A third-party MagSafe solution?

Last month, I lamented the lack of third-party power accessories compatible with the MagSafe connector on Apple’s current laptops. Evidently, the MagSafe connector is patented technology and Apple has thus far not licensed the use of that technology to other vendors.

As I noted in that article, this is unfortunate because it means products such as Kensington’s slim AC/DC power adapters and iGo’s juice70 —which let you use a single power adapter with several devices; charge multiple devices simultaneously; and work with AC wall outlets, car accessory jacks, and airline-seat (EmPower) DC power ports—are incompatible with MacBooks and MacBook Pros. As are products such as Lind’s power packs, which offer up to 8 hours of power. (Apple’s MagSafe Airline Adapter is available, but it doesn’t work with automobile power jacks and it adds yet another piece of gear to your laptop bag.)

Soon after writing that article, I received an email from Mike Lee (a.k.a., Mikegyver) of MCT, Inc., informing me that his company provides versions of the Kensington and iGo products that feature MagSafe connectors. How? By harvesting Apple’s AC adapters for the MagSafe connector itself and then grafting that connector onto the third-party power product. Since MCT is using Apple’s own part—and getting that part from an adapter purchased from Apple—the company isn’t infringing on Apple’s patent. The downside to this approach is that MCT’s versions of products are more expensive, since each requires the purchase of Apple’s AC adapter and the desired power accessory.

Another option, if you’ve already got one of these universal adapters, is to instead buy just a MagSafe cable extension. Interested, I asked Mike to send us a loaner cable for Kensington’s 120 Watt Notebook AC/DC Power Adapter , which we had here in the office. A few days later I received a padded envelope containing the MagSafe connector and cable from an Apple AC adapter, but the main power block was nowhere to be found. In its place was a connector that fits the “N2” tip accessory for Kensington’s adapter. (The N2 tip was also included, although it’s normally a separate purchase, either from MCT or from Kensington.) To use the cable, I just plugged one end of the N2 tip into the MCT-assembled cable and the other into the Kensington adapter itself.

MCT assembles these hybrid cables by hand—most are produced by Mike himself—and I was impressed by the professional appearance. Although the true test of any cable is how well its “joints” hold up over time, the MCT cable feels quite sturdy. The company offers a 90-day warranty on all products it produces, although Mike told me that he’s been “known to continue to support [his] users after that period.” (The Kensington and iGo products, which aren’t modified by the procedure, include their original one-year and two-year manufacturer warranties, respectively.)

When I plugged the MagSafe-ified Kensington adapter into either a standard AC outlet or the accessory (“cigarette lighter”) jack in my car, my MacBook Pro was powered as expected. (Unfortunately, I didn’t have any plane trips planned, so I couldn’t test the setup with an airplane power port, but I expect it would work just fine, given that the Kensington adapter’s airline and car connections use the same attachment.) As an added bonus, the use of Apple’s own cable adds another 40 inches to the length of the Kensington adapter’s own cord, giving you plenty of reach when plugging in at home or on-the-go. The only odd behavior I experienced is that after unplugging the MagSafe connector from my MacBook Pro, the connector’s green light stayed lit for thirty seconds or so; a Q&A page on MCT’s Web site claims this is normal behavior when using the MagSafe connector with some third-party adapters.

As I mentioned above, the biggest drawback of MCT’s MagSafe products is price. For example, MCT’s MagSafe version of Kensington’s 120 Watt AC/car/airplane adapter is currently on sale for $210 (normally $230). But keep in mind that MCT has to purchase both the $140 Kensington adapter and Apple’s $79 MagSafe Power Adapter in order to build the hybrid product. Similarly, the MagSafe version of the iGo juice70 is $200, but requires that MCT obtain the $120 juice70 and Apple’s adapter. Knowing this doesn’t make the MCT products any more affordable, but at least you know where most of the cost comes from. And one of these universal adapters doesn’t cost much more than buying separate travel adapters for AC and DC.

The cable I tested sells for $110 (although you also need the N2 tip if you don’t already have it, which is another $10), but if you send your original, in-good-condition MagSafe adapter—which you presumably no longer need—to MCT afterwards, the company will refund you $65. (MCT will use the MagSafe connector/cable from your adapter for the next customer, which is why it must be in good condition.)

MCT also offers their own AC/car/airplane power kit for $145 ($60 if you return your own adapter), as well as a number of other combinations of adapter-conversions and MagSafe power packages, too many to list here. The company even offers a $10 do-it-yourself manual for those skilled in wiring and soldering. Suffice it to say that if you’re desperate for MagSafe accessories, MCT probably offers something that will interest you. And if you’re a road warrior who wants the convenience of a universal power adapter for your MagSafe-equipped laptop, MCT’s products are currently the only game in town.

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