ShiftCam SnapGrip Review: MagSafe Enriches Mobile Photography
Smartphone photography is taking dramatic leaps forward with every product cycle, but what often gets glossed over is the act of shooting. The ShiftCam SnapGrip is attempting to make mobile photography a richer experience.
While the SnapGrip is clearly most at home on iPhones with MagSafe built-in (the iPhone 12 and 13 series at the time of publication), there is a magnetic sticker inside the box which can be affixed to any phone, if you so dare. While a number of smartphone accessory makers rushed to build ecosystems of products based around MagSafe, there hasn’t been anything quite like the SnapGrip.
The SnapGrip does not make its foray alone either, as ShiftCam has started a small ecosystem of magnetically-compatible accessories working together. In this review, I take a look at the SnapGrip, the SnapLight, and the SnapPod.
The SnapGrip is essentially a flat, MagSafe-compatible dock with a thick, protruding hand grip built on the right side. It measures 4.5 inches long (114 millimeters) by 3.25 inches tall (82.6 millimeters) at the grip. The thinnest points of the dock are 0.25 inches in depth (6.4 millimeters), and the grip is 1.25 inches deep (31.8 millimeters). There’s enough room on the grip for all my fingers to fit when held in a shooting position, and the depth is not too bad for a solid hold.
It weighs 4.9 ounces (140 grams) — which is certainly something — but considering it hosts a 3,200 mAh battery for on-the-go charging, it’s lighter than I first thought it would be. That comes down to the materials. A couple of rubber areas come into contact with the mounted phone. Otherwise, everything you see is plastic. I thought this was a little deceptive as the grip has the textured appearance of a rubber-coated grip, but it’s actually hard plastic.
Looking over the Kickstarter campaign, I didn’t see this clarified, and I think that will cause disappointment from backers once it arrives. Overall, it’s a little cheap feeling, and I believe a rubberized grip could have stepped up this impression.
The full-sized shutter button at the top of the grip is placed with a little slant for better ergonomics and the click when it’s pressed down is pretty satisfying. Next to the shutter button is a smaller circular button for turning on the SnapGrip’s Qi wireless charging.
On the backside of the grip are four super-bright LEDs to indicate the battery level, one light to show if it’s powered on, and one light to indicate Bluetooth pairing with the phone. On the bottom side of the grip is an exposed USB-C charging port. Next to that is a tiny hole for sticking a pin in there and resetting the device in case of malfunction. Whether it’s good manners or a lack of confidence, my test unit came with a SIM card tool in the box that fits right in there.
One of the most glaring build quality issues with my testing sample is that the magnet meant to hold the SnapGrip accessories came off. The adhesive couldn’t deal with the force applied when removing accessories from it. Before I even alerted ShiftCam, the company sent over an email detailing problems experienced with pre-production samples and the changes that will be made to production models to fix them. In this case, the painted surface underneath the adhesive meant it couldn’t be appropriately secured. ShiftCam stated that the version customers would receive won’t be painted under the magnetic ring.
I can only report on what I have, so you’ll have to take ShiftCam’s word for it.
The SnapLight features the connector magnet on one side and a small ring light on the other. Inside the ring light is a selfie mirror with slight wide-angle distortion, and the whole light is based on a hinge so that it can pull away from the mounting point and face either direction. It has an internal battery that charges through a USB-C port on the device so it can work independently from the SnapGrip. To be clear, though, while it can connect directly to an iPhone’s MagSafe on the back, it does not work as a battery pack to charge the phone.
The build quality of the SnapLight matches the SnapGrip. The hinge used is easy to manipulate but does come at the cost of not staying in place if there’s a lot of vibration or motion happening while it’s extended. There are a couple of notches that keep it in place in the closed position.
Another accessory for the SnapGrip is the SnapPod. This tabletop tripod and magnetic mount can work with the SnapGrip, the SnapLight, or by itself connecting to just the phone. When the SnapPod legs are folded, it works as a short selfie stick. It features a built-in ball head that allows for leveling the connector arm.
This is the accessory that feels the worst. Like the SnapGrip, the textured part of the tripod is not really the grippy rubber that it appears to be but is actually plastic. The legs of the tripod feel cheap and the hinge to set them at an angle has a low-quality feel. The whole thing creaks when it’s manipulated and has nasty feeling plastic edges.
It is not a good product experience.
The top part that features the magnetic holder is fine, and to ShiftCam’s credit, it can be detached from the SnapPod tripod and used on any other tripod with its built-in 1/4-inch threading. As an alternative, I’d recommend the Manfrotto PIXI Mini Table Top Tripod, which isn’t that expensive, has a much better build quality and ball head design, and is exactly what I wish the SmartGrip was.
One other issue with my review sample is that the built-in ball head cannot tightly hold the weight of a phone and other SnapGrip accessories. ShiftCam stated that this would be fixed in production models and is caused by smooth paint applied to the ball head. The company plans to have the ball head textured with no paint in the production models.
As before, I can only report on my experience, and you’ll have to take ShiftCam’s word on this.
In the Field and At Home
Due to the magnetic nature of these accessories, using the SnapGrip ecosystem is simple. I don’t imagine most people will leave these accessories attached to their phones full-time, but that’s okay because they all just snap into place when needed and pull off when done.
The magnet is at its strongest when it comes to shearing force. Trying to slide the phone off laterally against the SnapGrip is challenging to do casually, which is great. The easiest way to get the phone off the SnapGrip is to peel it from the grip side because you get some leverage off the MagSafe side where the phone overhangs. This would be how the magnets are weakest, but it’s still good enough to where I never felt the need to totally baby the kit. Yes, you’ll always need to keep in mind that it’s held together by magnets, but it’s not such a distraction that it gets in the way of enjoyment.
The SnapGrip pairs with a phone over Bluetooth and once it has been set up, the phone should remember the connection for the next time it’s on. The shutter button is mapped to the volume up button on the iPhone, so the functionality will match the characteristics of that on a per-app basis.
That means inside the Camera app, a short press in Photo mode will be a single picture, and a long hold will be a burst. When creating an Instagram Story or using Snapchat, a short press takes a photo, and a long hold records a video.
I did sense a bit of mental magic where the photo-taking experience felt less like grabbing snapshots and placed me into a more artistic frame of mind. Since I’ve been using traditional-style cameras for the last 20 years, it does make some sense why I might be conditioned that way. I don’t want to over-emphasize that because you can get into the mood regardless of the device used to create images, but it made me more readily appreciate having the SnapGrip.
As an Apple iPhone 12 mini user, I encountered problems with using multiple stacked accessories. Using the 1x rear camera, I cannot stack any additional accessories onto the SnapGrip without them appearing in the bottom right corner of the frame. The same problem occurs when using just the SnapPod and the SnapLight together. Although the 0.5x camera on this phone sits further out than the 1x camera, yes, accessories still show up prominently in the same scenarios.
Whether intentional or not, one thing I appreciate about the SnapGrip and its accessories is the number of fallbacks they have. The SnapGrip doesn’t always have to be used as a grip to handhold my phone, and I’ve used it frequently on my desk as a wireless charging dock. The phone stands vertically at an angle, and the USB-C port runs out the bottom left side to supply constant wall power.
The SnapLight is probably even more useful because there’s never a shortage of needing a small portable light somewhere. The light has four power settings, and I timed it to last 30 minutes at full power. The hinge means it can sit on a flat surface and still point out horizontally, plus it can attach to anything magnetic, and it has a mirror for a quick self-check. It’s a cool gadget to keep around.
Quick and Secure
Mobile phone accessories run the gamut between trash and treasure. Go to any electronics store, and you’ll find a discount bin with shoddily-made smartphone accessories that won’t sell, no matter the price. However, there are still mobile-focused companies that will put long-term focus and attention into something, and I get the sense that ShiftCam is trying to be more on that end. The SnapGrip is not a product without faults, but I see reasonable explanations for its downsides, and ShiftCam has promised higher quality in the production run.
Are There Alternatives?
ShiftCam also makes a product called the ProGrip and sells it for $150 with the starter kit. Like the SnapGrip, it’s a camera-style grip that attaches to a phone, but this one uses a clamp rather than MagSafe or magnets. In PetaPixel’s review, Ted Kritsonis appreciated its functionality and ultimately recommended it.
Another tool to consider is the Fjorden, but what was supposed to deliver by February has been delayed and the company is still in the pre-order phase.
My search for other smartphone grip options that worked with magnets rather than a clamp or holster came up empty.
Should You Buy It?
Yes. If ShiftCam ships the SnapGrip with all build quality issues fixed, it is a nice addition to smartphone photography. If you have an iPhone mini, be aware that stacking accessories will mean cropping images and video to get around them showing up in the pictures taken with the rear camera.
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