Smartphone technology continues to evolve – and the race to make things faster, frictionless, and more user-friendly is heating up. This is no more apparent than in the case of wired vs. wireless chargers. As we advance into the wireless revolution, many wonder whether to continue using a cable to power their devices. The truth is, while wireless chargers are more convenient and compatible, they’re not entirely hassle-free (yet). Plugging in cords can be annoying, but it’s still a more portable and faster charging method.
Not sure which charging method is best for you: wireless or wired charging? We’ll break down the details, the technology, and the pros and cons, so you can quickly power your phone with ease.
Wired charging is the method we’re all familiar with. Most phones, tablets, and laptops come with a cable and adaptor that powers the device. Wired charging requires a physical connection between a power source and your technology.
The process is straightforward. Plug the power adaptor into any source (like a wall outlet), attach the cable into the adaptor, and connect the cable to your device. Electricity is then passed from the outlet to the smartphone via the cable.
Wired charging has changed quite a bit over the years, with over 14 different USB types alone. But today, the most widely used are USB-C (for Samsung & Pixel) and Apple’s Lightning cables.
USB-C changed the way we charge our devices when it came out in 2014. The novel technology took a few years to go mainstream but has since become the industry standard for wired charging. The USB-C is universal, meaning you can use it to charge your Android smartphone, tablet, video game controller, or laptop.
Before USB-C, we used unidirectional inputs to power our devices. This meant flipping the cable a few times before figuring out the right way to connect. But, a USB-C is reversible, meaning there’s no right or wrong way to plug it into your technology.
More compact than other cables, the USB-C also offers:
- Faster Charging Speeds – USB-C supports faster charging speeds, reaching up to 100W. The power delivery is bidirectional, enabling devices to charge each other (like a laptop charging a phone).
- Secure Data Transfer – These cables deliver faster & more secure data transfer, with rates reaching 640 Mbps (megabits per second).
- Audio & Video Transmission – USB-C can transmit audio and video output from one port across a single cable.
Despite its advantages, not all USB-C products perform the same and they’re not always compatible with other devices. When buying accessories, like Samsung Galaxy cases, users need to ensure they work with the cables.
In 2012, Apple introduced Lightning technology to charge and sync their products. You can identify a Lightning charger by looking for the eight-pin connector near the end of the cord.
Lightning chargers feature compact and reversible cables for iPhones, Macs, and iPads. Most iPhone cases provide easy access to proper charging, except for waterproof cases. These cables are slower than USB-C, with data transfer rates of 480 Mbps and a charging output of 20W. But they’re still capable of powering an iPhone from 0% to 50% in less than 30 minutes.
Lightning cables are popular for their durability, size, and reliable performance. However, the main drawback is their exclusivity to Apple products.
Wireless charging allows you to power your devices by simply setting them on a charging station, with no cables involved. Nikola Tesla demonstrated this technology as far back as the 19th century, but it’s just become commercially available within the last decade.
As the technology gains popularity for its convenience, an increasing number of devices, like Google’s Pixel 7, feature wireless compatibility. While wired charging is still the most common method, major manufacturers continue to develop new wireless chargers that seamlessly integrate with users' needs.
Wireless charging works via inductive charging. When you set your device on top of the charging platform, the station acts as a transmitter, creating an electromagnetic field with the receiver. A tiny coil produces an electrical current and powers the device’s battery.
Most wireless technology relies on two distinct charging types: Qi and MagSafe.
Qi, pronounced ‘chee’, meaning ‘life force’ in Chinese, is a wireless charging standard that debuted in 2008, aiming to create a universal solution. Most major phone manufacturers, including Samsung and Apple, have adopted it.
Qi charging works through the power of two induction coils. These copper loops are installed into both the charging station and your device. When you set your phone down to charge, the phone & charger create an electromagnetic field. Energy passes through the field to your phone’s coil, generating an electrical charge and powering the battery. To charge a Qi-enabled smartphone, simply plug the charging station into a power outlet and place your phone on top.
Thanks to standardization, Qi charging offers a broad compatibility range and supports various smartphones, earbuds, and other devices. Just ensure that your phone case supports proper wireless charging.
Although the absence of wires is liberating, the major disadvantage of inductive charging is that it’s sometimes finicky. The leeway for distance and alignment is small, meaning Qi devices must lie in a precise manner to charge.
MagSafe is a magnetic charging capability that’s built into the iPhones 12, 13, and 14, and presumably the 15 when it‘s available in September 2023. Apple first debuted this exclusive technology with the introduction of the MacBook Pro in 2006.
Because it’s designed with open-standard Qi technology, MagSafe functions in a similar way to the Android & Google wireless chargers. The Apple-exclusive wireless charger powers the iPhone via a series of magnets that encircle a charging coil located inside the smartphone. These magnets create a secure and precise connection between the charger and the iPhone, AirPod, or Apple watch.
MagSafe provides a stable and reliable charge without having to untangle cables or wonder if it’s plugged in all the way. It also easily connects to accessories like battery backs, wallets, and car mounts. A MagSafe case guarantees your phone can properly charge through its case.
Some of the primary advantages of MagSafe are its fast charging speeds and the effortless ability to use your phone while it’s charging. However, the downside is that non-Apple products, like the Samsung Galaxy S23, are not compatible with MagSafe.
Wireless Charging vs. Wired Charging: A Side-by-Side Comparison
Efficiency & Speed
Wired chargers work quickly, and the technology for faster charging cables continues to improve with every iteration. Given its direct power connection, most people expect a full charge on their phones within an hour of plugging them in. This is great if you need a quick charge before leaving the house.
For now, wireless charging takes longer to power your phone. The copper coils are so small that they can only generate a weak magnetic field, losing energy through transmission. A thick phone case can also weaken the connection, meaning it will take even longer to charge. Many users prefer wireless charging to power their phones overnight, when there’s more time to charge. Plus, it’s generally easier to connect your phone to the magnet than it is to insert a cord into the tiny charging port, especially in the dark.
Convenience & Portability
Wired chargers tether you & your phone to one place. While you can use your device during a charge, it offers limited mobility and you have to be careful not to tangle or stretch the cable. The nonstop attaching and detaching causes wear and tear, requiring you to buy several cords over the course of your phone’s lifetime.
It’s a great tool when you’re on the go, though, since you only need to bring the cable and find a power source. Many colleges, coffee shops, and libraries have USB outlets, so you don’t even have to take along the adaptor. Or you can plug it into your car or a portable charger for a quick boost.
Wireless chargers grant you complete access to your phone at any time or angle, without the constant plugging in. Most wireless technology complies with the Qi standard, meaning you can use one station for all your devices. You can’t use your phone while it’s charging, but you can pick it up or set it down freely, without accidentally ripping out the cable.
However, wireless charging stations are typically stands or pads that are bulkier than a simple cord. While they cut the cable clutter around your house, they’re more fragile and difficult to carry with you on a day out.
Safety & Reliability
Both wireless and wired charging methods are generally safe and reliable. Wired chargers wear down through constant use, potentially causing unsafe connections or exposed wires. The mess of cables in your house also presents a tripping hazard.
Whether Qi or MagSafe, wireless charging stations reduce the risk of tripping or causing an electrical shock. They may generate more heat during prolonged use, but safety measures prevent your phone from overheating.
Both wired and wireless charging methods have unique advantages and limitations, bringing the final decision down to your preferences and needs. Cables remain a solid choice if you’re seeking faster charging speeds and easier portability, while wireless charging stations are great if you value convenience and fewer cables. As the push towards wireless technology grows, learn how to integrate both methods into your routine to establish the best user experience.