Monday, November 28, 2022
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EETimes – A Question of Power


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I imagine our two-person Christmas was a microcosm of many in the U.S. this year, sidetracked by a hunt for juice to power our recently opened gizmos. That meant carefully extricating cables from their tiny compartments in cardboard boxes, opening drawers in search of alkaline batteries and yanking cords from power outlets to plug in new gear.

I noticed none of this year’s haul included a Micro USB connector, which I’m very thankful for, since I only get the correct orientation for plugging in last generation’s connector of choice about half the time.  With USB-C, it doesn’t matter which way I plug in a cable, a small consideration, but one that saves unnecessary aggravation.

I got the Beats Fit Pro wireless earbuds I asked Santa for, and I was pleased that the fit, as promised, was on target for my smallish ears. I hadn’t considered the charging side, and was taken aback when I saw a roughly 6-inch USB-C-to-USB-C cable in the box. I stepped up to the wireless charging case option when I bought my AirPods and expected the same from my Beats. Looking at the Apple website for the stepchild Beats earbuds, I see that’s not an option. I guess Apple keeps the best features for its own brand.

The Beats were fully charged when I opened the box, but the charging case was at 43 percent. I wanted to charge the case to be ready for an earbud fill-er-up, which would come in after about six hours of use, according to reviews. I looked at the half-foot USB-C-to-USB-C connector and realized I didn’t have everything I needed to power the case: One end had to plug into something else, and that something else had to get power from an AC outlet. A plug would’ve been nice, Apple, but I see they want me to spend $19 on one at apple.com.

I ended up unplugging my partner Liz’s three-way wireless charger – one of her Christmas presents – which didn’t seem entirely fair since she spent far more on my Beats than I did on her charger. Then I plugged its USB-C cable – which was plugged into a power adapter that was plugged into a power strip – into my Beats charging case. Lesson learned: I will never again get earbuds that don’t come with a wireless charging case that can simply charge while lounging on a Qi pad.

Then again, I may never get any earbuds but AirPods again because when I tried to put the Beats back in the charging case, I couldn’t get the lid to close, no matter which way I positioned them. I checked a Reddit thread and found I’m not the only one with charging case complaints with the Fit Pros. Numerous people cited poor quality construction. One said it feels like a prototype for a case; another compared it to a Fisher-Price toy.

I can try putting a rubber band around the case, but then I might break the buds. The really bad news? When the earbuds worked out of the box, I tossed that very box they came in, the one the retailer would require for return.

My nightstand is a rats’ nest of cables with a multi-port USB charger powering an Apple Watch, iPhone, Kindle, over-ear wireless headphones and the occasional electronic guest. I would really like that to change in the future, though Apple’s aborted effort with a multi-device wireless charging pad doesn’t leave me much hope.

For some devices, the really tiny ones, a wireless charging solution seems essential to be practical. The smaller electronics are, the less you want to futz with cables that inevitably get lost or crimped – or the cases they come in—and some are just too small for batteries. A hearing-aid battery replacement video shows how tedious battery replacement can be for tiny electronics. I’d hate to do that every five days or so; I have enough aggravation stuffing button batteries into my cat’s laser toy.

The hearing-aid market is set to explode soon with over-the-counter devices coming, thanks to expected relaxation of Food and Drug Administration requirements that consumers have a medical exam before getting a hearing aid. People who have been priced out of four-figure doctor-prescribed aids, or those who don’t think their hearing loss is severe enough to require medical treatment, may dabble in the OTC versions.

They’re part of the new wave of “wearables” that have a health focus, including smart rings. A company called Movano is working on a smart ring targeted to women that promises to measure steps, calories, heart rate and blood oxygen levels. Try fitting a battery compartment or USB connector on that baby, let alone all the sensors that need to be powered by the Internet of Things.

The market is begging for alternative charging solutions.

Energous, a wireless charging technology company, recently sent me one of the first products to incorporate its WattUp wireless charging technology. The Primo W, delayed by component shortages, is due on the market soon. The charging dome, which doubles as a sanitizer, has outlines on the base for left and right hearables, though placement didn’t seem as critical as it does with a Qi charger that requires wireless charging coils to line up precisely.

Energous says early WattUp designs account “for strict orientation and foreign object detection issues” associated with Qi chargers, though the latter is less of an issue than it used to be.

Energous, Ossia and Wi-Charge are among the companies promising wireless charging solutions for years. I’ve seen demos of wireless charging bowls, light bulbs and pads, but reality has yet to follow the promises. Regulatory issues and manufacturer willingness to incorporate charging transmitters chips are just some of the hurdles.

I searched recently for wireless charging nightstands. Google brought up several options. One model at Wayfair had a sliding top that would accommodate a charging cable that plugged in somewhere in the drawer– not exactly what I had in mind. Another had a very large surface for charging that took up most of the tabletop, making me nervous about what else I could place on it without doing damage to a device or the charging mechanism.

At Amazon, a “rustic” nightstand with a charging station showed USB ports on the surface with a cup of coffee nearby, an electrical disaster in the making in my apartment with a freewheeling kitty.

So, it’s back to my mishmash of charging solutions for now. Maybe next Christmas I’ll ask for wired headphones … and books.



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