Many phones, some headphones and plenty of other gadgets no longer require a wire connected to a power point to get power to your device. Wireless charging offers a very simple way to recharge, but it’s not without its pitfalls. Here’s how to make the most of wireless charging.
1. Check that your device has wireless charging in the first place
Yes, this seems kind of obvious, but while every smartphone, tablet or wireless headphones will have some kind of cabled charging connection, not all of them support wireless charging.
In the smartphone space it’s still the province of upper mid-range to premium devices. If your smartphone was worth $750 or more when you purchased it, the odds are better that it’ll support wireless charging.
2. It is possible to add wireless charging
If you’ve got a phone without wireless charging, you may still be able to add it. Various third-party companies do sell converters, usually as full phone cases that connect up a wireless charging coil at the back to the plug port on your phone. Not every phone has this option, and it’s worth bearing in mind that you’d be committing to only wireless charging, because your regular wired charge port gets filled by the plug adaptor.
3. You don’t have to buy the “brand” wireless charger
In the early days of wireless charging, there were competing standards for wireless data transmission. If you’ve been on mobiles since feature flip phones were a thing, you might remember how everyone’s phone seemed to need a different charger back in the day. This was the wireless equivalent of that problem.
The thing is, it’s no longer a real problem at all. The industry has settled on a single wireless charging standard, called Qi, based on the Chinese term for life energy.
As such, you can totally drop a Samsung wireless capable phone onto an Apple Magsafe wireless charger and it’ll take in those electrons in exactly the same way. The reverse is true too, so you’re not stuck buying the same brand wireless charger as your phone or other gadget.
You’re also not stuck with just standard plugs and wireless plates. Qi is an industry standard, and that means it’s also been rolled out in everything from some luxury vehicles, so you can charge on on the go, as well as battery packs, so you don’t even need a wall connection.
4. Wireless charging isn’t as fast as wired charging
If you want or need your device powered up quickly, the wire is still the way to go. Wireless charging works to a standard, but there are differing rates of power charge. As an example, earlier Qi-compatible iPhones were limited to 7.5W wireless charging, while newer models can handle up to 15W chargers. However, that same 15W-capable iPhone can take up to a 30W wired charger.
So why is wireless slower? Partly it’s to do with the fact that it’s a slightly inefficient method of power transfer compared to wired connections. It’s also a safety matter to ensure that a wireless charger or connected device can’t overload and give someone an inadvertent shock.
Technically there are some phones that can work with specific wireless chargers to juice up faster than some other – mostly budget – phones can with their supplied chargers. But that’s not a like-for-like comparison. There’s yet to be a wireless capable smartphone that charges faster than it will from a wired power connection.
The practical outcome here is that you trade the convenience of wireless charging for time. If you’re charging up your phone overnight while you sleep that’s probably not going to be a problem.
Desperately need some more power and you’ve only got a handful of minutes to spare? You won’t see much of an uptick from a wireless charger in that case.
5. Cases can kill wireless charging
It’s a very good idea indeed to put a case on your phone, because phones aren’t cheap. Nobody wants to drop or break their phone, but accidents do happen. However, if you’re keen on wireless charging, it’s worth keeping in mind that some cases can make it harder or indeed impossible to charge wirelessly.
Officially speaking, the Qi standard allows for wireless data transfer at up to 4cm distance. Realistically speaking, nobody transmits power at those distances or anything close to it in current consumer gear. There is some quite cool research into actual wireless power transmission, but that’s different technology that’s still a few years away from being a home or office reality.
For now, you need that close contact, and cases can inhibit that both by distance and in some situations by way of the material the case is made from. Thinner cases will typically do a little better, and if you do have one of Apple’s fancier new “MagSafe” compatible iPhones, look for a case that says it’s MagSafe compatible. You don’t have to care about the magnetic aspect there to speak of if you don’t want to. It just means it should work without issue on standard wireless chargers too.
6. Location is everything in wireless charging
Wireless chargers work via induction coils located in the device and charger, and before you fall asleep or worry you’ve somehow fallen into a time vortex back to year 8 Science lessons, the reason I bring that up is because the power connection only works if both coils are reasonably close to each other. You don’t have to be millimetre-level precise in most cases, but being bumped or pushed off-base can be an issue. Likewise, the size of the charging plate relative to the phone can present some orientation challenges for getting wireless charging to work.
There are some smart solutions to this. Apple’s newer iPhones use its “MagSafe” connector to combine wireless charging with an attachment magnet, so the phone somewhat automatically “clicks” into place for charging. Some wireless chargers use vertical angled plates – like Google’s smart Pixel Stand – so you “rest” your phone in a spot where the charging coils should line up nicely.
There’s a very easy way to tell if your wireless charger is working. For some Android phones you’ll immediately see a notification, maybe even a cute animation to tell you, but on every phone, look to the battery icon. If there’s a lightning bolt in there, you’re charging up wirelessly. If there isn’t, you’re off-base and need to adjust positioning. Also, while is sounds silly, make sure the wireless charger is actually plugged in at the time. That’s an easier mistake to make than you might think.