Review: The Zens Liberty charging mat brings Apple's AirPower back from the dead

Apple killed AirPower. The Zens Liberty packs in 16 coils to revive the dream.

When Apple announced the iPhone 8 and iPhone X in 2017, it simultaneously tried to revolutionize wireless charging. Qi-based wireless charging was already ubiquitous on many Android phones, but the wireless charging pads available were finicky; you needed to place a device right above its charging coil’s sweet spot for the magic to work.

Apple proposed a seemingly game-changing device: AirPower. Unlike other Qi charging pads, AirPower would have multiple coils (as many as 24 coils according to rumors) so that you could place an iPhone, AirPods, and Apple Watch anywhere on the pad to charge them up.

AirPower sounded too good to be true and almost two years after missing its launch, Apple canceled it in March 2019. “After much effort, we’ve concluded AirPower will not achieve our high standards and we have canceled the project,” Apple senior vice president of hardware engineering Dan Riccio said. “We apologize to those customers who were looking forward to this launch.”

It’s rumored Apple couldn’t control all the heat generated by the charging pad’s coils. Had Apple shipped AirPower, the devices would likely have exploded and the company would’ve had a Samsung Galaxy Note 7-like disaster.

Apple killed AirPower, but the wireless charging dream lives on in the Zens Liberty wireless charging pad. With 16 charging coils — the most in any shipping wireless charging pad — it’s the closest thing to AirPower that exists. The real question is: do you trust it to not explode?

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Thicc boi — There’s no hiding the Liberty’s design — it’s chunky. Compared to many other single or multi-device wireless chargers, the Liberty is about twice as thick, and for good reason: it needs to fit the 16 coils.

Zens sent me the glass edition to try out. Normally, I’m a sucker for clear cases that show off a device’s insides, and at first, the 16 coils look pretty sweet. But Input Editor-in-chief Josh Topolsky said it looks like a bomb and now I can’t unsee it. I admit I was a little scared going to sleep with the charging coil on my bedside table. If the revealing coils make you anxious, there’s good news: the standard Liberty comes with a black wool fabric surface. That doesn’t change the fact there are 16 coils inside, though.

16 coils are layered on top of each other.Raymond Wong / Input

The pad’s coils are arranged in layers: six coils on the bottom, four in the middle, and six on the top. Whereas AirPower tried to cram in as many as 24 coils into a pad that was half as thin as the Liberty, Zens wisely compromised on thickness in order to allow enough room for heat dissipation. Safety first!

Though the charging pad itself never gets too warm or hot, there are perforations on the base to allow proper airflow. As far as I know, AirPower didn’t have any ventilation (then again, the charging pads Apple had in its demo area in 2017 weren’t working models).

Holes on the bottom allow proper airflow.Raymond Wong / Input

It’s reassuring to know there’s enough room for airflow, but I’m still worried about it overheating and exploding. I've experienced no signs of the Liberty getting too warm or hot for its own good and have no real reason to believe it’ll ever catch on fire, but seeing all of its coils still makes me nervous every time I step away from the pad.

Seeing all of its coils still makes me nervous every time I step away from the pad.

No sweet spot required (mostly) — The Liberty works as advertised. The charging pad can charge two smartphones at once or a smartphone and an accessory with Qi-based wireless charging like wireless earbuds. I tested the wireless charging with multiple devices like iPhone 11 Pro and AirPods Pro, OnePlus 8 Pro and Pixel Buds, and iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone SE (2020), and it worked without fail. The pad is capable of wirelessly charging two devices at up to 15-watts. Most single-coil wireless charging pads charge at a slower 7.5W.

For the most part, the 16 coils deliver what Apple couldn’t: anywhere wireless charging. It was rare for me to fail to wirelessly charge my device just by placing it on the surface Liberty. Compare that to other wireless chargers I own which, if not aligned correctly, could mean a failure to charge.

Basically like AirPower.Raymond Wong

There’s still a blind spot and that’s the perimeter of the Liberty. Because most phones have a wireless charging coil located in the center or lower half of backside, it is possible to fail to charge it up if that area is not making contact with the Liberty's coils (i.e. hanging slightly off the Liberty’s surface). But generally, if you place devices anywhere in the center of the Liberty, it’s going to work. I’ve got charging pads by Anker, Mophie, and Belkin, and returning later only to see my phone’s not charged up because it wasn’t properly aligned is a constant reminder that wireless charging tech still has a ways to go. It also makes you wish every charging pad had multiple coils like the Liberty.

Apple Watch dock — You may have noticed that the 16 coils don’t charge up the Apple Watch and you need to either plug in your own Apple Watch MagSafe charger into the pad’s USB-A port or pick up Zens’ Apple Watch USB add-on (sold separately for about $45). This is an unfortunate compromise because AirPower promised to charge Apple Watches anywhere on the mat, too.

An Apple Watch charging "add-on" is sold separately, which kind of sucks.Raymond Wong / Input

Sadly, the issue is a technical one: Apple Watch charges with a different wireless charging tech than Qi. Whatever Apple was cooking up with AirPower would have required some combination of regular Qi wireless charging for iPhones and AirPods and MagSafe for Apple Watch.

Zens’ own Apple Watch dock works fine. You attach it to the Liberty and you’ve got a nice bedside way to charge your smartwatch (and see the time). My only nitpick is that my Apple Watch sits tilted on the dock, not perfectly horizontal like on other multi-device charging pads.

Luxury convenience — The Liberty mostly delivers what Apple promised with AirPower. It’s the non-hassle wireless charging pad people have been waiting for.

But do you need it? Not at all. Starting at $170 (for the black fabric version), the Liberty is not cheap, especially when it doesn’t come with an Apple Watch charger included. I currently own and use the Mophie 3-in-1 wireless pad. It’s $120 and comes with an Apple Watch charger built-in. It only has room for charging one smartphone, but it still works great. Nomad’s Base Station is also more affordable than the Liberty at $150 and more similar to the Liberty with room for two smartphones. It also comes with an Apple Watch charger, and includes an 18W USB-C and 7.5W USB-A port for charging additional devices with wires.

The only downside to the Mophie and Nomad charging pads is charging speed: 7.5W and 10W, respectively. They’re not as fast as the Liberty.

So where does this leave the Liberty? For the elite. The person who is really bothered by current single-coil wireless charging pads and is willing to pay more to rid their lives of the inconvenience. The Liberty is a luxury charging pad that not everyone needs. Most people can get by with either the Mophie or Nomad multi-device chargers. If you’re this elite person — you cried buckets when Apple canceled AirPower — the Liberty is the wireless charging pad for you, especially if you don't want to sit around waiting to see whether the AirPower revival rumors are true.