Although the consumer tech industry has for years been abuzz about wireless charging, aside from the electric toothbrush little has actually come of it. But this long promising, but underdelivering, technology may finally be ready to deliver.
So-called inductive charging products like the Qi charging system have begun to emerge for a handful of devices, suggesting that in a few more years perhaps all of our phones really will charge just by placing them on some sort of power mat. Indeed, the companies that get wireless charging right stand to clean up in a world dominated by mobile devices with quickly exhausted batteries.
Enter Fuel iON by a company called Patriot Memory, which takes wireless charging a step further. Slip your smartphone into a Fuel iON case, then charge your phone simply by laying it on a related charger -- no wires, plugging, snapping or inserting required. The first few times you do it, it seems a little magical. After that, it simply becomes convenient, since you can pick your phone up in a heartbeat without disengaging anything.
Patriot describes its product as "magnetic charging." Rather than using induction, like a toothbrush, Fuel iON relies on a magnetic power transfer pad that uses strong neodymium magnets to bridge the connection. Indeed, the cases and chargers have a strong magnetic attraction. When your phone gets near the charger, it snaps into position with an affirmative thwack.
It's reassuring; other charging systems that don't give that kind of feedback can get misaligned, and you only discover too late that nothing was charging. And the system doesn't depend on laying the phone on the charger in any particular orientation, either -- you can place the phone on the stand at any angle, and it just works.
It's also fast. Patriot says its magnetic charging system is every bit as fast as plugging your mobile device directly into the wall, and my experience backs up that claim. Induction, like you get with Qi, in comparison, only charges about half as fast.
Fuel iON cases are available for a number of popular phones, including the iPhone 5, iPhone 6, Galaxy S4, Galaxy S5 and Note 3. The case for the iPhone 6 Plus is coming soon. In addition to the case, you'll need a charger or two (or three). Fuel iON chargers come in a variety of sizes and shapes. There's a windshield suction cup-style car mount, for example, as well as low-profile, puck-shaped chargers (one intended for your desk, and a smaller one for portability) and even an upright phone stand.
For greater mobility, Patriot also offers a 2100 mAh battery that has a magnetic connection point for wireless charging and plugs into the phone case via mini-USB. The system is interchangeable. If you start out with an iPhone 5, all of the charge stations and accessories will work if you later upgrade to a Galaxy S5. All you need to replace is the case.
It's that last point which bedevils iOS owners. Because all of the cases use a micro-USB connection for plug-in charging, your lightning cables are useless when using Fuel iON. You'll either need to have a Fuel iON wireless charger everywhere you might need to top off your phone, or be sure to carry a micro-USB cable with you.
That quibble aside, Patriot has built a compelling charging solution -- it's fast, efficient, convenient and fully interoperable. The phone case comes with one charging stand for $50; additional chargers are $40, and the battery sells separately for $50.