There’s been a mix of encouraging and discouraging news of late. One pessimistic report said that Apple has hit problems with both overheating and coil interference, and may even end up abandoning the project altogether. On the plus side, though, AirPower is referenced in the iPhone XS packaging, and iOS 12.1 code shows that development is continuing for now at least.
But if you are fed up of waiting, I tried out a couple of third-party wireless chargers capable of charging three devices at once: the SliceCharge, and the Zens Dual+Watch – alongside a case that allows you to wirelessly charge your existing AirPods …
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. The headline feature of AirPower is that you can place any device anywhere on the pad, and it will charge. Apple embeds a whole bunch of overlapping coils into the pad, so no matter where you position a device, it will be sitting over a coil and will charge. As we recently noted, nobody has yet pulled off this trick.
Which means that neither of the products we’re looking at here are true AirPower style devices. Instead, they are fitted with three charging coils, and you have to place your devices in the right place for them to charge.
The good news, however, is that I didn’t find this a problem in practice – and both wireless chargers are considerably cheaper than the $160-190 price tag AirPower is expected to carry.
SliceCharge costs $49.95, plus $19.95 for the optional ElectroLeather AirPods Wireless Charging case. Zens Dual+Watch works out at $126, but has a design that will work with all Apple Watch bands – in contrast to SliceCharge, which isn’t compatible with Link bracelets and anything other band that doesn’t open completely.
Look and feel
The SliceCharge is clearly designed to have a similar look to AirPower. Only more … existent. It’s a flat pad available in a choice of blue, red and white. It has a white flat cable running to the supplied 18W power adapter.
The pad has a fabric finish which the company says is non-scratch. The underside is plastic-coated, and the chassis itself is aluminum.
The Zens Dual+Watch also has an aluminum chassis, with a plastic base and a slightly rubbery non-scratch surface. The Apple Watch charger is on a stand, which makes it look a little fussier than the SliceCharge, but also more practical.
We’re very used these days to gadgets having USB ports for power. Most devices still have microUSB ports, while newer ones are gradually switching to USB-C.
I’m a huge fan of this, as it means that I can plug in pretty much anything at any of the points in my home where I might want to use them, thanks to a redundant array of inexpensive USB cables and a bunch of standard plug adapters or USB hub.
That isn’t practical with these wireless chargers, however. Because charging three devices simultaneously demands more power, each has its own power brick. The SliceCharge one is hard-wired, while the Zens one is an old-fashioned jack plug.
Both chargers support 7.5W fast charging.
The wireless chargers in use
I found both devices reliable. In both cases, the Watch charger could only be used for that purpose, but either of the two main charging coils could be used for any device – including a second Watch.
Both are reasonably sensitive to position – even 1cm off either way means that your iPhone doesn’t charge. But while that sounds fiddly, it’s not in practice: you just put the phone in the obvious place and it charges.
Where the Apple Watch is concerned, both chargers have the same magnetic attachment as the official charging puck, so you can’t mis-position this. This is where the main difference between the two shows up.
With the SliceCharge, the Watch sits flat on the base, in the centre of the pad, between the two main charging coils. This is fine for straps that open fully, but not for ones you just loosen to remove – like the Link Bracelet. A third-party copy of this is my normal band (I like the convenience but wasn’t willing to pay Apple’s premium), so it wasn’t suitable for that. I did try charging it through the band, but that unsurprisingly didn’t work.
With the Zens, the charging puck is raised, which means it’s compatible with all bands. However, with my link bracelet, the bracelet catch was resting on the iPhone screen beneath it, which made me a little nervous about scratching the glass. The puck would have to sit much higher to avoid this, which I guess would make it less portable and more expensive, so the company probably made a trade-off here. I took to fastening the bracelet after removing it, which is a slight hassle but keeps the screen safe.
ElectroLeather AirPods Wireless Charging case
SliceCharge has one extra trick up its sleeve: an optional accessory that converts your AirPods case into a device you can charge wirelessly.
This works in the same way as the HyperJuice adapter we recently reviewed. In this case, it’s a lightweight leather case with a Lightning port inside it. Slide your AirPods charging case inside it to mate with the tab, and you can then just place the whole thing on the SliceCharge pad to charge. There’s a small hole in the front flap of the case so that you can confirm the charging LED is lit.
You could, of course, buy the ElectroLeather on its own and use it with any other Qi charger.
I don’t own AirPods myself (I prefer the Master & Dynamic MW07), so I borrowed a friend’s set to test the charger. You can position the case on either of the two main charging coils, and it too charges reliably.
I’m not persuaded by the aesthetics of either the HyperJuice or the ElectroLeather. The former looks clunky, the latter has really thin leather and doesn’t seem a good match for the charging case itself. But if you want wireless charging, something like this is your only option right now – and $20 is a pretty decent price.
Pricing and conclusions
AirPower is clearly the ideal solution – in theory. Just put any device anywhere on the pad and it charges. But since it doesn’t yet exist, and may never exist, that’s rather academic at present.
But even if it does make it to market, assuming the rumored $160-190 price is correct, I have to question whether it could possibly be worth it. That’s a huge amount of money for a wireless charger. For $50, the SliceCharge gets you 98% of the benefit for something like a third to a quarter of the price.
If you wear a Link Bracelet or similar non-opening one, you’ll have to opt instead for the Zens at more than twice the price, but Apple’s own AirPower charger wouldn’t work for you anyway. The Zens is also a lot more expensive than two separate phone pads and a Watch charger, so it really depends how much of a premium you’re willing to pay for the convenience of an all-in-one unit.
But for my money, I wouldn’t wait for AirPower. Pick up one of these wireless chargers today and be done with it.