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Powermat Wireless Charging System - Handset, iPod and Gaming Receiver Cases

Gordon Kelly

By Gordon Kelly

Reviewed:

Summary

Our Score:

8

More importantly, however, is the variable quality of the receivers themselves. This is partly Powermat's fault and partly down to the handsets themselves. For example the iPhone 3G/3Gs receiver is beautifully made with a rubberised back and metal contact charging pad, but it is extremely bulky. You could argue this is because iPhones are sealed so you can't take the back off to fashion a more compact product and you'd have a point.

The problem is the iPhone 4 case is extremely thin so negates that argument, yet it is constructed with cheap plastic and looks and feels poor making it something I doubt many would want to carry with them. Since the Powermat receivers connect to the iPhone dock connectors these are also covered and the company has opted to embed a mini USB port. This makes them useless with iPod docks and not even compatible with the micro USB universal charging standard. Consequently if you own an iPhone, I'm not convinced Powermat has yet gotten its receivers right.

The flip side to this is Powermat receivers for handsets with removable backs and accessible batteries are superb. Dubbed 'receiver doors' they fit almost flush on most models and completely flush on the BlackBerry Bold 9700 and Curve series, HTC Evo, HD2 and Droid X. These work beautifully, build quality is excellent and you'll end up with a solution every bit as elegant as seen on the Palm Pre and Pre 2. Then again switch to the DS Lite/DSi and again we have a huge rubberised receiver which is both ugly and unwieldy. There's simply no consistency.

The good news is Powermat clearly has the potential to even out its flaws. The 'Powercube', for example, is evidence of the company's smart design prowess being a small square (it's not a cube at all) with interchangeable tips that sits directly on the mats and is capable of connecting to hundreds of devices. We've also seen Powermat's vision for inductive charging and it is both ambitious and impressive.

All of which means we find the current products something of a mixed bag with user satisfaction likely to be determined entirely by the device in your pocket. BlackBerry users in particular would be mad not to open their wallets. The inconsistency is frustrating though because the mats do exactly what they promise: convenient charging with charge times that are a match for a dedicated charger plugged into a socket.

Furthermore there are also some bargains to be had. The three device Home and Office mat has an RRP of £69.99, but you'll find it on Amazon at the time of publication from just £21.97. Meanwhile receivers range from £9.99 for the BlackBerry Pearl to £19.99 for the iPhone 4.

Verdict

It is hard to rate the Powermat charging system. The charging mats are universally excellent, but cases are hit and miss and price and build quality vary tremendously. Ultimately iPhone users don't come out of it well, but if you own a phone with a removable battery cover you'll wonder how you ever lived without induction charging.

Overall Score

8

Scores In Detail

  • Value 8
  • Features 8
  • Design 8

Tim

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?

Orinj

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.

Gordon394

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.

Gordon394

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!

Tim

December 18, 2010, 10:08 pm

@Gordon





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.

Gusta

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.

Retset

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!

Crispy

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!

TIM SEVERN

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?

Gordon394

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...

Cailan

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..

Gordon394

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!

MattMe

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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