Powermat Portable wireless charger review

News Andrew Williams 15:04, 30 Oct 2009

We review the Powermat Portable, a wireless charging solution for your iPhone, BlackBerry, Nintendo DS, iPod Touch...

Wireless charging sounds like futuristic technology, doesn’t it? It sounds like the sort of thing that would normally be consigned to science fiction stories, sitting next to androids – and not in the phone sense – and computers that know what you’re thinking before you do.

The Powermat Portable, alongside similar devices like the Wildcharge, represents the first steps into this promised land of future technology. However, in practice it’s not quite as revolutionary as it may first appear.

For starters, it still relies on a physical connection between two solid surfaces: that of the Powermat itself and the charging surface of whatever it is that you’re juicing up. Perhaps predictably, in our tests we were trying out Apple’s iDevices with the Powermat.

For the iPod Touch and iPhone, the Powermat demands that you use a peripheral that also acts as a case for your device. From the front, the cases look much like any other, black in colour and offering a reasonable level of protection for your cherished device. There are two main ways in which they stray from your usual case design though.

Firstly, the Powermat case extends a little way beyond the actual body of your iPhone. This is because the Powermat case connects directly into your iPhone’s power socket. This we could get used to quite quickly, since it doesn’t really add that much bulk to the device, even it does mess with those carefully designed proportions a little.

Less easy to get on with is the charge panel, which lies on the back of the Powermat case. This is a hard, flat piece of metal-rimmed material – exactly what material we’re not entirely sure - but it’s what the Powermat case uses to interface with the Powermat dock itself.

This panel sticks out a few millimetres from the rest of the case, a constant reminder that this is not a normal case. It’s a reminder that we didn’t find entirely welcome either. Disrupting the smooth contouring of the iPhone, it somewhat ruins the ergonomics of this most ergonomic of devices, making it less comfortable to hold, especially if you’re using your iPhone to play games or use apps.

Thankfully, we found the actual charging powers of the Powermat to be much less disagreeable. The Powermat portable is a fold-up peripheral, made up of three separate charging plates. Put a device equipped with a Powermat case on one of them and they’ll be pulled magnetically into place and start charging automatically.

New device connections are signalled with a quick bleat from the Powermat Portable, letting you know that the connection has been made. It’s a useful feature too because if you lay your device too far from the charging point. The magnetic force won’t necessarily be strong enough to pull it into position.

Perhaps even more than its limited wireless credentials, one of our favourite features of the Powermat Portable is that it uses intelligent charging. That is, once your device is fully powered-up, charge will stop being sent to it. One way to ruin a battery’s longevity is to over-charge it, a common issue with trickle chargers frequently used with standalone rechargeable batteries.

The three charge panels work independently of each other too, so you can charge, say, a Nintendo DS, iPod Touch and BlackBerry at the same time without having to worry about doing any of them damage. Then again, even after folding up the Powermat Portable, the mat itself along with its own AC adaptor isn’t necessarily all that much smaller than three separate chargers.

The Powermat Portable does come with a number of different country adaptors, which is a very nice touch, even if we did find that the UK one tends to stick in the plug socket as you yank out the adaptor.

Plus, there’s the cost. If you’re looking to make the most of the Powermat Portable, by using three different devices, you’ll have to spend around £150, which is more than the RRP of some of the devices that the Powermat range supports.

We don’t disagree that wireless charging is a fascinating route that we hope gets explored more thoroughly over the next few years, but we’re not convinced that the Powermat Portable justifies its price in real-world terms. It’ll only save you a small amount of room if you’re using it as a travel power point and it has far too much of an effect on the aesthetics and ergonomics of the devices its used with.

Even if you’re planning on showing it off to friends, you may well be met with disappointed sighs as they realise that the Powermat Portable isn’t quite as wireless as they were hoping.

A round of applause goes to Powermat for making inroads into this interesting technology, but we don’t recommend you start saving up for this particular accessory.

Powermat Portable info

Typical price: £79.99, £34.95 for an iPhone case

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Pros:
Intelligent charging
Comes with European and US converters
Compatible with a decent range of devices

Cons:
Expensive
Adds bulk to devices
Not as wireless as you might hope

Verdict: The Powermat Portable is a fairly neat multi-charge solution, but it doesn't represent enough of a step forward in charging convenience to warrant its high price tag

Rating:

More info: Powermat Website

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