Don’t Bother: Why You Don’t Want to Wirelessly Charge Your Smartphone

Wireless charging of smartphone

Wireless charging is overrated — at least in its current form. The dream of wireless power sounds great, but current wireless charging technologies are more “plugless” than “wireless.” They’re also less convenient, slower, and less-efficient than just plugging your phone in.

Let’s be honest: Wireless chargers are more interesting as a proof of concept and a glimpse at future technologies than they are practical. When you charge your smartphone, you’ll want to plug it in with a cable.

Wireless Chargers Are Even More Constrained Than Charging Cables

To use a wireless charger, you place your smartphone down on a “charging mat.” That mat is plugged in with a wire, and it sits on a table — you may want to leave it on your bedside table, for example. While the smartphone is placed on that charging mat, the mat will wirelessly transmit power to the phone. Lift the smartphone from the mat and the wireless charging will stop.

Let’s think about it: What other “wireless” technologies work in this way? Wireless Internet (Wi-Fi) works everywhere in your home. You don’t have to place your laptop on top of the router to get Internet access. That’s the whole point of wireless Internet — you have freedom to move around.

samsung wireless fast charge

In terms of pure freedom to move around, a charging cable is just better. Yes, the cable that came with your smartphone is very short and requires you be very near a power outlet. But you can buy much longer third-party charging cables — both Lightning cables for iPhones and standard USB cables for Android phones. Plug your smartphone into that longer cable and you can actually use it while it’s charging. You don’t have to hunch over the table to use the phone. With a wireless charger, you would have to hunch over to use it while it’s charging.

For example, let’s say you charge your smartphone on your bedside table. You could either use a charging mat — and the phone would only charge while it’s sitting on that mat — or use a longer cable. If you plugged it in with a cable, you’d be able to lift the phone off the table and use it while it charges.

The same goes for chargers in other places, too. When charging a smartphone at a desk, you could leave it sitting on a pad the entire time or plug it into a longer cable that allows you to lift the cable and use it.

That longer cable will be much cheaper than buying a wireless charger, too. There’s another problem with getting a wireless charger: You have to spend extra, often $50 or more, for a device that’s arguably less convenient.

And, by the way — depending on the smartphone and wireless charger, it may be a bit finicky. You can’t necessarily just plop it down anywhere on the charging mat. You have to ensure it lines up and starts charging. If you’re picking up your smartphone and putting it back down regularly, you’ll need to ensure it lines up well enough every time you put it down. That’s more work than simply plugging it in once and then putting it down wherever you want afterwards.

Wireless chargers do involve a wire — between the charging pad and outlet. There’s no wire between the phone and charging pad. Instead, the phone has to be pressed right up to the charging pad — it’s contactless. “Wireless” implies a lot of freedom a wireless charger doesn’t actually offer.

It Takes Longer, Uses More Power, and Generates More Heat

There’s a reason we normally plug devices in to charge them. It’s just faster and more efficient to transmit energy over a wire.

Wired charging is much faster than wireless charging. Anandtech found that a Samsung Galaxy S6 can charge from zero percent to 100 percent battery power in 1.48 hours if you plug it in and charge over a wired connection. Wireless charging takes 3.01 hours, which is twice as long. That may not seem like a big deal if you’re charging overnight, of course. But, if you quickly want a top-up your phone, you should stick with a wired connection rather than a wireless one.

It’s also less efficient. This means it will take more electricity to charge a phone if you do so wirelessly. Some of that wasted power will be in the form of excess heat. While the heat won’t destroy your phone, heat is the enemy of your smartphone’s battery — that heat will translate to a bit more wear on your battery.

None of this is the end of the world. You’ll have an okay experience if you use wireless charging. Your phone will probably charge fast enough, as long as you’re not in a hurry, and the extra power shouldn’t be a noticeable drain on your electric bill. The extra heat probably won’t noticeably accelerate your battery’s decay, either.

But why put up with all those downsides to use something that’s just less convenient and flexible than simply plugging your phone in?

iphone 6 charge lightning cable


The latest specifications allow for wireless charging from up to a few feet away from a charger, but it’ll be even less efficient — that means even slower and more wasteful with electricity.

The dream of wireless charging is great, of course. If only we could have some sort of wireless power device in our home that would charge our smartphones as we use them without having to press them against it. If only our smartphones would charge automatically when we placed them down on a table at a restaurant. But we’re a ways from that.

As someone who’s tried wireless charging with several different Android smartphones, believe me: you’re better off with a wired charger and a longer cable.

Image Credit: Honou on Flickr, Microsiervos on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.