Wireless charging technology has been around for quite a while. But it has only started to become ubiquitous fairly recently. Part of the reason for this is the emergence of a uniform standard that more and more manufacturers are supporting: Qi technology. There are “standards” other than Qi, which in my opinion is too bad; having one common standard makes it possible to design wireless chargers that can work with any device, regardless of its make or manufacturer.
Another reason why wireless chargers have become so popular is that the world’s two largest smartphone manufacturers, Samsung and Apple, have begun to use them. Samsung led the push for wireless chargers and now Apple has caught up with the iPhone 8 and iPhone X. And both support the Qi standard, which means a lot of wireless charger manufacturers have flooded the scene, coming up with different types of chargers that boast different features.
Table of content:
1. The Shape and Size of the Charger
Wireless chargers come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Each of these designs comes with its own set of pros and cons. Some will work better in one circumstance, and others will work better in other circumstances, so it’s important to know how you’re going to use your charger, and what you expect to get out of it, before you buy.
For example, I hate pucks and mats. For me, they render the charger almost useless. When I work, I want to have my phone available, and pucks and mats simply aren’t ergonomic. However, if you are going to buy a charger knowing that you’re going to have it on your bed stand, and that you intend for your device to charge while you sleep, then having a puck or a stand isn’t so bad.
There are 3 main categories of wireless chargers that you could choose from: pucks, mats, and stands.
Pucks are the most common category of wireless chargers. It’s called a puck because it resembles the flat puck used in ice hockey that players hit around trying to get into a net. It’s like a circular saucer that you place your phone on top of. The puck itself will lay flat on a table, desk, or any other surface you find convenient.
Puck-shaped wireless chargers tend to look very sleek and stylish. They do, however, come with some issues. To start with, you may have issues seeing the phone’s screen while it’s laying on the puck, which makes it a little hard to use your phone while it’s charging.
Additionally, pucks have a small surface area. This means that it can be hard to find the sweet spot that is needed to get a connection between the charger and your device. While this might not seem like a problem, if you’re the sort of person who will pick up your phone a lot to change songs or adjust the volume or answer a call or whatever, then you’ll have to remember to be careful when putting your phone back on the charger, because not hitting that sweet spot over the puck means a dead battery.
Mats are similar to pucks in that mats also lie flat, and your device lies atop it. But mats aren’t as hard as pucks – you aren’t dealing with a hard circular device anymore. The real difference between mats and pucks, though, is the surface area. The surface area on a mat tends to be relatively large – so large, in fact, that you can charge multiple devices at once. That’s a really cool feature.
Unfortunately, however, mats have most of the same drawbacks as pucks. They also require you to lay your phone flat on the mat when charging, making it difficult for you to use your phone and charge it at the same time.
The charging stand has the major advantage of holding your phone in an upright, though slightly angled, position. This allows you to see things such as messages and notifications while the phone is charging.
Now, with stands, you also get a lot more options in the marketplace, which makes this one of the more versatile forms of wireless chargers available. For example, there are options that allow you to choose between portrait and landscape modes for your phone. There are also versions that allow you to adjust the phone to multiple angles so you have more flexibility overall. The very best stand chargers on the market will even allow you to detach the charging puck itself from the stand so you can lay it flat on the table for even more versatility when charging. The way I see it, these wireless chargers make it possible for you to have it all.
The charging speed is one of the greatest considerations in the market for wireless chargers and is perhaps the single greatest reason why wireless chargers haven’t caught on more quickly. Wired chargers still hold the title of fastest chargers overall, and, until recently, wireless chargers were painfully slow, making them more of a novelty than a viable option. That said, they have improved significantly, even though some of them are still quite slow.
For many chargers out there, the max power they can crank out is about 5-watts. This is okay for charging your battery overnight or if you don’t use your phone at work or something, but it isn’t going to be as fast as a wired charger. Things like checking your messages frequently or playing games are going to severely hamper the speed. At 5-watts, not only will your battery charge slowly, but if you use it much, you’ll even lose charge. In effect, the charger will only slow down the rate of decline of your battery’s power.
There are better chargers, including many that we looked at on our list, which will give you max power of 7.5-watts. These are a little better than the 5-watt chargers. Apple’s iPhone 8, Plus, and X, for example, are able to charge at such speeds from iOS 11 onwards. That makes things a little better, but they are still relatively slow compared to other players in the market.
The fastest wireless chargers yet on the market are 15-watts. They will easily charge power-hungry phones like the Samsung Galaxy Note8 and S8. Apple devices, because of the way they are engineered, have to charge more slowly. Even so, these max 15-watt devices will often charge Apple phones as fast as any charger out there. Also, the fact that such a charger will provide you with up to 15-watts of power means it should be able to comfortably charge anything released in the near future, that has a more demanding charge cycle.
3. Suitability for Use in a Car
Another consideration when choosing a charger is whether or not – or how – it works in a car. A growing number of modern cars offer wireless charging as one of their features. This is great news, and it makes me very happy to see that car manufacturers are jumping onto the wireless-charger bandwagon. There is just one problem – the fact that most car manufacturers use their wireless chargers to hide your phone. I’m completely on-board with this as a safety feature. Texting and driving, for example, is a problem. But what about hands-free talking? Changing music station or the volume from your phone? What about using Google maps? While drivers should certainly not take their eyes off the road for more than a mere instant, it’s unrealistic to try to force drivers to be unable to even see their phone. As far as I’m aware, there’s never been a problem with people interacting with, for example, their car radio. For my money, it would be better for cars to disable those parts of a phone that are truly dangerous – such as texting – while also putting the phone in a position on the dashboard that imitates some of the gauges and features that drivers need or expect to have. If a driver is changing a station on their phone, and their phone is in their lap, then that’s a problem. But if the phone is close to where radio dials have always been – high on the dashboard, so that the driver’s eyes never stray far from the road – then that’s meeting the needs of the driver.
Alright, enough prancing around on my little soapbox. Back to wireless chargers.
If you like to stream music or use maps for navigation when you’re driving, there are wireless chargers that have little clips you can use to attach them to the air vents on your dashboard. This makes sure the phone is always at your eye level and allows you to easily follow the route on the map in case you’re using your phone to navigate. The charger also has spring-loaded arms which means it will be easy for you to slip your phone in and out of them when you want to pick a call, for example (this is a case of market forces driving innovation – it won’t be long before car manufacturers catch up).
Here again, you should be careful about the rate of charging. There are wireless chargers out there that will actually cause your phone to lose power if you’re using something as power-intensive as GPS. Especially if you use apps such as Waze on your commute, you’ll need to go for the best quality wireless charger you can get – those with rates of about 15-watts – for the best results. Anything below 10-watts is as good as having your phone lose power at a slower rate.
Here’s something else a lot of people are worried about: Does your wireless charger have to be from the same manufacturer as your phone? Thankfully, the answer is no. One of the reasons wireless charging technology has been so slow to catch on is the fact that most phone manufacturers aren’t in the wireless phone charger manufacturing business; they make the phones, but not the chargers.
Luckily, this problem has been solved in large part by the existence of charging standards. The most widely accepted of these is the Qi (pronounced chee) standard. There are also other standards, such as Samsung’s Fast Wireless Charging and PMA, or Airfuel. However, Qi is, by and large, the most popular one in the market, being accepted by pretty much most of the phones that support wireless charging technology, including the iPhone.
Basically, all you need to do is find a charger that matches the standard supported by your phone. If you have a phone that only accepts Qi-certified wireless chargers, then that’s the kind of charger you should get. You could even go and find a so-called universal wireless charger that supports multiple standards and so can wirelessly charge phones with different standards.
5. Phone Safety Features
A standard feature of any good charger is that it protects your phone against such things as overvoltage and overcurrent, which are characteristic of power surges. It should also protect your phone against such things as overheating and overcharging, both of which are common problems with inferior wireless chargers.
6. Case Friendliness
A good charger should also be able to charge your phone through the case. The very best ones will be able to charge through cases up to 5 mm thick. For references, that’s the thickness of some of the best cases out there, made by manufacturers such as Caterpillar and Pelican for tough work environments. However, the average case will be about 2 mm in thickness. All the same, you might want to get a charger with a large case-thickness allowance, just to be safe. If the case is too thick for the charger, then the phone will either not charge at all or will only charge intermittently.
And be warned. Some cases come with magnetic or metal clips. Other cases also serve as credit card holders. In both of these cases, the metal and magnets will interfere with the wireless charger. It could de-magnetize your credit cards (or ID cards, etc), and even damage the charger. So be mindful of any metallic add-ons to your case.