Gadling gear review – Powermat portable wireless charger

TV, print and online ad space has been bombarded by commercials for a new product called Powermat. Given the attention this has been getting, I decided to get my hands on one to see what all the buzz is about.

Powermat is one of the first commercially available wireless charging systems on the market. Universal wireless charging has been promised for years, but Powermat is the first to actually deliver on that promise.

The Powermat product consists of a wireless charging mat, and an assortment of charging adapters, each specifically designed for wirelessly charging your device.

The charging mat is available in two versions – a home/office version, and a portable one. Obviously most readers here will be most interested in the portable one, so that is what my focus will be on.The basics

The Powermat system uses the same basic wireless charging principle used in some electronic toothbrushes. The technology behind charging your gadgets is just a lot more complex. For starters, each Powermat charging adapter contains an RFID chip to communicate with the Powermat how to deliver the exact power requirements of the device it is connected to.

Each Powermat kit includes the mat itself, an AC adapter and a Powermat universal charging adapter called the Powercube.

To charge your devices, you plug the Powermat into an AC wall outlet, and place your Powermat equipped device on the mat. The only wire is the one from your wall outlet to the mat, and charging of your devices is done wirelessly. There is one minor exception to this – devices without a dedicated Powermat case will need to be connected to the “Powercube”, by a three inch cable.

Charging your device really is as simple as placing it on top of the Powermat. The actual position for charging takes a little practice to find, but strong magnets in the base help guide you. After your first 5 or 10 charges, you’ll know exactly where to place your device.

When you place a device on the Powermat, it acknowledges this with a beep, and a charging indicator comes on. Both the audible and visual indicators can be turned off through buttons on the rear. One minor annoyance is that these settings are not stored when the mat is unplugged, so you will need to set them each time you move from outlet to outlet.

The actual charging cycle takes about the same time as using the charger included with your device, and when the charge is completed, the mat stops powering the receiver, which should help save your batteries.

The Portable Powermat

The portable Powermat is the result of some very smart thinking. The mat and charger come in a nice carrying case, which snaps shut using magnets (keeping in line with the magnets used in the system itself.

The AC charger runs on 100V-240V, which means you can use it abroad with a suitable plug adapter. The adapter also features integrated cord storage, which helps clean the whole thing up when you store it in the case.

The package includes the folding portable Powermat, one Powercube, along with an assortment of 7 different power adapter tips. To get the most out of the system, you’ll need to invest extra in dedicated cases for your equipment.

On the back of the portable Powermat is a powered USB port, which means you can charge any USB powered device not supported by the wireless charging adapters.

Powermat assortment

At the moment, Powermat is selling adapters for the following devices:

  • iPhone 3G/3GS (full body case)
  • iPod Touch 2nd generation (full body case)
  • All iPod dock models (standing dock)
  • Nintendo DS lite (back cover)
  • Nintendo DSi (back cover)
  • Blackberry Bold (battery door)
  • Blackberry Curve 8300 (battery door)
  • Blackberry Curve 8900 (battery door)
  • Blackberry Pearl (battery door)

Obviously, the best way to charge a device is with one of these dedicated cases, but Devices not listed as having their own dedicated case or battery cover can be charged using the Powercube adapter. The Powercube has a MiniUSB plug, and comes with adapters for MicroUSB, Apple iPod. Samsung, Sony PSP, LG, Nintendo DS and Nintendo DSi.

I do want to point out how smart the iPhone and iPod Touch case is – included with each of these cases is a MicroUSB cable, and on the bottom of the case is a MicroUSB jack. This means you’ll be able to sync and charge your device using USB, instead of the dedicated Apple cable without removing it from its case.

Final thoughts

I’ll admit that when I first saw the ad’s on TV I was skeptical – but the geek in me was certainly intrigued. Now I’ve been using the Powermat for a couple of days, I’m hooked. I’ve used it in my office, and next to my bed (yeah, I’m one of those weirdos who sleeps next to his phones).

I’ve been using it with an iPhone 3GS (and the dedicated case) and my T-Mobile MyTouch 3G. The MyTouch needs the Powercube adapter, which is of course not as convenient as the iPhone case. Still, it is a minor inconvenience, and certainly less annoying than I had expected.

The whole concept has impressed me in two ways. Firstly, the technology is just plain cool. Wireless charging is fun, being able to just place my iPhone on the mat at the end of the day for its charge is really handy.

Secondly, the design is well executed. The ability to turn beeps and lights on or off, the cord storing adapter and the sleek case for the portable Powermat all show some smart thinking.

Sadly it isn’t all perfection though – if you travel with three gadgets not covered by one of the Powermat dedicated cases, you’ll need two additional Powercube universal adapters, which pretty much defeats the entire purpose of wireless charging.

Then there is of course the price – the basic Powermat (home/office or portable) kit costs $99.99. You then need to add the cost of additional Powermat adapters. iPhone/iPod adapters are $39.99, and Blackberry and Nintendo cases are $29.99.

If you travel with an iPhone, Blackberry and a Nintendo DSi, you’ll be out $200 for the Powermat itself and the three additional chargers. The geek in me wants to tell you that this is totally worth it, but even I understand that $200 for a wireless charger is a high price to pay. That said, the convenience and “cool factor” prevent me from writing it off as a gimmick.

One other disadvantage is the limited selection of dedicated Powermat cases. Popular phones like the T-Mobile G1, MyTouch 3G, all Nokia devices and the Palm Pre don’t have a case (though the Pre has its own wireless charging system available from Palm). Hopefully Powermat will keep developing new cases for popular phones. In an ideal world, companies will start integrating the Powermat electronics in their devices.

PROS: Portable charger folds up to a compact unit, charges three devices at the same time

CONS: Price, limited selection of dedicated charging cases/covers

The Powermat system is available directly from the Powermat site, or at your local Bestbuy and Target retail store. To recap; the home/office and portable Powermat kits are $99.99, iPhone/iPod adapters are $39.99 and Nintendo and Blackberry adapters are $29.99.