By Michael Fisher | July 3, 2013 4:23 PM
Updated to include battery-charging figures below.
Samsung’s official Galaxy S III wireless charging kit was announced alongside that 2012 flagship, but it didn’t arrive on the market until long after – and many regions are still waiting to get their hands on it. This year, Samsung appears committed to avoiding a similar situation with the new Galaxy S 4: the company has just sent us a sample Galaxy S4 wireless charger for review, and we’ve spent a couple days getting to know it.
Because we haven’t given it the usual weeks-long review treatment -and because accessory reviews are the exception rather than the rule around here- we’ve labeled this pass a Quick Review for your reading pleasure. Nonetheless, we’ve got a video, some photos, and no shortage of opinion below, so tune in to see why you should/shouldn’t consider dropping some dough for a Galaxy S 4 wireless charging kit of your very own.
(Those of you confused about the merits of wireless charging as a whole are welcome to read along, but in lieu of leaving comments assailing the virtues of the practice, we invite you to read our past pieces on the technology.)
Because the stock Galaxy S 4 doesn’t ship with wireless charging ability out of the box, the kit is made up of two components: the charging base itself, and the special battery door that enables that functionality. This is an approach we’ve seen before with many wireless charging products, so this is no surprise.
The charger itself is wide, flat, and vaguely soapdish-shaped, a far cry from the bold angular design of the Tylt Vu, which we took a look at last week. Samsung’s design adheres more closely to the look of Nokia’s Lumia charging plate – except it’s much larger. The top surface is coated in a layer of plastic with a soft-touch finish, and the bottom is done up in rubber to avoid slipping and sliding across smooth surfaces. Available only in gray, the plate would perhaps best be described as “inoffensive.” Aesthetically, it’ll probably get along with whatever you have on your desk or night stand; it sure doesn’t stand out too much.
Our demo unit didn’t arrive in retail packaging, but you shouldn’t expect its box to take up much room on the shelves – because it doesn’t ship with a separate adapter or cable. That’s right: you need to use your phone’s existing wall charger to supply the pad with power. It’s not the first time we’ve seen this omission, but we still think it’s pretty weak.
Once you’ve got the charger set up and ready to go, you’ll want to snap the new battery cover onto your S 4. It’s more robust than the stock battery door due to the inductive coil within, and frankly it’s a little beefier than we were expecting. It increases the Galaxy S 4′s thickness noticeably, but -and this was a surprise- it also makes it feel better in the hand, easier to grip. And there’s no question that it’s a better-looking solution than our janky do-it-yourself wireless charging mod for the Galaxy S III.
After “assembly,” charging is a simple matter of dropping your Galaxy S 4 onto the pad to start the juice flowing. Like the out-of-box sticker warns, alignment is a finicky affair, but once you’ve got the phone reasonably close to the center, the charging process starts quickly. We were even able to charge the phone with it lying horizontally across the pad, though the utility of this orientation is questionable, since the charger lies completely flat on the desk.
The device recognizes when it’s in range, and the software informs you that you’re charging wirelessly. A green LED on the pad illuminates to let you know the device is suckling juice, and it turns yellow or red if charging is impaired or impossible. Also, because the pad uses the Qi wireless charging standard, you can charge other Qi-enabled phones, like the Nokia Lumia 920, on the plate as well. The reverse is also true: charging the GS4 on alternate Qi-enabled chargers will work too, as long as the battery cover is installed. That’s handy for those of you who may already own a Qi charging pad and want to save some pennies.
Many critics cite extended charging time as a particular disadvantage of wireless charging when compared to its cabled counterpart. We’re still testing out the cycle time on the wireless charging plate versus the old-fashioned plug-in method, and we’ll report back with an update here when we’ve got the data.
Update: Well, there appears to be no disputing the superior efficiency of hardwired connections. In a one-after-the-other test using the same phone, battery, power adapter, and power outlet, the direct connection gave the wireless plate a whipping. Plugged in, the Galaxy S 4 took a total of 168 minutes to charge from 0 to 100%, while the charging pad took 240 minutes to accomplish the same feat. If you’re in need of a rapid charging experience, you’re gonna wanna stick with the old-school, hardwired approach.
In terms of dough, Samsung doesn’t really break from tradition here: these accessories are, in a word, overpriced. The wireless charging pad itself will run you $49.99 direct from Samsung, but the battery door -which, again, is required to make the whole thing work- is the real jaw-dropper: it’ll cost you $39.99. That’s a total of $90 full retail to charge your phone wirelessly – and remember: you don’t even get an extra charger out of the deal.
Samsung’s not the only one to have done this; Palm’s TouchStone kicked off the whole sector for similarly ridiculous prices back in 2009, and the average cost of wireless charging stations here in the U.S. hovers around $50. Still, even for ardent fans of wire-free topoffs, it sure is a tough pill to swallow.
For a lot of folks, wireless charging is more convenient than fumbling for a cable, and Samsung’s product fits the bill. It’s large, so it can accommodate devices like Samsung’s Galaxy Note II provided the proper battery door is installed. Indeed, as mentioned above, it’ll work with many other Qi-enabled devices as well – so if you’re a current or prospective owner of many mobile phones, this investment may be worth it to you. You may not see a use for it, but -as we seem to be saying a lot with Samsung products these days- it’s nice to know the option is there if you do.
While we find it almost offensive that the company couldn’t be bothered to include an extra charging cord and adapter for the price you’re paying, that’s a value question – and it’s one you’ll have to answer for yourself. In terms of functionality, this device certainly does what it says, and does it well.