How to choose a wireless charger for your iPhone

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Apple sells this Mophie charging pad for $60, but there are others priced significantly lower.


Apple

The iPhone 8 ($699.00 at Apple), iPhone 8 Plus ($799.00 at Apple) and iPhone X all have one long-awaited feature: wireless charging.


Wireless charging is convenient — just lay your phone on a pad or stand and presto, the battery sucks up juice as if by magic — but it’s also a problem-solver. Now you can charge your phone and use wired headphones at the same time.

Now that iPhone users are in new territory, this poses an important question. How do you choose a wireless charger?

Align your Qi

Apple elected to go with Qi, an existing magnetic-induction technology, rather than a proprietary charger. All together, now: whew!

It’s pronounced “chee,” and the key thing to know is that any Qi-certified charger should be able to charge an iPhone 8, 8 Plus or X. That’s good, because there are a lot of them out there.

But before you dive deeper into Qi, let’s look at AirPower, Apple’s first-party charger.

What is Apple AirPower?

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Apple’s AirPods can connect to an iPhone when dropped on the same AirPower charger.


GIF by Alexandra Able/CNET

Right now, Apple doesn’t offer an Apple-branded charger. The online store currently sells two third-party pads, the Belkin Boost Up ($60, £55 or AU$100) and Mophie Wireless Charging Base ($60, £55 or AU$100). These products are designed to charge just one device at a time. So what happens if you own, say, an iPhone 8 and an Apple Watch?

Enter AirPower, an Apple charging mat with room for a phone, Watch and Apple’s AirPods ($192.78 at Amazon Marketplace). It’s due to arrive in 2018, though a price has not yet been announced.

There are a couple of caveats, though: In order for AirPods to charge on the AirPower pad, you’ll need to invest in an AirPower-compatible charging case, rumored to arrive in December. And it’s unclear whether the AirPods case will work with third-party Qi chargers, or just the AirPower pad. Likewise, we don’t know if the AirPower pad will charge Apple Watches before Series 3. (To date, Apple Watches aren’t Qi-compatible. You need to use the Apple-supplied magnetic charger, or an authorized third-party Watch accessory.)

How do I choose a third-party charger?

Not going to wait for AirPower? Time to choose an existing Qi charger. But they’re not all created equal. 

The simple guideline: Buy one with a design you like and price you can afford. Most Qi chargers fall into one of two categories: pads and stands. The latter would be best for, say, a nightstand, where you just want to lay your phone down before drifting off to sleep. (Just make sure it doesn’t have overbright charging LEDs, which could prove a nuisance to light sleepers.)

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This $20 Qi charging stand from Pleson has two coils instead of just one, the better to ensure good induction.


Pleson

If you spend a lot of time at a desk, it makes sense to choose a charging stand, one that props up your phone so you can see the screen.

What features should you look for in a Qi charger? Start with these:

Grip: A rubber ring embedded in the pad can help keep your phone from slipping around. Without it, one slight bump might knock the two coils out of alignment, disrupting charging.

Coils: All it takes is a single charging coil to power your phone, but you’ll see some chargers touting 2-3 coils. What’s the advantage? Surprisingly, it has nothing to do with speed: a multi-coil charger just gives you more room on the pad, meaning you don’t have to be quite so precise when you lay your phone down. And when it comes to a charging stand, it’s preferable to have extra coils because different phones are different heights, and you want to ensure it connects properly. So a small, one-coil circular pad is fine, but if you’re choosing a larger charging mat or a charging stand, opt for two or three coils. This popular Pleson stand, currently $20 from Amazon, offers three.

Smart LEDs: Not all charging pads are nightstand-friendly: Some employ very bright LEDs that could prove distracting to light sleepers. Here’s one model (another from Pleson) that lights up when charging begins, but then deactivates the LEDs after a few seconds.

Wall adapter: As noted below in “How does the charger get power?”, not all pads and stands come with wall plugs. You may not need one, but check to see if it’s included.

Can I still use a case?

Yes — provided it’s not metal or, you know, several inches thick. Remember, Qi charging is based on magnetic induction, not direct contact. As long as your phone manages to get within a few millimeters of the pad — and there’s no metal interference — it should be able to charge.

That said, there are plenty of variables here, so your mileage may vary. Qi charging should work with any leather, silicone or similarly non-metallic case with a width of 3mm or less. 

  • Best iPhone 8 and 8 Plus cases: CNET’s list of top cases for the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus only includes models we’ve vetted to verify compatibility with wireless charging.
  • iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus cases: What you need to know: How to pick the best iPhone 8 or 8 Plus case for you.

How does the charger get power?

You’re cutting one cord but adding another: The charger itself must have power, and that power comes from a cable that usually plugs into a USB port. It’s important to note that some charging pads, especially the cheaper ones, don’t come with a wall plug, meaning you’ll have to supply your own or plug the pad into your laptop or another powered port. 

Some might say that’s a “cheat,” that this isn’t really wireless charging at all. Tomato, tomahto: There’s no longer a wire between your phone and the charger, so that part is wireless.

And if you want to cut the cord altogether, at least while you travel, there are mobile power-banks that have Qi charging capabilities. For example: the ZipKord Qi Wireless Charging Bank.

How do I charge in my car?

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Dodocool

It’s tricky, but not impossible. Some cars have Qi-compatible charging stations built in, which sounds ideal but may not be. Most of those stations reside down low, in the center console.

The ideal spot for a phone in a car is near or on top of the dashboard, where it’s close to eye level. (Actually, the ideal spot is in the glove compartment or anywhere else you won’t actually use it while driving. But that’s a lecture for another day.)

To accomplish that, you’ll need an aftermarket Qi car mount. As with regular mounts, these come in a variety of styles: vent mounts, windshield mounts and so on.

I’m partial to magnetic solutions such as this Nillkin car mount, which relies on a combination of an air-vent magnetic charging plate and slim, adhesive iron plates that go on the back of your phone. But it doesn’t include a cigarette-lighter adapter, so you’ll need a powered USB port you can plug the charger into.

Other mounting options include a more traditional cradle (no magnets, just arms) like the one used by this Dodocool car charger. Just take note that any Qi charger you install in your car will involve a cord running from the mount to the USB port or cigarette lighter.

How do I get ‘fast’ charging?

You don’t, not until Apple issues a software update, which is expected sometime before the end of the year. Even then, this is where things get a little confusing. Apple’s bundled wall plug delivers 5-watt charging via a Lightning cable. The aforementioned Belkin and Mophie pads can charge at 7.5 watts, but the new iPhones don’t yet support that rate. They will after the software update, and it’s possible they’ll be able to work with even higher-wattage chargers as the Qi specification supports up to 15 watts power delivery.

As for the charging pads and stands, not all of them specify their power output. So if you want a little future-proofing in the form of support for fast charging, choose one that explicitly states 10-watt (or better) output.

Of course, the pad on your nightstand doesn’t really need fast charging, so there it’s OK to go with low or unknown wattage.

Can I add wireless charging to an older iPhone?

Yes! Older models lack the necessary innards for Qi-powered charging, but you can buy an external receiver that sticks to the back of the phone. Then just use any of the above chargers.

Many Qi-compatible charging cases, such as the Mophie Juice Pack Wireless, double as battery packs. Otherwise, you can get slim Qi add-ons that slip under existing cases. Believe it or not, they cost as little as $13.


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