JR Raphael

Nexus 4 Wireless Charger: Hands-on impressions

February 15, 2013 1:19 PM EST

Nexus 4 Wireless ChargerIt's not every day that a smartphone accessory becomes a hot topic of discussion -- but Google's Nexus 4 Wireless Charger, a.k.a. the once-mythical "orb," isn't exactly your average accessory.

We first heard about the Nexus 4 Wireless Charger last October, shortly before the phone itself launched. And then, silence. Months went by with no official mention of the orb -- and no sign of where or when we could buy the damn thing. Granted, it wasn't easy to buy the actual phone, either, but still -- for folks who managed to get their hands on a Nexus 4, the orb's unexplained absence grew increasingly maddening.

Well, gang, the wait is finally over: The Nexus 4 Wireless Charger is here. Google started selling the orb directly from its Play Store earlier this week; the device costs $60 plus shipping (and thus far is actually still available -- hallelujah!).

I've had one of the chargers in my hands for a few hours now. Here are some detailed impressions:

Nexus 4 Wireless Charger: Hardware and design

Nexus 4 Wireless Charger OrbThe Nexus 4 Wireless Charger -- made, like the Nexus 4 itself, by LG -- is one sexy little minx. The word "orb" really does fit the thing: It's slightly bigger than a chopped-in-half tennis ball, with a flattened bottom to keep it stable on surfaces. The majority of the material has a soft matte black finish; the flat top of the charger has two shiny black circles with the "Nexus" logo imprinted in the middle.

A regular micro-USB-to-USB cable plugs into the charger's back and can then be connected to a wall outlet for power. The device comes with both the cable and the wall adapter (in the U.S. and Canada, at least; the Play Store site says the wall adapter is included only with purchases made in those countries).

And that's it: No buttons, no ports, no other connections to be made. You just plug the thing in and you're done.

Nexus 4 Wireless Charger: Fit and hold

Charging the Nexus 4 with the Wireless Charger couldn't be simpler. The charger uses the Qi wireless standard (which the Nexus 4 also supports); all you do is set the Nexus 4 on the charger's flat top surface, and boom: The power starts flowing.Nexus 4 Wireless Charger (with Phone)

The charger utilizes a tacky rubberized material to hold your phone in place. It's a gentle but firm enough hold; if you pick up the charger, hold it upside down and shake it, the phone will come off. But really, why would you possibly do that?

When the charger is sitting on a desk or counter, the phone stays firmly in place as it should, even with vibrations from incoming calls or messages. Just don't pick it up and shake it and you'll be fine.

Nexus 4 Wireless Charger: The charging experience

The Nexus 4 charges anytime it's in reasonable contact with the orb. By "reasonable," I mean the middle of its back has to be touching the charger. If you try putting the phone in a weird position where it's set way up high, then proper contact won't be made and charging won't begin. But it's pretty obvious how the phone is meant to sit on the surface.

Beyond that, the charger just works. You put the phone down and it starts charging; you pick it up and it stops. Not much more to it than that.

In terms of charging time, Google quotes a four-hour window to power up the phone from zero to 100. In my limited experience with the device, I have no reason to doubt that claim; it appears to charge quickly and efficiently. I haven't had the charger long enough to reach any firm conclusions about overall charging time, though. I'll keep you posted.

Nexus 4 Wireless Charger: What about bumpers?

Nexus 4 Wireless Charger with BumperA lot of people have asked me if the Wireless Charger will work with bumpers or cases. I can confirm that it works A-OK with the official Play Store Nexus 4 bumper; the phone sits on the charger properly and securely with the bumper in place -- no noticeable difference from the bumper-free fit.

As for some of the meatier third-party cases, it's hard to make any generalized declaration -- but given the fact that the charger is designed for a specific type of surface in order for the phone to be held in place (not to mention a strong phone-to-charger connection in order for charging to occur), I wouldn't automatically count on all cases being compatible.

Nexus 4 Wireless Charger: Bottom line

So all said and told, is the Nexus 4 Wireless Charger worth buying? Ultimately, that's something only you can decide.

Look, you certainly don't need a wireless charger for the Nexus 4. Let's be honest: Even for the laziest among us -- myself included in that group -- plugging a micro-USB cable into a phone for regular charging isn't that much work. This is very much a luxury item we're talking about here.

That said, it's a damn nice luxury item. It looks great, and the act of simply setting your phone down on a futuristic-looking orb to charge it is a sweet sensation. There's definitely a bit of a "wow" factor involved here.

Aside from impressing your friends and lovers, though (and sure, go ahead and include yourself in that latter group), the Nexus 4 orb does have legitimate utility when it comes to a working desk setup. The orb keeps your phone positioned at a viewable angle -- around 45 degrees, give or take -- and keeps it juiced up while you work. In that regard, it's kind of like a super-stylish high-tech dock.

Is 60 bucks a bit pricey compared to other run-of-the-mill phone docks? You bet your sweet hiney it is. But remember: This isn't a run-of-the-mill phone dock we're talking about; it's one that uses a relatively new and uncommon wireless charging technology. You aren't gonna find anything quite like this for much cheaper.

Bottom line: The Nexus 4 Wireless Charger does what it's designed to do, and it does it well. If you're looking to avoid unnecessary expenditures, this type of product in general probably isn't for you.

Android Power TwitterIf you love gadgets, though, and can justify dropping 60 bones on a sleek-looking orb that holds and charges your phone without wires, the Nexus 4 Wireless Charger is absolutely going to make you giddy.

[Note: An earlier version of this story said the Nexus 4 Wireless Charger utilized magnets to hold the phone in place. The story has been updated to correct that information.]

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