Katherine Boehret

A Pad to Easily Power Up Your Phone

I feel like I haven’t charged my cellphone in a few weeks. I have, of course, or I wouldn’t have been able to phone home in the midst of Black Friday shopping to let my family know I wouldn’t be back for another hour — or three.

The reason it seems as if I haven’t had to charge my phone is because of a new device I’ve been using called WildCharge. This is a small, thin pad covered in panels that conduct electricity. It plugs into the wall and lies flat on a desk or nightstand, serving as a place where devices in need of a charge can be dropped, casually and effortlessly, to start juicing up.

Charger photo
The $59.99 WildCharge pad currently charges Motorola RAZR phones using a $34.99 adapter.

The pad, from WildCharge Inc. in Scottsdale, Ariz. (www.wildcharge.com), eliminates the messy tangle of wires that many people struggle with each time they want to charge their portable devices. But more to the point, it turns charging a gadget into something that happens in the background rather than an active task. And it spares you from that nagging question: Did I remember to plug my phone or iPod or BlackBerry in before going to sleep?

Effortless Charging

I must confess that of the hundreds of products we receive, this was one that I took home to test on a whim, thinking I’d use it once before returning it. Once I started using the WildCharge pad, I realized how much effort I put into charging all of my devices each week, and often each night. Three weeks later, this charging pad has me completely spoiled.

WildCharge isn’t for everyone. It’s a bit pricey — costing $60 for the charging pad and $35 for an adapter — especially when almost all gadgets already come with individual AC adapters. For now, WildCharge works only with Motorola Inc.’s RAZR cellphone, though in January the company will release adapters for Apple Inc.’s iPhone, iPod touch and iPod nano, as well as Research In Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry Pearl and BlackBerry 8800.

For the WildCharge pad to work, the device you’d like to charge must be equipped with a special adapter. In the case of my pink Moto RAZR, this adapter was a black plastic piece that replaced the phone’s battery-cover panel and plugged into its charging port. I liked using the pad enough to not mind carrying a slightly thicker, two-toned phone around every day.

The idea behind WildCharge’s creation isn’t unique. For example, a company in the United Kingdom called Splashpower Ltd. (www.splashpower.com) has a charging mat in the works, according to its Web site, though the company won’t give specifics about its products.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology takes the concept a step further with its idea of “WiTricity” or wireless electricity, which transmits power without using wires or requiring the charging object to touch anything as it refuels. Instead, this concept works by coupling two objects with the same frequency to exchange energy through the air. But this isn’t a product — yet. WildCharge is.

Thin and Lightweight

The current WildCharge weighs six ounces and its surface measures about the size of a hardcover book, though its 0.2-centimeter thickness would make it a quick read. One pad delivers 15 watts of power, allowing three to five small devices to charge simultaneously at the same speed as they would when plugged into individual wall chargers. I’d guess that about four devices, depending on their sizes, could comfortably fit on one pad.

Different Shapes and Sizes

When additional adapters are introduced in January for prices ranging from $30 to $40, these will also work with the WildCharge pad. The company also plans to sell its charging pad in various sizes and shapes next year, including a version that will deliver 90 watts, enough to power to a laptop.

Since the iPhone and iPod touch don’t have removable battery panels, they will use special adapters that look like rubber, protective sleeves. The second generation iPod nano will use an adapter that looks like a small aluminum extension of the device.

I set my WildCharge pad up on my nightstand. After a phone chat, I tossed my RAZR cellphone over to the charging pad; four magnetic contact points on the phone’s adapter helped it stick to the pad. A chime indicated my phone made electrical contact and started charging (the same sound I normally hear when I plug it into its AC adapter cord). A tiny blue light on the pad indicated a device was charging. I really grew fond of not hunting for the correct cord to charge my phone. Instead, I’d finish conversations, reach over and simply drop my phone down as if I was laying it on the table.

Likewise, if I walked in the room after a chat, I’d set it down for a few minutes before leaving and taking the phone with me. Charging didn’t have to be an event; it wasn’t even a conscious effort.

Once in a while when I’m running out of battery in the middle of a phone chat, I’ll plug my phone into its power cord and continue talking. This isn’t possible using the WildCharge because the phone must lie on the pad, face up. However, you could use a BlueTooth headset or switch to speakerphone. (I tried the latter without a problem.)

Easy to Pack

I imagine that WildCharge made its pad for stationary usage rather than for portability. But after becoming so accustomed to WildCharge, I couldn’t resist taking it home with me over Thanksgiving, and its flat panel and AC adapter were easy to pack.

WildCharge Inc. says its charging pad won’t be damaged if most liquids are spilled on it. I wiped water off with a cloth and it was fine. Other electronics won’t be affected if they’re placed on the device, and it doesn’t use radiation or magnetic fields to charge devices.

Right now, no matter how slick your portable media player, smart phone, laptop or digital camera, it’s still enslaved to its power cord. The WildCharge pad cuts out the cord and lets forgetful, busy people stop worrying about plugging in each of their devices. WildCharge would be improved if its adapters were built into phones.

Even more exciting is the thought of public places using WildCharge or similar technology so that when you can walk into a restaurant, you can rest your cellphone on a table and have it powering up in the background. Now that’s something we can all get a charge out of.

Email mossbergsolution@wsj.com.


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