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Is wireless charging better than USB?

21 June 2018

USB is still the most popular method of mobile charging. Can wireless charging compete with the reliability and speed of the USB lead?

Almost everyone owns a mobile phone - and as a result, almost everyone has used a USB cable to charge their phones. In fact, it’s been the industry standard for more than a decade. It’s easy to take the unassuming cables for granted - they’ve become second nature, and we rarely, if ever, question whether there’s a better alternative.

Although USB remains the most popular method for charging phones, there’s a new technology in town: wireless charging. Many of the latest smartphones from tech players like Apple, Samsung and LG are equipped with wireless charging - a feat that numerous tech experts consider to be a game-changer in the fast-moving world of consumer electronics.

But can wireless charging actually match the tried-and-tested reliability of a trusty USB lead, and will it really transform the way we power our phones?

USB vs wireless: the differences

While USB may seem old-fashioned compared to the wireless charging, the technology has evolved considerably in recent years. USB charging is now much faster than it used to be: most modern smartphones come with Type C connections, resulting in lightning-quick charge times when used with a high speed charger. Modern phones like the Samsung Galaxy S9 can reach 50% power from zero in around 30 minutes.

Conversely, wireless charging isn’t even nearly that fast yet – the S6 would take at least twice as long to reach full power on a wireless charging pad compared to USB. This may not be the case forever, though, and, with smartphone titans like Apple and Samsung investing heavily in the technology, faster wireless charging is inevitable.

Where USB falls behind, however, is with compatibility. There are various types of USB connections to suit different phones: micro, lightning, and type-C are the current standards. This can make it frustrating if you leave your charger at home and need to borrow one from a friend. Unless their phone takes the same USB type as yours, you’re out of luck. What’s worse is that different devices also take different cables: for years, travellers have had to begrudgingly accept the fact that they’d need to bring multiple chargers for their different devices - clogging up their bags and causing mayhem to the detangling process.

There’s no such issue with wireless charging. A single standard, Qi (pronounced ‘chi’), has become the dominant technology, and is used by every major wireless charging smartphone manufacturer. That means if you’ve got an iPhone X and your friend has a Samsung Galaxy S9, you can use the same wireless charging pad: a rare but welcome piece of common ground that Apple and Android users can share.

Beyond this, wireless charging also benefits from, well, being wireless. Not having to manually plug in your phone for each charge means that wireless phones are less susceptible to wear and tear – USB charging ports frequently become blocked or broken, which can easily be the death of any beloved smartphone. The lack of an extra port also makes the phone more robust, with less dust and moisture able to reach the delicate interior of the device.

The lack of cables for wireless phones is also a huge plus: placing a phone on a charging pad is effortless and elegant, and results in no clutter at all. Besides all that, wireless charging is just undeniably slicker – there’s something to be said for being an early adopter of new tech, particularly when the technology in question could eventually be rolled out across the entire industry, forcing everyone else to catch up.

Are there any negatives to wireless charging?

Along with the slower charging speeds, wireless charging does have a few shortcomings that smartphone developers will be keen to improve over the coming years.

One worry that people have is that wireless charging can cause phones to overheat. An increase in temperature is normal for charging, and more so for wireless charging, although the amount of heat generated should not cause any problems for a well designed phone as it will have inbuilt protection from overheating. That said, phones that heat a lot and regularly tend to have shorter battery lives as lithium-ion batteries wear out more quickly when exposed to high (or low) temperatures.

In general, charging via a cable will always be a little faster and more efficient than charging wirelessly. This is because around a quarter of all the charging energy is being lost as heat in the phone or charging pad in a wireless system. In addition, wired charging has access to higher charging rates than is possible with current wireless standards, but it’s not such a great price to pay for all the advantages?

But despite these shortcomings, wireless charging is set to be a major trend in the production of smartphones going forward. The current issues with the technology are likely to improved upon with each iteration, so it might not be long before we’re all charging our phones wirelessly.

Though there is somewhat of a battle between the two types of charging at present, products are increasingly catering to both. Our Dock E30 speaker, for example, houses both Qi wireless charging and Type C USB charging. To make the charging experience even more seamless, almost any device can slide effortlessly into the E30’s docking groove - creating an ideal place to charge your phone or tablet whilst streaming your music around the room. If you’d like to hear more about the Dock E30, then feel free to head over here.

Interesting fact: Did you know that Wireless power pre-dates USB by over 100 years? The great Nikola Tesla had patents that used wireless power as early as 1888.

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