The Nomad Base Station Pro is what Apple's AirPower hoped to be
It's not cheap, but the Nomad Base Station Pro is the first three-device, free-position wireless charging pad to hit the market.
David CarnoyExecutive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
ExpertiseMobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakersCredentials
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Announced back in September 2017, Apple's perpetually delayed AirPower three-device wireless charging mat was officially canceled last year. While some version of it may someday be released, Nomad's new $230 Base Station Pro ably fills the void for those hankering for a high-end wireless charging pad. Incorporating cutting-edge technology from start-up Aira, the Base Staton Pro is billed as the first "3-device, free-position charging surface on the market," and is available now for preorder. It's expected to ship next month.
To be clear, there are plenty of charging mats on the market, and many multidevice charging mats, too. But to date, all of them require you to hit a "sweet spot" for a Qi wireless device to properly charge. Miss it -- or knock it from the center when you're checking the time in the middle of the night -- and you're liable to wake up with a your phone or wireless headphones sporting a dead battery.
By contrast, free-position charging or "drop-anywhere" charging, as its sometimes called, is the Holy Grail of wireless charging. According to Nomad, unlike the need with traditional chargers to hit that sweet spot, Aira's patented FreePower technology features full-surface charging from "corner to corner." In other words, you can place a Qi-enabled device anywhere on the surface and the mat is able to precisely deliver power to optimize performance thanks to some advanced software.
I've been using an early sample of the Base Station Pro and it mostly works as advertised, though I did encounter some issues with one phone charging slowly after another was fully charged (Nomad says the bug will be fixed with an upcoming firmware upgrade). The mat is powered by a 30W power adapter via USB-C and is capable of delivering up to 7.5W of wireless charging to three devices simultaneously. If the device, such as the AirPods or AirPods Pro, is capped at 5W charging, it only delivers 5W to that device.
Aira says that the Base Station Pro can charge as fast as wireless pads that have higher power ratings. While iPhones currently charge at up to 7.5W, certain Android models are rated to charge for up to 15W wireless charging.
I was able to get three phones charging at the same time, but it's hard, if not impossible, to fit three larger phones on the pad, which is why marketing photos tend to show two phones charging with an AirPods case. Also, the pad will not charge an Apple Watch, which has its own proprietary wireless charging technology. (The AirPower, being an Apple product, was advertised as being able to charge the Watch, too.)
With a slim aluminum chassis and a padded leather surface (it's currently only available in black but Nomad may add other leather color options in the future), it certainly has a premium look and a nice heft to it so it stays in place on a desk or countertop (I left it in the kitchen so members of my family could use it). But ultimately it's just a charging pad and all the fancy high-tech stuff is on the inside, where you can't see it.
You can find other three-device charging pads for a lot less, but -- as mentioned above -- they aren't "free-position" pads; you have to make sure each device is centered on one of the coils or it won't charge.
It's worth noting that this mat doesn't have a built-in fan to dissipate heat. The aluminum does absorb some heat and the folks from Aira told me that its FreePower technology is designed to keep the pad and your devices from getting too warm while charging (some heat is generated, however). As noted, the Base Station Pro is firmware upgradable -- you connect the mat to a computer for software updates -- and should offer some performance improvements over time as it's further optimized.
Yes, $230 is a lot to spend on a wireless charger. But Apple's AirPower was always expected to be on the pricey side and Nomad says it expects to sell out of its initial production run ("batch one" is already closed).
Of course, it's a whole lot cheaper -- and faster -- to use a USB-C or USB-C-to-Lightning cable to charge your phones. But just setting your device down anywhere on a pad does feel liberating.