Dell: Mainstream laptops with wireless charging are still years away

Dell shows a 2-in-1 with wireless charging but says the technology for mainstream laptops is two years out

Back in 2014, Intel declared it wanted laptops to be free of wires, and a centerpiece of that plan was wireless charging. But the technology has been slow to mature, and it may be years before it takes off.

At CES last week, Dell showed a wireless charging PC called the Latitude 7285, a 2-in-1 with a detachable screen attached to a keyboard base. It's the first wireless charging laptop based on the AirFuel Alliance's emerging wireless PC charging standard.

But Dell doesn't have widespread plans to put wireless charging in a host of new devices. That's partly because the technology, with slow charging speeds, is limited to low-power devices and isn't mature enough to replace wired charging. The wireless charging Latitude 7285 has a low-power Intel Kaby Lake chip that draws just 4.5 watts of power.

Wireless charging in the Latitude 7285 is an optional feature, and wired charging can be done through a USB-C port.

For wireless charging, a specialized keyboard dock can be attached to a wireless charging mat. It's similar to the way smartphones are charged today, except the Latitude 7285 is a much larger device with a 12.3-inch screen.

The Latitude 7285 will available in June with prices starting at about US $1,099, and the wireless charging mat and keyboard will cost extra.

For Dell, the Latitude 7285 is a pilot device that will give the company an idea of how customers respond to wireless PC charging, and if there's a real need for it.

Wireless charging hasn't set the mobile device world on fire. There are questions about whether people need it for laptops.

Dell hopes to answer those questions with the Latitude 7285. The usability of wireless charging will depend on charge time and user convenience, said Shannon MacKay, marketing director for Latitude at Dell.

The wireless charging will be powerful enough for on-the-go charges and fueling up between meetings, Mackay said. Dell hasn't benchmarked how long it takes to fully charge a battery, but it isn't as fast as wired charging.

"It would never work on an Alienware [gaming laptop] today," Mackay said. "You're going to see us play in the low-wattage processor space to get that started."

Mackay said mainstream laptops with wireless charging could be a year-and-a-half to two years away. Dell's decision to bring wireless charging to more laptops will mostly depend on usability, charging times, and battery types.

The Latitude 7285 can be ordered without a wireless charging keyboard base. It supports up to 512GB of solid-state drive storage. It also has two USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 3 and 802.11ac Wi-Fi. With the keyboard base, the device can provide up to 15 hours of battery life.

It hasn't been smooth sailing for wireless PC charging. Intel had earlier taken the lead on establishing the wireless PC charging ecosystem. But the company scaled back efforts after laying off 12,000 people last year and restructuring operations to focus more on servers, internet of things, automotive tech, and other areas.

Intel was also leading an effort by AirFuel Alliance to establish the Resonant standard for wireless PC charging. AirFuel last November reconstituted a PC Task Force to drive adoption of wireless charging in PCs, with partners including Dell, Lenovo, and STMicroelectronics.

Intel also took on the job of trying to convince airports, cafes, and other locations to install wireless charging stands for laptops. But the efforts have not yet shown any tangible results.

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