Smartphone manufacturers have yet to begin including wireless charging functionality in their handsets as a matter of course. There are, however, a number of devices available that can add wireless charging functionality. The Fonesalesman iQi Mobile is one such device – let's take a look at how it performs.
We featured the iQi (pronounced "i-chee") Mobile back in December during its Indiegogo fundraising campaign. The campaign raised US$161,561, over five times its target of $30,000, so there's no doubt people were excited about the potential of the technology. Indeed, the comparable Bezalel Ark performed similarly well in its Kickstarter campaign.
The iQi Mobile is compatible with the iPhone 5, 5c and 5s, as well as the fifth generation iPod Touch. It comprises a patch that slips under a phone case and a flexible connector that plugs into an iPhone's charging port. At 0.5 mm thick, the patch is certainly thin and causes just a slightly perceptible bump in a soft cover – less so in a hard cover. Attaching the patch to the charging port and then re-adding the phone cover is a touch on the fiddly side, but a fairly simple process on the whole. Once in place, the connector can be pushed in more firmly.
The patch pairs with any Qi-compatible charging pad. We were using Fonesalesman's Koolpuck charging pad. The disc-shaped pad is 69.5 mm (2.7 in) in diameter and 11.5 mm (0.5 in) thick. It fits easily in the palm of a hand, making it small enough to be easily portable and unobtrusive, while retaining a sturdy feel. The pad is provided with a micro USB cable that will plug into an existing USB charging plug. As such, getting it set up is quick and easy.
Fitting the patch to an iPhone and plugging in the pad should be the most difficult part of using the iQi Mobile, but this was where our troubles began. The user should be able to absentmindedly place their phone on the pad, but in reality there is a sweet spot that can be tricky to find. It took us a few minutes initially, interspersed with irritating vibrations and beeps. With time, we found this easier, but, frankly, plugging in a cable charger would have been quicker. Furthermore, we repeatedly found that that the device would register a connection with our iPhone when the iPhone itself would not, meaning more nudging was required.
Once our phone was charging, any concerns about it doing so slowly were allayed. The iQi Mobile charged our device pretty much as quickly as a cable charger would have. For those who use their phones a lot, however, one charge per day may not be enough and you'll need to either carry the charging pad with you (which somewhat defeats the objective where convenience is concerned), have a separate cable charger for use elsewhere (which means fiddling around with the case and patch) or buy a second charging pad.
The perceived benefits of wireless charging include keeping cables tidy, the convenience of not having to plug your phone in, and reducing the wear and tear of a device's charging port from the constant plugging and unplugging or dropping it with a charging cable attached. The iQi Mobile is appealing for these reasons, but the result isn't quite what it could be and to some extent it replaces one set of problems with another.
Smartphone manufacturers will surely include wireless charging functionality as a matter of routine as the technology improves. Whilst the iQi Mobile is a creditable attempt at retrofitting the functionality, its failings serve to suggest that only its eventual widespread native inclusion by manufacturers will be indicative of the technology's adequacy.
The iQi Mobile is available now, retailing at £21 (US$35).
Product page: iQi Mobile