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Powermat Wireless Charging System review

Gordon Kelly



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Review Price £20.41

There are many technologies we're desperate to see break into the mainstream: WiGig, LightPeak and Near Field Communications (NFC) to name just a handful, but the easiest to implement would be inductive charging. Other than the Palm Pre and its Touchstone charger the induction charging in gadgets remains criminally underused so peripherals companies are taking matters in their own hands and none with more vigour than Powermat…

For those not in the know, inductive charging has been around for years. The science is quite complex, but the simplest way to describe it is a form of short distance wireless energy transfer. An induction coil in the charging base station creates an electromagnetic field which transmits power to a second induction coil in the device and this is converted into electric current to charge the battery. If you haven't seen it in the Pre, then another high profile example is Oral B's electric toothbrushes.

So back to Powermat and what makes it interesting is the level of commitment the company has to this technology: a massive advertising budget, a multitude of charging 'mats' in just about every format and cases for a plethora of devices. In short Powermat is betting the farm on finally getting users to adopt inductive charging. It had a tentative start, but second generation products are now turning heads – so what do we make of them?

Having taken a look at a variety of Powermat products the answer is: it depends entirely on which devices you own.

What can't be faulted are the charging mats themselves. Powermat sells these in different sizes to support one, two or three devices. They also come in rigid shapes (the 'Home & Office' mats above) or foldable 'Portable Mats' (below) for easy travelling. Whatever their configuration each is well built with a signal input for an AC adaptor and textured finished to the mat with their charging points clearly indicated.

A nice touch is Powermat uses magnets in its mats and cases so devices automatically align when touched down. You'll also hear a distinctive noise to let you know your device has started charging and another when it is picked up from the mat. In addition to this mats have a white LED for each charging area which lights up when in use.

So far so good, but where things become more hit and miss are the cases themselves.

Powermat dubs these cases 'receivers' and it must be noted there is currently a greater selection of them in the US than the UK. Stateside the company has receivers for the iPhone 4, 3G, 3GS, iPods, BlackBerry Tour, Pearl, Bold and Curve series, HTC Evo, HD2 and Motorola Droid X handsets. On top of this are back panels for the Nintendo DS Lite and DSi. Here you'll find the HTC, Motorola, iPod and BlackBerry Tour receivers are currently missing and it seems odd not to have made receivers for hugely popular models like the Desire, Desire HD and Galaxy S.

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December 18, 2010, 4:18 pm

So - what exactly is the use of this? I pay quite a lot of money to spare me the "hassle" of plugging my phone onto the charger? Really? REALLY???

I could see some sense in this if Powermat were trying to make their mat some sort of standartised item and Phone-manufacturers could (at their discretion) implement this in their phones from the start. But having to buy a new receiver for every new phone - and in the process hoping that there will be a receiver for my next phone - seems absolutely bonkers to me.

john g

December 18, 2010, 4:47 pm

An interesting overview, but the article leaves me wanting to know two things:

Firstly, how does the efficiency compare with using the manufacturer's own plug-in chargers? I assume it must be less, but is it significant?

Secondly, this system must surely lead to people leaving the charging mats plugged in all the time, otherwise the convenience of the system becomes pretty marginal. How much power do the base units consume when idle?


December 18, 2010, 5:28 pm

I agree that induction charging is the way forward but until devices have these electric coils built into their case it's still going to take a while to be worth the expense and outlay. For a start you still need the induction mats plugged into a wall socket and would need a few of these to cover all the places where you might need to charge your device, home, work, spare room. The space taken up by both the mats and the case adapters is more than any mains charger and cable, so I'm not convinced they're as convenient yet. Having to fit this around my iPhone and connect the mat is more hassle that just plugging the USB cable in.


December 18, 2010, 7:30 pm

@Tim - I'd suggest the main benefit is when using one mat to charge two or three devices. Come home, drop your phone, iPod and DS on the mat and go off for a cup of tea. If it is just one handset - particularly an iPhone where I the cases aren't up to scratch - then there's little benefit.

@Orinj - you're spot on. Powermat has said it aims to offer replacement batteries for handsets with removable batteries which will make the whole system built in. It is also in talks with phone makers (it wouldn't say which) to built the tech in from day one. That is definitely the future for induction charging, whether it succeeds in negotiations (always terribly difficult with mega corporate) is another matter entirely. An industry standard induction charging specification would be crucial here.

@John g (Memento reference? :) - Power efficiency is claimed to be 90 per cent which places it above many dedicated chargers, but some of the eco chargers are better. What we don't know is the idle power draw, but I'll chase up an answer on that for you. The speed of the charging is impressive though with a 3 device mat charging all three devices as a rate comparable to their dedicated chargers.


December 18, 2010, 7:38 pm

Update: Powermat tells me standby current is 0.011A, but power draw can be up to 0.7W on some mats which means you'd want to switch them off when not in use.

As for the devices themselves, the mats do have auto shut-off technology so that once a device(s) is fully charged, power is shut off to that device. This should both save energy and prevent overcharging.

john g

December 18, 2010, 8:12 pm

Crikey Gordon, I've just Googled Memento... that might explain why I have so few friends. Lol!


December 18, 2010, 10:08 pm


Well, with the growing convergence of mobile devices, how many people are really schlepping 3 devices around?

And I just know that if there is just the hint of a standard emerging, Sony and/or Apple will come along and try to establish their own, slightly incompatible standard. This is something I don't see going anywhere.


December 19, 2010, 3:18 am

Interesting article. I have one of those Oral-B toothbrushes and have been hoping for ages that the technology will make it into my phone. Then with wireless data transfer and a couple of easy changes, everything can be waterproof! Fingers crossed.


December 19, 2010, 4:00 am

@Gordon - I have a small 3 socket extension lead on the end of my desk which has an individual switch per socket. The iphone charger lives in one, the camera in the second and the third for occasional use stuff. 99% as convenient as a power mat, no need to turn off at the mains socket and no need to put weird jackets on stuff ... or pay £20 plus jackets!

I love the idea but until I own enough stuff that has the coils built in, it will be restricted to my electric toothbrush!


December 19, 2010, 5:06 pm

I did think the Touchstone charger was cool when the Pre was announced and had it (personally) as a must-have accessory. However that never happened because the iPhone 3GS came out while Palm were dragging their heels bring the Pre to the UK market!

Device integration is the key on widespread adoption of this I think, at the minute I've got my iPhone, digicam, bluetooth headset and hair trimmer dotted around my desk - easily being able to chuck these onto a charging spot without having to dig whichever charger out from the mess of cables would be ideal.

I work in transport and could see this device being very useful for driver mobile phones - very often you see a huge mess of chargers, extension cables and phones in the corner, or chargers and phones dotted all around the windowsills. And there's often a mix of different types. Something like this would be great for managing this mess - much tidier in appearance and the magnetic snap-to would leave you with a bunch of neatly lined up phones making it easy to check all have been returned!


December 19, 2010, 5:12 pm

Powermat has been saying that replacement batteries/Powerpacks are on the way since January, but they've never materialised, what's going on?


December 20, 2010, 12:06 am

@Tim - can only guess that negotiations are dragging. I'll be meeting them at CES in January so I'll get an update.

@Crispy - I can emphasise completely. An industry standard induction charging specification would revolutionise mobile technology. Everything from work desks to train and plane tables could have a simple strip where you'd place your phone/mp3 player/laptop and they'd all start charging. It's a beautiful dream...


December 20, 2010, 3:04 am

this would be great on holiday, hotel rooms can have a limited amount of power sockets, and rather than carrying lots of cabled chargers around, a single power mat where you sit mp3, camera, phones etc to get a quick boost before heading out again is where this tech really appeals to me right now.. and to add to Crispy / Gordons comments, imagine this tech rolled out in bars / university or public libraries / student halls.. would be a dream, especially with current smartphone battery limitations..


December 21, 2010, 5:28 pm

@Cailan - absolutely. It's on the cusp of being brilliant.

@john g - one of my favourite films of all time. I demand you watch it immediately!


December 22, 2010, 3:39 pm

I kept on reading John G's post over and over looking for the Memento reference...

Then I got it. Doh!

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