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Strings attached
Product: Powermat | Publisher: Powermat USA
Powermat Blackberry, thumbnail 1
As society has delegated ever more tasks and chores to technology, the tyranny of the wire has gradually begun to choke households like an aggressive weed.

Only recently have we been granted the metaphorical secateurs of wireless devices, and these days most would scoff at the idea of a wired control pad (how quickly we forget…).

Data transfer is certainly moving in the right direction, but domestic power transfer is still just out of reach. Powermat attempts to usher in an age of futuristic convenience, but in doing so provides a solution to a problem that doesn't exist, and falls down on a couple of significant design flaws.

Towing the line

But let's be clear here: this device will sell on novelty value alone, and there will be few who manage to prevent an impressed coo escaping their lips.

Placing my iPhone on the skateboard shaped mat for the first time, feeling it magnetically snap to position, and watching the charging symbol pop up on screen was certainly affecting.

Cleverly, the mat will shut off charging for individual devices when full, and the speed of charge is comparable to normal mains chargers.

It's only when you spend time with the mat that its shortcomings become apparent.

Perhaps the most glaring issue here is that 'wireless' is something of a misnomer. While it is true that no cables are involved (apart from the disingenuous mains lead connecting to the Powermat), it still requires physical contact.

Power transfer is achieved through magnetic induction, and for that, you will need a special battery cover, rack or, for the iPhone, a full protective case. Each bespoke case costs around £35 and are currently available for iPhone and iPod touch, Blackberry Curve and Bold, and DSi/DS Lite.

Up to three correctly outfitted devices can be charged on the mat at once. This is brilliantly convenient, but once you factor in the £70 RRP for the mat itself, things quickly become prohibitively expensive.

Free of charge

A portable, folding version of the Powermat is also available, along with a universal adaptor (a housing containing a wrapped lead, and multiple connections that is simply placed onto the mat in the same way) that provides a wired connection to most currently unsupported devices.

But while the Blackberry and DS augmentations are relatively unobtrusive, the iPhone's case is bulky and ugly.

Coming in two parts, the case clips together with two teeth on each side, ensuring a snug and secure fit. So secure, in fact, that it is nearly impossible to remove. Our review case simply wouldn't relent, and it took 15 minutes of probing ambidexterity to finally release the device from its prison.

We're now too afraid to replace it.

Perhaps most annoying, though, is the inflexible nature of charging. At Pocket Gamer, we take our gaming very seriously, and as such, are regularly running out of juice. Normally, a quick scout of the house/office for the last place we plugged in the charger is all that's required to carry on playing.

Having to place the device flush onto a large mat, however, prevents you from playing most types of games properly, and oftentimes we just wished we could plug it in normally.

Flat battery

As an office, or overnight household charger, the Powermat would make a great deal of sense, if only it weren't for the proprietary cases needed.

In future, Powermat intends to expand its functionality, encompassing all major handsets and even upscaling to netbooks and laptops, but it's difficult to shake the feeling that £160 is too much to charge three devices which were all supplied with an adaptor anyway.

In the transition from one technology to another, it is understandable that compromises must be made, but when faced with the high entry price, requirement to use the manufacturer's cases, and the inability to play whilst you charge, that wily tangle of leads at your feet doesn't seem quite so suffocating anymore.

Reviewer photo
Ben Maxwell 11 May 2010
Powermat is a neat gizmo but it’s expensive and creates as many problems as it solves
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