Wireless Charging: Awesome Concept, Crappy Reality

Wireless charging is one of those things I really, really want to succeed. I hate plugging stuff in; I hate having wires trailing all over the place, and I hate having to fiddle with connectors. Eight times out of ten I will try to plug in a micro-USB any cable upside down on the first attempt.

Over the last few years more and more wireless charging has appeared, and it’s starting to become more common in mobile phones. The Palm Pre was the first I was aware of, but recently Nokia has been on board, and of course, my Nexus 4 has the capability. Aftermarket accessories are available for most major phones.

It’s a shame it just doesn’t work well in my experience.

I have two different wireless chargers at home – a Nokia, and a generic charger bought on eBay. I’ve given up on both of them. I’d try the official “orb” charger for the Nexus, but it’s not available in the UK without paying an extortionate amount for it on eBay.

Problems I’ve had include:

  • the “charging spot” is small, and you have to place the phone in a very precise manner to get it charging. Sometimes even the angle of the phone on the face of the charger can have an effect. (Imagine the charger surface like a clock face – 12 o’clock: no charge; 2 o’clock: charging works)
  • if you do get the phone in just the right spot, it’ll charge for a few minutes then mysteriously stop charging… then randomly start charging again… and so on. When your phone insists on making a noise whenever it is plugged in or unplugged from power, this gets annoying fast.
  • All the chargers I’ve seen or tried have a smooth, glossy plastic surface. The back of my Nexus is smooth and glossy (glass). Unless you have the charger perfectly level, eventually the phone is going to slide off, either completely, or just enough to stop charging. The Nokia has a slightly raised ring in the centre, which seems to exacerbate this problem.

On the generic charger I tried to mitigate some of these issues using thin rubber bands near the edges to provide some grip for the phone to stay in place. When stretched over the charger they were maybe 1/2 mm thick. Sadly this was thick enough to prevent the phone charging at all – presumably for not being close enough to the charging circuit.

What I’d really like to see – and it’s something I think would solve a lot of the “fiddliness” I’ve encountered so far – is a QI-compatible wireless charger similar to an old mouse-mat (the soft fabric + foam/rubber type). The surface texture would stop the phone sliding around, and if you embed one big (or many small) charging spots it should maintain a constant charge even if it does move around. It seems obvious to me, so I can only presume there’s some sort of technical/manufacturing limitation which prevents something like this being made.

If I get some free time over summer I’ll try hacking this idea together (hopefully it doesn’t cause a fire!). In the meantime, here’s a really well done video of someone combining the Nokia charger with an Ikea nightstand. It would be wonderful if this was the reality of wireless charging.