Wireless charging has been around for a good few years now, but it's only recently that it's started to take off.
Apple adopted wireless charging last year, with its flagship iPhone X, plus the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus smartphones coming with wireless charging capabilities and more and more manufacturers have been getting on board with the ubiquitous Qi wireless charging standard.
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.
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?
- 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 adopted by a majority of smartphone manufacturers
- Powermat now part of the WPC
The main wireless standard you might 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.
Another wireless charging standard was Powermat, but it had a change of heart earlier this year. Powermat and Qi were two opposing standards and Powermat was used by some retailers such as Starbucks for customers to charge their phones and they weren't cross-compatible.
Powermat has now said it will work with the WPC to develop wireless charging technology that's compatible with Qi.
Qi has three separate power specifications, beginning with low power, which can deliver up to 5W and is primarily used for charging mobile devices and smartwatches - the WPC has said this will be tripled to 15W in the future.
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 things such as kitchen utensils.
Qi wireless charging has been adopted by many of the major smartphone manufacturers: Samsung, Sony, LG, HTC, Huawei, Nokia, Apple, Motorola and Blackberry.
Can I get a wireless charging adapter for my phone?
- Cases and adapters available for many phones
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 these don't look great.
There are now products on the market that plug into the charging port of your phone - Micro USB, Mini USB, USB-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.
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.
Apple is releasing its own wireless charging mat, Apple AirPower, in 2018 which will not only work with the latest iPhones, but the Apple Watch and even AirPods when matched with an optional wireless charging case. Apple's phones will also work with conventional Qi charging mats.
The Apple Watch does use inductive charging but it's not the Qi standard. Charging an Apple Watch requires a MagSafe charging cable, which attaches itself to the rear side of the watch face.
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 them. The furniture chain sells standalone wireless charging pads too, as well as a range of cases for different phones.
Can I get wireless charging in my car?
- Many car brands are adopt wireless charging
Many car manufacturers have wireless charging in some models, but often it isn't as standard. These include various models from Audi, BMW, Ford, Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Peugeot, Toyota, Volvo and the WV group.
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.
- Adapters and cases are expensive because the technology is expensive to produce.