19
Feb
orbtop 2

Google's Matias Duarte elicited some knowing chuckles when he revealed the existence of a wireless charging orb shortly before the Nexus 4 launched. Duarte came over to Google from Palm, which developed a similar accessory for the Pre called the Touchstone. The Nexus 4 Orb took its sweet time showing up in the Play Store, but it's finally on sale for $60.

orb8

Is there any universe in which spending that kind of cash on a phone charger is reasonable? Well, maybe.

Design

The Orb is true to its name – it looks like a spherical object that's been flattened on one end, or a Nexus Q that has been cruelly sliced in half. When the Nexus 4 is placed on the unit, it is conveniently held in an upright position so you can still use the device. This makes so much more sense than the flat pad design used by most other Qi-compatible chargers. The Orb weighs 130g, which is just a little lighter than the phone itself at 139g.

orb1

It feels extremely sturdy overall. The bulk of the unit is made out of matte black plastic, except for the rim around the charging surface, which is glossy. This is a strange choice because that's just where your fingers touch when you dock the phone. It does get a little smudged, but that's a minor annoyance. There is no external LED to indicate when the device is charging, so you'll be relying on the phone's screen and new wireless charge tone to tell you it's working.

orb7 orb6

On the back is a recessed microUSB plug. I'm very pleased LG and Google didn't go with some random DC connector. It comes with a cable and AC adapter, but you could conceivably use any USB cable with the usual warning that doing so might make charging unreliable.

Functionality

Enough about the outside of the unit– you want to know how it works, right? The Nexus Orb is supposed to charge the phone completely in 4 hours, and I think that's about right (it might even be a little faster). The phone trickle charges for as long as you have it docked, and it's pretty easy to get lined up. You really have to try to put the Nexus 4 on the Orb in a position that won't charge it. If you set it down extremely off-center, the coils won't be lined up. Other than that, you can drop it on in any orientation so long as the middle of the device is more or less lined up with the middle of the charger.

orb2 orb9

It has been erroneously reported in a few places that the unit holds the phone with magnets. In reality, the top is just extremely grippy. I suspect the rubber charging surface is using some sort of micro-suction texture to hold onto the phone. You can tap and swipe on the screen and it won't fall off. In fact, I've found that I can press on the top of the screen hard enough to tip the entire phone and Orb backwards (see below). Basically, it's not going anywhere until you lift up.

orb55

The Orb tips backward with the phone

It seems like the longer you leave the phone attached, the stronger the bond between the two is. A few times I've picked up the phone and the charger came up maybe half a centimeter before dropping back down. If you twist or angle the phone as you lift, this doesn't happen at all.

If you have the Bumper on your Nexus 4, it still fits perfectly thanks to the slightly elevated ring in the middle of the charging surface. As for third party cases, the range of the induction charging is actually a few millimeters, so you might be alright. If the back of your case is smooth, it should stick without problems, but no promises.

orb3 orb10

orb12

One small annoyance has to do with that grippy surface. Because it's vaguely sticky, it collects dust and hair like you would not believe. I cleaned the entire thing with a lint-free cloth before taking pictures, and you can probably still see the junk it's collected. I worry that if it gets too dusty, the phone won't stick as well. Regular cleaning might be necessary.

orb4

Five minutes after being cleaned, the Orb is already getting fuzzy again

Wrap-Up

The Nexus Orb is far and away the best Qi charger I've used, but is it worth $60? You have to remember that Google's Nexus program changes a lot from year to year. There is a possibility that the Next Google hero phone won't work ideally with this accessory. Remember pogo pins? Exactly. Still, I think Google is committed to wireless charging, so there's a good chance the Orb will work for awhile. It would, however, be nice if it did a little more. If you'll recall, the Nexus One dock had Bluetooth and audio out. All this does is charge the phone. I expected it to somehow be detected as a dock by the N4, but nothing of the sort is happening.

Orb13

Left to right: Energizer Charger, Nexus Orb, and Panasonic TM101

Being interested in wireless charging, I picked up a few Qi chargers before the Orb came out. My Energizer and Panasonic units both get the job done, but they lack the attention to detail on display with Google's wireless charger. In the case of Energizer's single-position charger, the surface is glossy and slightly inclined. This makes it a little easier to see the screen without picking the device up, but the slippery Nexus 4 likes to slide off. The location of the charging coils is fairly small in this unit, making it tough to get the device lined up at times.

I also picked up the Panasonic TM101 a while back, and it's perhaps the most science-fictional Qi charger out there. It uses induction sensing technology to find your phone anyplace on its flat charging surface. Just put the phone down, and a glowing ring of LEDs tracks over to the phone and it starts charging. This is really cool, but the completely flat surface makes it hard to see the screen. Also, the TM101 isn't terribly reliable, as it often loses connection with the device once the battery is filled.

Orb11

Attaches securely at almost any angle

The Nexus Orb is very reliable and easy to dock the phone to at almost any angle. The more I use it, the more impressed I am with the grippy surface – it's just cool. If you want a wireless charger for the Nexus 4, this is the one to buy. You're going to spend at least $40 on third-party Qi chargers, so why not get the best of the bunch? If you want to baby your Nexus and you have the cash, it's okay to buy the Orb. Don't stress about it... I grant you absolution.

Ryan Whitwam
Ryan is a tech/science writer, skeptic, lover of all things electronic, and Android fan. In his spare time he reads golden-age sci-fi and sleeps, but rarely at the same time. His wife tolerates him as few would.

He's the author of a sci-fi novel called The Crooked City, which is available on Amazon and Google Play. http://goo.gl/WQIXBM

  • Terry Cameron

    You forgot to mention if the orb enables docking mode. Does it do that?

    • RyanWhitwam

      It doesn't for me. I have 2 N4s and 2 Orbs around. It's never been detected as a dock.

    • http://www.facebook.com/darrien.glasser Darrien Glasser

      It doesn't.

    • http://niteodesign.com/ Blake Petersen

      Sorta, you need to set DayDream mode to turn on with charging, so if you want to have a DayDream app load when you use the wireless charger, you'll have to go that route.

  • http://twitter.com/TheBigLachovsky Joe Lachovsky

    Any idea how it would work as a car charger/dock?

    • teolinux

      It would work about 1.3 seconds, after which orb and phone would be merrily floating in the air inside your car's cockpit

  • https://steamcommunity.com/id/m-p-3 m-p{3}

    As a Canadian: Nexus 4 Wireless Charger is not available in your country

    Why am I not surprised..

    • http://www.huntinggearguy.com/ Adriel

      There's a white Chinese Qi charger on eBay that works for the Nexus 4 and ships to Canada. Been using it about a week and no complaints.

      • https://steamcommunity.com/id/m-p-3 m-p{3}

        Bought that one, working well so far! Thanks!

    • FrillArtist

      What is a "Canada"?

      • https://steamcommunity.com/id/m-p-3 m-p{3}

        Exactly :(

        • http://www.facebook.com/Vini.Canalli Vinicius Canalli

          Stop complaining man... Here in Brazil we don't even know what's a Nexus. lol
          Actually we do, but there's no devices for sale on Google Play for us, and we pay an absurd price for a high-end smartphone here. (About 800 dollars for a Nexus 4 or 1200 dollars for an iPhone 5) :/

      • androidmeltsapple

        Lol!!

    • http://www.facebook.com/archercc Ryan Stewart

      Its always regulatory. Google doesnt hate you, it just has to be certified to be safe in your country. I'm surprised we don't have some sort of cross walk since our standards are similar.

    • Rafał Kwiatkowski

      At least you can buy nexus 4, not like most of the world. "devices are not available in your country"

    • thomas g

      It's because the thing doesn't work properly. Canadians wouldn't fall for that crap.

  • TOMMMMMM

    Nice review. Can you verify that it indeed trickle charges? I have the "keep device awake" setting checked in development options and when I'm near 100%, the display will turn off after the "display timeout" expires (mine being 2 mins). Thanks.

    • RyanWhitwam

      Trickle charging with Qi is a little different than USB. It toggles on and off every few minutes. Might mess with your awake settings, I suppose. All the Qi chargers I've used (that correctly detect devices) do this.

      • TOMMMMMM

        I see, that's kind of disappointing. I guess I'll keep it at full brightness and set the display timeout to 30 mins and hope I get below the battery threshold so it will start to charge again and not timeout. If anyone knows of a better way to do this, please let me know. Thanks!

    • http://www.facebook.com/archercc Ryan Stewart

      Judging by the lighflow behavior it constantly switches charging on and off. My light will go green (charged) and stay green for a bit, then go off, then go green again. So something in the programming must be cycling charging on and off.

  • Dr. Steve

    I've found wetting your finger will clean the Orb, which is useful as if it gets dirty it will not be able to hold your phone. But it does a great job, I love it, and I'm never plugging my phone in again!!

    And no it does not put it in docking mode. But as I won't be plugging it in any other way, you can set the phone to use charging as docking mode.

  • Jeff Baker

    I grabbed 4 old palm units on ebay for $5 each. They work great with my GS3. (I bought an inductive rear cover on ebay as well) They work great for me, I even took one apart and installed it into the dash mount I use.

    Cheap and easy!

    • http://www.facebook.com/lucyparanormal Daniel Tiberius

      I thought the Palm chargers weren't Qi standard?

  • JG

    I'd love if the orb had NFC (or some other tech) and could act as a go-between to auto-mount the phone to the computer while it charges, assuming the USB connector is plugged into a computer instead of just an outlet. Then I could just drop the phone on the charger when I sit at the desk, keeping it charged, handy if I need, and easily transfer files back and forth, without messing with any USB cords... I know, I could just use bluetooth to make the connection, but.... Besides I don't know if it's really standard tech on desktop & laptops....

    • Elias

      NFC is too slow for large data transfer. Try Airdroid, which is awesome and works over WiFi (so theoretically you could reach 150mbps). Bonus: no need to install pc app, it works on any browser. https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.sand.airdroid
      I do agree, though, that NFC would be useful: it could trigger "docked mode"

      • http://www.facebook.com/lucyparanormal Daniel Tiberius

        I'll second this.

      • https://steamcommunity.com/id/m-p-3 m-p{3}

        Maybe I could put an NFC sticker close to it to automate some actions while I put it on the charger.

        I'm just not sure if it would interfere with the charger though..

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002196575646 Noah Kruiper

          Just use tasker it does the same thing without NFC, that's what I sue to launch air droid when it starts charging

  • Marco Mendoza

    I've noticed that if the phone has daydream active it will only charge to about 85 percent and won't charge all the way until I deactivate daydream

    • Stud Muffler

      same here, somewhat annoying...

    • Justin Winker

      Odd. I haven't experienced the same issue, though I'm not running stock software (I'm on ParanoidAndroid 3.0). Maybe it's a software issue?

    • trjcasper

      What do you use for daydream? I have it set to show the digital clock. I do get 100% charge, but the screen goes dark(daydream off) before I wake up. Daydream is set to turn on "when charging" so I think it turns off when the battery is full. I'd love for the daydream to stay active when it's on the charger because I use it as a night clock and I don't want to have to turn the clock on and off every day. It would be better if it would treat the orb as a dock and enter daydream/night clock mode automatically.

      • wemi

        I experience the same issue even with the either mode. The clock goes dark after full charge. Very annoying. Useless as a night stand clock. My GNex/GSM with pogo pin dock on 4.2.2 does NOT have that problem. It also auto rotates the screen to the correct position.

      • Marco Mendoza

        I have it set as the digital clock as well. But I moved the phone around a bit and place the phone a little higher on the charger and now it charges faster and to 100 percent

  • Kinkax

    What happens if one were to charge the phone with wireless charger and the standard cable at the same time??

    • Justin Winker

      It still will charge it at a normal rate... I had this same question, so I tested it and it didn't have any effect on charging speed. I couldn't, however, tell if it was charging it via the charging cable or via wireless charging.

  • http://www.facebook.com/zrgiu Sergiu Dogaru

    After 1-2 days of use, with one drop on the carpet (so it gathered some dust), it won't hold the phone in place for more than 2 minutes. The phone simply slips .. slowly..

    • http://www.facebook.com/archercc Ryan Stewart

      wet your finger and wipe it off, good as new.

  • Richard Percy

    Great article, thank you. Incidentally what sort of case/bumper are you using on the Nexus 4, it looks great?

    • http://codytoombs.wordpress.com/ Cody Toombs

      That's the bumper from the Play Store. I got one as soon as they went back on sale a few weeks ago. It fits perfectly and has great action on the button covers, but it will feel really weird for a while if you are coming from a full case.

      Looks like it's out of stock again...
      https://play.google.com/store/devices/details/Nexus_4_Bumper_Black?id=nexus_4_bumper_black

    • RyanWhitwam

      Yep, the official Bumper case. It's the only case I'd ever use. I don't like cases as a rule, but this one doesn't add much bulk and fits with the design.

    • Richard Percy

      Thanks Ryan et al, much appreciated! I guess I'll be ordering a bumper once they become available again. Cheers for the feedback guys.

  • Alter

    For these micro-suction surfaces, what works really well for cleaning is sticky tape. It may take a bit longer, but it leaves the surface as good as new.

    • ChumbleSpuzz

      or a lint roller

      • Don-Duong Quach

        A wet paper towel on my charger is quick and does a good job too.

  • prakash

    What is the input voltage on the power adapter? Is it 100 - 240 V?

    • Jake Jones

      The power socket on the Charging Orb itself is micro USB, so it's always going to be 5v. This is not an issue because the USB standard is the same worldwide.

      The computer, console, transformer in the wall plug etc. will be the component that steps the voltage down from mains power.

      The transformer/wall-plug that is included in the box with the Charging Orb will be specced for the country in which it's being sold....but this can be discarded and replaced with a cheap local one if you're importing it.

      • prakash

        Ya I know that. I'm asking about the power adapter that goes into the wall socket. In the play store the specs show that the power adapter can only be used in US and Canada. So does it work in India? Here we get 220V.

        • Guest

          Ah ok sorry. US & Canada use 120V so you would have to use a power inverter to use the supplied adapter in India.

          A 120V-->220V inverter would be far more expensive than buying a replacement mains--> USB (wall) adapter that works in India...so, if you decide to import it, a replacement mains-->USB (wall) adapter is your best bet.

        • http://twitter.com/tryprasannan Prasannan.N

          Ideally it should work. Nowadays most wall chargers accept 100 to 240v. All the official/bundled wall charger I got with my devices so far, are rated to work at 100-240v including Nexus 4

          • prakash

            It looks like the Wireless charging orb comes with 120V power adapter, not 100-240V.

          • tech338

            It comes with a 100-240V 50/60hz power adapter. It has a US, two prong, non-polarized plug. It output 5V, 1.8 amps as a USB female jack.

        • theartofrain

          I just got my orb here in the US, and it came with a 110-240v adapter (and US prongs, of course).

        • http://jwk.myopenid.com/ JwK

          I use mine in Sweden ,220v. However I find it not very reliable and made charging stop sometimes. So I use another usb charger with the orb now, works fine. I believe the original one is at 1.7A btw.

  • Elias

    I'm interested in a wireless charger for my car, and there's absolutely no way I'm paying more than $20 for this. I don't care for the design, I just want it to work.

    • http://codytoombs.wordpress.com/ Cody Toombs

      Cheap plastic generic (non-charging) holders rarely sell below $10. Qi-enabled home chargers are still selling for $40 and up, especially because Qi transmitters are charged patent royalties (they are RAND patents and probably don't cost much, but it is a necessary addition to the final price). All things considered, it's probably not likely to happen this year unless you're buying something stolen or used.

      ref: http://www.wirelesspowerconsortium.com/developers/patent-licenses.html

      • al

        I highly doubt the chinese pay any royalties

      • Elias

        I don't need a nice holder. Could be just a plastic slab with a grippy top.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000003999549 Mike Harris

    I haven't seen this mentioned/answered yet, so...

    Can I use my GS3 with it or does it only work with the N4? (I have the Qi cover for my GS3, btw.)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000003999549 Mike Harris

      Screw it, I'm never going to get an answer so I'll just buy one. I'll be the guinea pig. Maybe I'll be nice and report back whether or not it works.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000003999549 Mike Harris

        For anybody who cares, I can verify that it does work with the GS3. I got mine yesterday and didn't play with it for long, but it definitely works.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lucyparanormal Daniel Tiberius

      If they're both Qi standard then there's no reason to think it wouldn't work.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000003999549 Mike Harris

        That's my assumption as well, but if that's the case, why does Google label it a "Nexus 4 Wireless Charger" and not a "Qi Wireless Charger?" If it's for branding purposes and to get the Nexus 4 name out there as much as possible, why didn't they at least mention in the description that it will work with any phone using the Qi standard?

        • http://www.facebook.com/lucyparanormal Daniel Tiberius

          Maybe they're trying to avoid any supply issues by not marketing it for anything but the Nexus 4?

  • http://www.facebook.com/ShitizGarg Shitiz Garg

    Ordered mine on 12th, still hasn't shipped :/

  • didibus

    Magnets would have worked better, since the surface could have been made of a material that does not attract dirt.

    • Austin Wang

      but it'll be an even bigger problem if it attracts staples

  • didibus

    So if the Orb does not use magnets, does the Nexus 4 still have magnets inside of it?

    • trjcasper

      I've got to test this out. I swear I feel a magnetic pull when I dock mine.

      • http://www.facebook.com/lucyparanormal Daniel Tiberius

        Yeah I feel the same way.

  • http://www.facebook.com/archercc Ryan Stewart

    I love mine, bought two. One for the night stand and one for the office. It holds the phone in a position that you can use it while charging and it elevates it while protecting the surfaces so the sound is louder (when using it as an alarm clock).

    One note on removing it, if you pinch the sides of the phone as you lift it you can kind of "push" the phone off of the dock, preventing it from trying to pick the dock up. Also, I clean mine with just a drop of water on my finger and I dont use a towel.

  • Elias

    Be sure to inform us if you spot a disassemby somewhere! (Ifixit?)
    Knowing details of the coil, I could order a chip and make my own charger.

  • rohan malik

    is this orb compatible with the TPU cases or do we have to remove the case every time we charge the phone and needs the original nexus 4 glass surface ?

    • adv1sory

      I just got the orb and it works over my otterbox style case

  • http://www.facebook.com/Parashdevkota Paras Devkota

    Isn't this actually inside the Box while buying the phone, Or is it meant to be bought Separately?

  • David Chapman

    So I've had my wireless charger for just over a week. When I put it on the charger, after 10 minutes it falls off the charger and stops charging.

  • wiggles

    ifixit tear down I did.

  • wiggles
  • rvichar

    Save your money or give it to a better cause. The wireless charging orb will only a) not charge your phone b) have such a steep incline that your slippery nexus 4 will slide right off and not charge. C) a waste of $60 + taxes + shipping and handling and your time d) all of the above....if you guessed D) then you are correct. There are even a fee YouTube videos demonstrating this issue. Enjoy.

  • http://twitter.com/memphoman Michael Guthrie

    I dropped the $60 on this piece of junk. My nexus 4 snaps to this timidly, and then slowly slides off, and because I have things to do, like sleep, I can't put it back on, so I wakes up with a non charged phone. I hope this is a defect and I can exchange, because its a great idea, or at least get my money back. Such a waste of my time and money.

  • androidmeltsapple

    So wait.... Your saying that spending 60$ on this for my nexus is a good buy..... Why can I take the helf a second to plug it in? Waste of money I think. Nice article btw

  • Abdul Razzak

    Google launched a Wireless charging device for their Nexus devices like Nexus 5, Nexus 7 2013 to step up the technology.

    http://goo.gl/DELBw0