Novel ways to keep your smartphone battery charged

Since you’re reading PC Pro I’ll assume you love gadgets, but you probably don’t love the plethora of batteries, chargers and leads required to power your collection of phones, tablets, laptops and satnavs.

Novel ways to keep your smartphone battery charged

Other industries are starting to standardise batteries, a good example being Ryobi, with its One+ cordless power tools range – I’ve got lots of tools from screwdrivers, drills, torches and saws up to a strimmer, and even a radio that all run from the same 18V lithium Ion battery pack. And it isn’t only Ryobi: the same 36V battery that powers my Bosch mower also drives an SDS drill, circular saw and hedge trimmer.

Buy a new phone and your old batteries are scrap, and the same is mostly true of chargers

Okay, these are still manufacturer-specific, rather than industry-wide standards, but at least they’re a start, which is more than can be said for the digital gadget industry. That isn’t to say there aren’t batteries common to a few mobile phone models – Nokia is quite good at this, especially for its low-end consumer phones – but in the smartphones arena such standardisation is rare. Buy a new phone and your old batteries are scrap, and the same is mostly true of chargers.

You might not think so at first sight because much of the industry has standardised on micro-USB for both data and charging, the notable exception being Apple – despite it being a signatory to the original industry-wide agreement to move to micro-USB – but then I don’t think anyone will be greatly surprised if that firm continues to do things its own sweet way (actually, if you hunt around on eBay, you’ll find iDevice-to-micro-USB adapters on sale for around £5). What might surprise you is that although micro-USB is supposed to be a standard, there are still problems if you try to mix and match chargers and phones.

Sometimes it has do with the current the charger supplies, as some modern smartphones demand well over 1A (or 1,000mA as manufacturers still insist on their labels) when many chargers, especially older ones, can’t deliver much above 500mA. Other chargers appear specially wired so that the phone can detect whether or not a “genuine” charger is being used.

I’d guess it’s similar to the technique inkjets use to detect genuine cartridges, and I’m sure the clever Chinese vendors of cheap clone chargers will soon defeat it too, but it’s still annoying and defeats the purpose of a standard connector. In an ideal world you’d keep one charger at home, another at work, and use these to top up all of your mobile gadgets.

Powermat charging

Over recent months I’ve been testing a couple of devices that aim to help with this power dilemma, the first of which is the Powermat system. You’ve probably seen this in press adverts and on TV gadget shows, since it’s been around for four years now. It’s an induction charging system whereby your phone or other device has its battery replenished using contactless technology. Many cordless electric toothbrushes use such induction charging at very low-current trickle-charging levels, but Powermat takes contactless charging to new levels, delivering relatively high charging currents.

It consists of a small mat on which you lay your devices to allow them to charge wirelessly. A small magnet centres the transmitter and receiver units to enable optimum power transfer, and lights on the mat and an audio signal indicate that charging is in progress. RFID is used to identify and specify the charging characteristics of the device to the charger – all very hi-tech.

When I first looked at Powermat a few years ago, it seemed a bit clunky: although its underlying technology was clearly the way of the future, the initial products weren’t fully localised for the UK market (two-pin mains connectors needed a travel adapter) and the induction receivers were less than elegant. For example, to charge an iPhone via Powermat you either had to connect it to an induction-coupled dock (making it pointless), or else use an oversized bumper case that turned your shiny phone into an ugly brick.

For less famous devices, there was a “universal powercube” induction receiver that you had to plug into the device’s normal power socket – so again, why bother? Why not just use the normal charger instead? I was deeply underwhelmed.

That was then, and I wondered whether things had changed. I asked Powermat’s UK PR agency to send me a more recent version to play with. They sent me a UK kit designed to work with BlackBerry Bold 9700 and 9780 models, and a couple of months later I’m far more impressed.

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