Having Second Thoughts About USB-C?

If you are not familiar with USB-C, you can check our previous post here.

Building Our USB-C Utopia

Recently, we’ve noticed a growing uncertainty regarding USB-C – particularly concerning USB-C cables and we would like to ensure you that there is no reason for you to worry.

The main issue here is lack of information: we feel some critics are a bit too quick on ringing the alarm bells for the USB-C standard. While it is unfortunately true that devices are being damaged, that it’s hard to tell which cable does what, and if you buy the wrong cable, you will be disappointed with the power and data transfer speeds, you shouldn’t give up on USB-C just yet.

Fortunately, at LIFEPOWR we have a three-step solution to eliminate these concerns:

  1. Proper labelling
  2. Trusted suppliers
  3. The right help at hand


Does the USB-C standard fail to live up to its promises?

No, the confusion about USB-C can be traced to the way it is being advertised to people. Early adopters failed to mention that not “any” cable with a USB-C connector will be able to do all the marvellous things it is meant to do. Although it’s not mentioned often, your device is equally important in reaping the benefits of USB-C, since you are always limited by the lowest common protocol.

 

This infographic explains how your device could also be responsible for the slow power and data speeds.

Make sure to check the specs on any device you buy because not all USB-C ports are alike. Be sure to contact the manufacturer if the specifications for your device are not clear enough.

 

A Universal Connector

To avoid such misunderstandings, we all need to make a shift in our thinking. The term USB-C should only indicate the shape of the cable – that is, what the cable looks like and the fact that you can plug it quickly. Avoid all other assumptions, because that is how the confusion begins.

 

 

Essential Qualities When Buying a USB-C Cable

Your folks at LIFEPOWR want to simplify things a bit for you. We’ve divided the cable into three easily digestible sections, data speed, power and protocols, so let’s dig in!

Data speed

Probably the name you see the most is “USB-C 3.1” – the 3.1 at the end stands for how fast your new cable can transfer data (pictures, movies, files) between devices. However, USB-C can have plenty of other speeds. The lowest one on the market is 2.0, which can seem rather confusing because you will have a brand-new shape (connector) with the same wires (data speed) as a cable from 17 years ago.

Avoid some of this frustration by checking the numbers: 2.0 is slow, 3.0 and 3.1 are standard. Nevertheless, 3.0 and 3.1 also go by the name of 3.1 Gen 1 and 3.1 Gen 2 respectively.

 

USB 3.2 will be available in 2019.

If you want to know more details about USB-C speed you can find a good chunk of info here.

 

Power

There are no confusing names here, we simply have voltage, current and power. The minimum standard for USB 3.1 is 5V (volts), 3A (amps) of electrical current and 15W (watts) of power. From this configuration, you can charge your phone or tablet without a problem. If you want to charge a device that demands more power, such as your laptop, you will need a cable with Power Delivery (PD). This technology allows for more electricity to be sent through USB allowing for more versatile charging capabilities of up to 5A and 100W.

 

It is important to know that data speed is irrelevant to supporting PD capabilities.

 

You could have a USB-C 2.0 PD.

Protocol

Referred to as alternate modes. This part concerns different technologies and capabilities outside the realm of USB. We are talking about DisplayPort technology, HDMI technology, Thunderbolt Technology and many more.

Bear in mind that there are cables that don’t support these alternate modes or E-market chips.

Unfortunately, the problem USB-C is solving creates confusion when it comes to protocols. Previously you could tell the difference between an HDMI cable and a VGA cable, now there isn’t an easy way to distinguish different protocols anymore. Hopefully, a simple solution like colour coding can be applied as it has been done in the past.

You may notice that your USB-A 3.1 cables have a little blue accent colour, which is there to tell them apart from your standard USB-A 2.0 cables.

Alternate modes are useful when manufacturers want to create thin devices with multiple ports. USB-C allows such a wide range of protocols that in theory, all you will ever need are four USB-C ports to replace the current port selection on your device.

In our case, an average of five ports will be replaced by USB-C – meaning fewer cables and tidy desks!

Protocol Marketing

Some protocols are exclusive – a marketing ploy to sell you their “unique cables” – creating confusion over USB-C cable buyers. Our opinion is that the technology and capabilities are terrific, but companies need to sort their stuff and get together for the greater good of the consumers.

 

Any USB-C cable from a reliable source should have these minimum requirements.

Charging Your Device Quickly

To understand more about protocols lets expand our knowledge in a specific area: Fast Charging Protocols.

For this to work, we need to understand what the name Quick Charge means. People take this term and apply it to all the chargers that charge your device faster than the standard USB, which is not the case!

The Quick Charge technology is only found on Qualcomm Snapdragon certified devices, and it offers more power, and therefore charges batteries in certified devices faster than standard USB rates allow. Remember, for these technologies to work both devices need to support the same technology.

Many companies have their competing technologies as mentioned previously, these include Apple Fast Charging, Samsung Adaptive Fast Charging, Huawei Super Charge, Mediatek’s Pump Express, Motorola’s TurboPower and OPPO’s VOOC* (licensed to OnePlus as Dash Charge).

*Voltage Open Loop Multi-step Constant-Current Charging (yeah that’s what they call it)

 

Some of the available quick charge technologies

*Quick Charge 4 (QC4) was announced in December 2016 and it implements additional safety measures to protect against overcharging and overheating (they claim a 5% heat reduction), as well as being compliant with both USB⁠-⁠C and USB PD specifications. Excellent news for everyone who has a USB PD cable and devices. 😉

Imagine your new device having five hours worth of battery in just five minutes!

Note: Quick Charge 3.0 isn’t USB-PD compliant. 
Do not buy Quick Charge chargers for devices designed to use Power Delivery.
Note: Quick Charge 4.0 support is still scarce right now

 

Conclusion

Considering that adoption by big companies is slower than expected, here at LIFEPOWR, we see the glass as half full, and there are plenty of reasons for us to remain positive about the future and hold on to the idea of “one port and one cable that can replace all other ports and cables”.

With big players such as Apple, and pretty much every other Android manufacture adopting (be it slowly) USB-C ports on all their devices, you can be sure that in the long term this transition is going to be rewarding. USB-C is open source, the ecosystem of USB-C devices will be enormous and the dongles will be history! USB-A has served us well but is better for everybody to have one standard port for everything.

We hope that this post can shed some light on the misunderstandings of USB-C, especially for accessories such as USB-C cables.

If you have any questions, we are here to help! Send us an email with your question at hi@lifepowr.co

Do be careful, and happy shopping.

 

 



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