Steve Jobs called the Blu-ray disc bad, not because it was a pain to use, but rather because of the licensing effort it required. Blu-ray has taken the audio video experience to a whole new level, but adoption has been slow. History, it seems, has repeated itself and the latest technology to turn into a bag of evil is USB Type-C. It has a reversible connector, like Apple’s lightning cable.
USB ports are present on virtually every electronic gadget you use; the easily recognizable USB Type-A is what you’ll find on your laptop, while the Micro-USB connector that’s placed on nearly every smartphone ever made. Before micro-USB, you may also have come across Type B ports, which are found on most printers. There’s also the USB 3.0 micro-B port, which was featured on some phones such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy S5. It was not widely adopted, although storage manufacturers adopted it for high-speed data transfer from external hard drives.
(Also see: Tech 101: USB Type-C – An Introduction)
Type-C is a reversible connector that can be used for data, charging, reverse charging, or even audio and video transmission, while being small enough to fit on a smartphone, yet the same port is capable of transferring a high current to a laptop. The Type-C connector has been slowly rolling out to production devices, but it seems they still aren’t ready to go mainstream for a variety of reasons.
Always 2.0 in a 3.0 generation
One of the main reasons this new technology feels outdated is that although the connector is completely new, most USB Type-C phones still use the USB 2.0 standard.
The speed limit for USB 2.0 is 480 Mbps for data transfer, while the newer USB 3.0 is much faster at 5 Gbps. That’s why most external drives you’ll find these days use USB 3.0 and offer much faster speed than phones using USB Type-C.
This is not the only problem – due to the old USB standard, the output current on the port is also limited. So a phone with a USB 2.0 Type C connector, despite being plugged into a USB 3.0 port on a computer, will still charge slowly.
USB Type-C has the potential to draw up to 100W of power (5A at 20V) and can pretty much charge any electronic device with a Type-C port (a laptop needs on average 60W). With USB 2.0, the Google Nexus 6P and Google Nexus 5X are limited to 15W (5V, 3A). Google has opted to stick with the Type-C standard instead of using Qualcomm’s fast charging technology which can charge these devices even faster. What’s surprising is that Qualcomm can push more current using older micro-USB ports than Google’s Type-C implementation on newer Nexus phones.
(Also see: Tech 101: USB Type-C – What it is and what it isn’t)
People with OnePlus 2 will understand what I’m saying – the phone has a Type-C connector and will take nearly three hours to charge. The phone charges very slowly and lacks Qualcomm’s fast charging feature despite running the new Snapdragon 810 chip. Worse still, the Type-C cable made by OnePlus is substandard and should not therefore not be used to charge other Type-C devices.
The compatibility problem
Accessory manufacturers have flooded the market with all types of cables. If you have a phone with USB Type-C, you’re already used to looking for Type-A over Type-C, so your phone can be used with your existing chargers and power banks. But simply taking any cable and using it with your phone might not be the best idea.
For example, the OnePlus 2 USB Type-C cable does not meet the guidelines for manufacturing fast-charging Type-C cables. OnePlus is working to bring them into compliance and has also offered a refund to people who purchased the cable.
But imagine this – you are using this OnePlus 2 Type-C cable to charge your Nexus 6P, and there is a chance that it will damage the charger. Smartphone companies are unable to settle on a single standard – will buyers be able to keep up with everything on the market?
Google engineer Benson Leung made it his mission to identify the good cables from the bad and helped users choose the right cable. You might want to check out its tested cables spreadsheet before buying anything.
There’s also an app, called Checkr, that lets you check if a particular USB Type-C cable is safe to use with your phone. The cables and adapter should have a resistance of 56K ohms which allows safe use with existing Type A chargers and USB ports. Without the proper cables, the chances of destroying the port and the cable are high, and it can even be a fire hazard in some cases. This is a major security issue, making it hard to trust the cable you’re using.
Choosing the right cable as we have seen is a big hassle, and those that are fully compatible are quite expensive. Belkin vouchers will easily cost you at least Rs. 1,500. Most of the compatible cables and adapters are also not available in India.
There are several cables available on many e-commerce sites for as low as Rs. 300, but these may not comply with USB Type-C standards. A sure way to get the best cable is direct from Google; the cables are compatible with all USB Type-C devices and it will be a one-time cost if you manage to keep the cable secure.
This really means that replacing a Type-C cable right now is a major hassle – if your phone has a Type-C connector, keep the one that comes in the box safe; If you must buy a new cable, stick to ones that have been tested and found to be safe.
These are all start-up issues that occur due to the newness of technology, but until they are fixed, navigation is difficult. Until we have proper solutions to these issues, USB Type-C remains a “bag of evil”.
Aditya Shenoy is the deputy editor of Pricebaba. His life revolves around three passions – technology, cars and fitness, and he struggles to decide which is the biggest of them all. You can talk to him on Twitter @adishenoy.
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