Review: Nomad Base Station Pro is the free-placement wireless charger we've been waiting f...

Posted:
in iPhone edited January 21
Nomad's impressive Base Station Pro wireless charger is finally available to order, and after using this new free-position, three-device wireless charger for the past couple weeks, we're sold on the future of charging.

Nomad's new Base Station Pro with FreePower technology by Aira
Nomad's new Base Station Pro with FreePower technology by Aira


Update: Nomad has decided to offer a complimentary aluminum Apple Watch adapter with all Base Station Pro orders. It clips on the back, requires your existing Apple Watch charging puck, and will start shipping in December. They've also pushed out an initial firmware update to improve performance and speed up multi-device charging and device recognition.

Truly free-placement Qi wireless chargers have been hard to come by. Some have been released but have had enough drawbacks to make users shy away.

Nomad seems to be 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.

Nomad Base Station Pro charging AirPods and AirPods Pro
Nomad Base Station Pro


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 ont he 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.

Base Station Pro parts
Base Station Pro parts


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 be 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's FreePower 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.

Soft status lights on Base Station pro
Soft status lights on Base Station Pro


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.

Charging three iPhones on Base Station Pro
Charging three iPhones on Base Station Pro


It is clear that the Base Station Pro is slightly slower than other wireless chargers. We think that it is 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 is always safe to power up quick in a pinch but the rest of the time the Base Station Pro is preferred due to its design.

Earlier this year we tried out the Zens Liberty, which creates a similar free-placement experience but is 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.

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 are aligned to certain spots on the top edge, your device won't charge.

Nomad Base Station Pro charging AirPods and AirPods Pro
Nomad Base Station Pro charging AirPods and AirPods Pro


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 is poised to take the free-placement crown.

Qi certification

In the wireless charging space, it can be 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.

Nomad's Base Station Pro fits into the second of the three. It is Qi compliant, but is not Qi certified due to its new design. While we have few issues with its lack of certification -- Aira is in fact part of the Wireless Power Consortium -- it does pose other issues.

With something like the Nomad Base Station Pro that deviates from the normal design, there is little room for each of these devices to deviate at all from the standard. What this means, is if you have a random device that doesn't support the Qi standard to a "T," you may have issues.

This exact thing happened to us. In our video shoots, we use Aputure wireless LEDs for accent lighting. These small devices are incredibly popular and useful among filmmakers and video creators. They have a ton of features, including Qi wireless charging.

Nomad Base Station Pro
Nomad Base Station Pro


We've used these with our other Qi chargers for ages without issue. But, when placed on the Base Station Pro, sometimes it wouldn't charge as expected. A little digging, and some troubleshooting from Nomad, it was found to not completely meet the Qi standard and was using a no-name Qi controller from overseas.

For users, this is yet again another frustrating in the world of charging. It was never clear whether the Aputure light was or wasn't "Qi certified" and it worked great with any other wireless charger. But because the Base Station Pro is trying something new, when others don't follow the standard the Base Station Pro suffers.

Most consumers aren't going to know if their specific device is Qi certified or even Qi compliant. Fortunately, our bevy of iPhones, headphones, and Samsung devices all were able to charge without issue.

Should you buy the Nomad Base Station Pro?

The Nomad Base Station Pro is both unlike any other wireless charger while at the same time being shockingly similar. It still is a wireless charger that rather slowly charges your devices when placed on its surface. But it does it in a much better way than any other.

It is completely silent, it is effortless to use, it can be updated to be more reliable and work with newly released devices, it consumes less energy, and is hands-down a better experience than any wireless charger we've used. At the same time, is that worth the premium it entails?

Nomad Base Station Pro
Nomad Base Station Pro


For us, the answer is a resounding yes. We've been using the Base Station Pro for roughly a week and going back to standard Qi charging is futile. Our devices always charge with no effort, the massive surface is easy to charge almost all our devices, not to mention it is cool as heck.

While free-positioning and its support of three devices is tempting, it is at times hard to overlook what may be coming down the line in the future. A device with an integrated Apple Watch charger or with simultaneous USB-C output would be even more tempting and seem a likely next step for the Nomad, Aira team up.

Until then, us and other early adopters will relish our sleek Base Station Pros.

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

Rating: 4 out of 5

Where to buy

The Nomad Base Station Pro is available to preorder now for $229 with shipping starting in September. Note, due to the number of parts required for Base Station Pro and the COVID-19 pandemic initial supply may be tight.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 15
    razorpitrazorpit Posts: 1,796member
    Hope to see the Apple version of this sometime soon.
    caladanianwatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 15
    I'm sorry, but I can't take you guys seriously when you give a "resounding yes" for a $230 charger and doesn't even charge an Apple Watch, no external other external ports. I love Nomad and their products, and this is a cool concept, but I think there's going to be very few people shelling out that kinda money for something so limited that doesn't charge ALL my Apple devices. 
    razorpitcaladanianrobin huberthtMplsPwatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 15
    charlesncharlesn Posts: 178member
    For an individual, as opposed to a group or work environment where I could see it making more sense, I don't understand the excitement over "place anywhere" charging, especially at a premium price. Nomad's previous Base Station Apple Watch Edition, which I've owned for a while, elegantly handles simultaneous charging of the three devices an Apple user is most likely to own: Watch, AirPods and iPhone. While its three charging coils--left, center and right--didn't allow for LITERAL "place anywhere" charging. it took all of about 5 seconds the first time I used it to figure out where to put the devices (with the Watch obviously going on the integrated puck), and the location didn't have to be precise. After having done it once, there was no need to "hunt" for the right spot again--honestly, "left, center and right" are not that hard to figure out. 
    razorpitJapheyAlex1NKnightmare2018watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 15
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 3,276member
     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.”

    This is one of the critical flaws of wireless charging. I tried a Belkin Qi charger I got from my son and I had 2 failures in 2 weeks. The lite would initially be green so you thought it was charging but would then go out if you weren’t properly placed. 

    I still don’t understand the infatuation with wireless charging. It’s inferior in every way with the exception of a minor increase in convenience, and even that is often negated by the placement issues. (Unless you pay $230 for a fancy mat.) 

    so...more expensive, slower, doesn’t work with some cases or pop-sockets, wastes more power charging, uses powers even when not charging, and less reliable. I’ll stick with a lightning cable - it hasn’t let me down yet!
    edited August 2020 inTIMidatorwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 15
    citpekscitpeks Posts: 152member
    I was beginning to wonder if this was vaporware, after being announced last fall, then shown at CES, but nothing since then.

    Glad to see it may ship as a viable product.

    $229 is steep, but this is a first-generation, leading-edge product from what is positioned as a premium brand, and something even Apple has not managed to achieve with AirPower, as of yet.

    Given the complexity of the AirPower design, such "free placement" charging mats aren't going to be for everyone, least of all those happy with the $10 plastic discs sold on Amazon, or a cable.  It will be a pricey segment that appeals to a particular niche, and Nomad surely priced the Pro with the AirPower in mind.

    Assuming they have demonstrated a viable product, the trick for Aira will be to get other licenses on board at lower price points, and expand their market share and appeal.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 15
    charlesncharlesn Posts: 178member
    Thank you for the primer on wireless charging where I learned two important things that I never new before:

    Wireless charging isn't binary, i.e., charging or not charging. Charing rate is variable depending how centered you are on the coil. Good to know! 

    Vampire power use with charging mats: 130 "vampire" iPhone charges per month with a single wireless charger?! YIKES! I found that stunning. 
    MplsPAlex1Nwatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 15
    JapheyJaphey Posts: 862member
    I'm sorry, but I can't take you guys seriously when you give a "resounding yes" for a $230 charger and doesn't even charge an Apple Watch, no external other external ports. I love Nomad and their products, and this is a cool concept, but I think there's going to be very few people shelling out that kinda money for something so limited that doesn't charge ALL my Apple devices. 
    Yup. Also, I wonder if the reviewer would still recommend dropping a cool $230 on this if he actually paid for it with his own money and it wasn’t provided to him. 
    Knightmare2018watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 15
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 5,696member
    The one I got for $200 less than this accommodates two devices and takes half a second to adjust if they're off center. I think I'll pass.
    Knightmare2018watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 15
    Japhey said:
    I'm sorry, but I can't take you guys seriously when you give a "resounding yes" for a $230 charger and doesn't even charge an Apple Watch, no external other external ports. I love Nomad and their products, and this is a cool concept, but I think there's going to be very few people shelling out that kinda money for something so limited that doesn't charge ALL my Apple devices. 
    Yup. Also, I wonder if the reviewer would still recommend dropping a cool $230 on this if he actually paid for it with his own money and it wasn’t provided to him. 
    Sadly this is becoming a problem with Nomad products. They provide free products to "reviewers" and nobody ever has anything useful about the actual function/usability of the product, nor the issues with it being overpriced. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 15
    Nope. Way too expensive for what it is. For 1/3 of the price, I can have 3 good Qi charging pads (if I need that many). The problem is, I have 3 devices I'd need to charge, and this doesn't support one (Watch). So, for about $200 less, I can have 1 good Qi pad that'll charge my iPhone when needed, and AirPods Pro when the phone isn't charging. 

    How much did everyone predict Apple's AirPower would cost? $150? Didn't everyone say that was too expensive? At least Apple's version was intended to work with the Watch, too. 
    Japheywatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 15

    MplsP said:
    “ 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.”

    This is one of the critical flaws of wireless charging. I tried a Belkin Qi charger I got from my son and I had 2 failures in 2 weeks. The lite would initially be green so you thought it was charging but would then go out if you weren’t properly placed. 

    I still don’t understand the infatuation with wireless charging. It’s inferior in every way with the exception of a minor increase in convenience, and even that is often negated by the placement issues. (Unless you pay $230 for a fancy mat.) 

    so...more expensive, slower, doesn’t work with some cases or pop-sockets, wastes more power charging, uses powers even when not charging, and less reliable. I’ll stick with a lightning cable - it hasn’t let me down yet!
    Sorry about your failed Belkin chargers, but I've been using a couple from Five Below ($5 each) for a couple years, and they're still working. I've gone wireless since the iPhone 8 came out, and I can probably count on one hand how many times I've plugged in my iPhones since then. I have a Qi charger in my car, too. 

    Oh, unless you bought the iPhone 11 Pro (or Max), you only got a 5W charger in the box. A good 7.5W Qi charger is 50% faster, and it's really not hard to get a phone centered on one. I think I woke up to a not-fully-charged iPhone once, but it was because of alcohol. My chances of plugging in my phone would have been probably just as successful. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 15
    Andrew_OSUAndrew_OSU Posts: 467member, editor
    Japhey said:
    I'm sorry, but I can't take you guys seriously when you give a "resounding yes" for a $230 charger and doesn't even charge an Apple Watch, no external other external ports. I love Nomad and their products, and this is a cool concept, but I think there's going to be very few people shelling out that kinda money for something so limited that doesn't charge ALL my Apple devices. 
    Yup. Also, I wonder if the reviewer would still recommend dropping a cool $230 on this if he actually paid for it with his own money and it wasn’t provided to him. 
    Absolutely. BUT — that is the reason I’m a tech journalist. I love this stuff. A giant wireless charger that can charge multiple devices that can be placed anywhere? Absolutely sign me up. I’ll drop the money in a heartbeat. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 15
    Andrew_OSUAndrew_OSU Posts: 467member, editor

    Japhey said:
    I'm sorry, but I can't take you guys seriously when you give a "resounding yes" for a $230 charger and doesn't even charge an Apple Watch, no external other external ports. I love Nomad and their products, and this is a cool concept, but I think there's going to be very few people shelling out that kinda money for something so limited that doesn't charge ALL my Apple devices. 
    Yup. Also, I wonder if the reviewer would still recommend dropping a cool $230 on this if he actually paid for it with his own money and it wasn’t provided to him. 
    Sadly this is becoming a problem with Nomad products. They provide free products to "reviewers" and nobody ever has anything useful about the actual function/usability of the product, nor the issues with it being overpriced. 
    Oh we for sure said they are expensive. I won’t say overpriced because it is hard to associate a cost with a bleeding edge product like this. Between licensing, high quality materials, and the work that goes into a completely new way of charging like this. We said “very high price tag” which is true and that it is hard to decide if that is worth it, which wont be the same answer for everybody. I thought I went into a ton of detail here on how this works, how it is made, the fringe scenarios that pose an issue, etc. I still don’t think this is overpriced though. There are several premium wireless chargers that exist north of $100 — the Courant Catch:2, several of Nomads, Belkin’s Apple line, all are more and don’t have this kind of tech inside. Nomad’s normal Base Station does two devices once, is much smaller, and is a traditional coil design. You are paying a $129 premium for the third device, larger size, and free placement tech.
    watto_cobramikedga
  • Reply 14 of 15
    $229 for a charger?!  🤯
  • Reply 15 of 15
    I have a Nomad Base Station Apple Watch Edition.  I like it.  I would buy one of these in a heartbeat if it had an Apple Watch puck.  I suspect that they will put one out soon enough so I’ll keep my powder dry until then...
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