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This Wireless Backup Battery Is Only Worth It If You're All in on Apple

Illustration for article titled This Wireless Backup Battery Is Only Worth It If Youre All in on Apple
Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

It’s not a bad idea to keep a tiny backup battery in your bag for dead smartphone emergencies, but Satechi’s new Quatro is a little big for your every day carry. As a travel accessory, however, it could conveniently replace a rat’s nest of charging cables and wall warts if you’re an iPhone user with an Apple Watch on your wrist, and AirPods in your pocket.

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As power banks go, Satechi’s Quatro is neither the cheapest nor the smallest 10,000 mAh portable charger you can buy. You can get a more compact 10,000 mAh battery from Anker for just $20 these days, so why spend $80 more for Satechi’s solution with a bulkier footprint? Ironically, convenience.

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Whereas Anker’s $20 solution features just a single USB-C and USB-A port, Satechi’s Quatro includes both of those plus a wireless charging pad that works with any Qi-compatible device, and a magnetic Apple Watch charger because, for whatever reason, the Apple Watch doesn’t play by all the Qi standard’s rules. From my testing the Quatro can charge up to four devices at one time, including a laptop—very, very slowly—so you’ll need to be strategic about which approach you’ll use to charge your various devices: wired vs. wireless.

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A rounded design and a polished frame are reminiscent of the design of previous-generation iPhones.
Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

Announced before the iPhone 12 line was officially revealed, the Satechi Quatro features a design reminiscent of previous generation iPhones, with a glossy rounded frame that’s eager to collect finger prints, and relatively easy to scratch because it’s made of plastic, not metal. The choice of materials presumably helps lighten an already hefty accessory, and it’s doubtful that even someone who obsessively takes care of their smartphone would bat an eye at their portable charger getting all scratched up.

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The Quatro’s wireless charging pads need to be turned on by double-tapping this button. The USB ports start charging automatically when a device is plugged in,
Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

On one edge you’ll find a button that activates the Quatro’s battery meter for checking how much charge is left on the power bank, but it’s also used to turn on the wireless charging functionality. Charging starts automatically whenever a device is plugged into one of the Quatro’s USB ports, but the Qi and Apple Watch charging pads only work when this button is double-pressed. Double-pressing it again turns wireless charging off, or it will turn off automatically after an hour without a device wirelessly drawing power.

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Four LEDs are used to indicate the Quatro’s remaining charge level, but for $100 a more accurate readout would be nice.
Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

Four LEDs that light up in sequence are used to indicate the Quatro’s remaining charge level, but for $100 I’d have preferred something with a little more accuracy, like a tiny OLED display giving a precise percentage of the power bank’s remaining charge. A fifth LED turns on and glows blue when the Quatro’s wireless charging is turned on, and switches to orange when a device is actually drawing a charge.

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As convenient as wireless charging is, Satechi’s Quatro isn’t exactly a speed demon in that department. Its Qi pad musters just 5-watts of power. By comparison, if you bought a new iPhone 12 or 12 Pro, Apple’s new MagSafe wireless charger delivers 15-watts of power, while Satechi itself sells wireless charging pads that pump out as much as 10-watts for certain devices. The more watts you can deliver the faster a device will charge, so if you’re pressed for time you’ll actually be better off connecting a smartphone or tablet to the Quatro’s USB-C PD (power delivery) port which can deliver up to 18-watts.

Depending on the model, the power bank’s USB-C port could charge a dead iPhone to about 50% battery life in just 30 minutes, and you can expect to get two or three full smartphone charges out of it depending on the approach you use. Wireless charging still produces excess heat, which is essentially wasted power. So as convenient as the Qi pad is, you’ll always be better off using a USB cable.

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Properly aligning a smartphone on the Quatro’s wireless charging coil can take a few attempts to get right.
Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

Unlike wireless charging pads such as the Zens Liberty that uses an array of coils so you can plop a device down almost anywhere on its surface and know it will start charging, the Quatro has a very specific sweet spot that usually requires some minor repositioning to get your smartphone properly aligned and charging. That’s not an issue with the Apple Watch, however, as the very specific design of that charging pad uses magnets to ensure the smartwatch is always perfectly aligned. A future version of the Quatro that incorporates Apple’s new MagSafe design to achieve the same auto-align functionality would be a very welcome upgrade here.

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A subtle curve on the Quatro’s wireless charging pad means naked smartphones with smooth back panels tend to easily spin when bumped, potentially misaligning the charging coils.
Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

The alignment challenges also aren’t helped by the very subtle curve across the surface of the Quatro’s wireless charging pad. An iPhone wrapped in a silicone case stayed put, but a naked iPhone 8, with its very smooth glass back, tended to easily spin if bumped, which occasionally misaligned the charging coils. The surface of the Quatro does feature a slightly rubbery finish, but it doesn’t make enough contact with a naked iPhone to keep it in place. Is it a dealbreaker? No, because you should all be using a case with your smartphones anyways.

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When you break down its features one by one, the Satechi seems like a hard sell. Its wireless charging pad is relatively slow, the only smartwatch it can wirelessly charge is the Apple Watch, aligning a device with its charging coil can be finicky, and $100 is a lot to pay for 10,000 mAh of power. Yet you can charge up to four devices at once (or three plus the Quatro itself when it’s plugged into an outlet) making it a compelling alternative to a multi-port wall charger if you travel a lot because you can top up multiple devices at once without scrambling to find an available power outlet. If you’re a devoted Apple user, the Quatro as a whole is an appealing way to keep battery life stresses at bay.

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  • It’s not cheap. For $100 you can actually buy five 10,000 mAh power banks from the competition.
  • The Quatro can only wirelessly charge the Apple Watch. Other smartwatches will require you to plug in their own proprietary charging adapters to one of the power bank’s USB ports.
  • Only pumps 5-watts of power wirelessly, which is slow compared to other wireless charging pads, including Apple’s new MagSafe.
  • USB-C PD port pumps 18-watts of power, which is a better option for quickly charging a phone or wireless earbuds. It can also be used to charge larger electronics like laptops, as long as you’re not in a rush.
  • Aligning your smartphone with the Quatro’s hidden charging coil can be challenging, some sort of graphical alignment target would have helped. And if you’re using a naked smartphone with a smooth glass back, the subtle curve of the Quatro’s wireless charging pad means your device will easily spin, potentially accidentally misaligning the charging coils.
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