At CES 2020, Aira announced that its FreePower technology would be coming soon with the ability to set your mobile device down on a charging pad virtually anywhere and have it charged up. Effortless and seamless wireless charging was promised, about a year after Apple canceled a similar initiative with AirPower.
When we first experienced wireless charging it was clear that convenience was the driving force behind using wireless charging. Over time, many have given up on using the technology due to a lack of confidence that their devices would charge up every single time they set their device down on a charger. Aira's FreePower technology is here to instill confidence in wireless power and my experiences over the past couple of weeks confirm that this is indeed the wireless charging technology we have always wanted and deserved.
In September 2020, ZDNet's Jason Cipriani tried the Nomad Basestation Pro, the first commercial device incorporating FreePower technology. Since then the Nomad offering has dropped in price to $200 and is a very nice mass-market product demonstrating this technology.
For the past couple of weeks, I have had the pleasure of charging up all of my smartphones and headsets with the Volonic Valet 3 wireless charging pad. Volonic is a luxury brand that focuses on the fusion of technology and fashionable pieces of art. They even offer a Volonic Valet 3 in 18k gold with an absurd price of $250,000.
Needless to say, I was not sent a Limited Edition 18K yellow gold charging pad to test out, but I was offered the chance to walk through the custom design shop in order to design the review unit. Let's take a closer look at that process and my experiences with the Volonic Valet 3 wireless charging pad. You can also choose to purchase one of the four standard design versions of the Valet 3, ranging in price from $585 to $650.
Custom design shop experience
Enter the custom design shop website to start the process. There are four primary design elements that you can customize for your own Volonic Valet 3: collections, color options, leg types, and the charger and cable.
In the collections section, you have the option of choosing an anodized aluminum body or a high gloss "Grand Piano" body that includes the frame around the edges and the bottom of the charging pad. The "Grand Piano" option has an additional $65 charge.
The next steps include color options and in this area, you can choose your frame color (black or silver for aluminum and black or white for the glossy option), the color of the Volonic logo, and the color/material of the top charging plate. There are four color options for Alcantara material and eight color options for leather material. Choosing a leather option also adds $65 to $115 to the price of your charging pad. There are some lovely options available and as you make your selection the 360-degree view to the left of the selections will be updated with your choice so that you can get a live view of your design as you go through the process.
A basic selection is then made to choose stud or diamond leg designs. The legs are small silicone feet on the bottom of the charging pad to keep it from sliding around a table and the two options are similar.
The final options include selecting a black or white 36W USB-C wall charger and then your preferred cable length (1, 3, 6, or 10 feet). No difference in price is applied to your selected cable length.
After going through the process a few times, selecting the plate color and material was clearly the most difficult choice for me and I ended up with three favorites. In the end, my evaluation unit had the following characteristics:
Silver anodized frame color
Gunmetal gray logo treatment
Blue Lamborghini Nappa Full Grain Delphi leather plate option
Black charger and six-foot cable
The total price for the Valet 3 I designed was $800. It was assembled and then arrived just about a week after designing it in the shop and placing the order.
Volonic Valet 3 review: in pictures
Walk around the Valet 3
The Volonic Valet 3 I created has a weight of 702 grams (1 pound, 8.7 ounces) so it is a dense, weighted charging pad that will stay in place on a table.
The blue leather is a very dark blue and looks incredible. It has a very nice leather smell and rises just above the anodized aluminum silver frame. The corners of the pad and frame are rounded with the leather surface measuring about 8.5 inches long and 4.75 inches wide. The Volonic name is centered on the front of the frame with just a bit of texture above the surface.
The edges are cut to perfection with flat and angled surfaces that provide a nice look and soft touch. The USB-C port is centered on the back and it is set in from the edge so not all USB-C cables will plug into it. I highly recommend that you use the included charger and cable for optimal performance of the charger.
Swinging back around to the front, there are three openings centered below the Volonic logo with white LED lights that shine through. These lights indicate a device is positioned in one of the three areas of the pad and are actively charging. The review unit shows the left area with a brighter light than the other two areas so I'm not sure why there is a brightness difference here.
The four legs are present on the bottom to prevent the charger from sliding on a flat surface. Four small Torx screws are positioned on the bottom plate.
The cable is a hardy, fabric-covered cable so matches the elegant, high-end design of the charging pad.
One unique aspect of the Aira FreePower technology is the ability to apply firmware updates to the charging pad. As you can read on the FreePower technology website there are proprietary algorithms and dynamic multiple coils providing charging to your devices so the technology can be tuned and refined by Aira.
Firmware releases can provide charging improvements, bug fixes, and additional device compatibility. When Apple released the iPhone 12 series of phones with MagSafe technology, it reduced the size of the Qi wireless charging coil in the phone to accommodate the magnets. Aira was able to develop a firmware update for its intelligent charging system in order to work with the iPhone 12 series while other chargers became incompatible, including those installed in many vehicles.
To update you simply download the updater utility to your Windows or Mac computer and then connect your wireless charging pad via a USB-C cable. The Volonic website lists several devices, including iPhones, AirPods, Android phones, tablets, and other wireless earbuds. Every standard phone and headset I have tested has worked with the Volonic Valet 3 so it is likely even some devices not listed yet will work just fine on the pad.
Daily charging experiences
There are 18 coils inside the charging pad and you can position your gear just about anywhere. The coils don't extend all of the way out to the very edge of the pad so keep your devices in from the edge a half-inch or so. Understand that there are three zones for charging your gear, split evenly along the width of the charging pad. This is typical for charging pads where space constraints and common use case practices dictate the size of the charging zones.
Given that Aira's FreePower technology uses advanced algorithms and intelligence, placing two headsets down in one zone does something we do not see on your garden variety inexpensive Qi charging pad. The Volonic Valet 3 will identify one headset and then charge it up to a full charge. While keeping both headsets on the pad, the second headset will be recognized and then charge up once the first headset is charged up. This is the kind of performance we dreamed about when wireless charging was first presented and is the way to gain confidence in wireless power.
I noticed it can take 4-7 seconds for the charging pad to recognize a device is placed on it until the device charging light is activated. After talking with Aira CEO, Jake Slatnick, this is expected as the FreePower technology inside the charging pad figures out the centerpoint of the charging coil on the device and then optimizes charging for that center. It was also interesting to learn that the Volonic Valet 3 charging pad has almost no active power draw when no devices are positioned on the pad as the technology only activates the charging coils when charging devices.
The Volonic Valet 3 is focused on being a piece of elegant, luxury art with the utility to charge up your gear conveniently. Power supplied from the Valet 3 is 10W for Samsung and Google phones, 7.5W for the iPhone, and 5W for other devices such as headsets. These higher levels were provided with a firmware update to the Aira FreePower technology a couple of months ago. It's important to understand that the wattage game should not really be the focus of the consumer as the highest output is provided for a limited time when a device battery is low, but as charging continues the wattage supplied via wireless charging is greatly reduced. Aira FreePower charging pads have intelligence inside that far exceeds cheap Qi charging pads and provides reliable charging with confidence.
If you have ever woken up to a dead smartphone that was resting on a wireless charger, I have many times in the past and want a high-end piece for your office or home then you might consider the Volonic Valet 3. It's a stunning charging pad with wireless technology inside that helps you experience the reality of worry-free convenient charging for multiple devices. It is also extremely well built so the hardware will last for years while the technology inside will also evolve and improve over time.