If you’ve ever had to fiddle around with a charging cable for your phone or iPod, or cast an envious glance at wireless chargers like the Palm Pre’s Touchstone, Powermat’s “wireless” charging pads may have caught your eye: the company’s eponymous products, compatible with Apple products, boast wireless charging to supported devices. I reviewed two models: the Home & Office Mat and the foldable Portable Mat version. Each costs $99 and supports up to three receivers.
Included with each product is a universal charger that allows you to connect one device to a small box that sits on the charging station. While it seems paradoxical to fill one of the Powermat’s three charging slots with something that must be physically plugged in, the eight swappable connectors for the universal charger does make the device versatile.
The investment in a Powermat system is steep; you’ll need a $99 base as well as a $40 receiver in the shape of a case or dock if you want to charge an iPhone or iPod touch. That’s an awful lot of money to throw down on what is, at best, a way to avoid the minor inconvenience of plugging in your player.
Powermat charges “wirelessly” by using magnetic induction, which means the setup is as truly wireless as a rechargeable electric toothbrush. Align the magnet on the back of the receiver with the magnet in the charging base, and the mat beeps and starts charging your device. For $140, it would be nice if the “wireless” were more like Wi-Fi, charging your device from across the room or at least across your desk, but that technology remains largely in the realm of science-fiction.
Positioning a receiver on the mat takes some practice—the handshake, as it’s called, can occur only when a receiver is positioned in a certain way on the mat. However, once in position—the magnets help you find the right spot by feel—the connection is solid.
The receiver cases for the iPhone and iPod Touch are surprisingly sleek and sturdy, adding about the same amount of girth as many polycarbonate cases on the market right now. The cases are also relatively lightweight considering the additional hardware involved; that hardware results in a slightly raised ridge on the back of the case.
I tested the Powermat units with an iPhone, an iPod Touch, an iPod classic, an iPod Nano, a Nintendo DS, and a variety of cell phones. I often charged devices three at a time without problems. In many cases, the Powermat seemed to charge devices as quickly as, or even a tad faster than, their own power adapters.
Because the iPod and iPhone receiver cases aren’t designed to be taken off regularly, each includes a mini-USB port that allows you to connect your case-clad device (using the included, color-matched USB cable) to your computer for syncing with iTunes.
If you do want to remove the case, it’s a bit of a trick: you must press two unmarked spots on the back of the case while pulling another part of the case in a specific direction—a pretty difficult task. There are no instructions included for performing this maneuver, so you’ll need to scour the Internet for tips.
Of the two Powermat models I tested, I found the travel version to be slightly more practical: It was small enough to carry in a loaded backpack when I traveled across the state on a weekend trip, while still being capable of charging every handheld I brought. The only drawback to the travel version is that you sacrifice a bit of style (compared to the original model) for this convenience.
Overall, I ended up charging my phone more often when I was using the Powermat—it is indeed a bit easier to plop the phone down on the mat than to plug it in. However, it’s not a life-changing convenience. (Who said plugging in was difficult anyway?) Though the product does what it’s intended to do, at the asking price you’d hope the technology would do a little more than improve your life ever so slightly.