ZNAPS Brings Reversible Magnetic Chargers to Any Phone
One of the most tangible benefits of the upcoming USB Type-C connection standard is the fact that it is reversible, meaning that it doesn’t matter which way up the connector is when you plug it in. iPhone users have had this functionality since Apple’s proprietary Lightning adapter was introduced back in 2012, and it’s something that many users in the Android camp envy. Unfortunately, USB Type-C won’t begin to arrive on phones until later this year, but a Kickstarter project aims to deliver a clever solution to the sometimes fiddly charging experience.
ZNAPS is a small adapter that fits on to the existing plug on your charging cable and coverts it into a reversible magnetic connection, without removing any functionality. It’s comprised of two parts; the “adapter” that fits over the plug at the end of your micro USB cable, and the small “connector” that fits into the charging port on your phone, with both of these units connected by a magnet. The connector is designed to stay permanently in your phone, and so has an understandably small footprint to ensure that it doesn’t get in the way.
Both parts are removable of course, meaning that you can swap the ZNAPS between your devices and cables, and the design also features a neat little LED, to helpfully indicate when the unit is actively charging your device. Pleasingly, Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0 isn’t affected by this extra buffer between your phone and the mains, and so there’s no reason to suspect that other quick charging implementations like Oppo’s VOOC will be either. It’s an elegantly simple solution overall with a lot of promise, turning your phone charger into a mini-magsafe clone.
There are a few advantages to this design beyond its reversible nature of course. Firstly, and as demonstrated in the slightly cheesy video, you can plug your phone in way more easily, and with one hand. As soon as you get the two parts close to each other, they snap together, meaning that you don’t even necessarily need to look at what you’re doing. Secondly, it adds an element of safety, due to the magnets disconnecting in the event of a sharp tug on your charging cable, instead of ripping out your micro USB port, snapping the cable itself, or launching your phone across the room.
There’s also another dubious advertised advantage, that being ‘waterproofing’. The ZNAPS is claimed to prevent water from entering the device through the charging port by simply plugging it, and there’s even a small section of the video showing an iPhone being half dipped in to a bowl of water to prove it. The key word there is ‘half’; obviously this won’t stop entering through any of the other holes in your device, so if you do submerge your phone accidentally, you’ll find this ‘advantage’ very limited. If the rest of your phone is waterproof, either your charging port is already waterproof, or it’s covered by a rubberized flap, which when opened will expose other entry points even if the micro USB port is covered.
This adapter is designed to fit into any phone due to its minimal form factor, and the project has even considered the different kinds of cases that a user might be using, claiming that the ZNAPS is compatible with them all. The page itself is almost entirely dedicated to images of iPhones, which simplifies the look somewhat, and it will be interesting to see what in the Android world won’t work with the tiny adapter, considering the countless designs out there. Particularly concerning to me is the use-case mentioned earlier, where the waterproofing flaps on some devices mean that the charging port is not flush with the edge of the device – I’m not sure that the ZNAPS will fit into my Xperia Z1 for example. However, the adapter truly is minuscule, so in the vast majority of cases it looks as if this won’t be an issue.
The ZNAPS is also encouragingly cheap too; adapters and connectors are available separately via a “custom pledge” for $8 and $3 respectively, or in a number of pre-selected packs at different prices, starting from $9 for the pair. You can choose how many of either you’d like, meaning that you can fit them around whatever your charging setup is. There’s an optional portable container too, in the form of a clear cylindrical key chain in case you want to carry one of the adapters out and about. Physical units are shown in the video, meaning that prototypes do exist and that the product works in real life, which is especially useful given the amount of vapor-ware present on any crowdfunding site. The project has today passed its funding goal of $120,000, and still has 27 days to go, so if all goes well the product is expected to start shipping in December, just in time for Christmas.
All things told, this looks like a clever little invention that performs a useful purpose and doesn’t cost the earth. It’s clearly popular for those exact reasons, will probably continue to develop, and will hopefully support USB Type-C connections in the future. Of course, the best scenario for the consumer is for smartphone manufacturers to take note and implement this idea into their own designs, where phones could simply have a magnetic spot on their base where the charger could stick itself to. Of course, that would start to bring issues like charger compatibility back into the open, a problem that the ZNAPS doesn’t face, but in the future, you would hope that all devices could be charged this easily. What do you think? Does the ZNAPS do enough to earn your pledge?