Everything you need to know about powering your phone wire-free
Wireless charging has been around for a good few years now, but it's fair to say it is yet to take off to sky-high heights. As with any fresh technology, standards needed to be set, technology developed and ultimately pushed out to consumers.
That could give it the shot in the arm needed to widen its appeal.
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 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, 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 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 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, 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). It 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, some, such as 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.
These are the other major phones that have built-in support for Qi charging:
- Asus Padfone S
- BlackBerry Z30
- Google Nexus 4
- Google Nexus 5
- Google Nexus 6
- Google Nexus 7
- LG Optimus G Pro
- Samsung Galaxy Note 5
- Samsung Galaxy Note 8
- Samsung Galaxy S7
- Samsung Galaxy S7 Active
- Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge
- Samsung Galaxy S8
- Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus
- Samsung Galaxy S
- Sony Xperia Z3V
- Sony Xperia Z4V
- Microsoft Lumia 950
- Microsoft Lumia 950 XL
- Motorola Droid Maxx
- Motorola Droid Mini
- Motorola Droid Turbo
- Motorola Droid Turbo 2
- Motorola Moto X Force
- Nokia Lumia 735
- Nokia Lumia 830
- Nokia Lumia 920
- Nokia Lumia 928
- Nokia Lumia 929 / Icon
- Nokia Lumia 930
- Nokia Lumia 1520
There are some others that might support Qi charging on a regional basis, such as the US version of the LG G6. And there are others from smaller manufacturers, such as the Yotaphone 2.
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 recent 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:
- HTC 10
- LG G5
- LG G6
- 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 for most phones
- iPhone 8, 8 Plus and iPhone X come with the technology built-in
Apple has finally adopted wireless charging for the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and flagship iPhone X Edition. It previously joined the Wireless Power Consortium, so it was always bound to happen eventually.
It will also be releasing its own wireless charging mat, the Apple AirPower, in 2018 which will not only work with the latest iPhones, but the Watch and AirPods when matched with an optional wireless charging case. The phones will also work with conventional Qi charging mats.
You can also bring wireless charging to some iPhone models with a Qi charging 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
Apple also supports 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 instead of Powermat
Car manufacturers have recently started to build wireless charging into some models, however, charging your phone wirelessly usually means you won't be able to take advantage of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto in many cars because they require a wired connection. BMW has recently introduced wireless CarPlay in its 5 series, so we could see it further adopted in future.
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 older iPhones 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.