You know what’s missing from all our visions of a futuristic utopia? Wires. You never see anyone fumbling with a wire to plug in a device. Everything just magically works. We’re not there yet, but wireless charging technology is improving all the time. Leading the way towards this brave new world, we find wireless chargers for smartphones. They’re not entirely wireless, because they still have to be plugged into a wall outlet, but they do free you from that awkward nightly plug-in. You can just pop your phone on a pad, and know that in the morning it will be good to go.
Before you splash out on a wireless charger, make sure that your phone supports it. For some smartphones, you’ll need to buy a special replacement back or a case that enables wireless charging. You also have to check that the wireless charger you choose is the right standard for your device. The most popular standard right now is Qi, under the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC), but there is a rival called Powermat, under the Power Matters Alliance (PMA), and it’s about to merge with the Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP), which is pushing a new standard called Rezence.
Another thing to keep in mind when you buy a wireless charger is that it won’t charge up your phone as fast as a wall charger can.
You can actually charge three devices at once with the Ghost 220. It features a sleek, matte, black plastic design, with an angled front that overhangs two long blue LEDs, to give a clear indication of charging status. There are two Qi symbols up top to mark the spots for placing devices on a sizable pad, with plenty of room for two smartphones, or even a small tablet and a phone. The universal power supply plugs into the back, where you’ll also find a standard USB port with a 2.4A output. The pad will output 1A, and that’s split between the devices if you place two on at once. You can charge a third device at the same time with a USB to Micro USB cable. It will charge at a speedy 2.4A, and is capable of a total output of 3.4A.
There are six padded feet on the bottom with a non-slip coating to keep it steady. The top feels smooth, and there’s nothing obvious to hold your device in place, but we had to tilt it to a 45-degree angle with a Nexus 7 on it before it started to slip. Your mileage may vary, depending on your device. It works through thin cases, but like most wireless chargers, a thick case is going to prevent it from charging.
This is part of Incipio’s new wireless charging range, which also includes a portable battery charger that can be charged wirelessly; smaller pads, like the Ghost 120, for single devices; and extended battery cases that make older phones, like the iPhone 5, compatible with Qi wireless chargers.
This is a small, square wireless charging pad with a sleek, black plastic body. The colorful, rubberized pad on top, where you’ll lay your phone, comes in a choice of blue, red, gray, or neon green. There’s a single LED on the base that lights up green when your phone is correctly aligned. Since alignment can be a pain with wireless chargers, Tylt has cleverly included a simple alignment ledge, which is really just a small, adjustable bit of plastic on the cable that enables you to set the correct position for your phone.
The base unit isn’t very heavy, but it does have micro suction pads on the bottom, so you can place it firmly, and there’s no chance of it slipping. It charges fairly quickly (for a wireless charger) with that 1A output, and it will work through a thin case. You will need to add your own wall charger to plug the cable into, though.
The circular pad alone is not enough — You’re also going to need to invest in a case for your device if you want to use this system. Currently supported are the iPhone 5/5S ($41), iPhone 6 ($29), the Galaxy S4 ($50) and Galaxy S5, and the Galaxy Note 3 ($40). It’s a little annoying that Fuel iON has chosen to ignore all the standards on the market for wireless charging in favor of its own, but there are advantages to this magnetic system. For a start, there’s no fiddling to find the sweet spot. A strong magnet in the center of the charging pad matches up with the magnet in your case, and charging begins immediately. It doesn’t matter what angle your phone is at on the circular pad. It also charges fairly quickly with a 1A output.
The weak spot here is the cases. They’re pretty minimal, so don’t expect much in the way of protection, and there’s no built in extended battery. The Galaxy cases don’t look too bad, but the iPhone varieties have to plug into the Lightning port, so they add a bulky block to the bottom of the phone. That also means you have to use a headphone adapter to plug in your earphones. A major attraction for Fuel iON’s solution is the alternative accessories. There’s a Charging Car Mount ($40) and a Magnetic Charging Base ($40). The magnetic car mount is a really smart idea, and it’s great not to have to fiddle with wires in the car. But ultimately, if you’re not going to go all in with a complete range of Fuel iON accessories, this is not worth looking at.
This smart solution combines a wireless charging pad with a portable battery pack featuring a 5,000mAh-rated battery. The exterior is soft, matte, plastic in white or black, and there’s a circular silicone pad on top in the shape of the power symbol. It’s not just decorative, it helps to hold your device in place and makes it easier to find the sweet spot. You’ll know when you did because there’s an audible beep. The bottom edge has a Micro USB port for charging up the battery, a USB output for charging up a device with a cable, and the power button. There’s also a slightly confusing line-up of six LEDs. The first goes green when wireless charging is working, the next four give you an indication of remaining power, and the final red LED tells you if it’s on.
It’s a versatile solution that allows you to wirelessly charge on the go. You can also wirelessly charge while the battery itself charges up. You even have the option to charge two devices at once, thanks to the additional USB output, but the maximum 1A output means that it will take a while. If you need a wireless charger and a portable battery pack, this is a great buy. You can get the RAVPower RP-WCN7 charging pad on its own for just $30.
We wanted to include at least one Powermat solution on the list, because some of you may have Powermat cases or phones. For example, the AT&T version of the LG G3 is set up to work with PMA, though you do need the special case. The PMA scene is extremely slim pickings compared to the Qi standard, and this Duracell offering came out a few years back, but it is now available very cheaply. It looks quite good, with a glossy, plastic black or white pad on an aluminum base.
Small circles mark the charging spots, and it can charge up two devices simultaneously. If you’re using one of Duracell’s cases ($100 – $120), then there’s a magnetic pull that makes it easier to align, but it’s still trickier than it should be. You’ll know when the phone is charging because there are two LEDs that light up, and it makes an annoying sound. Duracell does offer a range of cases for specific phones and portable battery chargers that can be charged on the pad, though they charge devices in the traditional way via USB cable. If you’re stuck with PMA or bargain hunting, this could be worth a look, but we wouldn’t recommend it at the $50 R.R.P. You can get packs with the case and portable battery pack included for not much more than this, thanks to heavy discounts.