Getting creative with wireless charging for your smartphone

Summary:Wireless charging could be a good way to say goodbye to the mess of cables on every desk - here's some creative ways the technology has been used.

If your desk looks anything like the one in our office, there's a rats' nest of cables down the back, and an only slightly smaller tangle on the surface for charging and syncing phones, tablets, digital cameras, MP3 players and the rest.

Docks with multiple tips like the IDAPT i4 keep things tidier, but only if you have the right tip and the power port lets you fit all your devices on at once; one phone with the power port half way up the side can take up most of the pad.

Wireless charging has been around for a while, but until Nokia put it in the Lumia 920 only a few handsets had it built in. Now it's an option on several Lumia models and a couple of Samsung Galaxy handsets - and Nokia has a nifty Bluetooth headset you can charge wirelessly as well.

If Nokia really does come out with a Windows tablet, that could have wireless charging as well, as the power level in the Qi standard is enough to charge a tablet or even a notebook this year.

When the Lumia 920 was first on sale it often included a voucher for the Nokia wireless charging plate; if you're buying one separately, they're about $70 (£55 here in the UK from Mobile Fun, who supplied a review unit).

This is a neat oval in the same range of colours as the Lumia 920; if you get the Fatboy Pillow wireless charger, it's the same charging plate inside.

In the past, wireless charging was convenient but usually not as efficient as plugging in a cable. Impressively, Nokia has the power efficiency so high on this technology that charging takes exactly the same time and uses the same amount of power as if you plug in a cable.

 

Nokia wireless charging plate

You don't have to position the phone precisely either; there are actually three wireless power antennae inside the base and the base detects the NFC inside the Lumia to work out which one is in the best position to charge the phone.

When you put the phone down, there's an vibration to let you know it's getting a charge and a LED on the side of the charging plate lights up as well. If the phone is at too much of an angle it will either not buzz at all or it will buzz repeatedly as charging turns on and off, so it's easy to make sure you're getting a charge.

You can also get fancy with charging. Nokia sells a wireless charging cradle for the car and a wireless charging stand that both puts the phone at angle where you can easily read it and uses NFC to run your choice of apps when you dock the phone.

Nokia wireless charging cradle

 

If you don't want to shell out for that, how about making a Lego stand to hold the basic charging plate at an angle?  Jkercado recently tweeted an image of his custom cradle. Scott R went a little further and cut a hole in one of the cubbies in his car and put the charging plate in there.

Fitting the charger right into the furniture hides the cable going to the charging plate, making things even tidier. We've seen two different Lumia users fitting the charging plate inside Ikea furniture; Richard Smith put it into a set of Malm drawers, lobbamobba used the Hemnes nightstand. If you have an office desk that has a slot designed to fit a power 'grommet' into, ECA's Wireless Villa has standard power outlets and a wireless charging pad built in so you don't need to do the carpentry. Or if you're comfortable shopping at online components stores, you can find small round Qi wireless charging modules designed to be fitted into furniture, for under $50.

If you're fitting a wireless charger under a desk or in the top of a chest of drawers, check how thick the wood is - and how dense the material it's made of. We've seen demos by Fulton Innovations, who developed the eCoupled technology used in the Qi standard, with devices charging through surfaces that are 4-5cm thick - and we wish they'd sell those adapters as a kit.

When we tried placing the Nokia charging plate inside various pieces of furniture around the office, it wouldn't power the phone through the 1.5cm thick top of a solid wood desk and while the phone was getting charge through the 1cm particle board top of an Ikea Dave laptop table, the charging LED on the base didn't light up - suggesting it wouldn't charge at full efficiency. But when we tucked the charging plate inside a set of Ikea Moppe drawers, which have an 8mm plywood top, the phone charged as if it was right on the charging plate. That meant we could duct tape the charger in place, run the cable out through the hole that's already there for hanging it on the wall and charge invisibly without getting out a hammer and chisel.

The other option is putting the wireless charger into some other gadget. The most popular option is a set of Bluetooth speakers; drop your phone down to charge and it can use NFC to pair to the speakers and play your music. Nokia and JBL got together to design a set of these, in the Lumia colours, and TDK showed off a stylish cube speaker with wireless charging at CES. Put the two together and using your phone as your alarm would be a lot harder to sleep through.

TDK wireless cube

Bluetooth isn't the only option for wireless music. There are a couple of wireless speakers that don't need you to pair the phone or turn on a wireless radio because they use Near Field Audio. We first saw this at CES 2012 from iFrogz, which is now owned by Zagg.

The £50 Boost is a neat little box with a rechargeable battery (plug the unit in by USB to charge ) and as soon as you drop your phone on top of it, it uses Near Field Audio (NearFA for short) to pick up the music you're playing (or the voices on your conference call) and plays them through the speakers at a much more audible volume. It works with any phone, without any setup, because it's picking up and amplifying the signal going into the phone speakers.

Oregon Scientific's Boombero uses the same technology at a slightly cheaper price (you can get it as cheap as £35), but it doesn't work nearly as well unless you have an iPhone.

The NearFA detector in the Boombero are positioned to work well when you drop an iPhone into the groove on the top; that sounded far louder when we tried it and was still fairly good quality. But when we tried with a Lumia 920 and Motorola Android handset, we couldn't get the Boombero to pick up the audio, no matter how we balanced the phones on the base or in the groove.

If you want wireless music without the effort, stick with the Boost - or go through the effort of Bluetooth pairing and enjoy high quality music from our favourite wireless speaker, jawbone's Jambox which is also splash proof enough to use outside or in the bathroom.

Topics: Hardware, After Hours, Windows Phone

About

Mary Branscombe is a freelance tech journalist. Mary has been a technology writer for nearly two decades, covering everything from early versions of Windows and Office to the first smartphones, the arrival of the web and most things inbetween.

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