Thanks to Apple and Amazon, Wireless Charging Isn’t a “Premium” Feature Anymore

Kindle Fire HD 8 Plus
Amazon

Have you ever seen a Qi wireless charging coil? It’s tiny. A few scraps of copper, a tiny PCB, and that’s about it. And without wishing to insinuate that small things are inherently cheap—diamonds, CPUs, and that $25 “lost room key” charge on your hotel bill come to mind—wireless charging is not an expensive feature to add to a phone.

Talk Is Cheap, and So Is Charging

Want proof? Apple added it to the second iteration of the $400 iPhone SE, despite the fact that it’s by far the cheapest phone in its lineup. Now the SE matches another feature of its more expensive devices. And, perhaps more importantly, its partners can sell wireless charging accessories to an even wider pool of customers.

iFixIt Teardown of the iPhone SE
Teardown of the iPhone SE—the black oval on the left is the Qi coil. iFixIt

There are a few scattered examples of cheaper phones with wireless charging. Blu, with its slightly more premium BOLD sub-brand, brings it under $300 on the N1. You can even add the feature yourself to almost any phone, in a less-than-elegant way, with a $15 USB-to-Qi adapter. When wireless charging appears on relatively inexpensive accessories like the Galaxy Buds, you know the jig is up.

Amazon’s catching on, too: after experimenting with some wireless charging cases/stands for previous versions of the Kindle Fire line, the new Fire HD 8 Plus includes standard Qi charging, the first tablet I’ve seen with that capability since the much-loved Nexus 7.

Kindle Fire HD 8 Plus
Amazon

The Kindle Fire HD 8 Plus with wireless charging starts at $110. Perhaps that’s not a fair metric—Amazon uses the Kindle line as leverage to sell tons of digital books and video, not to mention a whole lot of advertising. But it illustrates the point that I’m making: the now-standard Qi wireless charging is not a feature that needs to be limited to the upper echelons of smartphone hardware.

Someone please tell this to Google, Samsung, LG, OnePlus, Motorola, and pretty much everyone else. We’ll focus on the biggest of these offenders.

First-Class Passengers Only

After pioneering wireless charging in the Nexus series, the Pixel line waited until its third expensive iteration to support wireless charging. But when the cheaper and far more popular Pixel 3a came along, it was left out, despite a plastic case that supports the technology. Why? Presumably, as one of the few points of differentiation between that $400 phone and the upgraded versions. The Pixel 4 has wireless charging built-in, but based on early leaks, it looks like Qi is MIA on the cheaper Pixel 4a as well.

Pixel 3a
The Pixel 3a. They could’ve easily added wireless charging to that plastic shell. Cameron Summerson

Samsung pulls the same stunt. All of its Galaxy S series phones have supported wireless charging for years, including some proprietary fast-charging tech. But if you go even one model down, underneath $700 for the standard Galaxy S20, wireless charging disappears. Next to something like the iPhone SE, the Galaxy A series seems more budget-friendly and less desirable.

iPhone XR, OnePlus 8, Pixel 3a XL
Niki Reed

But I’m going to save some special scorn for OnePlus. Next to the undeniable critical success of the OnePlus 8 Pro, the plain Jane OnePlus 8 seems pretty overpriced, especially compared to the Pixel, Galaxy, and iPhone models it’s directly competing against. By introducing OnePlus’s first-ever wireless-charging phone at $900, then leaving the feature off the $700 downgrade, it smacks of a deliberate exclusion rather than a design necessity. The 8 didn’t even need the fancy 30-watt wireless charging OnePlus was so eager to demonstrate—it just needed the same feature that every other company is providing.

Charging Is Changing

I’m loathe to say it, but thank you, Apple. Thank you, Amazon. Thanks for proving that wireless charging isn’t something that must be limited to the First-Class section of the smartphone plane. That we peasants in Economy Class, with a budget that keeps our phone purchases below four digits, can have this convenience as well.

I’d wager that, starting late this year or early next, Qi wireless charging will join in with features like USB-C ports, NFC, and edge-to-edge screens that are blessedly standard at almost any price point. I could dare to hope that we see a return to tablets supporting the feature, their larger batteries better served by chargers that can pump more watts without wires. Here’s hoping.

Michael Crider Michael Crider
Michael Crider has been writing about computers, phones, video games, and general nerdy things on the internet for ten years. He’s never happier than when he’s tinkering with his home-built desktop or soldering a new keyboard. Read Full Bio »

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