Review: Twelve South PlugBug
Though it's still a relatively young company, Twelve South has developed a knack for designing accessories that appeal heavily to specific niches of Apple users. PlugBug ($30) is the latest example: it's a unique wall charger that is largely targeted at owners of Apple's MacBook computers, operating either as a standalone iPod, iPhone, or iPad wall power source, or adding a USB port to any MacBook's power adapter.
Sold in a glossy red color, PlugBug consists of two pieces. First is a rounded-cornered L-shaped box designed to connect directly to Apple’s MacBook power adapters, replacing their wall blades with its own flip-out U.S.-compatible blades. Second is a matching slide-on plate that is kept on PlugBug when it’s not connected to an Apple adapter, turning the bigger L-shaped piece into a rectangular box. When both of Twelve South’s pieces are connected to one another, PlugBug measures roughly 2.5” wide by 2.1” tall by 1.1” thick—bigger than Apple’s iPod and iPad USB Power Adapters—but if PlugBug’s attached to an Apple MacBook adapter, it only adds around 1.2” of height, maintaining the same thickness and width.
There are two net effects of combining Apple’s and Twelve South’s adapters. First, you can potentially save a wall outlet. Second, you gain an additional USB port capable of full-speed iPad charging.
Some users will scratch their heads as to the value of these features. If you have a 2011-vintage or newer Apple laptop, you may be able to charge an iPad at full speed through one of its integrated USB ports. And depending on the charging cable you’re using, the idea of keeping your iPad, iPhone, or iPad three feet away from the wall rather than closer to your computer, desk, or nightstand might not make much sense. PlugBug could have included an extra-long USB to Dock Connector cable, which would have heightened its value, but instead relies on you to supply the USB cable yourself.
It should be noted that Apple’s 10W USB Power Adapters for the iPad are sold for around the same price as PlugBug, and come with really long charging cables so that iPad users aren’t glued to their wall outlets. Apple’s top-end charger works with its less power-hungry devices, as well. Additionally, most Apple laptops over the last few years include full-speed iPhone and iPod USB charging ports, so if you don’t have an iPad, you’ll probably be fine with what you already have.
But there other people will appreciate what PlugBug does, particularly users of pre-2011 MacBooks without full-speed iPad charging capabilities, as well as frequent travelers who want to make the best possible use of limited bag space. Used with Apple’s MacBook power adapters, PlugBug is ideal for hotel rooms with few power outlets, and the fact that it can be detached at any time and used separately can be handy for situations where there are more outlets to choose from. In our testing both on trips and in the office, PlugBug worked equally well as an iPad/iPhone/iPod charger however and wherever we used it.
So is PlugBug mandatory? No. It will appeal most heavily to a very specific group of users—space-conscious travelers who own both iPads and earlier-model MacBooks without high-speed iPad charging capabilities. If you’re not in that crowd, your iPad’s included charger and/or MacBook’s built-in USB ports will suffice. But if you want a unique way to graft a powerful USB charging port onto your MacBook power adapter, PlugBug does the trick. It’s reasonably priced, has a trick up its sleeve that we haven’t seen before, and looks nice, too. PlugBug is worthy of our general recommendation.