Friday, 21 September 2018 11:09

The Problem With USB-C

Written by Eugene Foygelman, Production Coordinator


I’ve talked about all the different types of USB connectors, I‘ve talked about phones, and I’ve talked about Apple being annoying. While Apple is still very annoying, I wanted to return to the topic of USB-C cables, because right now it’s a bit of a mess. USB-C is the not-so-new universal and reversible USB cable. Here’s an image for reference for all the connectors I’ll be referring to:


USBC 1Image credit: DataPro


Before the USB-C, the standard cable was the USB-B, or the Micro USB. It was used in Android phones and tablets for many years. Some cheaper Android devices still use the connector today and the USB-B is the standard for thousands of devices all over the world. The cable is able to charge, power, and transfer data. This version of the USB is pretty simple, as every cable could basically do the same thing. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with the USB-C.


While the connection type is the same, the problem with the USB-C is that there are multiple variations of cables. Some USB-C cables are used to power laptops, like the Microsoft Surface or the Macbook Pro. Others are used with Intel’s Thunderbolt technology, which allows for a data transfer rate of about 40Gbps (really, really fast). Thunderbolt 3 can also be used as a 4K display cable, replacing the need for HDMI and DisplayPort cables (this only applies if your computer has a USB-C Thunderbolt port). Android phones also use USB-C cables to charge, and different Android manufacturers use different wattage for their fast charging capabilities. (For you Apple folks, fast charging is where you can charge your phone in 90 minutes or less instead of waiting 3-4 hours.)


USB C 2What this means is that you can’t just go online and buy a $5 replacement cable, you need to find the proper type of USB-C cable that can handle the wattage required to charge and power a laptop or phone. Or you have to make sure to buy a Thunderbolt USB-C cable to get the proper data speed so that you can actually connect to your screen or hard-drive. If you don’t, you can damage the charger and the device.


Thankfully a cheap USB-C cable will work just fine for data transfer, but not for the super-fast kind.


It’s not easy to tell what type of cable you have if you don’t know what you’re looking for. A color-coded system might be helpful, but then you’ll have to remember the color. Plus, you’ll have to know that there’s a color system in place. When USB technology got a boost in speed several years ago with USB 3.0/3.1 (Type A and B on the chart), the cable connector (not the cable itself) and the connector in the computer (or other device) was colored blue. This signified that you could connect the USB 3.0 and get the 5Gbps speeds, and you weren’t stuck with USB 2.0 speeds. But, with my experience most people never even realized that this was a thing, so, there’s that.


USB-C is the future, and I’m very happy for that. A reversible and universal connector is always a plus (especially at night) and it gives you the freedom of choice when it comes to devices and charging ports. Hopefully components come down in price allowing for USB-C cables to do more so that you won’t have to worry about getting the wrong one. I don’t know if that will happen or when it will happen, but for now, remember to do some research before buying a USB-C cable for your device. And double check on USB-C headphones for jackless phones, because that’s a whole other headache.


P.S. I have to add a slight correction to my 2016 post regarding USB-C. In that post, I said that we use Thunderbolt USB-C cables and hard drives, and I was incorrect. While we do use Thunderbolt cables, they aren’t the USB-C standard. Newer computers and drives do come with the USB-C variant which added to my confusion.

Read 5589 times Last modified on Tuesday, 16 July 2019 14:20

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