Today we’re looking at another...
REVIEW ROUNDUP: products that charge without wires (and the current state of wireless charging.)
Wires get tangled, lost, and broken. Charging ports get gunked up, bented, and stop working out of nowhere. Why do we still allow companies to build these liabilities into our phones? The tech to charge wirelessly has existed in very workable versions for years now, but we sit by idly as manufacturers and carriers hold back this next step so that they can WOW the public years from now instead of actually innovating now when it counts. The quicker that the broader public begins to learn wireless charging, the quicker every single Starbucks table and new car center console will be equipped with wireless charging. Your kitchen counter, your work desk, your nightstand could all be easily outfitted with universal charging standards and any phone could take advantage of the convenience. Literally the end of low battery warnings.
So why aren't we there yet?
With any emerging standard, companies are fighting over who will be the last standard standing (hehe). Everyone reading this owns a blu-ray disc, you could have just as easily owned HD-DVDs instead. Two standards fought and one emerged victorious. The other was easily forgotten by history, the majority of people have never heard the word HD-DVD. Behind the scenes, billions of dollars were at stake and the process took time. As we get closer to the point that widespread wireless charging will be inevitable, Two (maybe three) standards have survived and they are quietly at war for who will get the nod. Powermat backed by the Power Matters Alliance (PMA) and Qi (pronounced chee) backed by the Wireless Power Consortium. All current smartphones on the US market that support wireless charging are Qi enabled, but Powermat is making large strides as it partners with major brands such as Starbucks and Mcdonalds. A number of stores in test markets have tables with built in charging stations. You'll need to buy a special case (we'll feature one below) to use the powermat charging at these stores. Not to be outdone, Qi and Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf are rolling out a similar program. If it all seems confusing and odd that's because it is. Each standard seems to have half of the equation and as they fight for dollars consumers suffer the consequence. In a bit of bright news, Qualcomm and Samsung had founded a third contender, the alliance for wireless power, just the other day though qualcomm official supported the people behind Qi and that might be enough of a push to get something done here. For now we plug in our charging cables and wait. Read on...
WiQiQi Samsung Note 2 Wireless Receiver and Versa Charger set by MonsterWatts
As the name clearly states, this set uses the Qi standard. This product and more specifically the wireless receiver, addresses a now common issue. Companies like Samsung are building wireless charging capabilities into their phones, yet you can not wirelessly charge out of the box? Samsung is notorious for releasing a “wireless charging back cover” to be separately purchased for an additional $50, ridiculous. To make matters worse, plenty of people are desperate to charge wirelessly at any cost. In the case of the S3 and Note 2, Samsung has either never officially released the accessories or only released limited quantities. Luckily, the market wouldn't stand for it. Qi wireless receivers, which are small plastic inserts about the size of a sugar packet, sit on top of your existing phone battery being held in place by the pressure from the stock back cover. Phone's with built in charging will have two metal bumps which are the charging contacts. These will match up with the contacts on your wireless charging receiver and you're in business. Since these need to match up specifically, it's important that you buy exactly the receiver that's built for your specific phone.
So install is easy, the only other thing you'll need is a Qi wireless charging pad. Luckily, these are universal as long as you have a Qi receiver. A basic charger used to be cheap at around $80, luckily you can find deals closer to the $30 mark these days. This kit is currently on sale from a $95 original price to a sale price of less than half of that. Jump on this if you have a capable phone. Again, be sure you have the specific phone receiver to match your model. Even a phone like the Galaxy Note 2 by Samsung has a handful of different variants. The best (and worst) example of that is Verizon's model which intentionally disabled wireless charging hardware THAT IS ALREADY BUILT INTO THE PHONE, so they could promote wireless charging on their DROID branded phones over the Note 2 at the store level. If you do want to get creative though, the hardware is in there, they just covered it up. If you're brave, there are many online tutorials on how to uncover the benefit that you already paid for when purchasing the phone. Beware though, you'll void your warranty if you attempt one of these fixes.
PowerKiss Qi charging ring by PowerKiss
This is an odd middle ground indicative of the current battle between standards. The Ring is a wireless charging workaround that uses the Qi standard. They've just been purchased by Duracell's Powermat, so as soon as they began, things are already changing at PowerKiss. In the meantime, you can still find the Ring in the corners of the internet. The ring can be purchased with either micro usb or Apple's 30-pin connector. You simply plug it into the phone's charging port and that's it. Place it on a waiting charging pad and the LED indicator lights up to signify a successful pairing. Expect the PowerKiss ring to reappear with Duracell branding and PowerMat compatibility instead of Qi any day now. It's a nice alternative for the novelty of wireless charging and it works as advertised, but it doesn't change the microUSB or iPhone charging port fatigue that is a big reason to go wireless. You also can't comfortably leave the ring plugged in throughout the day and many charging ports are too small or angled in a way that charging from the bottom position is difficult or impossible. When every flat surface is capable of wireless charging a device like this would be a lot more usable. By that time though, a true standard will have been picked and you won't even remember reading this article at all.
MobiRock Bluetooth speaker with NFC and Qi wireless charging by iLuv
As far as Qi goes, this is the crème de la crème. I've featured iLuv product here on the site before. They are working hard to bring feature packed devices forward at very reasonable price points. It feels like the company is moving further in a great direction with the release of the MobiRock. The build feels a bit more premium than past products and the newer features like wireless charging and NFC integration are cutting edge and very welcome additions to the product line. Bluetooth means wireless audio, NFC means effortless pairing, and you know the benefits of Qi at this point. The MobiRock also includes voice prompts, which are a mixed blessing. Some would rather have the option of turning them off but I personally like knowing clearly when things are working correctly. Also, the prompts are used for a process that you shouldn't be constantly doing, bluetooth pairing. Once your devices know the speaker, they will connect automatically going forward and the voice prompts shouldn't bother you if they did in the first place.
NFC is very straightforward and more than anything it's a time saver that's nice to have. You can easily make most any bluetooth device NFC enabled with a very cheap sticker and a smartphone app. Devices with built-in NFC just take the light work out of the process. Kudos to iLuv though for including it in the MobiRock. If any device is released without it going forward, it means that the company is greedy and not looking out for your interests as a customer. It's just too cheap to implement and should be an afterthought at this point. The problem is that the tech is near universal across current Android devices but Apple is going to wait a couple years until they release it as one of their “magical new innovations.” Although android and Samsung push Apple to the side with every passing day, accessory manufacturers will still be taking cues from Cupertino for years to come.
With all of the features included, the sub $200 price seems low at first glance but realize that there isn't AptX, there isn't an internal battery for wireless use, and there isn't a feature like wireless speaker pairing to allow you to expand the system. All of these omissions save money and allow you to get a lot of fun stuff in a speaker that would usually have all of those other extras and cost a couple hundred dollars more. I mentioned no AptX integration, which allows CD quality audio over bluetooth, iLuv is betting they don't need it with their proprietary jAura Sound Technology. It promises “high fidelity acoustics, emitted through full-range speakers and a passive radiator” further they state that jAura delivers, “exceptional clarity and balance...(and) full 3D sound from each finely tuned speaker” It's a bit marketing speak heavy and it would be nice if there were more technical details to back up the slightly vague claims. The sound is fine though, it's fitting for the size of the speaker. As far as I can tell it packs four internal drivers and the passive radiator mentioned does well to deliver a deep bass.
TravelMat and the PowerSnap Kit for iPhone 5 by Duracell Powermat
I'm not picking a side in this fight. I want a standard declared tomorrow and that standard released in phones within a week. All the interested parties should merge and combine forces in favor of the consumer's experience. Split the money (you'll each get billions a piece in the end) Quit being greedy and get to releasing product! That said, I'll cover both interests for now. Powermat deserves mention here as well, though they are not released in any smartphones or tablets to date.
Powermat is released under Duracell's already known and trusted brand. The PowerSnap Kit and TravelMat are seamless pieces made to compliment each other. The PowerSnap kit consists of two separate components (hence the kit) The AccessCase hugs your device (click here to see if yours is compatible) It's a semi-permanent wireless adapter case that retains Apple's aesthetic without adding much bulk and brings in some of Duracell's signature copper accents. It's available in white or black to your preference. The AccessCase alone will allow you to use those Powermat charging tables at select Starbucks and McDonald's. Going further, the next piece in the PowerSnap case, the snap in PowerSnap, is the SnapBattery. This is a 1950 mAh rechargeable battery pack that snaps onto the back of the AccessCase. It bulks things up a bit, but you'll get a full charge and then some in backup power for your iPhone. If you don't live in one of the powermat charging station test markets you'll need your own charging mat and the Qi devices mentioned won't do the trick, no Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf trips in your near future.
The TravelMat exactly matches the form of the PowerSnap kit. They stack one on top of the other to put us all in OCD heaven. The color scheme, white or black and copper, is retained as well. The charger itself can deliver unlimited wired or 4200 mAh of wireless power to your compatible Powermat devices. It's also universal with a single USB output which can charge devices up to 2.1A (tablets, large smartphones) The wireless charging is limited to 1A charging which is enough for most smartphones today. A great finishing touch is a light up four stage charging indicator. The TravelMat wasn't finished at the time of this writing so I wasn't able to get a hands on specifically. Duracell sent me an older charging pad model though and it worked as well as a Qi pad.
The whole system is well thought out and very beautifully designed. It adds bulk in an age of thinner and lighter though, so ultimately the company will need to release the tech pre-built into phones if it hopes to compete.
Galaxy Note 2 Desktop Cradle with HDMI Output by MugenPower
I only promised charging without wires and TECHNICALLY, this fits the bill. I wanted to involve a lower tech option that maintains the convenience of not fumbling with wires when it comes time to juice it up. You've seen cradles/docks in all shapes and forms, why is this one special? A fundamental issue with docking phones is that many don't accommodate cases or skins that people use to protect their phones. It's a pain to constantly remove and install a case to charge every night and it fatigues the case itself. MugenPower's Note 2 dock is made to fit the phone perfectly, but it also allows you to remove a small plastic insert and it will then accommodate the note 2 and a standard TPU skin or a flip case for the Note 2 specifically. This restores the true effortless purpose of a dock, drop it in and you're done. In that way, it's as easy as the wireless charging solutions. The one issue that still remains though, is fatigue on the microUSB charging port. If you've never had a perfectly working phone become useless because of a charging port you know the pain.
We need to move to wireless for many reasons, we aren't there yet, but these gizmos will help ease the in limbo years.
Thank you again to the companies above for supplying their product for this review.
ENJOY YOUR GADGETS!