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An iPhone X on a wireless charger

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14 comments

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Wireless Charging

When inductive Qi charging arrived on the iPhone with the iPhone 8 and iPhone X, I wasn’t enthused. “Wireless” charging isn’t even new—the Palm Pre had it as an option back in 2009. Plus, the concept always seemed overhyped to me:

  • Despite being called “wireless,” inductive charging still requires a wire to connect to the charging mat or stand.
  • Inductive charging isn’t efficient. Even so-called “quick charging” is slower than wired charging and can generate a good deal of heat, as the engineers of the ill-fated AirPower charging mat learned the hard way (see “Apple’s AirPower Wireless Charger: What Happened?,” 17 September 2018).
  • The quality of Qi chargers varies greatly. Adam Engst and I have both had problems with putting an iPhone on an inductive charger at night and waking up to a barely charged iPhone.
  • Even when they do work reliably, Qi chargers are finicky about placement. Nudge the phone a millimeter in the wrong direction and it will stop charging.

But what I’d ignored is that wired charging has drawbacks of its own. Having the Lightning port on my iPhone X suddenly stop working while I was on vacation recently brought that into sharp focus. I tried all the usual tricks: cleaning pocket lint out of the port with a toothpick, using compressed air to ensure nothing remained in there, and even spraying a little electrical contact cleaner into it. Nothing helped.

Had I still been using an iPhone 7 Plus, which lacks Qi charging, this Lightning port failure would have put a severe crimp in our vacation, since the closest Apple Stores were hundreds of miles away. Even if one had been closer, getting service quickly in an Apple Store isn’t the easiest thing, even with AppleCare+.

Thankfully, I happened to have a wireless charger with me: a Scosche StuckUp Qi-enabled car mount, Despite my lack of enthusiasm for Qi charging in general, I’ve always appreciated how Qi car mounts make it easy to drop your iPhone in and go without worrying about GPS navigation sucking battery life.

The Scosche StuckUp charger.

However, this Scosche mount charges extremely slowly, so I stopped in a nearby Walmart (the closest electronics store at the time) and picked up the best Qi charger available, which in this case was the Anker PowerWave+ Stand, which set me back about $50. I would link to it, but I can’t find the exact model anywhere online (the closest I see is the Anker PowerWave 7.5 Stand). But here are the criteria I used to pick it:

  • It’s distributed by Anker, a brand I trust.
  • The box clearly stated that it supports iPhone fast charging.
  • It included a (rather large and hefty) wall adapter that provides more power than standard USB ports or Apple’s little iPhone wall plugs.
  • It’s a charging stand, which I prefer, but there was also the PowerWave+ Pad with Watch Holder.

The PowerWave+ Stand worked better than I had expected, quickly and reliably charging my iPhone X. And it’s not nearly as particular about placement as a TechMatte charging stand I had tried at home. (As an aside, when it’s plugged in, the TechMatte stand seemingly prevents my iMac from booting.)

The Anker vs. TechMatte charging stands.
These two charging stands may look similar, but the Anker works significantly better than the TechMatte.

Here’s what I took away from this experience:

  • Even if wireless charging isn’t as fast or reliable as wired charging, redundancy is always good.
  • You get what you pay for. Sure, you can spend $16 for something like the TechMatte, but the $50 PowerWave+ Stand was worth the extra money.
  • Wired charging has its own drawbacks. Open ports can fill with crud and provide an opening for liquids. Lightning cables are notoriously fragile. Connected devices are always at risk of being snagged and pulled off surfaces. And even if Qi charging isn’t entirely “wireless,” it makes cable management easier than wired charging.
  • Your family will appreciate it if you minimize the amount of time you spend on tech problems while on vacation.

I wouldn’t be entirely shocked if Apple were to drop the Lightning port in a future iPhone. The Apple Watch has shown that it’s possible to have a device with no ports, the AirPods are wildly popular (and now have an optional wireless charging case), and Apple continues to encourage users to back up and restore via iCloud. I’m not saying the Lightning port will disappear with this year’s new iPhones, but it doesn’t seem impossible at some point.

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Comments About How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Wireless Charging

Notable Replies

  1. Perfect timing. I was just online trying to figure this whole thing out. My basic question is will the Anker you mentioned worked with my iPhone XS in a Lifeproof case? I tried it with a cheap stand, and it didn’t work. I am tired of having the charging cable fall off my nightstand! Thanks!

  2. I’ve found it is much more common for the crappy lightning format cables to die unexpectedly, Apple’s own, or Apple certified. Carry extra new ones for the most common failure, especially for non-wireless-charging devices.

  3. I don’t see why it wouldn’t work, but anything metal will block the charger. So if that case has a metal plate in it (I’m not sure why it would), then I doubt it’ll work. My wife likes using PopSockets so she has to remove the case from her iPhone 8 Plus before using a wireless charger.

  4. Unfortunately, most of them are pretty bad, whether first- or third-party. The braided ones hold up a little better but instead of failing in a visible way they just die.

  5. My XS has been in a Lifeproof case since the beginning, and it charges wirelessly through the case with no problems. I’ve used both a cheap TYLT stand I got from Amazon and an Unravel multi pad charger with no difficulties.

  6. Thanks. I used a cheap one from Target when I first got my XS and it didn’t work. I’ll try again. I appreciate the responses.

  7. One important aspect of this that often gets overlooked is that wireless charging is extremely inefficient. Tests show that wireless charging wastes about 40% more energy than wired charging. I don’t think the benefits of wireless charging warrant this waste, particularly since, if you really don’t like the normal charging cable that comes with your phone, you can just get a magnetic charging cable instead.

    Magnetic charging cables have many of the benefits of wireless charging (simple to connect, just pick up the phone without disconnecting the cable first, no wear on the connector), at least one additional benefit (you can easily use your phone while it’s plugged in - oh, and also, it probably charges faster than a wireless charging solution, and works with all cases), without any of the drawbacks.

    I think it’s worthwhile to ask ourselves whether we should just stop promoting and using wireless charging solutions. They’re not that convenient, they’re wasteful, and there are alternatives that make a lot more sense.

  8. It is a bit ironic that while everybody is trying to appear as green as possible these days and kids are even skipping school to protest environmental policy (or lack thereof), wireless charging is being pushed from all sides.

    In all fairness, Josh mentions that inefficiency in this article.

  9. Yep. Those of us who ever studied electronics know this. Basically, wireless charging is about the most inefficient transformer design ever made. Adding a case creates more distance between the windings in the charger and device making
    them even less efficient. A case with a magnet or metal plate that allows the device to attach to a car mount or similar can totally block the charging. (I made my own with thing metal plates at the top and bottom of the case so wireless will sill work.)

    Now given all of that, most chargers for devices, pull power even when there is no device being charged. Unless you unplug them or switch off the AC power to them. So, most chargers ever sold spend most of their time pulling some power
    but not charging anything. I’ve got to feel this is a bigger waste than the wireless efficiency issue. Think about how many chargers you have around your house and work.

    We are awash is little power drains that make our life easier. TV’s that turn on via a remote. Homepods, Google Home speakers, Sonos speakers, Alexa dots, whatever… These all sit around drawing power waiting for us to use them. Apple TVs
    are pretty good a going to sleep if the TV they are attached to is turned off but they are still drawing enough power to be able to wake up when they detected a pair remote talking to them. It irritates me the number of AA and AAA batteries I collect for recycling.
    (Use a Costco plastic container from chocolate raisins or similar to collect them and get to see the pile grow.)

    Anyway, my point is that wireless charging is lossy. Yep. But look around at all the small power drains you have before totally giving up on it.

    In my personal life I have a wireless charger next to my bed so I can avoid the hassle with cables in THAT location. And I/we try and turn off the power strips full of various chargers when we leave for more than a day. But that still leaves
    multiple AppleTVs, Tivos, TVs, a MacMini, and various motions lights/security cams/doorbells, etc… all pulling some power. Not to mention they microwaves and such still running.

    And just how many of us turn off our cable/DSL/fiber modem/router(s)/Aps when we leave the house. Wait! Without those all the security bits stop working.

    Convenience has a cost. Until such costs get higher, we are all going to be wasting power in dribs and drabs. Personally, I’m concentrating on reducing the big-ticket items in my house first. Single pain windows, uninsulated walls, old
    furnace systems, washing in cold or almost cold water, switching all the lights to LEDs, etc… One of the best things I did years ago was replace my water heater with a high efficiency one that is now 15 years old and can sit almost 24 hours and still keep
    the water hot. Plus, only driving my 5.7L truck when I need a truck, otherwise driving my 1.5L Civic. (My insurance company keeps asking me to verify the mileage of the truck as it seems way too low compared to the typical use of a personal vehicle.)

  10. I’m 70 years old and have been using mini-headphone jacks it seems like forever. None has ever failed. So Apple removes those and leaves the failure prone Lighting jack with even more work to do. Smooth Apple.

  11. Now given all of that, most chargers for devices, pull power even when there is no device being charged

    This is true, and it’s generally a good idea to unplug chargers when they’re not in use, but most chargers from reputable manufacturers (including Apple) draw very, very little power when they’re not under load. Touch your MacBook charger when it’s not connected to a Mac; it’s totally cold, because it’s barely doing anything. I think it’s fine to leave this one plugged in. Now touch a cheap phone charger when nothing is connected to it; it’s probably warm to the touch, so that’s one you should unplug when not in use.

    Anyway, my point is that wireless charging is lossy. Yep. But look around at all the small power drains you have before totally giving up on it.

    I don’t quite understand the point you’re making. You’re saying that it doesn’t matter that we waste energy with wireless charging, because we also waste energy in lots of other ways? That seems like an argument for being more mindful in general, not for ignoring how utterly terrible wireless chargers are.

    Convenience has a cost. (…) I’m concentrating on reducing the big-ticket items in my house first

    Sure, that’s a good point, I agree. Focus on the big things first, by all means. But the problem with wireless chargers isn’t just that they’re wasteful, it’s also that they’re not all that convenient. In many ways, they’re probably overall less convenient than just using a cable, or, if you really want the convenience of not manually plugging in a cable, and want to prolong the life of your phone’s cable port, a magnetic cable. So when deciding whether to switch to a wireless charger, it’s worth considering that they’re not only pretty inconvenient, they’re also much more wasteful than a regular old cable.

    If wireless chargers were an incredibly obvious, super convenient improvement over cables, then yes, maybe they’d be worth the waste of energy. But they’re not.

  12. Are there any smartphones that use such cables? I wasn’t aware of any, but I don’t pay attention to Android phones. (And I will miss MagSafe when I have to move beyond my old MacBook Air.)

  13. In no particular order.

    As to efficiency my wife’s sister complains about her husband crawling over dollars to save nickels. I suspect there’s a lot of this is discussing the efficiency of wireless charging of phones. Laptops and such are a different story.

    I just did a quick back of the envelope calculation. My house pulls a bit under 1.5KW at a time if averaged over 24/7/365. Weather for the previous year can move that up or down 30%. More during day, less at night. So a 10 watt wireless
    charger only delivering 6 watts wirelessly is wasting 4 watts while charging. (And that’s assuming that a 10 watt charger delivers 10 watts wired which it does not.) This is about .25% of my energy use at any one time. So, a room being lit with 100 watts of
    LEDs left on for 3 hours when no one is in the room is the same as 75 hours of charging time in terms of wasted energy. I’m going to worry about keeping the lights off when no one is in the room.

    As of magnetic connections, there are none built in at this time on Apple products. So to me it is a moot point. Maybe a desirable future. But adding a magnetic connection to an iPhone requires a USB-C charging port plus dealing with a
    lump on the butt of the phone. Not so sure how that will appeal to anyone. But wireless charging reduces wear and tear on a major failure point of many devices. Both port and the cables. And I’ve had no name cheap crap cables go bad and 3 months old Apple
    came in the box cables go bad.

    As to wireless not being convenient, we just disagree. I would not want it for most situations but have them next to the bed so I can just put it there and not deal with wires as I go to bed.

    One of these days I’ll put a power meter on an assortment of the chargers I have around here and see how much they pull when not being driven. It is not 0 but I also don’t think it is as low at 5% but to be honest I just don’t know.

    As to wasteful, there is wasteful that matters and wasteful that is so small it doesn’t matter in today’s life. As people talking about the federal budget point out, $100 million is a lot of money to a single person, but in the federal
    budget it’s not even a rounding error. I feel the same way about wireless charging compared to all the other areas people us power around a house.

    As a side digression I can’t believe (but should know better) how many people are all excited about putting USB charging into wall outlets. These things are on ALL THE TIME and I’ve been in new construction of apartments where a 2 bedroom
    unit might have 20 or more outlets with these things. Not only are they always drawing power they have now made a product with a 50 year life into one with a 2 to 10 year life. (Low bid anyone?) And swapping out an outlet by someone trained to do it has a
    fully funded cost of $100 to $200. (Or more in some areas.)

  14. Are there any smartphones that use such cables? I wasn’t aware of any, but I don’t pay attention to Android phones. (And I will miss MagSafe when I have to move beyond my old MacBook Air.)

    The way this works is that you plug a little adapter into the phone (or any other device). This has the added advantage that now, all of your devices have the same connector. You no longer need Micro-USB, USB-C and Lightning. You can charge your headphones, your iPhone, your powerbank, and everything else on the same charger (and then later, you can connect everything to the same cable on your powerbank).

    If you use ones with strong magnets, they just jump to your phone if it’s about half an inch or an inch away, so they’re not really less convenient than a wireless charging mat.

    Not all of these adapters work equally well. Some aren’t reversible, some don’t use strong magnets, and you also want to make sure that they support fast charging. So it’s worth doing some research first.

    If you truly miss MagSafe, there are also options that support MacBooks.

    But adding a magnetic connection to an iPhone requires a USB-C charging port

    I’m not sure I understand what exactly you’re saying. You plug the little adapter into the Lightning port. The other end of the charging cable usually connects to plain old USB.

    dealing with a lump on the butt of the phone

    The one I use is sticks out about 1.5mm. I’ve never found this to be an issue in any way.

    As a side digression I can’t believe (but should know better) how many people are all excited about putting USB charging into wall outlets

    I agree, this is just a terrible idea all around.

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