Ever since the sudden cancellation of Apple’s AirPower wireless charger, tons of companies have tried to fill the gap in the market by offering their own takes on the failed product. But with the Liberty wireless charger, Zens has succeeded where Apple failed: it built a multiple-coil wireless charger that actually delivers on its promise.
The way wireless charging should always work
AirPower-style wireless chargers are a dime a dozen these days: take two Qi charging pads, throw in a USB Apple Watch cable, and you’ve got something that looks like Apple’s failed charger. But the real innovation of the AirPower charger wasn’t in its ability to charge an iPhone, a pair of AirPods, and an Apple Watch all at once; it was Apple’s attempt to use 21 to 24 charging coils (instead of the standard one or two) to make a charger that wouldn’t require precise placement or alignment of the charging coils.
The glass-and-aluminum Liberty doesn’t look much like Apple’s canceled charger, but it does exactly what AirPower promised: just drop your phone or earbuds anywhere on the pad, and they’ll charge, thanks to the 16 charging coils inside. There’s no moving things around to make sure the coils are lined up, no sliding your phone up and down, no anxious glances to see if the charging indicator goes on. It works the way wireless charging should always work.
It’s not just the multicoil technology, though: the Liberty also checks nearly every other box for what makes a good wireless charger. It can charge up to two devices on the pad at up to 15W each, meaning it’ll fast charge nearly any smartphone at full speed. There’s also an additional USB-A port on the top for plugging in another device (or, for those who want the true AirPower experience, plugging in Zens’ custom €45 aluminum Apple Watch charger that’s designed to go with the Liberty pad).
The Liberty is powered through a standard USB-C port, meaning you can easily replace the cable for a longer or shorter option or swap out the brick if anything breaks. (But you’ll need a 60W USB-C PD brick to supply enough power.) And there are no annoying glowing LED lights to let you know that the charger is plugged in.
The Liberty charger isn’t perfect. For example, putting your phone all the way to the side can cause it to not charge. But that’s pretty easy to avoid given the large charging service available and the fact that you can see where the coils are, at least on the glass-top model I tested. It’s big: with a footprint of 8.8 x 5.3 inches, it’s nearly the size of a trade paperback book, so you’ll definitely want to clear some room on your desk. There’s also a fan, as one might expect from a charger that draws this much power, although it’s fairly quiet.
The Liberty costs a hefty premium over almost any other charger
Then there’s the biggest problem with the Zens Liberty: the price. At €149 for the standard model (with a fabric cover) and €199 for the limited edition glass cover model that I tried, you’re paying a hefty premium even compared to other (already expensive) dual-device wireless chargers like Samsung’s $79.99 Duo Pad, Nomad’s $99 Base Station, or Mophie’s $69.95 Dual Wireless Charging Pad. And that’s before paying the extra €45 for the Apple Watch charger — although, in theory, you could save here by just using a regular Apple Watch charger at the expense of the more seamless look.
Fortunately, Zens isn’t the only company looking to compete in the AirPower-esque multicoil space. Other contenders — like Nomad’s upcoming Base Station Pro — promise to accomplish a similar “charge anywhere” feat, with support for up to three Qi devices, although the existing prototype that we saw at CES was still buggy and unfinished, and there’s no release date. Recent rumors indicate that Apple might be taking a shot at a wireless charger again, too.
The fact that other companies are working on multicoil chargers means there’s hope for cheaper alternatives down the line. But for now, Zens is the only game in town. Apple never announced the price for its AirPower charger, so it’s hard to compare the Zens Liberty in that regard. But the high price point is almost fitting for a product that’s stealing Apple’s thunder.
The Zens Liberty is one of — if not the best — wireless chargers I’ve ever used. But if you want the Apple-like AirPower features, you’ll have to be prepared to pay Apple-like prices.
Photography by Chaim Gartenberg / The Verge