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Mobile Accessories

I spent $13 to add wireless charging to my iPhone

It's surprisingly easy and affordable to add this capability to an older model. Here's how.

wireless-charging-iphone-5s-in-case

I added a $13.57 Qi receiver to my iPhone. Can you spot it? Nope, because it's tucked inside the case I was already using.

Photo by Rick Broida/CNET

With the exception of the iPhone 7 ($200 at Walmart), every phone in Apple's current lineup supports wireless charging. No more futzing with Lightning cables (unless you want to), just lay the phone on a charging pad and presto: magnetic-induction goodness.

Bummer for those with older models, right? Wrong: For around $13, you can add wireless charging to nearly any iPhone ($1,000 at Amazon). And you know what? It works!

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Here's what a typical Qi receiver looks like on the back of an iPhone 5S. It's not stuck to it, but there's a strip of adhesive if you want it to be.

Photo by Rick Broida/CNET

How is that even possible?

Before Apple added the technology to iPhones (starting with the iPhone 8 ($599 at Amazon) and X), users had to rely on bulky, expensive, inconvenient backpack-style cases from third-party companies.  

Today, however, you can add wireless charging in the form of a razor-thin pad that sticks to the back of your phone. It does require full-time access to the Lightning port, but not at the expense of using your own case. And it's much easier to remove if necessary. Here's the result of my $13 experiment.

Is it really just $13?

If you hit up Amazon for "Qi charging receiver iPhone," you'll find several seemingly identical products from brands like Nillkin, SainSonic and YKing. (Yep, I never heard of them, either.)

Most of them are priced at $13-$14, though a few are available for as low as $10. You'll find them in the UK for £6-£11, and in Australia for AU$10-AU$16.

The one I'll recommend is this Qi receiver from Nillkin, if only because I tried both the iPhone and Android versions and found that they worked well. Indeed, the latter has been attached to a backup phone for about a year, and so far, so good.

You can use these receivers with pretty much any Qi charging pad or stand, though I definitely recommend getting one with at least two coils, just to make sure you don't accidentally miss the "sweet spot" when you lay your phone down. (More coils means more wireless-charging surface area.)

You can barely see the Lightning connector; it doesn't protrude at all.

Rick Broida/CNET

How fast is charging?

I fully expected inductive charging to take longer than cable-powered charging. No wires must mean a mere trickle of juice, right?

Wrong. When I first conducted these tests (in September 2017), I played videos on an iPhone 5S ($120 at Walmart) until the battery went dead, then charged it using an Invitian charging receiver and a Seneo charging pad. Total time to get to 100 percent: just under 2 hours. That's almost exactly how long it takes with a Lightning cable.

Your mileage absolutely can and may vary -- depending in part on whether you use a case, and how thick that case is.

My first test was without a case. But then I slipped it back onto the phone (and over the receiver) and was glad to see that it fit perfectly. That's because the receiver itself is barely thicker than a piece of paper, and the ribbon connecting the Lightning plug is narrow and flexible.

Charging seemed to work just as well, though I'll admit I didn't time it to see if the case slowed down the process.

I strongly recommend using a case, not just for drop-protection purposes, but also because there's only a narrow strip of adhesive holding the receiver to the back of your phone. There's nothing to keep the edges down or the ribbon cable protected. I feel like a lot of sliding in and out of pockets or purses will take a toll.

Indeed, if you use a case, you don't even need to use the adhesive: The receiver will just stay pressed to the back of the phone where it needs to be. But it does make it harder to unplug the connector should you need to do so. There's just no easy way to grab it.

If you want wireless charging (in any phone), forget using products like the Ungrip.

Photo by Rick Broida/CNET

What's the downside?

If you happen to check the user reviews for some of these Qi receivers, you'll note that some folks have encountered compatibility issues with the charging pads built into some cars.

Is that due to incompatible wireless-charging standards? Could be. For what it's worth, all these iPhone receivers appear to support Qi technology. I'm not sure if all cars do as well.

Another issue: These are obviously quite cheap, so reliability may not be great. 

Remember, too, that whether you use a case or not, you won't be able to use certain phone-gripper products, like the PopSocket or Spigen Style Ring: They preclude your phone from laying flat on the charging pad, which is necessary. (I've had no trouble, however, with the Phone Strap, which remains one of my favorite grippers -- in part because it's Qi-friendly!)

It's also worth noting that none of these receivers appear to be certified by Apple's "Made for iPhone" program. That certification isn't free, so bargain manufacturers often skip it. But that's another reason these accessories have more of a "behind the counter at the local bodega" vibe than something you'll find at the checkout line in Best Buy

Finally, let me note that testing like this is the very reason the phrase "your mileage may vary" was invented. You might get different results depending on the receiver you buy, the charging pad you use and so on. This is still fairly new technology, and there are variables at play.

That said, there's an extra upside to using an external receiver like this: It keeps your Lightning port free of dust and debris. I recently learned from an Apple Store employee that such gunk can interfere with successful cable-powered charging -- far more than most users are aware. 

If you've already tried one of these third-party wireless-charging solutions, hit the comments and share your experiences!

Originally published on Sept. 20, 2017.
Update, Jan. 7, 2019: Added new information.


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