Wireless power over distance creeps closer to your home at CES 2020

This story is part of our continuing coverage of CES 2020, including tech and gadgets from the showroom floor.

I’ve been excited about wireless power over distance since the first live demo I saw five years ago. It felt a little bit like magic, as interesting technology innovations can do from time to time. There were already a number of players in the space back then, though few that could, or would, show you a working demonstration.

In the years since, I’ve seen many prototypes, watched panels power devices a few feet away, and been told repeatedly that the first consumer products were imminent. I’ve listened to clever scientists and inventors explain the technicalities. I’ve heard enthusiastic marketers talk up products that were about to change all of our lives. But they simply never materialized.

I remained optimistic that we would see wireless power over distance before too long, but that enthusiasm has been tempered and dulled slightly by the slow progress.

Concerns around safety, regulatory approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), low efficiency and high power loss — these are just some of the reasons that wireless power over distance still feels … well, distant.

Powercast

I’m wary of saying that it’s about to arrive again, but CES 2020 feels like tangible progress. In fact, it’s the first year where I’ve managed to find a working product you can actually buy. Powercast sells a wireless transmitter on Amazon . The company announced a Wireless Charging Grip for Nintendo Switch Joy-Con Controllers at the show and it will go on sale in the next couple of months. As long as you leave the controllers within a couple of feet of the transmitter, they’ll stay charged up.

While the amount of power that’s being sent is low and the distance is short, Powercast has still managed to achieve something that has proved elusive for most of the companies vying in this space by delivering a product to market.

Ossia Cota Home

Ossia’s new design

I met with Ossia again to see its new reference design, the Ossia Cota Home, a kind of power router for the home or office that’s capable of sending power several feet. Ossia CEO Mario Obeidat told me that the technology is ready to go into homes and it’s working with several partners, including phone case maker Spigen, to create a consumer product. The partnership with Spigen was announced at CES last year, and is apparently still on track to bear fruit in 2020. Spigen may sell a phone case bundled with a transmitter for somewhere around $100 or so.

He also told me that Ossia has been working on a project with Walmart and hopes to trial e-ink price tags with the retail giant. These price tags could be powered and updated simultaneously via Ossia’s ceiling tile. Because the new tags are e-ink, the power would only be needed to make changes, so it could be transmitted in very short bursts.

Obeidat seems unconcerned about some of the new players joining Ossia and Energous in this space.

“Delivering meaningful power at real distance — 10, 20, 30 feet, because of our efficiency,” says Obeidat. “That’s where we have differentiated ourselves from others.”

I also met with Wi-Charge at the show. It has technology that employs infrared light to send focused bursts of power to devices like cameras in hard-to-reach places. One example was a smart faucet from Hansgrohe with a small display on it that’s capable of turning on automatically when it senses you and lighting up the water. Wi-Charge is a good fit for an environment like that where wiring could be complicated and potentially dangerous.

The company also has a PowerPuck, which is a circular device that can be plugged directly into an outlet or screwed into an existing light fitting. The PowerPuck automatically detects receivers and can deliver up to 2W to up to three devices simultaneously — think security cameras and smoke alarms.

There’s potential for Wi-Charge to increase the power it delivers, and it’s fairly efficient compared to radio frequency technology. It’s also safe, because we’re accustomed to a lot of infrared light from the sun. While a Wi-Charge spokesperson told us that smartphone charging is possible, he said the big barrier is infrastructure. The issue of having to have transmitters everywhere and receiver technology built into devices is an obvious hurdle.

GuRu wireless power over distance

A robotic solution

The last demonstration I went to see was from GuRu, a newcomer to the scene with a clever solution to the distance problem. First, the CEO showed me a standard-looking transmitter sending a few watts of power a couple of feet to light up a bulb and charge a smartphone. GuRu’s technology is directional and beams can be focused on specific targets.

More impressive was GuRu’s robot, which looks like a robot vacuum cleaner, but has a transmitter on top. This is a clever way of getting around the fact that the power delivery drops significantly at longer distances. The idea is that the robot can go around your house at night while you sleep and charge up all your gadgets, from controllers to phones to tablets to cameras, so everything is ready to go the next morning.

GuRu is still awaiting FCC clearance, but it looks to be a major player that could make a splash in the near future.

“We’ve been fairly stealth,” CEO, Florian Bohn told me with a smile. “But now we’re ready to signal that wireless power over distance is here and it’s ready.”

With regulatory approval out of the way or pending, and plenty of working prototypes, the next step is to get transmitters on sale and persuade manufacturers to integrate receivers into devices. There’s still a long way to go and questions to answer on the efficiency, particularly at a time when we’re growing more conscious of our power usage, but wireless power over a distance is creeping closer to our homes.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus vs. iPhone 11 Pro Max: Get Plus or go Max?

Love a big phone? The new Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus is one of the biggest and best around, with a massive 6.7-inch Dynamic AMOLED display and an incredibly versatile quad-lens camera. But it’s not the only big phone out there, and it seems everyone has one they prefer. For many, Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro Max is the big phone of choice, with powerful flagship hardware, a long-lasting battery, and a jaw-droppingly good camera.

If you’re due an upgrade, or simply want something new and shiny, both of these massive, powerful flagships are tempting purchases. But at over $1,000 for each, it’s unlikely you can buy both. Which is better for you? We found out.

Specs

Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max
Size 161.9 x 73.7 x 7.8 mm (6.4 x 2.9 x 0.3 inches) 158 x 77.8 x 8.1mm (6.22 x 3.06 x 0.32 inches)
Weight 186 grams (6.6 ounces) 226 grams (7.97 ounces)
Screen size 6.7-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X 6.5-inch Super Retina XDR OLED
Screen resolution 3200 x 1440 pixels (525 pixels per inch) 2688 x 1242 pixels (458 pixels per inch)
Operating system Android 10 (under One UI 2.0) iOS 13
Storage space 128, 512GB 64, 256, 512GB
MicroSD card slot Yes, up to 1TB No
Tap-to-pay services Samsung Pay, Google Pay Apple Pay
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Apple A13 Bionic chip
RAM 12GB 4GB
Camera Quad lens 12-megapixel, 64-megapixel telephoto lens, 12-megapixel ultrawide lens, and ToF sensor rear, 10-megapixel front Triple lens 12MP wide, 12MP ultra-wide, and 12MP telephoto rear; 12MP TrueDepth front
Video 8K at 30 fps, 4K at 60 frames per second, 1080p at 240 fps, 720p at 960 fps 4K at up to 60 frames-per-second, 1080p at 240 fps
Bluetooth version Bluetooth 5.0 Bluetooth 5.0
Ports USB-C Lightning
Fingerprint sensor Yes, in-display No, Face ID instead
Water resistance IP68 IP68
Battery 4,500mAhFast charging (25W)

Qi wireless charging

3,969mAhFast charging (18W)

Qi wireless charging

App marketplace Google Play Store Apple App Store
Network support AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon
Colors Cosmic Gray, Cloud Blue, Cosmic Black Midnight Green, Space Grey, Silver, Gold
Price $1,200 $1,100
Buy from Samsung, AT&T Apple, Best Buy
Review score Hands-on review 4.5 out of 5 stars

Looks aren’t everything, but when you’re spending so much, you want something you can show off. Thankfully, both of these phones are stunners. The Galaxy S20 Plus is probably the more unique of the two, with a sleek bezel-less design with curved edges, and a single hole-punch for the selfie camera. But the iPhone 11 Pro Max is no ugly duckling, and while the notch is sizable, the bezel-less design is no less stunning.

The iPhone 11 Pro Max has a slightly smaller display, but it’s still huge. The 6.5-inch Super Retina XDR display runs a 2688 x 1242 pixel resolution, and it’s crisp with deep colors and inky blacks. The S20 Plus’ 6.7-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X display has a sharper 3200 x 1440 pixel resolution, though you’ll be hard-pressed to tell the difference in real use. The S20 Plus’ display also has the option for a super-smooth 120Hz refresh rate, which will please gamers.

There’s a substantial difference in weight though, and that’s down to build materials. The iPhone 11 Pro Max has a stainless steel frame, which is likely to be stronger than the S20 Plus’ aluminum frame. Durability differences end there though, and both have an IP68-rating for dust and water-resistance.

It’s very hard to separate these two, but based on the screen, the S20 Plus has to take the win.

There’s power-a-plenty here, and both phones have top flagship specs. The S20 Plus is rocking the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor, while the iPhone uses Apple’s A13 Bionic processor. Benchmark scores between the two processors are split as to which is the more powerful, but what’s sure is you’re not going to lack power either way. Both phones will offer smooth performance in apps and games alike.

The S20 Plus has three times more RAM than the iPhone, but this isn’t the slam dunk you’d expect since iOS and Android handle RAM differently. But there’s more of a difference with storage. Apple really needs to ditch 64GB as a storage option on the basic iPhone, as it just isn’t enough. The S20 Plus starts at 128GB, and has support for 1TB MicroSD cards as well. The iPhone’s 256GB and 512GB models are better, but paying over $1,000 for 64GB of storage just isn’t acceptable.

Things are rosier for the iPhone where battery life is concerned. A full charge will take you into the next day and beyond, with our review unit hitting 35% at 5 a.m. after coming off the charger at 8 a.m. the day before. We haven’t had a chance to test the S20 Plus’ battery yet, but we’re not sure if it will be able to match that feat. The S20 Plus’ 25W charging is faster than the iPhone’s 18W charging, but the difference is small. Both have wireless charging too.

The differences between the two are slight, we’re calling this round a tie pending further testing

Camera

The latest iPhones and Galaxy phones have had significant camera upgrades, making this an important category. The iPhone 11 Pro Max sports a triple-lens camera configuration on the back, with wide, ultra-wide, and telephoto lenses (all 12-megapixel), and a 12-megapixel TrueDepth selfie lens around the front. It’s a phenomenal camera, and although we have some issues with the ultra-wide-angle lens, it’s absolutely the best camera phone at the moment. Smart HDR has been improved, and produces even better composite images than before, and the new Night Mode is excellent. The 12-megapixel selfie camera is similarly impressive.

Is the Galaxy S20 Plus the camera to surpass the iPhone 11 Pro Max? We haven’t had enough time with it yet, but it shows promise. Samsung has squeezed an enormous quad-lens camera onto the back, and it’s comprised of a 12-megapixel wide-angle lens, a 64-megapixel telephoto lens, a 12-megapixel ultra-wide lens, and a Depth Vision (time-of-flight) sensor. This powerful and versatile setup is completed by some new features, including a 3x optical zoom and 30x digital zoom, as well as Space Zoom A.I. stabilization. It can also shoot video in 8K.

Software and updates

Android vs. iOS is a tale as old as time, and it’s repeated here. You probably know which one you prefer at this point, but if you don’t, there’s plenty to love about both and we wager you can get used to either pretty quickly. Samsung’s One UI interface is a good Android skin, with plenty of customization options and some fun cosmetic touches.

But Samsung’s Achilles’ heel has always been updates, and it’s here the iPhone really shines. Fresh iOS updates come through on the day of release, and the iPhone 11 Pro Max can expect to be updated for years to come. Samsung’s flagships have to wait at least six months for the latest version of Android, and tend to be cut off from updates after two years. Apple’s record on updates is stellar, and that wins it this round.

Special features

The iPhone 11 Pro Max doesn’t have too many special features outside the powerful camera software, but the features it has are polished and impressive. There’s the Face ID-powered Animoji and Memoji, and there are whispers the spatially aware U1 chip could end up being used for something other than the upgraded AirDrop.

The Galaxy S20 Plus is packed with special features. The Bixby button may have gone, but Samsung’s A.I. Bixby remains, and you can choose between that and the Google Assistant. There’s also the DeX desktop mode, Wireless PowerShare, the in-display ultrasonic fingerprint scanner, and — most importantly — 5G is built into every S20 Plus. While it may seem a little odd to list this in special features, the inclusion of 5G helps to future proof this phone.

The Galaxy S20 Plus’s array of special features and support for 5G makes this a one-sided contest.

Price and availability

The Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus is available for pre-order from February 21, and will release on March 6. It will start from $1,200 for the 128GB model, and will work on most U.S. carriers — though you’ll need to make sure your carrier has a 5G network to use 5G. The iPhone 11 Pro Max is currently available, and it starts at $1,100. Like the S20 Plus, it’s available on most U.S. carriers and from many stores.

Overall winner: Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus

Samsung vs. Apple is a battle almost as old as smartphones themselves, and this time, Samsung’s new contender has come out on top. Based on the spec sheet and the categories above, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus is the stronger choice. It has powerful flagship specs, an exceptional screen, 5G support, and a galaxy of features. But it’s a tight contest, and if you prefer Apple or iOS, or really love the great camera or long battery life, the iPhone 11 Pro Max is still a great choice.

But if you don’t care whether you’re using iOS or Android, and simply want the best phone, go for the Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus.