Review: Nomad Base Station Pro

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Review: Nomad Base Station Pro

Nomad’s impressive Base Station Pro wireless charger finally here, and after using this new free-position. Three-device wireless charger for the past couple weeks, we’re sold on the future of charging. Truly free-placement Qi wireless chargers have been hard to come by. Some have released but have had enough drawbacks to make users shy away.

Nomad seems to the first to bring a device to market that consumers can flock to with the Base Station Pro. With its good looks, multi-device support, ease of use, and solid reliability, this is the charger you’re going to want.

In short, the Nomad Base Station Pro is a large wireless charging pad that allows you to place up to three devices almost anywhere on its surface and they will begin charging. There’s no need to align over coils, just drop and go.

You can charge two sets of AirPods alongside your phone, charge two phones and a set of headphones, charge a battery pack, your iPhone, and AirPods Pro — if they mostly fit on the surface, they will charge.

Nomad Base Station Pro — a big step forward

The Nomad Base Station Pro builds on its popular line of wireless chargers. There are models with USB outputs on the back, some with integrated Apple Watch charging pucks, and some formed from walnut. The Base Station Pro doesn’t necessarily have the bells and whistles of the others, but comes with something much cooler.

If you’ve seen Nomad’s other chargers, your ill recognize the Base Station Pro. It has a metal body with a padded leather charging surface on top. Compared to Nomad’s other chargers, it is bigger — much bigger. It is large enough to charge three iPhones at the same time.

On the back is a single USB-C port which is powered by a two-meter nylon-braided USB-C to USB-C cable connected to a Nomad 30W USB-C power brick. The brick itself is on the large size, which is unfortunate. Nomad says they placed the order for the chargers well in advance of the wireless charging pads. When the pads were delayed, in part due to the pandemic, things had changed.

Gallium Nitride (GaN) chargers Have since come a long way and dropped in price making them a likely possibility for a second-gen device, but for now, you will have to upgrade the USB-C brick on your own if you so choose.

There are three status lights on the front of the pad that roughly align with where devices are placed on the pad. Place one near the right side, and the right light illuminates.

Compared to the others, Nomad has also added a soundproofing layer to the inside. While there are no fans to be worried about, this makes the device feel even more dense and premium than it did before.

The missing piece of the puzzle here compared to any other wireless charger is FreePower, a technology created by a company called Aira. Aira created FreePower and licenses it to other companies to use in their products — the first of which is Nomad.

Instead of relying on metal coils for charging, it uses a printed circuit board and appears to use the Qi’s spec’s multiple cooperative flux generators technology. This has many advantages from being able to scale up to large surfaces to simply much thinner, at only 6mm thick for the whole technology stack.

Understanding wireless charging

Long story short, with most Qi chargers, there is a metal coil on both the device to charged and the charger. The transmitting device will send out a ping several times a second to poll for when a device is placed atop. When a device is detected, it will transmit the power which is received by the coil embedded in the receiving device.

Typically, users have much more of an issue placing their devices than they even realize. When you drop your iPhone atop a wireless charging pad, you need to have it close to center before it begins charging. If you place it just off, it won’t charge — leaving you with a dead device the following day.

Furthermore, the farther you are from dead-center, the slower the device will charge. Manufacturers can dial in this radius, making the so-called “sweet spot” larger so it is easier to imitate charging or they can make it very small which is harder to adjust your phone to but ensures a much quicker power up.

There’s no real upside here. If the spot is large, it is very hard to pinpoint exactly where dead-center is. And if it is small, it can take a lot of thinking to adjust the phone perfectly. This is why FreePower is so huge.

We also mentioned how wireless chargers send out pings of power to poll for a device being placed. A normal wireless charger sends our larger bursts of power that can be more than a couple watts in size several times a second. Aira’sFreePower sends out many more pings each second to track item locations but they consume much less energy.

Vampire power draw is a real issue with wireless chargers and one that Aira was quick to fix. In a single month, Nomad says that a solo charging pad can waste enough energy to charge 130 iPhone 11 units to full power. Nomad also claims that Base Station Pro can charge three devices at once — and only wastes 1.7 iPhone 11 full batteries worth of power. While an ideal world may have entire surfaces Qi-enabled, at the moment Base Station Pro with FreePower is about as close as we get.

Living with the Nomad Base Station Pro

Base Station Pro is a very specific size. At the max, it can hold three iPhones at the same time. In our testing, we were able to charge our iPhone 11 Pro Max alongside an iPhone 11 Pro and an iPhone 11.

They all fit, but once we started adding cases it became more problematic. With cases, an iPhone XS, an iPhone 11 Pro, and an iPhone 11 Pro Max were unable to all fit. One iPhone always stuck out just enough to not charge. The Base Station Pro is large, but we’d almost like it to be just slightly larger to satisfy three phones while ensconced in cases.

In our testing, we used the Base Station Pro in our studio, in our bedroom, and we were even lucky enough to bring it with us on vacation.

We absolutely loved having it on the nightstand. Without lights, it can be difficult to tell if we have our phones properly placed on the charger or where we left the charging cable. Being able to literally toss the phone on the charger was a huge step forward.

The lights are also very dim with the lights off, making them no issue for us trying to sleep. Since it is fanless, it also makes no noise which again is key for a bedroom charger.

It also fixed one of the biggest problems we encountered during our vacation. We had a few people around and phones were always dead. Rather than having a pile of chargers plugged in, we just set the Base Station Pro on the counter. Everyone was able to freely plop down their device, move other devices around, and swap devices at will.

No more cables, no more dead phones, just convenience. Some in our group had sworn off wireless chargers because they were too annoying to center their phone on each time but the Base Station Pro turned that around.

It is clear that the Base Station Pro is slightly slower than other wireless chargers. We think that it limited to 5W, versus the 7.5W that the iPhone will allow. Wireless charging has always been about convenience, and not necessarily about speed. Keep a USB-C charger around and it always safe to power up quick in a pinch but the rest of the time the Base Station Pro preferred due to its design.

Earlier this year we tried out the Zens Liberty, which creates a similar free-placement experience but limited to two devices at once. It is also much thicker, uses standard coils, and has fans to aid with heat dissipation. After testing both, Nomad’s is more technically impressive and better to use day-to-day. We did miss the added Apple Watch charger though, always forced to bring our own.

Drawback

A minor drawback with the design of the Base Station Pro — which is almost always going to be the case, is there is a small area around the edge that doesn’t charge. Purely because of how close the internal pad can get to those edges. In use, that means if you have your phone sticking off to the side too much or you aligned to certain spots on the top edge, your device won’t charge.

It took us a couple days to be aware of that but soon after it was second-nature to avoid those and if we did have three tight devices on there we tried our best to keep them all evenly on the pad.

We’ve been waiting for a device like this for some time now. Apple failed in its attempt to bring AirPower to market which was very similar in many ways. With AirPower cancelled — or possibly revived depending on the rumors each week — Nomad poised to take the free-placement crown.

Qi certification

In the wireless charging space, it can very complicated to meet all the requirements of a Qi device. Manufacturers have the options to go it on their own, and play it loose with the standard, they can be fully Qi compliant where they meet all the requirements of the standard, or they can be Qi certified where their compliance claim is backed up.

Final review:

Pros

  • Sleek, dark appearance
  • Premium materials
  • USB-C support
  • Status LEDs in front
  • Entirely free placement of devices
  • More energy efficient
  • Entirely silent
  • Fits up to three iPhones
  • Dark aesthetic to Apple’s white
  • Super thin

Cons

  • Some small dead spots around edges
  • Very high price tag
  • AirPower may be looming
  • Not the fastest wireless charger

You should buy this if,

You’ve been waiting for free positioning wireless charging

This has been a long time coming. We’ve been waiting for better wireless charging since charging first went wireless and the Base Station Pro is at the cutting edge of this new technology.

You love quality leather and Nomad’s design aesthetic

Free-positioning or not, the Base Station Pro looks fantastic on any desktop. It’s made of quality materials, including the rugged braided USB-C cable, and charges three devices at the same time without effort.

You want a premium product that you can update as technology improves

Aira is continuing to improve on its FreePower technology and promises to regularly update the Base Station Pro with new firmware whenever there is a fix. That means your charging pad will always feel like new because it will continue to get new or improved features.

You should not buy this if,

You don’t have patience for brand new tech

There’s no denying that this is new to market technology. It’s going to have hiccups, glitches, and some initial setbacks. If you’d rather have a product that works perfectly out of the box, you should wait a couple more years before buying a free-positional wireless charging pad.

You own Android devices

Currently, Aira’s technology designed for the iPhones specific power delivery. Android Central’s Daniel Bader noted that the technology can be spotty with some Android phones and it doesn’t work at all with the Pixel 4. Non-Apple earbud charging cases may have some minor connectivity issues, as well.

You’re waiting for Apple to bring back the AirPower

In a way, this should be in the “why you should buy it” section. Apple canceledAirPower. The technology just isn’t here yet for what Apple is trying to do. So if you’re waiting around for AirPower, maybe it’s time to move on. That being said, however, we’ve been hearing a lot of rumors lately about Apple still secretly working on AirPower, so maybe waiting is alright?

Free-positional wireless charging is the next wave of charging technology and the Base Station Pro is on the ground-level of what’s to come. If that’s exciting to you, you’ve found a kindred spirit. If, however, brand new technology is too much drama for you, you should hold off until Aira perfects its charging matrix system, or wait to see what Nomad’s second-generation Base Station Pro will be.

Source:

https://www.theverge.com/