Back in early 2008, a company called Taylor Technologies showed off an accessory called iVolta, which was designed to enable any Dock Connector-equipped iPod to recharge without wires — instead, you’d plug in a little nub, rest your device on top of a specially designed flat charging surface, and the charging would just happen. Taylor claimed it would sell for around $25, but that sounded like a long shot, and the product never wound up materializing. Flash forward nearly two years to Fall 2009: using the same inductive charging technology, a company called WildCharge has recast the accessory as a combination device-specific charging tip and case called the Skin for iPhone ($35), with a separate Charge Pad ($50), also sold together in the “WildCharger Bundle” for $80. iPhone, iPhone 3G, and iPhone 3GS users with extra cash to spend on something novel will find these accessories to be worthwhile; a separate iPod touch version is also available.
The Bundle ships in two boxes, one containing the Charge Pad, a glitter-black plastic surface that’s roughly 6” by 8” and very thin; it’s topped with 12 silver charging stripes, a blue power light, and a bulging, logo-clad top edge where an included wall power adapter connects. Another box contains the semi-hard rubber Skin for iPhone, which is model-agnostic and actually does fit the iPhone, iPhone 3G, and 3GS with minimal hassles. While protective of much of the body, there’s no screen protection, and there are thin holes for the buttons, switch, headphone port, camera, microphone and speaker, which puts this case into the middle of the pack relative to the many other rubber cases we’ve tested. The only real evidence of the electronics inside comes from two things: four charging pins on the back, and a bump below the Dock Connector. That’s how WildCharger gets its juice, and where the juice goes, respectively.
As a case, the Skin for iPhone is functional. If the plain, matte-finished rubber body came with screen protection and did a little more in the button coverage department, it would be easy to use for everything except non-charging Dock Connector functionality; the nub at the bottom adds only a little to its height, just as the charging pins on the back add only a little to its thickness. It’s inoffensively designed and easy to use; the Charge Pad is the same—not high-class, but not low-class, either. One could imagine BlueLounge having a field day redesigning these elements into sexier parts.
Under virtually all circumstances, the WildCharger set works just as it should. You plug the adapter into the pad and set the pad on any flat surface; then plug your iPhone of choice into the case, carry it around, and set it on the surface when you’re ready to charge—simple as can be. Using induction charging technology, the stripes supply the electricity needed for charging, and though you shouldn’t intentionally try and short out the flat surface, you also needn’t worry about maintenance or shocks. Just drop the iPhone or a similarly WildCharge-skinned device on top, and it charges without cables. Stereo Bluetooth and Wi-Fi continued to work while the iPhone 3GS charged; an iPhone and an iPhone 3G also charged without complaint while in the case.
The only hiccup we noticed was a seemingly only one-time thing—we thought that we saw the Skin cause some inaccuracy in the iPhone 3GS’s compass in early testing, but could not reproduce the result, and it’s possible that the polar flip we saw was just a part of the compass’s less than complete stability under normal circumstances. That leaves only the larger question of whether it’s worth spending a fairly steep $80 for the privilege of charging your iPhone without wires. You can make up your own mind on this point, but from our perspective, WildCharge’s set sits right on the fine edge of a general recommendation due to its pricing. We felt that it merited one on the grounds that it takes a generally smart approach to the concept of an inductive charging accessory—case rather than large plug-in, multi-device-compatible surface—though its price makes it a luxury item, and it needn’t be. If you don’t want to spend the cash, cabled iPhone wall chargers can be had for $20; for now, this is a pricey but neat little innovation that will appeal to the mainstream when it’s more affordable.
Company and Price
Model: WildCharger Bundle
Compatible: iPhone, iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS