Nov 07 2011

TwelveSouth PlugBug Review

TwelveSouth has taken the Apple mantra “Think Different” about as seriously as anybody in the accessory field.

According to TwelveSouth:

“Our small company (less than 12 employees) plans to introduce 12 unique, must-have Mac accessories each year that will be as innovative as Apple itself. Bold, new accessories that are designed to protect, personalize, improve performance and enhance the Apple experience. Focused on design and function, each new product we develop will be for Mac only. Period. If a PC user wants to use our products, they’ll have to buy a Mac.
We are here to please the true Mac fan because the best computers in the world deserve the best accessories in the world. That’s what we intend to do.”

Their commitment to being Mac only pretty much ensures that they are dedicated to aesthetics as well as operation. This approach has always made me pay a bit more attention to their products. While many of their products have made me go “hmmm” and raise my eyebrows, it wasn’t until the BookBook hit that I mentally promoted them to “need” status.

When the PlugBug landed on my desk for review it got me started on a little more intense scrutiny of TwelveSouth. So far, I like what I see.

I am the kind of person that has multiple chargers for almost all the electronics I own. Sometimes it was intentional but often it has come about because I got to my destination and my power supply didn’t.

There are numerous reasons for this, not the least of which comes from having three daughters that know where I stow my gear. These same sweet, precious girls are better at borrowing than returning.

My general solution for this is to have a charger for all my important electronics stored in my briefcase. I don’t use these chargers on a daily basis , but they are my power sources on the road.

The downside of this is too much crap in my case, too much weight on my shoulder and a constant interest in paring things down.

For me the PlugBug was an immediate “aha!” moment as I pictured pulling another power supply out of my bag of tricks for good.

As with most great ideas, the PlugBug is that kind of slap your forehead obvious that is so elegant it is amazing no one thought of it before. The PlugBug slots into the same place that the AC prongs or AC extension cord fit into on your Mac power supply. It then adds a USB port that supplies 10 watts of USB power to drive your devices.

Because the spec for the USB bus defines it to be 5 volts and a maximum of 500 milliamps of draw you are limited to 2.5 watts. This figure is why you will see the 10 Watt supplies being quoted as being up to 4 times faster than charging from a computers USB port. As usual, this is a simplification but does give an indication of the capabilities of the charger. Given that this 10 watt capability is the same that Apple applies to their stand alone power supply it is a pretty good place to set expectations.

My first test of the PlugBug was using it compared to the Apple charger. Two original iPads were charged from completely dead to 100% using each charger. The time for both was practically identical at 4 hours each, so the PlugBug is perfectly in line with the Apple charger.

Comparing the PlugBug to the USB port on a 2011 MacBook Pro yielded a bit different results. The same completely dead iPad took right at 5 hours. Of course the previous 15″ MacBook Pro I owned would not charge my iPad at all, so the PlugBug is better than a current MacBook and LOTS better than previous generations.

The construction quality of the PlugBug is excellent. Fit and finish of the pieces slide perfectly against the curve of my Mac’s power supply and the red color adds a whimsical touch to the utilitarian white of the supply. The length of the apparatus really demands that the supply plugs into the lower outlet but the way it sits does not impede plugging anything into the second outlet.

The pictures you typically see of the PlugBug are of it attached to a MacBook Air power supply and it matches perfectly with that supply. Unfortunately, I have a MacBook Pro and the PlugBug sort of stair steps in the way it connects to the power supply.

This did not bother me once I actually began to use the PlugBug, but I did have a smooth unbroken shape in my mind from the pictures I saw initially advertising the PlugBug. At the end of the day the shape of the total package doesn’t really matter but the OCD side of me almost wants there to be a couple of versions of this to match up with the different size Apple power supplies.


The Apple power supply for the iPad is $29 so the PlugBug is not much more at $35 although the PlugBug lacks the USB sync cable and the 6 foot extension. How much is the gadget factor worth to you?

For me the gadget factor and the convenience of having that high output USB power spigot is powerful. Having it attached to my Mac power supply means that I can (hopefully) not forget it when I am on the road.

To me, the PlugBug is a winner. I love the build quality of it and the operational functionality is exactly as advertised. Two thumbs up.

TwelveSouth PlugBug $35 (currently free shipping)

Twelve South LLC
357 North Shelmore Boulevard, Suite 200
Mount Pleasant, SC 29464-6707

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