USB-C: The future of tech is ‘not created equal’

We all use some form of the ubiquitous Universal Serial Bus (USB) technology. It’s on our phones, our laptops, and our Bluetooth speakers. USB technology connects our digital world. However, there were too many USB connectors and choosing the right one was daunting.

Enter USB-C. In August 2014, the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) released the USB Type C specifications. The new connector port was supposed to solve the problems of multiple devices with multiple connections. But USB Type C is a mess. Let me explain.

A USB-C connector. (Photo: Anker)

USB Type C (USB-C) is a modern connectivity port designed for advanced data transfer and power needs. It’s reversible, which means a USB-C connector goes in right side up or upside down. It can handle massive amounts of power as well as vastly improved data speeds. It’s a smaller, more durable connector port. Good so far, right?

There are many USB connectors. All the above only fit inside ports one way. (Photo: makeuseof.com)

Many devices come with other USB ports.

  • Some printers still use ancient USB-B ports.
  • The Samsung Galaxy S5 had an improved Micro-B port
  • PlayStation 3 controllers use Mini-USB
  • Many Android phones and smaller gadgets still use Micro-USB

Having USB-C connector ports will save us from carrying multiple cables for different devices. Great news!

“USB-C refers only to the physical connector’s shape, not the specifications behind it.”

But here’s the issue. USB-C refers only to the physical connector’s shape, not the specifications behind it. In other words, not all USB-C cables and ports are the same. What’s worse is that the powers that be can’t seem to come up with simple, successive specification names easily understood by the average person. Below is the absurd USB-IF naming scheme for each successive generation so far.

  • USB 2.0 (which some iPhone lighting cables use) – transfers 480 Mbps
  • USB 3.2 Gen 1 – transfers 5 Gbps
  • USB 3.2 Gen 2 – 10 Gbps
  • USB Gen 2×2: 20 Gbps 🙄
The MacBook Air charges through USB-C ports. (Photo: Apple)

Sigh. If you’ve been following, you probably guessed that manufacturers might use any of the above standards in their USB-C cables and ports. Using the wrong cable may make you wonder why your movie is taking so long to transfer. Data transfer speeds aren’t the only issues that may arise.

USB-C cables also transfer power to charge devices. A USB-C cable with Power Delivery Technology can handle as much as 100 watts of power. That’s perfect for charging laptops. USB-C cables are supposed to have built-in safety features. But, some shady manufacturers cheap out and exclude these features, wire cables improperly or don’t do proper testing, to make quick cash. A bad or incompatible cable or port can cause severe damage to your devices.

This USB-C to A cable is USB 3.2 Gen 1. (Photo: Anker)

Google Engineer Benson Leung took to Amazon, reviewing USB-C cables from various manufacturers. Leung is quite familiar with correct USB-C standards. He tested multiple cables himself, giving the thumbs up if a manufacturer’s cable met the right specifications. While testing, a faulty USB-C cable fried his Chromebook Pixel.

So, there are many things to consider when going USB-C. It may not be a good idea to grab any cable and go.

This USB-C to A cable USB 2.0. (Photo: Amazon)

To ensure you always get the best USB-C cables:

  • Always buy from reputable brands certified by the USB-IF
  • Use the cable that came with your device
  • Read reviews when buying products online to find out the experiences of others
  • Read the owner’s manuals that come with your devices
  • Don’t cram any USB-C cable into your devices

Fried machines aside, USB-C is the future (looking at you iPhone). It’s universal, durable and can transfer insane amounts of power and data. One cable or port could work with multiple devices. Additionally, you don’t have to watch while inserting.