By Andrew Liszewski
Back in July we reviewed a handful of Powermat accessories, including their Receiver Hard Case for the iPhone 3G & 3GS. While we liked the convenience of being able to just set the iPhone down and have it start charging, it came at the cost of a fairly bulky case plagued by an inductive coil on the back that stuck out like a sore thumb.
But half a year later not only do we have a new and improved iPhone, but also a new and improved Powermat case to go with it. And let’s just say ‘improved’ is an understatement. From our own testing we found that Powermat has addressed most of the issues with their case designed for the 3G & 3GS, and left us with a wireless charging solution for the iPhone 4 with minimal compromises. More after the jump.
Except for an extra, necessary little bit that hangs off the bottom of the phone, the Powermat case for the iPhone 4 looks pretty much exactly like any other third-party hard case you’d find for it. There’s the appropriate cutouts for accessing the volume and mute buttons, and a hole for the camera on the back. And while it might seem odd to point out how normal the case looks, you have to remember that this one doesn’t just protect the iPhone 4. It also adds some unique functionality. And seeing it in context with its predecessor will help you understand why ‘normal’ is so important in this case.
If you haven’t had a chance to thoroughly read my review of the Powermat receiver case for the 3G & 3GS, I’ve gone to the trouble of photographing it side-by-side with Powermat’s new case for the iPhone 4.
Do you notice something missing on the new case? (Pictured in the foreground.) The protruding induction coil, which makes induction charging possible, is now gone. Well not completely gone, it’s just that Powermat has re-engineered it so that it’s spread out across the entire back of the iPhone 4, making it a lot thinner. Now obviously this is now possible because the iPhone 4 is flat on the back, so I feel bad knocking the 3G & 3GS case for this inconvenience. But the fact of the matter is it’s a vast improvement, and most people wouldn’t even be able to tell the case did more than just protect your phone.
Another improvement Powermat has made is how you install the case on your phone. The older case for the 3G & 3GS came in two pieces that slid together and were held in place with snug tension, but it actually wasn’t that difficult for those separate pieces to come apart. The case for the iPhone 4 now has a sort of ‘flip top lid’ where you open it, slide the phone in and then lock it in place. And the area with the ‘Powermat’ text you can see in this photo is actually made of soft rubber and works like a hinge. This new design works much better than the 3G & 3GS case, and there’s no way it’s accidentally going to fall off your phone.
Like I mentioned earlier, once installed most people will be hard pressed to tell you’re using anything other than a standard hard plastic shell on your phone. The whole package adds minimal bulk and weight to the iPhone 4, and even the extra bit at the bottom, where the case connects to the dock connector for charging purposes, is negligible.
The only complaint I still have is that because the case connects to the iPhone 4′s dock connector on the inside, the only way to sync the phone while it’s in the case is via a mini-USB port on the bottom and an adapter cable. One is included with the Powermat kit, but it’s still a bit of a hassle to have to keep it on hand, or simply not lose it.
The receiver case for the iPhone 4 works with all Powermat charging pads, including the one I reviewed for the 3G & 3GS, but the Powermat Wireless Charging System I was sent for review came with its own charging mat, the 1Xi, pictured above. It includes the same well-designed, slim power adapter I raved about last time, and while having to deal with any cables in a wireless charging solution is kind of lame, it’s just the way things have to be right now.
The 1Xi charging pad that was included with this kit is specifically designed for the iPhone 4, and the raised edges at the top and bottom provide a perfect fit when you set it down to charge. But when using the iPhone 4 on one of the other Powermat pads I soon realized why the 1Xi has such a unique design. The receiver case for the 3G & 3GS used a strong magnet to ensure the induction coils were perfectly aligned when set down on the charing pad, but the case for the iPhone 4 doesn’t have one. So perfectly aligning the phone on one of the other flat Powermat pads can be a bit hit and miss. You basically just slide it around until the charging light comes on and/or you hear the ‘powering-up’ sound effect.
There is a small alignment decal you’re supposed to stick on the flat charging pads that provides a visual indicator of how and where the iPhone 4 should be placed to ensure the induction coils line up, but I found it was just way easier and more reliable to use the included 1Xi pad instead.
I went into a bit more of a rant about wireless charging in my review of the Powermat products back in July, but I’ll recap here a bit. While I absolutely love the idea and convenience of wireless charging (who doesn’t?) it’s really not going to become ubiquitous, like it should be, until all manufacturers start building the requisite induction coils into their products. And while I’m sure companies like Powermat are fighting for this to happen, until that day comes these types of cases and adapters are as convenient as it’s going to get.
With some phones the aftermarket solution to wireless charging is as easy and non-obtrusive as replacing a battery compartment cover. But that option just doesn’t, and probably will never exist with the iPhone. So an all encompassing case is the only way to go. With the iPhone 3G & 3GS it ended up being a bit bulky, with the induction coil protruding out the back, canceling out the benefits of wireless charging. But Powermat’s case for the iPhone 4, which benefits from the phone’s flat back design, is a whole different story. If you’re already used to using your iPhone 4 with a hard case you’ll barely notice any difference when using this one. Except of course when you set it down on the pad and it automagically starts charging!
+ Makes remembering to charge your iPhone as easy as setting it down.
+ The iPhone 4′s design allows for a vastly sleeker and subtler case than the 3G & 3GS.
+ Improved case design makes it easy to attach to your iPhone 4, with no risk of it accidentally falling off.
- Still not a completely ‘wireless’ solution since the charging base needs to be plugged into the wall.
- Mini-USB connector used for syncing is a little bit of an annoyance.
- Additional charging pads for use in multiple locations around your home or office will add significantly to the cost of the system.
- Can be used with other Powermat charging pads, but positioning the phone so the induction coils properly align can be a bit tricky.
Powermat Wireless Charging System for the iPhone 4 – $59.99
If you have any questions about the Powermat products you’d like answered, please feel free to leave them in the comments, and I’ll try to respond to them as best I can.