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New Fast Charge 2.0 technology is reportedly being licensed from Qualcomm

Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) is reportedly looking to bring its Lumia line of smartphones up to speed in one crucial metric -- fast charging -- according to a new report by ITHome.  The new feature will reportedly be coming to the upcoming Windows 10 powered Lumia "Talkman" (Lumia 940 ... or 950 according to some) and "Cityman" (Lumia 940? XL / 950? XL ) flagship phones.  And while it's a much overdue feature, Microsoft reportedly has found a way to push the envelope a bit further than its rivals have.

I. If You Ain't Fast You're Last

Back in 2012, the Lumia line was among the first to jump on the wireless charging bandwagon, adding the the Qi charging standard with the launch of the Lumia 820/920 (back when Lumia was a brand of Nokia Oyj. (HEL:NOK1V)).  But much as Microsoft's pace of high end smartphone offerings has fallen off, so too has its adoption rate of leading edge power technologies.  Thus it's missed perhaps the most useful recent development in the smartphone power space -- fast charging.

Developed by Qualcomm Corp. (QCOM), the premise of Quick Charge is simple.  In devices with a compatible Qualcomm or licensed third party processor compatible chargers talk to smartphone over the charging cable to confirm the device is capable of handling more juice.

With standard USB 2.0 the cable can only trickle power in at 500mA (0.5A).  USB 3.0 nearly doubles this to 900mA (0.9A).  Both versions use 5 volts as their max voltage, so taht works out to 2.5 watts and 4.5 watts, respectively.

USB charger
[Image Source: CraziestGadgets]

The problem is that as our smartphones and tablets have become more powerful, they've acquired, bigger, more energy dense batteries.  And thus the limiting factor to better perceive battery life has in many cases become a matter of charge times.

Take the Lenovo Group Ltd.'s (HKG:0992) Motorola unit, an Android brand known for its charge lifespans.  The Motorola Droid Turbo -- released in Oct. 2014, for example -- packs a 4.0 Ah (amp-hour), 3.8 volt charge.  That's 15.2 Wh!  Likewise the Apple, Inc. (AAPL) iPhone 6+ packs an 11.1 Watt-hour unit (2.915 mAh, 3.82 V).   Thus it would take the Droid Turbo 6 hours to charge on a USB 2.0 connection.  And were Apple's proprietary connector to charge at USB 2.0-like speeds it would take the iPhone 6+ a sluggish 4.5 hours roughly to charge up.

Fortunately Qualcomm had a solution -- Quick Charge.  The technology has already seen two interations.  The first bumped the amperage to a maximum of 2 amps -- nearly twice the current of standard USB 3.0 charging.  Voltage stayed fixed as 5 V.  With the launch of Quick Charge 2.0, Qualcomm took things a step further with support for two classes of devices.  Smartphones fall under Class A, which can now charge at 5, 9, or 12 volts, and at up to 3 amps.  

Quick Charge

The shift has required a modest amount of work on Android OEMs and Apple's part, namely in adopting more robust charging circuit components, which tend to increase device costs.  But for consumers the payoff is well worth it.  

Now in just an hour your device will be at least half charged; in two fully charged.  The technology is so successful that Qualcomm counts Apple and most Android OEMs, including Motorola, HTC Corp. (TPE:2498), Sony Corp. (TYO:6758), Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KRX:005930) (KRX:005935), and LG Electronics Inc. (KRX:066570)(KRX:066575) as licensees.  Some of these -- like Apple -- only license the IP to bake it into their processors, and many of them rebrand it.  HTC calls these chargers "Rapid Chargers", Motorola calls them "Turbo Chargers", and so on and so forth.

These days it's hard to find an Android flagship that doesn't have fast-charging onboard.

Qualcomm is not alone in the space.  The other major solution is PowerIQ.  But PowerIQ is sort of the fallback as it only supports 5 V charging at present.

II. "I Have One Speed, One Gear -- Go"

Microsoft's new charger is intriguing as it will reportedly charge the new flagship Lumias from 5 percent to 95 percent charge in 25 minutes.  That's eyebrow raising as the new Lumias are expected to pack some modest sized batteries.  The Lumia 929 (Icon) and Lumia 930 packed 2420 mAh batteries to power full HD (FHD) (aka 1080p) screens and Qualcom Snapdragon 800 processors.

Lumia 930
A repair tech replaces a 2420 mAh battery in a Lumia 930. [Image Source: SmartPhoneFrance.info]

In comparison Cityman and Talkman are expected to pack QHD (quad-HD) (colloquially referred to as "2K") screens, a resolution that packs more than 75 percent more pixels in screens of identical size, versus 1080p.  Further the devices are expected to be outfitted with Snapdragon 810 hexacore or octacore 64-bit processors, according to leaked benchmarks.

It would not be surprising to see the phones pack batteries in the 3000 mAh range.  In fact, it would be somewhat surprising to see them stick with ~2400 mAh packs.  But if they are indeed using larger batteries, the question remains how they're charging them so fast.

Samsung's Galaxy Note 4, a point of comparison, has a 3,220 mAh battery onboard, and takes roughly 30 minutes to charge it halfway.  Of course one possibility is that Microsoft is simply making maximum use of the spec, with a 36 watt charger.  The Note 4's charger maxes out (reportedly) at 15 watts (3 amps, 5 volts).  A 36 watt charger would line up nicely with a charge time that's more than twice as fast.

Galaxy Note 4

Lumia Cityman and Talkman will reportedly charge twice as fast as the Galaxy Note 4.

Alternatively, Microsoft may be tapping into some sort of USB Type-C (USB 3.1) mojo.  USB Type-C can pump up to 5 amps at 20 volts (100 watts) over a premium cable.  It's unlikely Microsoft's devices are anything near that, but I'll concede that the Type-C standard does give the company some wiggle room to potentially get creative, although the design of the phones' charging circuits likely check any truly outlandish designs.

III. One More For the Road?

To speak to the elephant in the room, all this exciting progress comes at a somewhat dark time for the Lumia team after Microsoft began its latest roung 7,800 layoffs to the Nokia team.  These layoffs come on top of last year's layoffs of roughly 18,000 former Nokia employees, cuts that reportedly axed certain high end Lumia models that were originally scheduled to launch.  In total the somewhat decimated smartphone unit is expected to only have about a third of the staff versus when the acquisition of the unit was completed in April 2014.

But if the Lumia 940/940 XL (or according to some 950/950 XL) are the last hurrah of the former Nokia unit, they certainly aren't letting it show in their work.  The phones look impressive and based on the images we're seeing from @evleaks, they're very real and ready of launch: In addition to standout hardware features like iris scanning (in Cityman), aluminum hardware buttons (also Cityman), 20 megapixel Pureview camera modules with autofocus, and 3 GB memory banks, another star of the show should be Windows 10's new Continuum feature, that allows Windows 10 phones to act like full fledged Windows PCs when hooked up to a compatible TV or monitor.

All that firepower isn't worth much, though, if you don't have the juice to power it.  Hence Microsoft's report newfound alliance with Qualcomm is ultimately a vital one.

(Other rumors include that the Talkman and Cityman are head towards AT&T Inc. (T) and T-Mobile USA, Inc. (TMUS) network around the start of November.)

Sources: ITHome, via WMPowerUser





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