I know, I know, why would I pick a subject so mundane as charge cables? Well, quality is important, much more important nowadays with fast charging and Power Delivery (PD – see https://go.ttot.link/BHMorePower). Why? Well, let’s get into it.
I guess we should first delve into the reasons why quality matters. Today’s USB C cables are much more than just a connector at both ends with some wires in the middle. Today’s power adapters are active in that they send information about how much power they can deliver and how fast they can deliver it. The connectors need to have circuitry in them that can recognize those signals, communicate it to the device being charged, receive information from the device being charged, what it can accept, and negotiate with the charger. And it’s not a one-time thing. There is a constant flow of that kind of information back and forth between the charger and the device being charged. Often, when the device being charged nears a full charge it will ask the charger to deliver less power more slowly, and this can even occur at any time during the charge cycle due to the temperature of the battery or the charging circuits or a number of other reasons.
The connectors need to be able to understand and participate in this conversation. If they don’t or fail to do it correctly, you can end up with no charge or overcharging — perhaps to disastrous levels such as a battery explosion (no, this level of disaster typically won’t happen with today’s smartphones and tablets and laptops).
The connectors aren’t the “end” of it. The wires in the cable are important, too. They must be able to handle the load that high speed charging puts on them (faster charging means more power must be sent over the cable which can cause problems if the wires aren’t rated to handle that much power). Further, the cable must be sturdy and able to withstand bends and kinks and general mishandling. Where the cable connects to the connector at the end of the cable should be reinforced and the actual connector that goes into the charger or the device being charged must be sturdy and not easily break away from the connector housing. Similarly, it must be able to give way when extreme pressure is put on it so that it doesn’t break or crack where it enters the charger or device being charged — better to replace a cable than the other devices.
Contemporary charging cables are rated for the power they can handle (e.g. 60 watts or a 100 watts) as well as how quickly they can deliver data. The fastest data delivery right how is 40Gbps (40 GIGA bits per second which can transfer an entire 4K resolution movie in 30 seconds) but there’s also 20Gbps all the way down to 480Mbps (480 MEGA bits per second) or even 0 which means it won’t transfer data at all. Not surprisingly, the more power it’s rated for and the faster it can deliver data means it costs more.
Current common cables are either using the Thunderbolt 3 (Apple) standard or the USB 3 standard with sub-standards of 3.1 and 3.2. Newer cables can use the Thunderbolt 4 (Apple) standard or the USB 4 standard. Suffice it to say as the standards are improved they bring the ability to deliver more power and more data more quickly. If you really want to learn more about the newer standards, see https://go.ttot.link/TB4vsUSB4 for some real nitty gritty details. I tell you about all this so you’re aware of it and aren’t surprised when faced with choices that include them.
OK, so how do you know which cables to buy? Apple has some really stringent standards so if they’re Apple certified you can be confident that they can do what they’re rated to do. Otherwise, try to stick with brand names that are well known like Belkin or Anker. Read independent reviews, not just the ones on Amazon. And buy from reputable sellers. Stay away from Temu and Alibaba. They might be good quality or they might just be cheap knock-offs. And just because they advertise a warranty doesn’t mean they’ll honor it.
You probably wonder why I chose this topic? I had what I thought was a good quality cable, but after more than a few bends and kinks, it began to charge intermittently — on for a few seconds then off for a few seconds. I suspected the phone and the charger but after swapping cables, I found that it was the cable. So, I went searching for a new cable, bought a few and tried each of them out for a while. After all that, I found this cable from AINope to be the best value without sacrificing quality. — https://go.ttot.link/MyCable. I have both 3 feet and 6 feet long cables and I particularly like the right angle connector as it causes the connector housing and cable to lay along the side of the device being charged instead of sticking out. It’s rated to provide 60w which is plenty fast charging for me. It doesn’t do fast data transfer — only 480 Mbps — but I have other, more expensive cables that I use for fast data transfer. For me it’s a good, relatively inexpensive charging cable that I can use every day.
That’s all for this week’s column. I hope it helps you understand why it’s important to use good, quality charging cables and how to identify them. Don’t hesitate to write to me if you have questions.
As always, my intent is to help you understand the basics and equip you to search for more detailed information.
Please feel free to email me with questions, comments, suggestions, requests for future columns, to sign up for my newsletter, or whatever at [email protected] or just drop me a quick note and say hi!
You can read the original columns in the Hillsboro Times Gazette at https://go.ttot.link/TG-Column. That will take you to the most recent column in the newspaper. You can read all my columns and sign up for my newsletter so they’ll be delivered to your email when I publish them at https://go.ttot.link/TFTNT-Newsletter.
Tony Sumrall, a Hillsboro native whose parents ran the former Highland Lanes bowling alley, is a maker with both leadership and technical skills. He’s been in the computing arena since his graduation from Miami University with a bachelor’s degree in systems analysis, working for and with companies ranging in size from five to hundreds of thousands of employees. He holds five patents and lives and thrives in Silicon Valley which feeds his love for all things tech.