Time to cut the cable: Best wireless chargers on the NZ market

by Peter Griffin / 06 November, 2018

The Samsung 9-watt wireless stand charger.

The future of charging your gadgets is here.

It used to be a bedtime ritual. I’d fumble around for my mobile phone charging cable and attempt to plug it in, right side up, to make sure I didn’t start the next day with a ‘low battery’ warning.

That nightly routine is now much easier. I simply place my smartphone on a wireless charging pad that sits on my bedside table. Magnetic induction coils in the charging pad and my phone create an electromagnetic field which is converted into energy to charge the phone’s battery.

It is early days for wireless charging as only newer phones, tablets and wearables such as smartwatches and fitness trackers, incorporate the technology. But it is the future of recharging your gadgets. There’s even a Kiwi element to the wireless charging revolution. The small Auckland-based company PowerbyProxi, was last year bought by Apple, reportedly for $100 million, to help develop the smartphone and computer giant’s future wireless charging features in products like the iPhone and Apple Watch.

Read more: Best smartphones on the NZ market: What to look for and what to avoid

Belkin 5-watt charger.

Standard issue

While rival standards for wireless charging exist, the dominant one to emerge is Qi (pronounced ‘chee’), the Chinese word for ‘air’. Apple has backed it, as well as Huawei, Samsung and most other smartphone makers.

It means that any Qi-compatible wireless charging pad should be able to safely charge a Qi-compatible phone, regardless of the brand of pad or phone. Typically, the pads are circular and around the size of a coffee coaster. That only makes them capable of charging one smartphone at a time, though Samsung and others have a charger that can charge a Galaxy smartphone and a Gear smartwatch at once, and larger pads supporting simultaneous charging of multiple devices are starting to appear.

While the major benefit of a wireless pad is removing the need to plug in your phone to charge it, there is another big benefit.

With most phones now using the USB-C connector as both a charging port and headphone jack, it means you can’t listen on wired headphones while you are charging your phone. You can however use the headphone jack to listen to music when the phone is on the wireless charger.

Larger devices, say a tablet like the Samsung Tab S or the new Apple iPad Pro, don’t yet support wireless charging. That’s likely to come, once the companies can figure out how to place those magnetic coils on a larger surface so your tablet will actually charge when you put it on a small charging pad.

Samsung dual charger.

Wire-free: What can you charge?

Around a dozen smartphones on sale in New Zealand currently support wireless charging. They tend to be more up-market phones. The new iPhone XR, XS and XS Max are Qi compatible, as well as last year’s iPhone X, iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus.

The biggest Android phone maker, Samsung also has Qi charging built into the Galaxy S8, S8+, S9, S9+, Note 8 and Note 9. Huawei debuted wireless charging last month with the Mate 20 Pro, which is also capable of reverse wireless charging, which allows you to use its battery to charge other Qi-capable phones.

While smartwatch cradles for the likes of the Apple Watch and the Samsung Gear wirelessly charge them, a wide range of third-party wireless charging pads are also available to do the job if you want to charge everything in one place. The downside in using them for charging a smartwatch is that they may be awkward to place on the pad with the watch strap on. The original charger that came with the watch may be more convenient. Fitbit, the most popular brand of fitness tracker, is not Qi-compatible, so won’t charge on a Qi wireless charging pad.

Things to look out for

Wireless charging pads and docks are fairly straightforward design wise, though the build quality and look and feel varies widely. You want a pad with a rubberized surface so as not scratch your phone’s body and so it will sit in place on the pad.

Look for a dock with a standard USB-C or Micro USB connector that can plug into a wall charger as well as use the USB on your computer. Not all wireless charging pads come with their own wall charger adapter, so check what is included in the box. I used a powered-USB port on my four-plug power board beside my bed, so don’t need a dedicated wall adapter to power my pad.

Increasingly, wireless charging pads support fast charging, a great feature of some smartphones that allows you to recharge your phone battery to full capacity in as little as half an hour. A standard wireless charger will generally be of the 5w (watts) variety. That type of pad will generally charge your phone about as quickly as plugging it into the wall via a cable. As such, it is good for overnight or non-urgent charging.

For optimal fast-charging, you’ll want a pad that delivers at least 10-watts for faster charging and some now deliver up to 15w. A number of chargers, such as Samsung’s own 9w variety for the Galaxy line, are built specifically for the needs of certain smartphones, so check what models the pad is designed to support. Fast charging may not be possible unless you use a wall charger rather than plugging into a USB device.

Ultimately, a higher wattage is more likely to yield faster charging but it isn’t always the case for a host of reasons to do with hardware and software compatibility. You don’t want to pay more for a “fast charging” wireless pad only to end up charging at regular speed.

Foreign object detection is a safety feature of most good wireless charging pads. It will detect if something metal like a pen or a bunch of keys, is placed on the pad, and deactivate it, letting you know with a blinking LED warning.

If you place big demands on your smartphone’s battery during the day, you may want to invest in a phone cover fitted with a supplementary battery. Increasingly, these covers, such as the Mophie Juice Pack Air for the iPhone 7 Plus and 8 Plus ($140) are Qi wireless compatible too, so can be juiced up by being placed on a compatible wireless pad.

Finally, some wireless charging pads can be adjusted into an upright position and come with a travel case, which adds more options for ease of use.

Left, a Mophie wireless charging phone. Right, Belkin pad charging a Huawei Mate 20 Pro.

Bottom line

Wireless charging pads and stands are safe and make for convenient charging of your smartphone and smartwatch. But it is a complex and fast-moving market. Make sure you are buying a pad that is compatible with your phone. You’ll typically pay more for a quality pad that supports fast-charging, but even then, the speed of a recharge will depend on other factors like your phone software and whether you are using a wall adapter for power.

What’s on the market?

Belkin QI Wireless Charging Pad
A high-quality 5W wireless charging pad ready to go straight out of the box. It won’t fast charge your Qi smartphone, but if you are mainly interested in overnight charging, it does the trick and is lightweight and small enough to take on your travels. ($69.99)

Belkin Boost-Up Wireless Charging Stand
Delivers 10W for faster charging and tailored to the needs of iPhone models 8 and later and other Qi handsets from Samsung, LG, Sony and Huawei. The key feature other than fast charging is the shape of the stand, which allows you to prop the phone up while it is charging to see the display. ($119.95)

Samsung Wireless Charger Duo
Ideal if your household is host to multiple Samsung smartphones. The Duo charger can handle two smartphones at once or a phone and a compatible Samsung smartwatch, such as the Gear S3, Gear Sport, and Galaxy Watch. At 7.5W if supports fast charging for newer Galaxy phones. Slightly oddly shaped, but a convenient design to accommodate two devices at once. ($179.99)

Samsung Wireless Charger
This year’s version has a new design that only allows it to be used as a stand which can accommodate charging of your phone in vertical or horizontal position. Previous models could convert into a flat pad as well. Supporting 9W charging, it is optimised to fast-charge the compatible Samsung line-up, but iPhones and other Qi phones will charge as well. Includes a wall adapter. ($99)

Mophie Charge Force Wireless Charging Base
A standard wireless charging pad but in a rectangular format rather than disc-shaped, so suits the dimensions of your smartphone. ($59.99)

iLuv Fast Wireless Charging Pad
Cheap and nicely designed for the price. Supports fast Charging (10W) for Galaxy phones like the Note 8, Galaxy S8/S8+, S7/S7 Edge and S6 Edge+. For other smartphones, such as the iPhone line-up and Galaxy S6/S6 Edge, you’ll get standard 5W charging. ($39.99)

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