Lightning connectors? Micro USB ports? USB-Cee you later!
Our forecast: most, if not all, Android phones will have a USB-C charging port by this time next year. We’re expecting new phones from Google this week, and you can bet those will be USB-C, just like the last crop. Samsung and Motorola are moving to USB-C too. It might take a while for this connection to actually become the only port on your phone—some are already ditching it, but the headphone jack will likely stick around a little longer in most corners of the Android world—but the USB-C future is clear.
Smartphones with this ambidextrous, fast-charging port behave differently than older phones with Micro USB power connections. If you’re getting one of these new phones, here’s what you need to know.
First of all, USB-C charges your phone quickly. Very quickly. Type-C charging cables can handle up to 100 watts (20V, 5A). This is a lot—more than enough to charge a laptop. Most phones, however, will use far less than throughput that to charge the battery. But the ability to push all that power through a USB-C cable means that phone manufacturers can take advantage of new power management standards like Quick Charge. QC gives a sustained blast of power that charges your battery up to 80 percent in about half an hour. Then, it dials down the power to slowly top off the last 20 percent of the battery. In order to get the full benefits of USB-C’s fast charging capabilities, you need to use the right cables. More on that in a bit.
The shape of the USB-C plug is the same no matter which way you’re holding it. So no more accidentally plugging it in upside down, then having to try again (as with Micro USB or USB types A and B). Also the USB-C cable that comes with your phone is reversible—the end that connects to the phone and the other end that plugs into the charger are the same size and shape. This comes in handy if you need to quickly plug in. But it is a double-edged sword. The USB-C connector cannot be plugged directly into your computer to charge your phone.
Most USB-C cables are three feet. This means you can’t lay on your bed while charging your phone at the same time because it will not reach, which really sucks. Of course you can buy another cable at a longer length, but you’ll soon find out that the relatively new USB-C cables out there are surprisingly expensive.
These cables are still scarce at retail outlets. Call before you take a trip to Best Buy. Even if your local shop does stock them, they disappear quickly. You will need to rely heavily on online retailers.
Quality varies considerably, too. There are a few big-name companies that make high-quality cables, and then there’s a bunch of junk. Stick to the brands you know and trust, and don’t be tempted by the low prices or the positive Amazon reviews, which are sometimes written by people who’ve received the cables for free in exchange for writing the review. If you go cheap, you run a higher risk of getting a defective cable. There are websites and blogs to go to for advice, one of those being Android Authority, which can tell you which USB-C cables are the best.
And yes, you will have to restock your cables. All of the cables you have now will not work for this port without an adaptor. If you use a micro-USB to USB-C adaptor, you will often lose the Quick Charge benefits. Cables with adaptors can still charge your phone, they’ll just do it slowly. Native USB-C cables are the way to go.
Lastly, the small AC adaptor you plug your cable into will need to have a USB-C port on it. This means you’ll need to buy a USB-C AC adaptor as well. The little cube you’ve been using to charge your iPhone or your Moto G won’t work with a USB-C cable.
Our advice: When you buy a new phone, invest in an entire spare charger—something where the AC adaptor and the USB-C cable come in the package together. This will save you the headaches of poor quality and compatibility, and you’ll get all the benefits of the rapid charging. Also, buy a few Micro-USB-to-USB-C cables and Micro-USB-to-USB-C adaptors. These are usually just a couple of dollars each. Keep these around so you can use them in a pinch. Your phone will charge slowly, but that’s better than it not charging at all.