Wireless charging has been around for a good while now, but it's only in the last couple of years that it's started to take off. More and more manufacturers have been getting on board with the ubiquitous Qi wireless charging standard and the tech is now inside virtually every flagship phone.
So what exactly is wireless charging, how does it work and does your phone even support it? Allow us to answer all these questions and more.
An increasing number of phones also support reverse wireless charging where you can charge other devices from the phone - for more information on this, check out What is reverse wireless charging and which phones have it?
What is wireless charging?
Wireless charging is the transfer of power from power outlet to device, without the need for a connecting cable. It involves a power transmitting pad and a receiver, sometimes in the form of a case attached to a mobile device or even built into the phone itself.
How does wireless charging work?
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 is the standard for wireless charging?
The main wireless standard 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 wireless charging has been adopted by many of the major smartphone manufacturers: Samsung, Apple, Sony, LG, HTC, Huawei, Nokia (HMD), Motorola and Blackberry.
Another wireless charging standard was Powermat. It was used by some retailers such as Starbucks to enable customers to charge their phones. But it wasn't cross-compatible with Qi and so it lost out. Indeed it lost the format war, if you like, so Powermat said in 2018 that it would develop commercial wireless charging technology compatible with Qi.
Qi has three separate power specifications, beginning with low power, which is primarily what we're talking about here, for charging mobile devices. At the moment there are several wattages that can be applied to this. 5W is a minimum, while some handsets support 7.5W, 10W and even up to 15W - this higher wattage is supported by some newer devices like the Huawei Mate 20 Pro.
There is a medium power spec which can deliver up to 120W and is used for monitors and laptops. And there is a high spec that can deliver up to 1kW to power devices such as kitchen utensils.
Can I get a wireless charging adapter for my phone?
While many phones actually have the technology built-in, other handsets require an adapter or case to be attached in order to support Qi charging - the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus (also 6 and 6 Plus) have a variety of cases available, for example. The downside is that these don't look great.
Who sells wireless charging mats and stands?
Many peripheral manufacturers now have their own wireless chargers including Anker, Belkin, Logitech and Mophie. Some of these look like mats or pads, others like desk stands.
Wireless charging is now appearing in a variety of places; Swedish flat-pack extraordinaire Ikea has a number of pieces of furniture, mainly side tables and lamps, that have Qi wireless charging built into them. The furniture chain sells standalone wireless charging pads too, as well as a range of cases for different phones.
Apple is releasing its own wireless charging mat, Apple AirPower, soon which will not only work with the latest iPhones, but the Apple Watch and even the new version of AirPods which will have a wireless charging case. As we said above, Apple's phones will also work with conventional Qi charging mats. The Apple Watch isn't Qi compatible but AirPods 2 might be - we just don't know yet.
Can I get wireless charging in my car?
Many car manufacturers have wireless charging in certain models, but even then it often isn't as standard. These include various models from Audi (and the rest of the WV group), BMW, Ford, Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Peugeot, Toyota, and Volvo.
What are the advantages of wireless charging?
- 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.
What are the disadvantages of wireless charging?
- Wireless charging is slower, especially for phones with Quick Charge technology - plugging into a wall outlet will be much, much quicker for those devices.
- 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.
- Not all phones have it.