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Everything you need to know about wireless charging

Derek Walter | Sept. 5, 2016
No smart home would be complete without wireless chargers to keep the batteries your smart devices topped off. We'll help you choose the right standard.

Wireless charging is one of the most liberating developments in technology today. Instead of searching for and fiddling with wall warts and cables, or crawling under my desk to reach an AC outlet, I just set my Galaxy S7 Edge smartphone on a special pad to top off its battery. When I need to use the phone or leave the house, I pick up it and go—there’s nothing to disconnect or unplug. It's awesome.

You can enjoy the same experience, but there are a few pitfalls you’ll want to watch out for. The biggest one is that there is more than one wireless-charging standard, so you'll need to know which one your smartphone supports. We'll help you figure that out and explain all the nuances and acronyms you’ll encounter along the way.

The who’s who of wireless charging

There has been considerable consolidation in the wireless-charging market, to the point that there are just two remaining consortia: The Wireless Power Consortium (WPC), which backs the Qi wireless charging standard it's (pronounced “chee,” from the Chinese word for energy flow), and the AirFuel Alliance, which resulted from the merger of the  Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP) and the Power Matters Alliance (PMA). Thoroughly muddying the waters, however, is the fact that the AirFuel Alliance supports two different standards--PMA and Rezence; what's worse is that those standards were renamed after the merger. They're now known as  AirFuel Inductive and AirFuel Resonant respectively. Yes, there will be a quiz at the end of this article (kidding).

Qi is the older technology; as such, you'll find it incorporated into more places, including furniture, lamps (such as the uber-fancy Aerelight A1 OLED desk lamp, shown below), and even some automobiles (including the Lexus NX). Qi uses inductive charging, which requires the device to be in physical contact with a flat charging mat.

Aerelight OLED desk lamp 
The Aerelight A1 OLED desk lamp features a Qi charging pad built into its base.

PMA/AirFuel Inductive, as you might have guessed, is also based on inductive charging; it just utilizes a different frequency than Qi. You'll find PMA/AirFuel Inductive technology in the Powermat charging stations at many Starbucks locations. Some smarthphones, including Samsung's Galaxy S6 and S7 series, support both the Qi and the PMA/AirFuel Inductive standards.

Rezence/AirFuel Resonant technology can pass an electric charge through surfaces, such as books or clothing; it can also charge more than one device at the same time, even if multiple devices have different charging requirements.This technology has yet to reach the market, however, and it won't be compatible with either Qi or PMA/AirFuel Inductive devices when it does.

 

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