Editors' note: Though we reviewed the Powermat Home and Office Mat, the Portable Mat serves the same purpose but with a compact, foldable design. We updated this review on April 2, 2010, to reflect further testing.
If you had told us five years ago that innovation was coming in cell phone chargers, we wouldn't have believed you. Our response would have been, "What's the point?" We're perfectly happy with the wall charger that came in the box."
As it turns out, we were wrong--but only partially. Both the Wildcharge Pad, which we reviewed last year, and the new Powermat Home and Office Mat can power your phone without a physical connection to a wall charger. However, it's not completely wireless--you have to plug in the phone somehow--but it is quite a change compared with how things are done normally.
The technology is innovative and both devices work just fine, but we're still not completely sold on them. As with the Wildcharge Pad, we still don't see the Powermat as really fulfilling a need. We're still happy with our charger that came in the box, and we're not eager to shell out $100 for a product that does what we can do already for free. Even though it can zap power to up to four devices at once, you're going to need to pay more for the privilege.
As you might expect, the Powermat's primary element is a thin, black mat shaped like a skateboard (though without the angled ends). At 12.25 inches long by 4.56 inches wide by 0.63 inch deep, it's not exactly portable (you'll have to use Powermat Portable to take it on the go), but it is lightweight (9.9 ounces). The mat is mostly plastic, but a rubber section on its bottom ensures it won't slip around on a table.
In the box you'll find a power cable for connecting the Powermat to an electrical outlet. The cable is adequately long (4.5 feet long) and you can wrap it around its base for storage. You'll also get a Powercube Universal receiver, which is required for powering a device that doesn't have a Powermat receiver case available for it. You also get a selection of adapter tips for connecting the Universal Receiver to your phone.
The Universal Receiver illustrates an important point about the Powermat. Despite what you might have inferred from the company's advertising, the Powermat does not work without any wires at all. You can't just place a phone on the mat and expect it to zap your handset back to life magically; rather, you must connect your phone to the Universal Receiver, which you then place on the mat. And as mentioned previously, you must plug in the mat in the first place
Once you have that concept down, using the Powermat is easy. Three magnetic points on the mat not only deliver power to the Universal Receiver, but also hold it securely in place. Then, after placing the Universal Receiver and selecting the correct tip from the seven provided, you can connect your phone. The charging process should begin at once; a tweet sound will alert you that you've connected the Universal Adapter correctly and a tiny light will shine when your phone charging.
Overall, the Powermat worked fine. We charged both an iPhone 3G and a Samsung SGH-A117 without any issues. The entire charging period was about the same as with a standard plug and the phones held a similar amount of battery life. However, with a Motorola Cliq we ran into an issue. After charging for about 10 minutes, the Powermat ceased working and the tweet alert started sounding continuously. The alert lasted about 3 minutes, and continued even after we disconnected the phone, unplugged the Powermat, and plugged it in again. We alerted the company and they sent us another review unit. The problem didn't occur again, but it shouldn't have happened in the first place.
You get seven Universal Receiver adapters in the box. Besides specific tips for Apple, LG, Sony, and Samsung products, you'll also find a Mini-USB and a Micro-USB adapter as well as tips for the Nintendo DS Lite and Dsi. Powermat also included a carrying case for the tips, though it can hold only three at once. Besides the Universal Receiver, you also can use receivers crafted specifically for the iPhone 3G, the first-generation iPhone and iPod, and the RIM BlackBerry Bold. We didn't test these products, though it's worth noting that ZDNET's Andrew Nusca had a difficult time with the iPhone receiver. The receivers also cost extra ($29.99 to $39.99), which means you'll have to spend more than the unit's base price to take advantage of one of the Powermat's better features, which is charging more than one device at a time. On a similar note, you can power a fourth device with a USB cable, but you don't get one in the box.