables.

Innerexile's ThunderMag magnetic connector works will remind MacBook customers of Apple's older MagSafe technology, but it works with both Thunderbolt and USB-C devices, too, not just power cables.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Update: I've had a problem with the review unit prototype I've been testing. The manufacturer and I are investigating, and we'll update when we have more information.

I'm a fan of the high-speed USB-C and Thunderbolt combination ports on all new MacBook laptops and plenty of Windows machines. But I miss MagSafe, Apple's magnetic connectors, which saved my computer from a trip to the floor more than once after I tripped over the power cord.

If you miss MagSafe too, there's some good news. I've been watching various efforts to re-create the technology for the new laptops, and the small $62 ThunderMag accessory is what I've been waiting for. Not only does it bring back that magnetic power connection, but it also works for any USB-C or Thunderbolt device, many of which never had Apple's MagSafe in the first place.

The ThunderMag has two magnetically connected halves, one that attaches to the end of a cable and one that fits in a USB-C or Thunderbolt port. I've been testing it for a week to power my MacBook Pro , transfer photos from a memory card and connect to a gigabit Ethernet network. I successfully charged my USB-C equipped iPad Pro and Android phones , too. I even used it for my Pixel 3 XL's USB-C earbuds. That's not the best use of a relatively expensive accessory, since the connector is likely to pop off in your pocket or purse, but it's a good illustration of what the ThunderMag can do.

I like the ThunderMag and what it represents: a new wave of versatile, useful accessories enabled by the USB-C technology and its more powerful competitor, Thunderbolt, which uses the same port design. Nobody likes dongles, but USB-C and Thunderbolt can handle so many duties that gradually you'll have less need for them.

See how Innerexile's ThunderMag brings back MagSafe-style connections

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We're in the midst of a golden age of USB-C charging accessories that customize what PCs, phones and tablets can do -- and make up for their shortcomings. This latest design of the venerable USB port spans mobile devices and laptops, enables faster data-transfer speeds, lifts power limits to a robust 100 watts and can serve double duty to connect video and even higher speed Thunderbolt devices. USB-C devices typically cost more than older-style USB-A devices today, but USB-C is now hitting the mainstream, which should mean more competitive pricing. And 2020's USB 4 should help advance the technology further beyond the earlier version.

You can't buy the ThunderMag yet, though you can place an order the adaptor through Indiegogo. It's $54 if you pay early-bird prices, and you can buy the two halves of the connector separately if you want, too. The usual caveats to crowdfunding sites apply here: not everything comes to fruition. Taiwanese manufacturer Innerexile has pushed back the ThunderMag ship date back, initially from April and currently to September, and raised the initial early-bird price from $39, too.

The ThunderMag's ability to handle both power and data makes it more useful than MagSafe was. But think carefully before you use it to connect devices like your camera flash card reader or your external hard drive.

It's easier to break the physical connection than with a regular USB-C or Thunderbolt cable plugged directly into the side of your computer, and the consequences of that abrupt disconnection are more severe for data than for a charger. Nobody wants to see a system backup get corrupted.

Remember MagSafe? I do

If you don't remember MagSafe, it was a convenient magnetic connection Apple built into MacBooks for years. Hovering the power cable near the MagSafe port was enough to draw it in to connect with a satisfying snap.

If somebody tripped on your power cable stretched across the floor to a power outlet, it would detach harmlessly from your computer instead of ripping out a port or yanking your laptop onto the floor.

MagSafe was genuinely handy, which is why you'll find a lot of grousing to this day about Apple's decision to move to USB-C. Sure, the ports are more versatile and you can charge your Mac with any number of third-party power adapters, but MagSafe's elegant engineering made it downright pleasurable to use.

MagSafe wasn't perfect

My fondness for MagSafe is tempered, though, and I can't say I was devastated to see Apple replace it with the adaptable USB-C and Thunderbolt ports.

First, Apple's MagSafe 2 used a connector that was skinnier and longer to work on ever-thinner laptop edges. I found it much less secure than the original MagSafe as a result. With a MacBook on my lap, my leg sometimes would push up against the power cable and disconnect it.

Yes, Innerexile's ThunderMag works on the iPad Pro's USB-C port, too.

Yes, Innerexile's ThunderMag works on the iPad Pro's USB-C port, too.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

The ThunderMag has a much beefier attachment reminiscent of the first-generation MagSafe. It hangs out over the edges of my MacBook Pro. For the security of the connection, that's fine with me.

Another problem I had was that the spring-loaded pins that made MagSafe's electrical contacts jammed. I sometimes could fix that by jabbing at it with a toothpick and blowing it with canned air, but I also had to buy a complete replacement power adapter once, and Apple was the only supplier.

I can't comment on the ThunderMag's durability yet. I've been using it for a week and haven't dragged it around in a laptop bag filled with bagel crumbs. So far, so good, though.

Crowdfunding raises more than $300,000

Innerexile, which has raised more than $300,000 through its ThunderMag crowdfunding efforts, increased the accessory's price to accommodate better hardware.

Modifications to the circuit board and mold -- changes designed to improve protection against short circuits -- raised the cost, the company said in a statement.

Innerexile has made accessories like chargers and cable adapters for years. It also offers cases and laptop protectors using a thin film that absorb shocks and self-repair in case of some scratches.

The company eventually plans to sell ThunderMag on sites like Amazon , though you may not see the discounted Indiegogo price of $62 and could see instead the listed retail price of $89.

Even at $62, the ThunderMag isn't a no-brainer purchase. But if you liked MagSafe, it may well be worth it for you.

First published July 16.
Updated July 24 to note there was a problem with our review unit that we're investigating.