Wireless phone chargers in cars are awful, but I think we're turning a corner

Wireless phone chargers in cars have royally sucked for what feels like a very long time at this point. Plenty of them function better as phone heaters than actual chargers (pre-2023 BMWs), ultimately causing your phone to overheat and Apple CarPlay or Android Auto to crash. Others are extremely finicky with positioning, causing your phone to constantly toggle between charging and not charging as it moves around the charging mat. Meanwhile, some are straight-up useless because the mat itself is so poor at holding the phone in place that it slides out of the charger entirely – see the photo at the top of this post of an Integra Type S' wireless charger. Obviously, the phone slides past those useless side detents at the first hint of a corner.

It’s bad enough that even though most new cars I test these days offer wireless phone charging, I still bring a cord on nearly every trip. Course, there are some good ones, too. I’ve always liked Cadillac’s cradle (below, left) that hugs your phone so snugly that there’s zero chance it moves and stops charging – ditto for Ram’s (below, right) “Ramcharger.” Really, any apparatus that forces the phone to stay in one place without disrupting charging is a semi-acceptable solution.

But there’s also the charging speed part of the equation. Most new, flagship smartphones have the ability to wirelessly charge at respectable speeds these days. You’re still going to achieve maximum charging speed with the classic brick-and-cord sold by your phone’s manufacturer, but popular, new phones like the iPhone 15, Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra and Pixel 8 Pro can wirelessly charge at up to 15 watts (or 23 watts in the Pixel’s case) on a compatible wireless phone charger. The charging mats in most new cars these days won’t come anywhere near to charging your phone at its potential maximum rate. That leads to very little charging actually being done, as your phone is typically experiencing a high power draw in the car as you use it for navigation and music streaming. Basically, the charger is just barely maintaining charge at that point, leaving you to hop out of the car after a trip with the same battery percentage as when you entered. In many instances, I’ve left the car with even less charge than when I started thanks to such poor wireless charging performance.

All of those above problems were especially frustrating because good wireless phone charging technology has existed (in at-home solutions) for quite some time. Automotive manufacturers simply weren’t putting it in their vehicles. To make things worse, wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto has and continues to be touted as a big selling point, but plugging your phone in the old-fashioned way is still the better experience if you actually care to charge your phone.

2024 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy
2024 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy

All the negativity aside, I think we’re finally starting to see a vital shift to improved wireless phone charging in cars. I just hopped out of the totally revamped 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe here recently, and I was stunned at this car’s wireless phone charging performance. Not only does Hyundai provide two cordoned-off (secure) spots to place phones – shown above – but the charging itself was fast! Tesla’s been smartly providing two spots to wirelessly charge both a driver’s and a passenger’s phone at the same time for years, so it’s great to see Hyundai hop aboard that train. Both of the chargers can charge phones at 15 watts (at the same time), and there’s a fan underneath designed to keep things cool and ensure you don’t overheat the phones while maintaining maximum charging speed. CarPlay didn’t stutter once; the phones charged rapidly, and they weren’t even particularly hot when I slid them back in my pocket after the trip.

It was simply the best wireless phone charging experience I’ve had in a car to date. There are lights that stay lit to offer confirmation that the phone is still charging, and I never had to reposition a phone once I set it down. For once, I didn’t miss having a cable at hand, and I also felt like I was able to fully take advantage of the convenience that wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto can offer.

2024 BMW 530i
2024 BMW 530i

Another OEM that’s seen massive growth in wireless phone charger performance as of late is BMW. The new 5 Series has a fresh design (just above) that works wonders. Only one of the two slots to hold a phone in the cradle will wirelessly charge it, but the new design has venting that allows for heat to dissipate and maintain the fastest possible charging for longer. It works splendidly in action, which is a massive improvement over the almost useless wireless phone chargers BMW put in its cars before the new design.

New wireless phone chargers like those described above from Hyundai and BMW give me hope that the rest of the industry will continue to better their chargers, too. It’s simply a shame when a big chunk of real estate in the center console is taken up by a charger that you don’t even want to use, and when done properly, you know a charger can be a notable boon to the in-car tech experience. I think we’re slowly moving along the correct track after a number of failed attempts. Cooling and holding the phone in place are the two biggest roadblocks to move past, and once we’re there, then I might just be able to leave the cord at home for good.

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