Wireless charging has been around for a good few years now, but it's fair to say it still hasn't exactly taken off to sky-high heights. As with any new technology, standards need to be set, technology developed and ultimately pushed out to consumers.
But what exactly is wireless charging, how does it work, does your phone even support it? Allow us to answer all these questions and more.
What is wireless charging?
Wireless charging is pretty self explanatory. It's the transfer of power from power outlet to device, without the need for a connecting cable. Wireless charging involves a power transmitting pad and a receiver, usually in the form of a case, attached to a mobile device.
How does wireless charging work?
- Inductive charging
- Transmitter and receiver create electromagnetic field
Wireless charging is based on inductive charging, whereby power is created by passing an electrical current through two coils to create an electromagnetic field.
When the receiving magnetic plate on the mobile device comes into contact with the transmitter - or at least within the specified range - the magnetic field generates an electrical current within the device.
This current is then converted into direct current (DC), which in turn charges the built-in battery.
What are the standards for wireless charging?
- Qi and Powermat
- Qi adopted by majority of smartphone manufacturers
- Powermat less recognised
There are a few standards floating around, the main one that you will most likely have heard of is Qi (pronounced "Chee"). Qi is a standard that has been developed by the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC) for inductive charging over distances of up to 40mm.
Qi has three separate power specifications, beginning with low power, which can deliver up to 5W and is primarily used for charging mobile devices - the WPC has said this will be tripled to 15W at some point.
There is a medium power spec which can deliver up to 120W and is used for monitors and laptops, and a high spec that can deliver up to 1kW and has been used to power things such as kitchen utensils.
Qi wireless charging has been adopted by many of the major smartphone manufacturers: Apple, Samsung, Sony, LG, HTC, Huawei, Nokia, Motorola and Blackberry.
The other standard that has the potential to steal the limelight from Qi is PMA, or Powermat. It too works on inductive charging, but in 2014, PMA signed a deal with another wireless charging consortium, the Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP), which works on magnetic resonance charging instead. The deal means the two companies can exchange technologies and patents, to help evolve wireless charging at a much faster rate.
What phones support wireless charging?
The majority of phones only support Qi wireless charging, however the Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, along with the Blackberry Priv, support both Qi and PMA standards. They both have the technologies built into their chassis too.
Other phones that have built-in support for Qi charging include:
- Samsung Galaxy S7
- Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge
- Google Nexus 4
- Google Nexus 5
- Google Nexus 6
- Google Nexus 7
- Microsoft Lumia 950 XL
- Microsoft Lumia 950
Can I get a wireless charging adapter for my phone?
- Cases and adapters available for the majority of phones
You'll notice that not many phones actually have the technology built-in, most of them require an adapter or case to be attached in order to support Qi charging.
Just some of the phones that support a wireless charging adapter include:
- Samsung Galaxy S5 - an internal adapter that is fitted inside the phone, behind the battery cover.
- Samsung Galaxy S4
- Samsung Galaxy S3
- Sony Xperia Z3
- Sony Xperia Z2
- Sony Xperia Z
There are now products on the market that plug into the charging port of your phone - Micro USB, Mini USB, USB Type-C and Lightning are all supported - and a thin plate slips between the back of your phone and a regular case. This plate receives a current from Qi charging pads to wirelessly charge your phone.
Does Apple support wireless charging?
- Support available via cases and adapters
- iPhone 8 could come with the technology built-in
Apple is rumoured to be working on supporting wireless charging with the upcoming iPhone 8, especially since it's recently joined the Wireless Power Consortium. Apple issued an official statement to 9to5Mac.com, saying:
"Apple is an active member of many standards development organisations, as both a leader and contributor. Apple is joining the Wireless Power Consortium to be able to participate and contribute ideas to the open, collaborative development of future wireless charging standards. We look forward to working together with the WPC and its members."
Will Apple help develop Qi wireless charging and eventually implement that in the iPhone, or will it push for an entirely new standard? With Apple, anything could be possible, so for now we'll have to wait and see.
In the meantime, you can bring wireless charging to some iPhone models with a Qi charging with an adapter. They include:
- Apple iPhone 5s
- Apple iPhone 6
- Apple iPhone 6 Plus
- Apple iPhone 6s
- Apple iPhone 6s Plus
- Apple iPhone 7
- Apple iPhone 7 Plus
However, Apple does already support wireless inductive charging with the Apple Watch, it's just not the Qi standard. Charging an Apple Watch requires a MagSafe charging cable, which attaches itself to the rear side of the watch face.
Can I get wireless charging in my car?
- A handful of car brands have begun to adopt wireless charging
- Qi used over Powermat
Car manufacturers have recently started to build wireless charging into some models, however, charging your phone wirelessly means you won't be able to take advantage of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto because they require a wired connection - although BMW has been the first car maker to introduce wireless CarPlay in its 5 series.
Audi has a Qi wireless charger built into its Phone Box system. If your phone has built-in Qi charging capabilities you can simply place it on the pad, however all other phones will require a Qi-enabled case. Audi even has an official Qi case for the iPhone which can be used with any Qi wireless charging pad.
BMW has a similar system in its cars. In the 7 Series you can get it with the wireless charging option, or in all other BMW models with a snap-in wireless charging adapter. Like Audi, BMW makes an official Qi wireless charging case that can be used with any Qi charging pad.
The Lexus NX series can be fitted with an optional wireless charger too. Like the other cars, it's Qi-based and you'll need a Qi case for phones that aren't immediately compatible.
Toyota also offers Qi wireless charging in select models as an optional extra.
Where else can I wirelessly charge my phone?
- Starbucks, McDonalds, Ikea furniture
- Qi and Powermat both used
You're not just reserved to wirelessly charging your phone at home or in the car, as food and coffee chains McDonalds and Starbucks have begun rolling out charging pads in some of its stores. Starbucks offers Powermat wireless charging, and you don't need to worry about getting a case if you don't want to, as the chain has different charging 'rings' available to borrow or buy. They're available with the various connectors to support a wide range of phones.
McDonalds on the other hand offers Qi wireless charging. However, unlike Starbucks, you will need to have a Qi-enabled phone or a Qi-enabled case to be able to use it.
Swedish flat-pack furniture extraordinaire Ikea has a number of pieces of furniture, mainly side tables and lamps, that have Qi wireless charging points built in to them. The furniture chain sells standalone wireless charging pads too, as well as a range of cases for different phones.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of wireless charging?
So you've learnt about what wireless charging is, what standards there are, and what devices are supported. But is it actually any good? Like most things, there are pros and cons to the technology, and they'll hopefully help you decide whether wireless charging is the way to go for you?
- Safer way to transfer power to your phone.
- Simple to just drop your phone on the charging pad.
- Puts less strain on the charging port of your phone.
- Qi wireless charging pads being installed in various places around the world, if you run out of juice and don't have a cable you can still charge your phone.
- Only supplies up to 5 Watts of power, same as that from a 1 Amp plug. So a 2 Amp plug would charge your device quicker. Phones with Quick Charge technology wouldn't benefit from wireless charging either, as plugging into a wall outlet will be much quicker.
- If you've got your phone charging via a cable, you can still hold it and use it as normal. If you take your phone off a wireless charging pad to use it, it stops charging.
- Adapters and cases are expensive because the technology is expensive to produce.
- Can't be used with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in the car.