The current smartphone that resides in my pocket is the OnePlus 7T, a phone that is widely regarded as one of the best smartphones from 2019 and almost universally heralded as the best smartphone value of last year. There is a lot for a reviewer to like about this phone: great battery life, smooth performance, amazing screen technology, and probably the best Android skin on the market. That is a lot of high praise. Yet there is no such thing as the perfect phone, so this phone will have some cons as pointed out by reviewers. There seems to be a common theme amongst all reviewers as a major con for this phone, and that is a lack of wireless charging. And this got me thinking, over the course of about 5 years, wireless charging has transformed from a niche feature to a must-have. This is especially curious as now more than ever we are seeing the feature become less and less cutting edge and more of an inconvenience.
What is Wireless Charging?
The term wireless charging can be a tad bit confusing. The first thought is that there are no wires involved at all since the name would dictate that. The reality, however, is that wireless charging means not plugging anything directly into the phone. Instead, there are coils underneath the rear of a phone that transfers energy to the phone’s battery from a power source, such as a wireless charging pad. The process itself is simple, but when it comes to charging phones brings up a question of materials used.
Not all materials are able to allow the transfer of energy, this is why most modern smartphones have glass backplates as opposed to metal backplates since metal cannot support such an energy transfer method. Plastic backed phones also support this feature, as some of the first phones to support wireless charging were the plastic-backed Nokia Lumia Windows Phones. The proposition years ago was quite simple in regards to the appeal of wireless charging. In the days of micro USB being the standard charging solutions on any phone not made by Apple, the idea was appealing. To be able to simply place your phone on a pad as opposed to the fear of inserting a nonsymmetrical plug into your phone the wrong way. As time has passed, however, the innovations in wired charging have progressed while wireless charging has largely remained still.
At the Speed of Light
In the race to get a competitive advantage in a fast-maturing industry, smartphone manufacturers have had to find new ways to make their product stick out from the pack. One way that companies have tried to accomplish this is through faster-wired charging. OnePlus, for example, has made tremendous strides with their Warp charging standard, and Qualcomm has baked in their QuickCharge technology to their processors to enable Android phones to get fully topped up quicker. In many cases, an hour’s worth of charging is enough to get through the day.
What this innovation has done is to change the way that we charge our phones. There is not much point in charging a phone overnight if it can be nearly fully recharged in the time it takes to start our day. In the case of my OnePlus 7T, I have never charged the phone overnight in the 5 months that I have owned this phone. The battery standby is good enough to last through the night and then I can top up as I start my day. This shift makes some of the appeals of wireless charging less attractive. There is also a slight fail rate when it comes to wireless chargers as not all are created equally, leading to a lot of misalignment and dead phones for the coils not being lined up properly.
Over the last couple of years, we have seen manufacturers attempt to again differentiate with chargers but in the wireless arena. Google and OnePlus have come out with their own proprietary solutions that only work at a higher charging rate with their own phones, relegating all other phones to a slower charging experience. In addition to this, those phones cannot properly utilize universal standards of wireless charging that are being produced by companies such as Mophie and Belkin.
This creates a fragmentation of sorts with charging accessories, causing a situation where a lot of accessories may become a lot less useful if you switch phone brands. This creates a sort of lock into a certain manufacturer, which is precisely what a lot of companies want when they release a new phone. While this tactic is very pro the manufacturer, it does eliminate a bit of choice when it comes to a customer purchasing a new device. If there is an investment in these accessories that work especially well with one device but not the other, there could be a feeling of needing to stay with that brand because of an investment that was made in an accessory ecosystem.
The Reviewer Optics
Despite its flaws in slower charging, stationary placement, and proprietary solutions almost every review of a modern smartphone will make a point of mentioning wireless charging support. The tech reviewing community has fully bought into the future of wireless charging and the concept of a potentially port-less phone in the future. The issue here is that many reviewers live in a bit of a bubble.
Most successful YouTube tech reviewers do reviews full time at this point and are working in an environment where they can plug in wireless chargers all over the place, thus the created convenience. This is not a reality for most people while they are working. A more realistic solution to the problems of a majority of people is the concept of extremely quick top-offs via a wired charger. The irony here is that many reviewers will quickly gloss over the inclusion of quick wired charging, but lament the absence of slower wireless charging.
This really illustrates a disconnect between the tech media and people that actually use phones. At this point in time, it can be argued that wireless charging is more of redundancy than usefulness. A feature that has a certain cool factor to it but one that ultimately will go relatively unused. Many tech reviewers will tell you that a phone without wireless charging is not worth buying. Had the initial promise been fulfilled of having Qi wireless charging pads in every conceivable place and in things like furniture, the reality may have been slightly different. As it stands today, fast wired charging is the better solution despite what your favorite tech YouTuber might suggest.
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