Wireless charging via the Qi standard is not new, but Apple building it into the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X has been a big boost for the once-somnolent technology.
As a lot more Apple users are now aware, wireless charging involves placing a phone on a flat pad or upright stand for automatic power-ups, without having to plug a charging cord into the phone itself.
Wireless charging has been available in non-Apple phones for years. The Palm Pre was one of the first, Nokia-made Windows phones had it, and Samsung has consistently built the tech into its smartphones. But until recently, wireless charging has not been a must-do for handset makers. Notably, Google has omitted the feature in two generations of its flagship Pixel handsets after building Qi into older phones.
But, with wireless charging now a part of the Appleverse, Qi accessory makers are scrambling to get their products in front of iPhone owners. I have been awash in review gear — more on those products in a bit — while fielding non-stop pitches for coming wireless chargers.
One of these pending devices is from Apple. The company last year announced its AirPower, a combo charging pad roomy enough to charge a compatible iPhone, an Apple Watch Series 3, and a set of AirPods in a forthcoming Qi-compatible case. The AirPower is due sometime this year — the latest rumors point to late March.
For now, Apple is giving its blessing to a pair of third-party wireless-charging pads from Belkin and Mophie — detailed later in this article — and carries them in its online store as well as in its brick-and-mortar retail stores.
Wireless Charging Basics — Wireless charging is a nice but not necessary technology. “What’s so difficult about plugging in a charging cord?” I wrote five years ago, and I still feel that way. Even so, it’s impossible not to appreciate the simplicity of setting an iPhone on a charging pad and seeing its green charging indicator pop up.
Wireless charging may seem miraculous, but the underlying technology is not. In simplest terms, sets of coils in the handset and in the pad interact if brought close to each other, triggering a charging session via a process called electromagnetic induction. These coil sets have to be lined up just so, which makes wireless charging a bit fiddly. Apple provides a help article about proper charging techniques.
Happily, wireless charging works regardless of whether the phone has a case, generally speaking, but cases that are very thick or have a lot of metal (including battery cases) may pose a problem.
In terms of charging time, wireless charging can be on the slow side — especially compared to some wired charging. For the speediest possible charging of newer iPhones and iPads, you want Apple’s 29-watt USB-C Power Adapter along with one of its USB-C to Lightning cables, or similar (see “iPad Pro Charges Faster with MacBook Adapter and New Cable,” 27 April 2016). Wireless charging is much slower than such a setup (though roughly equal to using Apple’s dinky 5-watt adapter to charge an iPhone).
The duration of a wireless charging session is primarily determined by wattage, which ranges from 5 to 15 watts, depending on the charging pad. The greater the wattage, typically, the quicker the charge session — assuming both the phone and the charger’s wall adapter support the same wattage and are otherwise fully compatible.
Apple’s iPhones supported only 5-watt wireless charging until recently. A software update enabled 7.5-watt charging — assuming the iPhones are being used with 7.5-watt chargers. The two Apple-sanctioned chargers, Belkin’s Boost Up Wireless Charging Pad and Mophie’s Wireless Charging Base, do 7.5-watt charging.
It’s sometimes unclear which other wireless chargers also charge iPhones at 7.5 watts. Some pads with high wattages — well in excess of 7.5 watts — drop down to 5 watts when used with an iPhone, but makers don’t always make this clear. If you want to be sure you are getting the full 7.5 watts, use a charger with a clear iPhone-at-7.5-watts guarantee, like the Belkin or Mophie models.
Honestly, though, wattage is not something most people should obsess about. If you put your iPhone on a charger overnight and grab it fully juiced up in the morning, even a low wattage will do fine. Besides, tests by Matt Birchler and others show only a marginal charging-speed difference between 5 and 7.5 watts.
Choosing a Charger — Competing wireless-charging technologies once jostled for supremacy. Now Qi, backed by the Wireless Power Consortium, reigns supreme after a competitor called the Power Matters Alliance has all but collapsed.
Shopping for a wireless charger can still be confusing given a proliferation of chargers with a wide range of configurations and capabilities. Along with wattage, here are key factors to take into account:
- Design: Many chargers are simple, flat pads, but there are other options. Some chargers are angled or upright, which makes them viewing stands along with charging pads. Of these, some hold a phone in a portrait orientation and others in a landscape orientation; some can accommodate both positions.Look for design touches such as charging indicator lights and grippy surfaces that keep handsets from sliding off while they are charging. The latter can happen if a phone vibrates with an incoming call and jitters its way across the charging pad’s surface unless held in place.Some chargers are understated; others pile on the bling. Some are office and home devices; others are meant to be used on the go. You can buy Ikea furniture and lamps with built-in charging pads. High-end sedans increasingly incorporate wireless-charging pads, too. Even some desktop computers, like Acer’s Aspire S24 all-in-one, have Qi charging pads built in — which makes me wonder whether such a charger could be incorporated into the iMac’s flat metal stand.
- Juice: How are wireless chargers powered? Some have industry-standard Micro-USB or USB-C ports that can be used with just about any cable and wall adapter, which gives them extra versatility. Others (such as the two Apple-approved models) won’t work with any cable or wall adapter other than their own. Mobile chargers often incorporate battery packs for juice on the go.In many cases, wireless pads come only with cords and, maddeningly, not wall adapters. If you are expected to supply your own adapter, make sure it has a wattage comparable to that of your charging pad. Some charging pads have more stringent rules, requiring an adapter that supports Qualcomm Quick Charge tech for fast charging to work.
- Brand names: As with other tech gear, you’re usually better off with reputable brands. These include the likes of Belkin, Samsung, Satechi, and Scosche, to mention just a few. Avoid no-name sellers on Amazon.
- Price: You can score a charger for as little as $10, but name-brand models will typically cost more, up to $60. A cheap unit might cut corners, such as skimping on the charging coils or leaving out a wall adapter. Buyer beware.
- Certification: I think Apple’s blessing of third-party pads carries weight. You should also check for certification from the Wireless Power Consortium, which keeps a database of approved Qi products. Look for “certified” elsewhere in this article with Qi products I have tested that are in the database (or I have otherwise confirmed are certified and slated for addition to the database).
Apple-Recommended Chargers — Until the AirPower is here, the Apple-sanctioned 7.5-watt Belkin and Mophie products are the next best thing.
The two are similar: flat, circular surfaces with proprietary cords and wall adapters. The $59.95 Belkin Boost Up Wireless Charging Pad (certified) has a wider diameter, a charging cable that can detach from the charging pad (but not the wall adapter on the other end), and a white color that makes it stand out.
Mophie’s $59.95 Wireless Charging Base (certified) is a smaller and more understated black platter with a cord that also detaches from the plate but not the wall adapter on the other end.
Both chargers have agreeably grippy surfaces. They work as advertised. Apple likes them. There isn’t much more to say.
Other Flat Chargers — In the universe of wireless chargers, the flat ones appear to be the most common. Here are a few I liked the most:
Satechi’s $34.99 Aluminum Wireless Charger (certified) is a lovely aluminum platter with chamfered edges in a range of colors. Its striking appearance makes me forgiving about its slippery surface, so maybe keep your iPhone off vibrate while it’s charging on this pad. It doesn’t include a wall adapter.
It does have a charging light, but with a big gotcha for iPhone users: the indicator won’t go from blue to green when the charging session is finished, as it does with other handsets. You’ll also notice this annoyance with other chargers, such as RAVPower and Samsung models described further on.
The Satechi will charge at 9 watts with compatible phones. With iPhones, though, it does only 5 watts and not the full 7.5 watts Apple handsets support.
Aukey’s $24.99 LC-Qi Wireless Fast Charger looks a bit like a jumbo guitar pick. It charges at up to 10 watts with non-Apple handsets, but the maker confirms iPhones will only charge at 5 watts. The unit connects via a USB-C port and includes a cable but not a wall adapter. The charger also has a cooling fan, but I never heard it activate. It might only turn on when charging non-Apple handsets at higher and hotter wattages.
Bezalel’s $49.99 Futura X is a shiny, thin, slightly bulbous square with rounded corners that looks somewhat like a drink coaster (in white or black acrylic). It comes with a Micro-USB cable but not a wall brick. It charges at only 5 watts, but it makes up for this with high style and extreme portability.
Bezalel says that, later this year, it will offer a stand-like add-on accessory so a phone can be charged on the shiny pad in an upright position.
RAVPower’s $49.99 Fast Wireless Charger is my favorite in this roundup. It is a compact, sturdy, weighty, stylish disk that — praise be! — comes with both a wall adapter and an extra-rugged, braided USB-C cord. It charges at 10 watts with phones that support that wattage. It is billed as a “7.5W for iPhone X, 8 & 8 Plus” charger, too, which means it is a decent option for Apple users.
Samsung’s $49.99 Fast Charge Wireless Charging Pad (certified) is a large, raised, subtly translucent disk that is available in white, blue and black/sapphire. It includes a power adapter along with a Micro-USB cord. It charges at 9 watts (I didn’t hear back from Samsung about iPhone-charging wattage) and has a cooling fan built in.
Standing Chargers — These accessories accommodate an iPhone at an angle, which is useful if you want to keep an eye on incoming messages, have FaceTime chats, and the like while the handset charges. With the iPhone X, an angled stand is handy for authenticating via Face ID without having to pick up the handset.
Samsung’s $39.99 Fast Charge Wireless Charging Stand (certified) looks a great deal like the company’s aforementioned Fast Charge Wireless Charging Pad — minus the translucency and with an angled design that is handy for charging a handset in landscape or portrait mode. It too tops out at 9 watts, offers a cooling fan for heat dissipation, and comes with both a Micro-USB cord and a wall adapter.
Samsung’s $58.96 Fast Charge Wireless Charging Convertible (certified) has a premium feel and a price to match, with its platter wrapped in a leather-like material.
The platter can slide on its base from an angled position to a flat one, and charges in either. When upright, a phone can be positioned in landscape or portrait mode. This charger works at 9 watts and includes a fan to dissipate heat. It has a USB-C cord and wall adapter.
Other Chargers — Some wireless chargers incorporate other features, such as wired charging and built-in battery packs for on-the-move power.
Bezalel’s shiny white or black $59.99 Prelude Wireless Charging Power Bank starts with a portable battery for wired charging of a phone or other gizmo while on the move via the accessory’s USB-A port. It then adds wireless charging on top.
Charge the power bank via a Micro-USB port, then disconnect and go. A power button also activates a row of four blue LEDs to indicate how much of the battery capacity remains. Wireless charging is at 5 watts. It’s a nifty, albeit bulky, product suitable for travel.
Nomad’s $79.95 Wireless USB Hub is a four-port USB hub (with a USB-C port, two high-output USB-A ports suitable for iPad and iPhone charging and two standard USB-A ports that could charge AirPods and other accessories). The hub, which looks like an oversized hockey puck, includes a 7.5-watt wireless-charging surface on top to set it apart from the maker’s other two puck-style USB hubs.
I was initially thrilled with this product because it looks fantastic, and offered me versatility by providing wired and wireless charging. However, my loaner died a few days into my testing and, as you read this, I am investigating what happened (I’m chalking it up to a faulty unit). I am still keen on Nomad gear thanks to spotless experiences in the past, so I’m not dismissing this product out of hand, but be sure to have a refund option if you buy.
In-car docks for phones are not new, but wireless charging is a novel angle.
Scosche’s $49.99 StuckUp Qi Wireless Charging Universal Window/Dash Mount (certified) is a standard car mount that adheres to your dashboard or windshield and incorporates a twisting arm with a clamp-style dock attached.
What sets this dash mount apart is a wireless-charging pad that gets power via a USB-C cord and a power adapter that jacks into the car’s accessory port. This works well, but you have to adjust the dock’s clamping mechanism to accommodate smartphones of different sizes or they might not charge properly.
The dock is plasticky and seems a bit fragile, but that’s sadly nothing new with products in this category.
Bezalel’s $59.90 Omnia attaches to an air vent. The part the phone rests upon is a small plate, unlike the big clamp-style Scosche dock, and relies on a magnetic connection to keep the handset firmly in place.
To achieve such secure mounting, Bezalel provides iPhone cases that add magnetic adhesion. Even older iPhones as far back as the iPhone 6 can join this party since Bezalel also sells “receiver cases” that provide wireless charging (via a physical connection to the Lightning port) along with magnetic mounting.
The magnetic adhesion also works with other Bezalel products, including the previously mentioned Futura X and the Prelude, which all but eliminates the annoying trial-and-error nature of positioning a phone on a charging surface. If you have a Bezalel case on your iPhone, it will snap into place on either Bezalel charger. Nice.
More Chargers Coming — I could write an entire article about wireless chargers that are in the pipeline, but I will mention just a few.
At the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Belkin took the wraps off a line of wireless-charging products for the home and car. RAVPower is readying a handful of Qi devices — including a mobile power bank with built-in wireless charging — for release in a few weeks. And Aukey is offering a 10-watt charger that supports 7.5-watt iPhone charging.
In the crowdfunding sphere, a company called Plux is raising Indiegogo dough for an AirPower-like combo wireless charging pad (also called Plux) to charge an iPhone, Apple Watch Series 3 and AirPods at once, in either an upright or flat configuration. The campaign has wildly exceeded its $5,000 goal — but, as with all crowdfunding projects, temper your expectations because some such efforts have famously foundered.
The Wireless Way — I became enamored with Qi charging for a time years ago, but since I was mainly an iPhone user, Qi wasn’t all that relevant and I soon moved on. Besides, although Qi had a foothold in the consumer-tech world, it wasn’t taking it by storm.
Apple has changed that by pulling Qi technology into its ecosystem. The company has raised Qi’s profile and generated excitement among accessory makers, so we can all look for an ample selection of iPhone-friendly wireless chargers in the months to come.