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Mobile Accessories

How to choose a wireless charger for your iPhone

Make sure you've got what you need to keep your iPhone powered up.

mophie-wireless-charging-base

Apple sells this Mophie charging pad for $40, but there are others priced significantly lower.

Apple

Modern iPhones offer a great convenience: wireless charging. Just lay your phone down on a pad or stand and presto! The battery sucks up juice as if by magic.

OK, but with roughly 37 million wireless chargers out there, how do you choose the right one? The best one? The affordable one?

And with the recent demise of Apple's long-awaited AirPower pad, is there a way to wirelessly charge your iPhone, Apple Watch ( $439 at Walmart) and AirPods ( $145 at Amazon) all at the same time?

Those are all great questions. Here come the answers.

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Align your Qi

iPhones and AirPods rely on Qi (pronounced "chee") wireless-charging technology. That's great, because it means any Qi-compatible charger should work.

Ah, but how important is it that you choose a Qi-certified charger, meaning one that's been approved by the Wireless Power Consortium? Short answer: fairly important. If you use a charger that's not Qi-certified, it might prove incompatible with your device or, worse, it could damage the device. Read the WPC's FAQ page to learn more.

Does Apple sell charging pads?

airpower-dead

RIP, AirPower. We hardly knew ye.

Captura de pantalla por Jován Pulgarín/CNET

Funny story. When Apple introduced its first Qi-compatible phones -- the iPhone 8 ( $650 at Best Buy) and iPhone X ( $630 at Walmart) -- back in 2017, the company also announced the aforementioned AirPower charging pad. It would charge not only your iPhone, but also your Apple Watch and AirPods.

It was due to arrive in 2018, but in the interim, Apple's online store started selling third-party charging pads. To date, Apple has yet to offer its own Qi charger, and as you just learned, the AirPower is officially dead. So that leaves you with third-party solutions for now and the foreseeable future.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. You'll get the same functionality for a lot less money.

Read more: Apple AirPower is dead, but these alternatives are probably better anyway

How to choose a third-party charger

Although Qi chargers all perform the same basic function, they're not all created equal.

Here's a simple guideline: Buy one with a design you like and price you can afford. Most Qi chargers fall into one of two categories: pads and stands. The latter would be best for, say, a nightstand, where you just want to lay your phone down before drifting off to sleep. (Just make sure it doesn't have overly bright charging LEDs, which could prove a nuisance to light sleepers.)

This $19 Qi charging stand from Pleson has two coils instead of just one, the better to ensure good induction.

Pleson

If you spend a lot of time at a desk, it makes sense to choose a charging stand, one that props up your phone so you can see the screen -- and more easily unlock the phone with Face ID.

What features should you look for in a Qi charger? Start with these:

Grip: A rubber ring embedded in the pad can help keep your phone from slipping around. Without it, one slight bump might knock the two coils out of alignment, disrupting charging.

Coils: All it takes is a single charging coil to power your phone, but you'll see some chargers touting two or three coils. What's the advantage? A multicoil charger gives you more room on the pad, meaning you don't have to be quite so precise when you lay your phone down.

Similarly, if you're looking at stands, it's preferable to have extra coils because different phones are different heights, and you want to ensure it connects properly.

So a small, one-coil circular pad is fine, but if you're choosing a larger charging mat or a charging stand, opt for two or three coils. This popular Qi-certified Seneo stand, currently $18 at Amazon, offers two.

humixx-wireless-charging-pad

This generic charging pad is Qi-certified -- and $11.

Humixx

Price: If you shop at the Apple online store, you'll see that the least-expensive Qi charging pad runs $40 while the cheapest charging stand runs $70, for brands like Logitech and Mophie. If you're willing to go with a lesser-known brand, you'll save a lot.

There's the aforementioned Seneo, for example, and I routinely see deals like this Humixx Qi-certified 10-watt charging pad for $10.99. Bottom line: You can get a perfectly good pad or stand in the $10-to-$20 range; there's no need to spend more.

"Smart" LEDs: Not all charging pads are nightstand-friendly: Some employ very bright LEDs that could prove distracting to light sleepers. So look for one that specifically touts dim LEDs or ones that deactivate after a few seconds.

Speed: You'll see a lot of charging pads promising "fast" charging, which pertains to how much power they can deliver to the phone. In the case of iPhones, "fast" charging occurs at 7.5 watts. Although there are some Qi chargers that manage only 5 watts, many now produce at least 10 -- more than enough for fast iPhone charging. Of course, if you're just charging overnight on your nightstand, a 5-watt pad is more than adequate.

Wall adapter: As noted below in "How does the charger get power?", not all pads and stands come with wall plugs. You may not need one, but check to see if it's included.

Can you still use a case?

Yes -- provided it's not metal or, you know, several inches thick. Remember, Qi charging is based on magnetic induction, not direct contact. As long as your phone manages to get within a few millimeters of the pad -- and there's no metal interference -- it should be able to charge.

That said, there are plenty of variables here, so your mileage may vary. Qi charging should work with any leather, silicone or similarly non-metallic case with a thickness of 3mm or less.

Read more: The best iPhone XR cases

Read more: The best iPhone XS and XS Max cases

How does the charger get power?

You're cutting one cord but adding another: The charger itself must have power, and that power comes from a cable that usually plugs into a USB port. It's important to note that some charging pads, especially the cheaper ones, don't come with a wall plug, meaning you'll have to supply your own or plug the pad into your laptop or another powered port.

Remember, though: If you're using a pad that produces 10 watts of power, you'll need an AC adapter that can do likewise. For example, here's a two-pack of iClever USB wall chargers for $12, each one capable of producing 12 watts.

hokonui-qi-power-bank

Cut the cord entirely with a portable Qi power bank like this one.

Hokonui

Some might say this whole wireless charging thing is a cheat, that it isn't wireless at all. Tomato, tomahto: There's no longer a wire between your phone and the charger, so that part is wireless.

And if you want to cut the cord altogether, at least while you travel, there are mobile power-banks that have Qi charging capabilities. For example: the Hokonui 10,000-mAh portable Qi power bank for $33.99.

How do I charge in my car?

Some cars have Qi-compatible charging pads built in, which sounds ideal but may not be: Most of those pads reside down low, in the center console.

The ideal spot for a phone in a car is near or on top of the dashboard, where it's close to eye level. (Actually, the ideal spot is in the glove compartment or anywhere else you won't actually use it while driving. But that's a lecture for another day.)

To accomplish that, you'll need an aftermarket Qi car mount. As with regular mounts, these come in a variety of styles: vent mounts, windshield mounts and so on.

Of course, you'll have to contend with a power cord running from the mount to your car's power port -- not the most attractive option. It might actually make more sense to install a traditional mount, then just plug in a regular charging cable when your phone needs juice.

Can I add wireless charging to an older iPhone?

Yes! Older models lack the necessary innards for Qi-powered charging, but you can buy an external receiver that sticks to the back of the phone. Then just use any of the above chargers.

Originally published on Oct. 2, 2017.
Update, April 3, 2019: Added new information reflecting changes in the market.

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