The annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is always jam-packed with new tech, and CES 2023 was no exception.
As the editor in charge of computing coverage here at Tom's Guide I stay on top of all the new laptops and desktops debuting at the show, but I'll admit it's a real challenge. Nearly every major PC maker in the business shows up with a slew of new computers, and while most are simple refreshes of existing models there's always some offbeat products which try to stand out with innovative, unconventional and just plain weird features.
The foldable laptops of CES 2022 were an eye-catching gimmick that foreshadowed the arrival of actual semi-usable foldable PCs like the Asus Zenbook 17 OLED. This year was a bit tamer, with bigger, better-designed hardware on display. Our Best of CES 2023 Award winner the Lenovo Yoga Book 9i delivers similar functionality to the Zenbook 17 Fold in a sturdier package with bigger screens, for example, while new 18-inchers from the likes of Acer, Dell and Razer have us saying big-ass laptops are back.
But on the desktop PC front, there's one killer feature I wish was more of a trend at CES 2023, because it's so simple and so eminently valuable to everyone that I can't believe more PCs don't include it. I'm talking about built-in wireless charging pads, which cropped up at CES 2023 on precious few new PCs.
A killer feature comes to Chromeboxes
Built-in wireless charging pads for PCs aren't a new idea, but they're still too rarely included. Vendors like Lenovo and HP have PCs on the market right now that offer this feature, like the HP Envy 34 All-in-One we reviewed quite favorably last year. But the HP Envy 34 had a starting price tag of $2,000, and its charging implementation wasn't great — as it was tricky to figure out which smartphones supported the feature and how to correctly position them on the stand.
But at CES 2023, I saw a wireless charging pad built into a sub-$500 PC for the first time. I'm talking, of course, about the Asus Chromebox 5.
If you missed it in the shuffle, this is the successor to the Chromebox 4 the company launched back in 2020. The Chromebox 5 is a compact PC built into a slim black chassis that's easy to mount behind your monitor or slip into your existing desk setup, and it runs ChromeOS out of the box on its 12th Gen Intel CPU.
Sure that's not the latest and greatest Intel chip on the market now that Raptor Lake has arrived, but you don't need much horsepower to make great use of ChromeOS. What you do need is Internet access, which is why the Chromebox 5 packs an Intel Wi-Fi module that supports Wi-Fi 6E as well as a 2.5G Ethernet jack for plugging into a wired connection. It also sports a decent array of ports, including 4 USB-A ports, DisplayPort and HDMI outs, a microSD card reader and a USB4/Thunderbolt 4 port for high-speed connections. This enables it to support up to four 4K external displays, which is an awful lot of screen space for browsing the web, doing schoolwork or playing games.
But as I mentioned above, the thing that really sets this PC apart from the lion's share of its competitors is the built-in 15W wireless charging pad on the top of the box. If your phone works with this feature (and most modern smartphones, including iPhones, do) you can simply leave it on top of the PC to charge up while you work.
Why it matters
The Asus Chromebox 5 may not be the first PC to offer built-in wireless charging, but it is one of the cheapest I've seen yet. I don't understand why we didn't see more iterations on this feature from PC makers at CES, since the majority of PC owners likely own a smartphone and would appreciate the freedom to charge it without having to find a charging cable and take up a USB port on their PC with it.
I personally have a USB-C to Lightning cable plugged into my computer right now, and I need to unplug it and carry around with me (and find a charging port) if I want to refuel my phone in another room. Sure, I could splurge on a bunch of duplicate cables and wall plugs so I wouldn't have to fiddle with the thing so often, but even then my poor old iPhone 12 with its beat-up charging port would have a tricky time pulling a steady charge from the cable.
But if my PC had a built-in wireless charging pad, this (admittedly minor) hassle in my life would disappear. I could rest assured that when I log off for the day and power down my PC, my phone would be at peak charge and ready for the nightlife — which, these days, is mostly browsing Instagram and Twitter while watching trashy TV.
So why isn't this feature more common at CES 2023? Why aren't I telling you about how all the latest desktops sport built-in wireless charging areas, and maybe even about the odd laptop that tries to do the same? Perhaps the finicky nature of the built-in charging pads we've tested so far is a hint as to how hard it is to do well; or perhaps customers just haven't responded to the feature with as much enthusiasm as I have.
But truthfully, I just don't know. What I do know is Asus' new Chromebox 5 grabbed my attention because of this one simple (but very helpful) feature, and I know I'm not the only person on staff who feels that way. If you're considering investing in a new PC this year and appreciate the thought of a Chrome-powered PC that charges your phone as much as I do, keep an eye out: Asus expects to launch the Chromebox 5 by the end of Q1 2023.
Next: These are our 7 favorite products revealed at CES 2023.