Review: The Intelli StepUp wireless charger
Retailing at $119, the Intelli StepUp wireless charger is undoubtedly pricey, but it more than justifies its premium price tag.
We all have the stupid, pointless hills we’re prepared to die on. Trivial positions that, in the grand scheme of the cosmos, amount to nothing, yet we’ll defend them to our last breath. Mine is a pathological — almost congenital — dislike of wireless charging.
From a myriad of perspectives, both practical and environmental, wireless charging is a pointless boondoggle. It’s flawed in so many ways (don’t worry, I’ll elaborate on them later).
And yet, from time to time, a gadget will land on my doorstep that circumvents these inherent flaws and wins my begrudging approval.
The Intelli StepUp is one such example. It solves the biggest usability bugbear with inductive charging — namely, wirelessly charging multiple devices concurrently.
It looks good, with an alluring industrial design. Additionally, its Apple Watch and MagSafe credentials will delight those wedded to Cupertino’s ecosystem. Retailing at $119, it’s undoubtedly pricey, but it more than justifies its premium price tag.
The wireless charging trinity
At face value, the Intelli StepUp is a straightforward multi-device wireless charging station. It has one large Magsafe-compatible surface for a phone, plus two smaller inductive charging pads for an Apple Watch and another small Qi-compatible accessory (like a pair of wireless earbuds).
The Intelli StepUp has an intriguing — yet resolutely practical — design. It looks almost like an alien obelisk, or a prop snatched from the latest Ridley Scott science-fiction melodrama.
The device’s tubular metallic chassis tapers off towards the top, exposing a charging surface big enough for a smartphone. This sits at a 40-degree angle, allowing you to see notifications at a glance without interrupting the charging process.
The primary charging mat is big enough to accommodate even the largest of phones. Thanks to its grippy material and MagSafe credentials, it held a firm hold on my iPhone 12 and delivered consistent and reliable charging.
Hidden within the sides of the Intelli StepUp are the two accessory charging pads. These slide in and out of the main chassis, and have enough space to reliably hold an Apple Watch and AirPods wireless charging case.
Sadly, they aren’t spring-loaded. To extend them, you have to push slightly, and then pull them out.
It’s a lovely design. Clean, sleek, and highly efficient, the Intelli StepUp is an appealing option for anyone suffering from a shortage of desk real estate. It’s also relatively small and light. You could easily throw this into a backpack and take it with you to work.
No need for speed
The Intelli StepUp delivers up to 15W of power through its main pad, which is pretty respectable, with the accessory charging pads each providing a further 2.5W of juice.
It hits — if not exceeds — the maximum inductive charging speeds of most smartphones. Both iPhone 12 and 13 support 15W wireless charging, albeit only via MagSafe. Cheaper generic Qi-standard chargers deliver the exact same speeds as the iPhone 11 and earlier — 7.5W, if you’re curious.
Admittedly, some Android vendors (notably OnePlus and Xiaomi) boast of ludicrous wireless charging speeds, with a smattering of premium flagship devices hitting 50W and above. These are the exception and not the rule. Most inhabit the same 7.5W-15W bracket as the iPhone.
Sadly, despite the premium pricing (we’ll get to that later), the Intelli StepUp doesn’t come with an included USB-C wall charger. If you want to achieve the device’s highest wireless charging speeds, make sure your wall charger is rated at 20W or above. A good choice is Anker’s PowerPort Nano III.
Wireless charging is a normal — even expected — feature in today’s smartphones. It wasn’t always so.
The earliest work in inductive charging dates back to 1890, with Nikola Tesla’s pioneering (but ultimately fruitless) work in long-distance wireless power transmission. It took almost a century for it to be commercialized — albeit by Braun, which released a range of inductive charging electric toothbrushes.
Nearly two decades later, the mobile industry took note. In an attempt to combat the stratospheric rise of the iPhone, Palm (remember them?) offered a range of wireless charging cases for the ill-fated, but critically underrated, Palm Pre.
Other vendors (notably Nokia and Samsung) eventually followed. Apple would eventually include wireless charging as standard with the iPhone 8 in 2017.
Wireless charging became popular, but its fundamental flaws largely remain:
- Like driving a GMC Yukon to the grocery store, it’s an environmental menace. As this revealing post from Medium’s OneZero points out, wireless charging uses vastly more energy than a conventional wired connection.
- Charging speeds (not to mention energy efficiency) are dictated by how accurately you align your device with the wireless charger’s coils. Apple’s Magsafe addresses this to some degree, but it’s a proprietary technology exclusive to the iPhone.
- Wireless charging is invariably slower than wired charging, with the biggest disparities found in the Android sphere.
- The overwhelming majority of inductive charging mats only support one device at a time. Most people carry several electronic devices with them on a daily basis — phones, tablets, headphones, smartwatches, and so on.
Some products — like the Intelli StepUp — circumvent these flaws. And it’s hard to dismiss their success. It addresses the three products — phones, watches, and earbuds — we’re most likely to take with us on the commute to work.
Its industrial design is top-notch, with the retractable accessory charging pads a nice touch. Unlike other charging products I’ve used, it doesn’t get disconcertingly warm. It’s reasonably fast — provided you use the right wall charger.
It would have been nice for Intelli to throw in a few standard USB-A and USB-C ports, for those devices that don’t support wireless charging by default. The Intelli StepUp has the potential to be one charger to rule them all, but doesn’t quite get there.
I also can’t help but grumble about the lack of a USB wall adaptor. It feels stingy — especially when you consider its $119 price tag. Minor grumbles, certainly, but worth mentioning nonetheless.
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