/ Technology

Is wireless smartphone charging worth the hype?

I’m seeing wireless charging advertised everywhere lately. Well-known brands, such as Samsung, promise ‘no cables, no connectors’. But if something sounds too good to be true…

Sadly, the future isn’t here just yet – you can’t charge your phone over thin air. ‘Wireless’ charging simply offers the next best thing for owners of the latest high-end phones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S6 or Google’s Nexus series (but not the iPhone yet).

The idea is you place your phone on a charging pad or charging spot eliminating the need for a traditional wire direct from the mains to your phone’s USB socket. Some chargers will let you charge several devices at once.

But the charging pad still has to be plugged into a wall.

Why I’m sceptical about wireless charging

It’s billed as being more efficient, practical and safer. Samsung has claimed on Twitter in one promoted tweet in particularcut the clutter, charge wirelessly’.

Judging from the replies, the idea has fallen flat with some. ‘Sounds like extra clutter to me’, one said. Another added: ‘is there no wire going into the charging pad?’ which prompted the response from Samsung: ‘Yes, there is a wire going into the charging pad.’

As you can guess, I’m in the sceptical camp too. Placing your phone on a pad means you can’t even use it while it charges. And the device you’re supplied with is larger than a normal charger, making it less portable.

So is this really an indication of how we’ll be charging our phones in the future, or another expensive gimmick? A wireless charging pad for your Samsung Galaxy S6 will set you back £40.

Is it worth getting a wireless charger?

I asked one of our resident technology experts, Robert Leedham, for his thoughts:

‘Wireless charging is good when it’s included with the phone, but I wouldn’t pay extra for it. The Apple Watch was the first device I’ve really used with it, and while it was relatively convenient, again I wouldn’t be forking out extra for it with a phone or tablet – it’s not a deal breaker of a feature.’

So if you can get hold of the tech for free, then why not? But if you’re seriously considering buying, you may wish to weigh up the pros and cons first before parting with your hard-earned cash.

I’d prefer to see manufacturers focus their attention on the real issues around battery life, rather than gimmicky ways to charge your device.

In March, 64% of you said you’d opt for a thicker phone if it meant you didn’t have to charge so often – ‘my phone never makes it through the day’ was the general consensus.

Have you been tempted to make the leap from traditional wired charging to ‘wireless’? Do you already own a device? If so I’d love to hear your thoughts, and your experiences with placing your phone on the pad.

Comments
Profile photo of rarrar
Member

The big advantage of “cordless” charging is that you dont run the risk of damaging the cover over the charging socket or the socket itself.
This is especially important with the waterproof phones like the Samsung S5.
It is also quick and easy to give your phone a quick top up, just pick it up if you need to use it !
With the S6 having wireless charging built in , I would expect to see even more 3rd party charging pads around IKEA were rumoured to be going to offer them built into desks !

Profile photo of NFH
Member

I agree that wireless charging is just an expensive gimmick. The worst thing is, as you point out, that it prevents you from using your phone while it is charging.

The only new charging technology that interests me is StoreDot, whereby a mobile phone battery can be charged fully in one minute. When this technology becomes mainstream, it will change everything. Wireless charging won’t.

Member
WD says:
4 July 2015

How is it just a gimmick? Do you not see the potential uses the technology has?

Picture this. You’re at a coffee shop and the entire coffee table, or at least sections of the coffee table support inductive charging. So, you’re at this coffee shop and every time you set your phone down on the table, it’s charging. The table looks no different to any other table, because the ‘pad’ is integrated within it.

The future potential is very high; by allowing people to charge their devices on the go in a manner that disguises leads – after all the leads going into the ‘coffee table’ example are hidden within the table’s central leg and therefore pose no trip hazard nor unsightly appearance, as they’re completely hidden.

That’s just a single example. There are many others. Imagine you get in your car and put your phone down on a charging pad. No lead dangling across your car. It’s all clean. When you don’t have your phone on you, you don’t have a lead sitting around. You don’t NEED to carry a lead around.

Wireless charging is less harmful than existing radio-waves, so I am not concerned about any ‘health’ risks, though people ALWAYS come up with that as a concern.

Profile photo of DerekP
Member

This type of charging system is a standard feature of most electric toothbrushes.

Arguably, it is should really be called “contact-less” charging or “induction” charging because there are still wires going to the pad but there are no cable and socket contacts to fail over time.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Wireless charging is not very efficient and certainly not fast. Look how long it takes to charge a cordless toothbrush, the most commonly found example in most homes. I expect some will use it when they get fed up with their micro-USB power connector. I don’t know how anyone could have decided on a non-reversible connector as a standard for phones.

I would be very surprised if one minute charging of phones proves successful. At best it might shorten the battery life and at worst we might have explosions or fires. I hope I am proved wrong.

What I would really like to see is replaceable batteries on all phones. Just carry a spare fully charged battery and pop it in if you need more power. Please will someone tell Apple ….

Profile photo of rarrar
Member

I dont find the wireless charging slow , seems little different from when I used a cord.
If you have issues with battery life then wireless gives you the ability of topping it up easily and using it whenever necessary.
I suspect though that different phones and charging pads perform rather differently. Those who find the system slow may well find a good usb lead and/or power supply will speed things up.

Member
WD says:
4 July 2015

Most toothbrushes on the market, barring high-end ones, use NiMH batteries, which aren’t nearly as advanced as lithium-ion.

Regardless, to imply that inductive charging must therefore be slow on the basis that toothbrushes charge slowly is inane. Wireless charging is being trialled for CARS, for crying out loud. Most toothbrushes use batteries and chargers which are NOT optimized for rapid charge cycles, as to prolong lifetime. This does not mean the technology is incapable of providing a decent charge speed.

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
Member

I see the Garmin Vivoactive Watch has a “magnetic cradle” for charging which is possibly marketing talk for induction charging. The advantages of having common mats on which you can charge several small items and from different manufacturers would seem a good idea.

Incidentally the Garmin only needs charging weekly rather than daily which brings up the subject of lifespan of tiny batteries and frequency of charging. Do mats lengthen or shorten the lifespan or are they neutral compared to cable charging.

Profile photo of wavechange
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Here is an alternative approach that would suit anyone who wants to be able to charge their phone while away from a power source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SAM9-glUVIE

Profile photo of George Martin
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Thanks for your comments so far everyone. Wavechange, I love the hamster ball!

I can’t say I’ve had any problems in terms of damage from using a traditional charger – the port around my phone doesn’t look any different to the day I bought it.

I understand the convenience of setting your phone down and picking it up if you want to use it, but right now my phone is in charge on my desk via USB – I can pick it up and use it if I wish while it’s still charging – I can’t help but feel that’s the best of both worlds already?

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

I can see the benefit of charging the phone whenever it is not in use, which is what we often do with cordless phones. Presumably you still need to use the normal charger to charge the phone quickly if the battery is flat.

Perhaps the greatest advantage of wireless charging would be when all our gadgets could be charged using the same pad, so no need for a variety of chargers.

Profile photo of DerekP
Member

We are pretty much already at the option of universal chargers being usb ones.

At least for small low powered devices like phones tablets and e-cigarettes.

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
Member

I like the idea. My Nexus 4 can be charged wirelessly. I’m tempted to buy a wireless charging bad and install it inside my bedside cabinet, so I’ll just have to put my phone on the desk at night to charge it.

The big problem I see is that I often use my phone at night while it’s charging. This may be a symptom of it’s poor battery life, but there are some things only a cord can do.

That is unless we can get charging fields so that things charge as soon as you’re in the vicinity of the charger…

Member
prawns2damax says:
27 June 2015

untold me pita breads,, stick wid da cable sid,, u get me,, bigging it up 2da max me breadgwins style!

Profile photo of drywsdad
Member

Our new rechargeable battery a pack is brilliant! We bought one with us on holiday and it can recharge 2 iPhones and 2 iPads very quickly so great when your away from home or stuck at the airport and you can use the device when it’s charging.

http://www.maplin.co.uk/p/6000mah-portable-power-bank-n48lk

Profile photo of DerekP
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I was given a similar 2000 mAh device recently as a “conference freebie” – and, yes, I agree they are surprisingly useful.

Member
Nick says:
27 June 2015

I have a Nokia Lumia phone which has had a wireless charger for quite some time now so they are not new. For me it is no more or less convenient than a conventional charger. It is slower to charge though. As it was free and I also got a standard charger I was not bothered but would not buy one as an extra.

Profile photo of Martin Bostock
Member

There’s nothing new in this, I have an ancient (by smartphone standards) Nokia Lumia which came with pad charging built in. If you know where you are likely to be and have pre-positioned pads for instance on the bedside table, in the back of the dashboard clamp and on your desk they can be very useful. No fumbling with a cord and no phone going out of commission because the USB socket gets damaged by wrenching or a piece of pocket debris being jammed inside.

My main phone finds itself on trickle charge most of the time so there is neither need nor temptation to use it whilst physically ‘plugged in’.

For me it’s advantageous but for many it might not be. Having got the strategically placed pads I’ll certainly look for a phone with this facility next time around.

Member
Richtopbloke says:
27 June 2015

Also had various Nokia Lumia devices for several years. The last two models I’ve owned have both supported wireless charging. While true that it is more hardware being used (Plug/Lead/Charging Pad), I think its working really well, especially when you consider the options for other products having wireless charging outputs.

I bought a bedside alarm clock with a wireless charging pad built in and it’s great! I go to bed, pop the phone on the top and it’s off & charging…. Also, the alarm clock has Bluetooth connectivity so I can play music at the same time. The options for compatible devices is endless.

I also got a “mobile” wireless charger with my initial bundle too which lets me charge up the pad and then take it with me for a ‘top-up’ if I’m getting low on juice during the day, wherever I am. Very handy indeed.

Verdict: Yes, more bulk but works for me and opens up a lot more charging opportunities in the future.

Member
Brian Whittle says:
29 June 2015

It saves the USB port and charges just by putting it down in a specific place, what’s not to like.

Member
The Engineer says:
29 June 2015

Looking at Nexus 4 sitting on induction (wireless) charger run (USB) from the computer I’m typing this on.

Place on desktop charger when I sit at computer and it does its stuff. Faster if plugged in to its own charger – but I’m not in any rush. Easier than finding its own charger and less likely to break connector.

If the phone has this fetaure then fine; if not I wouldn’t worry.

Member
Clive MB says:
29 June 2015

I upgraded my Samsung Note 3 to wireless charging about a year ago and haven’t looked back.
I leave the charger pad on the bedside table and just put my phone on it last thing at night and its fully charged in the morning. No plugs to fiddle with or sockets to damage.
I am thinking of getting another charging pad for my desk so my phone can be charging whilst I am working on my computer.
Can’t find a downside to wireless charging – I think all phones should be built with this as an option.
I also recommend having a spare battery with an independent charger – I can switch batteries easily if necessary.
If the technology is available – I say make the best use of it! I have been doing so since I bought a Commodore 64 – anyone old enough to remember those days?

Profile photo of George Martin
Member

Really interesting reading everyone’s responses, thanks all.

I got back from work the other night and realised my phone was on around 5%, so I plugged it in but then proceeded to spend a good while browsing the net and generally chatting to friends etc – something I wouldn’t have been able to do if I’d had to rest it on a pad.

As a result I really do think that use while charging is a bit of a deal-breaker. This surely has to be this method’s biggest flaw?

Profile photo of papagray
Member

i purchased one from ebay for my samsung galaxy s3, worked fine but one had to ensure it was more central,and it was easy to knock off or dislodge, after a while i noticed it was not charging as well, so i replaced the battery and after a while the unit stopped charging completly, anyhow one get what one buys from china, i expect 90% of our tech eventualy comes from china but with a nice company label slapped on it, i had a look at the ikea types chargers i expect they will be fine if your phone is preset to charge, but if not the induction gadget you need to attach to your present phone looked bulky and out of place on the phone, my view its expensive, but if it make life easier for you go ahead, but there nothing wrong with a stand except that awkward part when you need the phone now!

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
Member

A researcher looking at the death of his phone battery has posted on the WidowsSecrets site and this is an excerpt from a very expansive article on battery care.

” Wireless (inductive) chargers use a special charging mat or surface to restore a battery’s power. It sounds wonderfully convenient, but inductive charging always generates excess heat, even when it’s working normally. (Some hi-tech kitchen stove tops actually use induction to heat pots and pans.)

Not only is the excessive heat produced by a wireless charger not good for lithium batteries, it also wastes energy. By its nature, inductive charging’s efficiency is always going to be significantly lower than a standard charger’s. To me, higher heat and less efficiency easily outweigh convenience. You might feel differently.

In any case, the safest approach is to use only chargers sold by the OEM of your lithium-powered device. It’s the only way to be sure that the charger will keep temperatures and voltages within specs.

If an OEM charger isn’t available, use a low-output charger that’s unlikely to pump damaging amounts of power into the device you’re charging.

One source of low-output, non-OEM charging that’s often available is the USB port on a standard PC. A typical USB 2.0 port provides 500mA (.5 amps) per port; USB 3.0 provides up to 900mA (.9 amps) per port. In contrast, some dedicated chargers will output 3,000-4,000mA (3-4 amps). The low amperages offered by USB ports will usually provide cool, safe charging of almost any Li-ion device.”

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Is there any evidence that wireless chargers are shortening the life of phone batteries?

There’s no doubt that wireless chargers are inefficient but because of that they will generally recharge batteries more slowly than wired chargers, thus creating less heat in the battery itself.