Google is in the habit these days of selling extremely well-priced mobile devices like the new Nexus 5, but the same cannot be said for the accessories. Cases and chargers are all more expensive from the Play Store than the third-party alternatives, but sometimes it's worth the cost. Last year's Nexus wireless charger was one of the few Qi-compatible units out there, but the same cannot be said this year. Google's updated Nexus Wireless Charger comes in a little cheaper than last year's at $50, and it has some cool features. Let's see how it stacks up.
The Nexus charger is tiny, I mean it's really tiny. It's a small flat block 60mm (2.36-inches) on a side and 12.5mm (0.5-inches) tall. The sides taper into an even more narrow base, which really makes the whole package seem that much smaller. Just telling you how small it is doesn't do it justice, so here it is with a standard US quarter on it.
The base of the charger is grippy – a little like the charging surface of the 2012 wireless orb. It feels like the rubber cup on a dashboard mount and it sticks to any smooth surface, like for example a desk or nightstand. The plastic cover you remove from the bottom before use makes it clear the surface can be reconditioned with a little water, but a solvent cleaner will prevent it from sticking.
This things sticks incredibly strongly – I've had it affixed to the same spot on my desk for a few hours, and it takes a lot up upward force to free it. Giving it a little twist helps it along, though. If you're having flashbacks, you probably have the old Nexus charger. It's a similar maneuver to freeing the Nexus 4 from the Orb, but in reverse. Ideally, you won't be moving the charger around too much.
The charging surface is very smooth and shiny, with a faint Nexus logo in the center. The unit comes with a microUSB charger that has a slightly blocky plastic surround on the plug. It slots into the port on the charger snugly and is easy to disconnect for plugging into a device the old fashioned way.
Does It Work?
The reason for the sticky bottom is that this unit has a fairly strong magnet in it to hold your device in place. When you lift the phone or tablet up, you don't want the charger to come up with it. This was one of the issues with last year's model, but it's effectively solved with this one.
The magnet makes it easier to align the device for charging, but it's not perfect. For example, the Nexus 7 has a larger surface area than the Nexus 5, but only a small segment of that space will reach the internal charging coils. The magnetic attraction is strongest over this area, so you can feel the tug of attraction guiding the tablet toward the right spot. I don't want to give you the impression that it's hard to align the Nexus 7 with the charger – it isn't. However, it's not magic. You do sort of get a feel for how strongly the magnet will hold when it's in the right spot. However, it's still possible to attach the Nexus 7 and have it too far off-center to charge. With the Nexus 5, it's much easier to attach correctly.
Both the Nexus 5 and the Nexus 7 hold very well, but surprisingly, the Nexus 4 works too. It doesn't have nearly the hold of the N5/N7, and it doesn't seem to hold more strongly around the active wireless charging area of the back. So the N4 works just fine, but it's really no better for aligning the phone than any other wireless charger.
Because the charging surface is level with the table it sits on, you don't get the upright positioning you had with the old charger. Depending on how far away the device is, you might still be able to use it while docked, but it's not super-convenient. However, the wireless charger sticks to everything so well, you could probably place it on a sloped surface and have no issues – not that you probably have a lot of convenient 45-degree angles in your house. Because it does hold the phone or tablet off the tabletop a quarter-inch, you can still easily press the power button to turn it on.
There is no LED on the Nexus charger to let you know it's working, which I know will annoy some people. It was the same with last year's model, but I can live with this. Thankfully, it doesn't beep at you when a device is placed on it to get some juice, which is strangely common (and completely unnecessary) with Qi chargers.
The Nexus Wireless Charger outputs 1.8A, which is only a little less than most USB chargers at 2A. A few Qi chargers can do 2A, but I think this one is close enough that you don't have to fret. There doesn't appear to be too much heat generation with the Nexus charger either. The Nexus 4 does get a little warm, but that phone was prone to thermal issues. The charger seems to work reliably about 5-6mm above the surface, so an average case should work fine, assuming it's not made out of something that would interfere with the signal.
How Does It Compare?
The Nexus Charging Orb clocked in at $60 when it was released last spring. At least on that count, the new charger is a little more reasonable. Still, $50 is a lot when you consider the selection of wireless chargers has expanded quite a lot this year.
There are really two tiers of wireless chargers – there are budget units that get the job done for about $20 and are usually made by companies you've never heard of, then there are higher-quality chargers that work a little better and have useful features. The new Nexus charger is definitely in the second group. The build quality is excellent and it's very easy to use with the magnetic attachment. I've noticed that a number of cheaper Qi chargers actually make noise while operating – a faint clicking sound. Others are picky about keeping a device at or near 100% charge. This new Nexus unit doesn't seem to have those issues.
It's under there
As for the price, $50 is a lot for a charger. With that said, the Nexus Wireless Charger compares well to other high-end devices – the Tylt Vu costs $70 and the Samsung Charging Pad is $60. I can't tell you to go out and spend $50 on a phone charger, but if you're going to go for a high end device, this is probably the one to get. The magnet is really neat and the unit has a very small footprint. I suspect it will also have better long-term utility as all phones are at least a little magnetic. I worry about the longevity of the adhesive on the bottom, but only time will tell if it holds up.