I spent $13 to add wireless charging to my iPhone – CNET

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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

Finally!

With the arrival of the iPhone 8 ($699.00 at Apple) and iPhone X ($999.99 at Apple), Apple has finally answered the prayers of many an iPhone owner. Those models support wireless charging, meaning you no longer have to futz with Lightning cables; you can just lay the phone on a charging pad and presto: magnetic-induction goodness.

Bummer for those of us with older models, right? Wrong: I recently spent $13.57 for a gizmo that adds wireless charging to nearly any iPhone. And you know what? It works!

How is that even possible?

Here’s what the Invitian 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

Ever since induction charging hit the phone scene years ago, iPhone owners have clamored for that capability — but Apple wasn’t ready to offer it.

Of course, third-party vendors always step up to fill in the gaps, which they did — with bulky, backpack-style cases. Case in point is the Mophie Juice Pack. It added an external battery, but considerably bulked up the size of the phone. You also needed to remove at least part of the case to access your iPhone’s Lightning port, since it used Micro-USB.

They tended to be pricey, too. Mophie’s wireless compatible battery pack included a charging base, but retailed for $100. (It’s now closer to $66.) The Duracell Powermat wireless charging case for iPhone 5 was similar: $60 for case, plus $130 for Duracell’s charging mat to go with it. 

Today, however, you can add wireless charging in the form of a razor-thin pad that sticks to the back of your phone. Yes, it still requires 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?

After reading Matt Elliott’s recent story on adding wireless charging to your iPhone right now, I checked out the DanForce Qi charger pad he mentioned. But it’s currently selling for $22.50 (about £17 or AU$28) and has a less-than-stellar 3.6-star average user rating.

So I went looking for alternatives, and found a lot of seemingly identical products, just with different brands and prices. (Unfortunately, most of them also had pretty mixed ratings; it was rare to find one with an average above 3.9 stars.)

Ultimately I settled on this pad from Invitian, which currently runs $13.57 (about £10 or AU$17). It, too, had mixed reviews, so I wasn’t expecting much. If I decide to get another one, I’ll probably choose this Nillkin-branded pad, which costs $12 US and has a 3.9-star average rating. (It’s available for some Android phones as well.)

I tested it with an iPhone 5S ($253.00 at Amazon.com) I keep on hand for such things, though I also tried it with my daily driver, a 6S Plus ($869.11 at Amazon Marketplace). To do the actual charging, I used a Seneo Qi wireless charging pad I scooped up last month for $6. (That was a sale price; it currently runs $11.)

So, yes, the whole setup cost more than $13 — wireless charging requires a wireless charging pad or stand — but simply adding the capability to your iPhone can be done for $13.57, or even $12 if you go with the aformentioned Nillkin.

How fast is charging?

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

Rick Broida/CNET

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

Wrong. I played videos on the iPhone 5S until the battery went dead, then charged it using the Invitian charging receiver and Seneo charging pad. Total time to get to 100 percent: just under two hours. That’s almost exactly how long it takes with a Lightning cable.

That was without a case on the phone. I’d heard inductive charging could work through a case (a plastic one, anyway; metal cases need not apply), but I was skeptical. Thankfully, it does indeed work: I put the 5S back into the plastic case it normally rides in, happy to discover zero problems with the fit. The receiver itself is barely thicker than a piece of paper, and the ribbon connecting the Lightning plug is narrow and flexible. (I’m not sure how well the latter will fare long-term; it appears durable, but still seems like the likely failure point for the whole thing.) And charging seemed to work just as well, though I didn’t time it to see if the case slowed down the process.

I actually think a case is a good idea, 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.

What’s the downside?

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

Photo by Rick Broida/CNET

Why so many negative reviews for these products? A lot of them seem to have compatibility issues with the charging pads built into some cars, though that could be the result of incompatible wireless-charging standards. 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 things sell for $12-$20. They’re cheaply made, so reliability may not be great. A few reviewers had complaints of the “stopped working after a few weeks” variety.

Remember, too, that whether you use a case or not, you won’t be able to use a phone-gripper product like a PopSocket or Spigen Style Ring: They preclude your phone from laying flat on the charging pad, which is necessary.

It’s also worth noting that none of these products 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. 

Your thoughts?

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

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