Let's face it: odds are good you take way more photos nowadays than you did before you had your smartphone.
After all, as the shutterbug saying goes, the best camera is the one you have on you — and ever since the advent of the iPhone 15 years ago, folks have been running around snapping pictures as though they're free (which they basically are) and going out of style (which they're certainly not).
But while our iPhones and Galaxys and Pixels may take shockingly good pictures for cameras with sensors and lenses as small as they are, the physical act of taking those pictures can leave a lot to be desired. Tapping the virtual shutter on the screen can be an awkward reach; meanwhile, pressing a hard button on the side takes enough force to throw off the shot, especially if you have a case on there. Cameras are substantive; smartphones are practically ethereal by comparison.
Of course, there's gear to fix that. And one of the newest methods of bringing some old-school camera functionality to modern-day camera phones also brings with it a handy additional feature for wielders of the latest iPhone models equipped: the ability to recharge your phone's battery using its MagSafe connection. It's called the ShiftCam SmartGrip — and while it officially ships in October, the brand sent an example our way in advance so we could put it through its paces.
What’s Good About the ShiftCam SnapGrip
It has great handfeel
I honestly had forgotten how much I missed holding a camera until I clicked the SmartGrip onto my iPhone 12 Pro. After more than a decade of snapping away pics with just a thin sliver of metal and glass in my digits, wrapping my right hand around a substantial grip felt like coming home.
Once mated to the likes of a MagSafe iPhone — a task that's as quick as connecting any other MagSafe accessory — the combo of grip-and-phone honestly feels like nothing so much as a good old-fashioned point-and-shoot. It's a sturdy enough mating that you can shoot one-handed, although I generally used a two-handed grip for security and stability — much as I generally would with a real camera. (You can also use it as a grip for any Bluetooth-enabled smartphone by attaching the included magnetic sticker to the back of said phone, but obviously, it won't charge. Which brings us to item number two...)
It serves up helpful additional battery power
ShiftCam's website doesn't provide specifics as to the size of the backup power pack in the SnapGrip, but it does claim that it "enables you to shoot up to two times more content" — and based on both the apparent size of the pack and my own experiences, that sounds about right.
It's part of a whole magnetic ecosystem
And I'm not just talking about MagSafe — although there is of course that. (The pack even works perfectly well through supported MagSafe cases, such as the ones Apple sells.) ShiftCam sells an array of accessories that also utilize MagSafe, such as a tripod and a tiny ring light flash that flips around for selfies. They're color-matched to the SnapGrip, which in turn comes in five colors — black, dark blue, light blue, beige-pink and hot pink — that seem tailor-made to match up well with many iPhone models, and you can even order them all as a package with the SnapGrip for $180 ($130 during pre-ordering, going on as of this publication).
That said, do be aware — while the website shows all three pieces working seamlessly and simultaneously, I found the magnetic connections weren't quite strong enough for them to go together well. Mine was a pre-production example, so this may be fixed by the time it officially launches, but you may have to console yourself by only using a tripod, SnapGrip or flash individually.
What’s Not Ideal About the ShiftCam SnapGrip
Connecting it to your iPhone isn't instantaneous
Well, rather, connecting it via Bluetooth isn't instantaneous. Bluetooth pairing rarely is, of course; that's not much of a surprise. But the 15–20 seconds it can take the SnapGrip to rouse itself, find your iPhone's 2.4-Ghz embrace and sync itself up with it feels like an eternity compared to the activating the grip's MagSafe connection, which takes, well as long as it takes you to hold up the back of your phone to the grip's magnetic ring. When physically connecting the peripheral (and drawing power from its battery) takes only half a second, the stopwatch clocking how long it takes for the digital connection to take hold seems to slow way down.
It's still not quite as solid in your hand as a real camera
While you can shoot one-handed, as mentioned earlier, you'll probably want to use both hands for a truly stable shot. Unlike a real point-and-shoot, it feels a bit imbalanced in your hand; packing the reserve battery into the grip throws off the center of gravity. And as strong a connection as the MagSafe provides, it's hard to ever place all your faith in it — especially when it's connected to an insanely expensive, rather delicate piece of hardware that basically operates as your second brain.
The Shiftcam SnapGrip: The Verdict
The SnapGrip isn't meant to well-and-truly bring the full feel of a camera to your iPhone; if you want that, you're better off with ShiftCam's ProGrip, which holds phones in place in a physical hug and also provides extra battery power and a DSLR-style grip.
Still, for a price that's comparable to many regular MagSafe battery packs (or in the case of our top pick, the Apple model, even more affordable), the SnapGrip brings the dual advantages of both reserve electrons and a better grip for snapping pictures. It's not a must-have for iPhone users, but if you're already debating buying a spare battery and you take a fair amount of pictures, it's a great little gadget.