Review: 4 wireless chargers for both smartphone and watch (one of which does earbuds, too)

These wireless chargers for Apple and Android devices offer the option of powering up your smartphone and smartwatch at the same time – though the features and prices differ significantly. And one can also charge earbuds.

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While there may be more than a dozen multi-device wireless chargers technically available now, most do not charge both smart watches and smartphones – and most of the companies who make them could not actually provide units for review since they're bring offered through crowdfunding projects.

As a result, we're limiting this review to multi-device chargers from three stalwart companies and a start-up that promptly shipped over a review unit.

Zens Dual+Watch Fast Wireless Charger

Dutch electronics vendor Zens recently released a wireless charger that can do what Apple had hoped to do with its AirPower charger before it killed the project.

Zens’ last wireless charger – the Dual-Watch Fast Wireless Charger Black – which I also reviewed in December, was able to power up two Qi-enabled smartphones and an Apple Watch via a charging post. That black, aluminum-cased charger was a real looker and its quality feel and performance impressed me. At the time, however, I was looking for the Holy Grail of wireless chargers: one that could power up a smartphone, a smart watch and a set of wireless earbuds at the same time.

This month, they came through.

Zens dualwatch aluminium wireless charger with apple watch apple airpods and iphone xr Zens

The Zens Dual+Watch Aluminium Wireless Carger with Apple Watch Apple AirPods and iPhone XR.

The new Dual+Watch Fast Wireless Charger White is now available in white and is compatible with Apple AirPods or any Qi-enabled headphones. Also unlike some other three-device wireless chargers, this one's Apple Watch charging spot is MFi certified, which is an Apple licensing program for developers of hardware and software peripherals. Basically, it’s made to Apple’s specs.

Smartphones and smartwatches are the master devices that control how they will receive power from a charging pad. The user experience and safety are better when both master [device] and slave [charger] are collaborated on by developers.

"Apple can control the iOS and the MFi certified devices at a more detailed level, which will provide a better [user experience]," Amy Teng, a Gartner research director,
said in an earlier interview. "Third-party charging devices can charge Apple devices, but [it will] be difficult to reach the same level [of user experience] if they’re not MFi certified."

The Dual+Watch Aluminium Wireless Charger has a round-edged rectangular base made out of one piece of aluminum and a watch charging post protruding from it like a chrome shower head.

Like other multi-device wireless chargers in this review, the Zens charger offers fast charging, but instead of only 7.5W (Apple’s fast charging limit) it provides up to 10W of charging for two Qi-enabled smartphones, including Samsung Fast Charge at 9W.

(Not all Qi-enabled smartphones support fast charging, but the Galaxy S9, Note9 and Apple iPhone 8 and newer models do.) The adaptive part simply means it will adjust to the fast charging requirements of whichever smartphone is placed on the pad.

As noted earlier, the Watch charging post is Apple MFi certified (necessary to create the electronic handshake with a tiny authentication chip in a watch), so it only works with the Apple Watch (all series). It won't charge an Android-based watch (or the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier we had in hand – we tried). An Apple Watch adheres to the stand through the Magnetic Charging Mode feature.

The Zens wireless charger has a liberal area for movement of a smartphone while still sending a charge. The charging post, of course, has a vastly smaller area than the pad – even more so than Samsung's – so you have to make sure your watch is properly positioned.

Zens wireless charger Zens

The Zens Dual+Watch Aluminum Wireless Charger with Apple Watch, iPhone Xs and iPhone Xr.

While the watch charging post is hard aluminum, the pad is rubberized to prevent your smartphone from slipping around.

The Zens charger has two LEDs on the bottom front of the dock that indicate when a device is connected and charging; they're smartly directed downward so as to not be distracting from a bed stand and instead give off a soft hue instead of a harsh direct light. It also means they're harder to see from across a room.

This charger is a solid product. Criticisms I have? I don't like the lack of a smartphone stand that allows you to watch videos or see incoming messages. I also think the form factor could have been better thought out; if you hang a watch on the charging post, the band hangs down over one of the smartphone charging surfaces. It's no deal breaker, but it's inconvenient.

Lastly, the charging cord and power plug: I'd prefer a USB C-Type plug versus a proprietary one and I don't like that the power adapter is horizontally positioned; it covers up to two outlets on a power strip. Samsung (see below) designed its adapter smartly; it's vertical. The Zens charger power adapter, however, comes with three interchangeable plugs: U.S., UK and EU. (That's very handy indeed).

The Zens Dual+Watch Aluminum Wireless Charger comes with a three-year warranty, which says a lot about the company's confidence in its charger. No other device in this review has such a long warranty.

Overall, I really like the Zens Dual+Watch Fast Wireless Charger. It's a great looking piece of technology made by a reputable company and it allows for up to two smartphones and one watch to charge at the same time – that's one more smartphone than the other chargers I reviewed can handle.

You'll only find the Dual+Watch Fast Wireless Charger on Zens's site, where it retails for €99.99, or about $112. So, for the same price as the Samsung, you get an additional charging pad – but no upright smartphone charging stand.

Samsung's Wireless Charger Duo

Samsung Wireless Charging Duo Samsung

The Samsung Wireless Charging Duo.

The Samsung Wireless Charger Duo impressed me from the moment I pulled it from the box. With a smooth, matte black finish and slick, curvy lines, this charger is aesthetically pleasing and feels well built.

The two charging spots offers 7.5W "adaptive fast charging."  (Not all Qi-enabled smartphones support fast charging, but the Galaxy S9, Note9 and Apple iPhone 8 and newer do). Samsung, however, said Apple has a proprietary charging standard related to Qi, so Samsung's hardware can only charge compatible iPhones at the standard Qi output, 5W.

While the Wireless Charger Duo will power up a Qi-enabled Android smartphone or iPhone, it only supports the Gear S3 or later Samsung Watches. So, you can charge either two Qi-enabled smartphones or a smart phone and a Samsung smartwatch at the same time.

The form factor of this charger is also more impressive than that of Apple's late, lamented AirPower wireless charger, which is simply a flat pad. (Apple has yet to ship its long-delayed charger, and it may never do so.)

Samsung's wireless charging dock comes with a stand on one end and a flat pad at the other. The stand allows users to read notifications or texts or watch video while charging up their smartphones. (You may not think this is a handy feature; I didn't, but the first time a notification comes through and grabs your attention, you realize just how convenient it is. There's no need to remove the phone from the stand, you just type or browse away on it while it's charging.)

Note: The charging stand portion of the Wireless Charger Duo cannot be used for charging smart watches.

Samsung's Wireless Charger Duo IDG

Samsung's Wireless Charger Duo in action.

Unlike most wireless chargers, this one has a built-in ventilation fan to keep devices cools as they're receiving power; it also uses a USB Type-C universal power cable.

One thing to look for in a wireless charger is the ease with which you can position your device and still receive a charge. I've owned many wireless chargers and it's a real pain to have to reposition your phone for it to begin charging. That's not the case with the Samsung Wireless Charger Duo, which allows liberal movement around both the pad and stand.

The Samsung charging dock is 8¼-in. by 3½-in. in size. The pad and stand have a rubberized coating to resist device slippage.

One unusual feature are the two LED lights that not only tell you when your devices are charging, but when they're fully charged (red indicates charging, green means fully charged). Most chargers' LED simply tells you when a device is connected. While you may think it a superfluous feature, it isn't; you can instantly tell from across a room whether your device has finished charging. (A flashing red light indicates the device is not charging properly.) One issue: as this charger is built specifically for Samsung Android phones and smart watches, the LED light didn't show when my iPhone 8 was fully charged.

One concern I had with the Wireless Charger Duo is that it doesn't appear to have foreign object detection software, meaning if metal or an RFID tag (such as a credit card with chip) were in between the smartphone/watch and pad, the object could heat up and damage the device or render the RFID tag unusable.

Foreign object detection is becoming more widely available on many of the latest wireless chargers, such as the Belkin BOOST↑UP wireless charging pad. Belkin's pad became available in Apple stores and Apple.com as of November

Samsung, however, asserted that the Qi specification requires foreign object detection and since its charger is in compliance, it does include that protection.

Overall, I found the Wireless Charger Duo to be a well-made, well-designed product. I really like the charging stand and the looks of this device, and because it's made by Samsung, it should prove to be reliable. Just in case, the charger does come with a one-year warranty.

The Wireless Charger Duo retails for $120, but it's currently on sale on Amazon for $80.

A few words about charging speeds and devices

While the latest Qi wireless charging specification (v1.2) allows for up to 15W of charging power, it is the software on a receiving device that controls how much power is transferred from a charger to a device.

For example, a charging pad might be able to emit 10W, but that's overkill for a device than can only take 7.5W, as it the case with recent iPhones. For there to be any increase in charging speed, both receiver and transmitter have to be able to operate at those higher power levels. Here's a good explainer on "fast wireless charging." 

And, even if a smartphone could receive 10W of power, it's not necessarily true that it  would power up twice as fast as with a 5W charger; there are a lot of factors that influence charging time.

There are currently 242 devices – both chargers and smart phones – that will put out or receive more than 5W of power, according to a Qi-certification database compiled by the Wireless Power Consortium's (WPC) website.

Phone batteries can only be charged at the maximum rate between 10% battery charge and 70%, according to the WPC, the industry group responsible for Qi standards. Most phones will limit the power into the battery when the battery is almost empty and almost full. That makes it hard to predict total charging time from the rating of the power supply.

"It is easier to see the effect of fast charging when you compare the time to charge a battery from, say 30% to 60%. A complicating factor is that a phone will reduce the charging power when the battery gets warm," said WPC Chairman Menno Treffers. "That adds to the unpredictability of charging times."

Here's a good explainer on battery charging.

Belkin BOOST↑UP Wireless Charging Dock

Belkin Wireless Charger Belkin

The Belkin BOOST↑UP Wireless Charging Dock.

Now, back to chargers. Next on the list is the Belkin BOOST↑UP Wireless Charging Dock for iPhone + Apple Watch, which, as the name denotes, is specifically made for the Apple iPhone and the Apple Watch.

As it's Qi certified, the smartphone charging stand (separate from the Watch charging post, which emits 5W), offers 7.5W "fast charging" for iPhones. And it can charge any other Qi-enabled smartphone or tablet, though not at the 9W setting offered by many Android device receivers.

The BOOST↑UP Wireless Charging Dock also has an additional 5-watt USB-A port allowing you to simultaneously charge another device like an iPad or power bank, to create a three-device charging station using a single AC outlet. The Belkin charger, like the Zens, uses a standard AC adapter cord/plug, not a USB Type-C cord. (I find USB-C more handy because it can be used with more than one device and it's easier to attach.)

The Belkin charger is hard edged – a rectangle with an oval-shaped, rubberized surface on which the iPhone charging stand and Apple Watch charging post protrude. The charger measures 7.36-in. by 4.13-in., making it roughly the same size as the Samsung Wireless Charger Duo, though its slightly deeper by about ¾-in.

As is true of the other chargers, Belkin's is good looking, with a clean, simple design. Unlike the other three chargers, the Belkin orients an Apple Watch on its side, and supports Nightstand mode to enable the alarm clock feature as it charges.

The Belkin also sports an LED light that's supposed to indicate when an iPhone or Apple Watch is properly aligned and charging. For the life of me, I could not find that LED light no matter how many times I plopped my iPhone 8 down. Hopefully, that won't be an issue when the charger becomes more generally available.

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