Is USB-C Really That Good?

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As part of my project to find a perfect Windows 10 device for me, I'm currently testing a Dell XPS 13. I'm not going to pre-empt my review as it's still a work in progress. But The Dell, MacBook and several other systems on the market have decided to put all their eggs in the USB-C basket. And that's proving to be an epic pain with suitable devices, cables and other peripherals still relatively hard to get.

The case for USB-C

There's a lot to like about USB-C connectors. Unlike the more common USB-A, it's an anyway-is-up connector so you don't have to be too careful about which way to poke it into a connector. And it can replace a bunch of other connectors as the one connector is good for power, data and video. So, in theory, you can carry one or two identical cables in your bag and you're set for almost anything.

Assuming the cable is well made, the connector is physically robust with no annoying pins to bend or snap.

As the connector is very slim, it means devices can be kept slim and therefore easier to carry and a little lighter.

The market seems to be the problem

The problem I'm finding is many computer makers seem to be of the mind that if a port can do lots of things that you need fewer ports. Apple, of course, is the worst offender with the MacBook with just one port that's meant to manage you peripheral connections, power input and video output. Apple's solution is a very inelegant and expensive array of dongles. Or you can resort to one of the many USB-C docking devices. Or you can buy a bunch of new cables.

Neither alternative appeals to me and, as a frequent traveller, dongles and adapters are just one more thing for me to pack and have to keep tabs on when working remotely or organising my kit.

Even Apple, who was first to market with USB-C, makes a USB-C to Lightning cable for iPhone connection an extra cost.

I'm packing for a week long trip to the US and find myself packing several extra cables and a mini-docking station in order to make sure I can connect something as simple as a USB stick.

What should the market do?

Apple, Dell and all the other computer makers that offer USB-C only devices should either include USB-C to USB-A adapter or make it a very inexpensive optional accessory - and not $75. At least Dell's option is just $29 - which is still about $24 too much in my view.

I know we are in a transitional stage with USB-A connectors still prevalent after a two-decade legacy. But it seems that many hardware makers don't really care and just expect us to re-accessorise completely when we buy a new computer.

Perhaps I'm being hypersensitive about this as I'm currently switching computer every week or so so every thing that makes that more difficult tends to get on my nerves a little.

Have you had to make the USB-C switch? What were your solutions?


Comments

    I don't think USB-A will ever go away, well, not for a very, very long time now. It's been around for far too long, there's far too many legacy devices out there that won't be replaced for a very long time, and even now, new devices are still being made with it. Until all devices change over, you won't even start on the journey of getting rid of USB-A.

    My main problem with USB-C right now, is the crazy stories and "information" going around about chargers and cables. It seems like you need to spend $50 on a cable to make sure it doesn't burn down your house (according to the ever reliable internet commentators). I don't understand how all of a sudden, changing cables, you've managed to make your chargers these incendiary devices just waiting to get you. That needs to be better cleaned up before more widespread USB-C adoption takes place.

      I think there's a bit of confusion here (and it's very widespread). It's not USB-C so much that's the issue, it's the fact that the USB 3.1 and 3.0 allows for delivering 100W as part of the USB Power Delivery spec. It just so happens that USB-C was also added to the standard around the same time, and I think that's where the confusion lies. I'm sure there'd be USB 3.0 Type A-A and Type A-B (both standard and micro sizes) cables out there which could have similar issues, but the cables (and devices with the ports that aren't the full size Type A) weren't as common as Type C is becoming.

      Anyway, the point is, 100W is a lot of power, and you need to handle that a bit more carefully if you don't like electrical fires :)

    There are companies out there making the transition simple.
    Received a Galaxy S8 on Friday and was stoked to see a micro usb to usb-c and a USB-C to USB-A converter included in the box.

      It's possible that is due to the European rules about needing to support micro-usb though.

    Just to point out, you can buy $10 USB C to USB A Cable at Target for $10. Been using it for my Nexus 6P and my house hasn't burned down yet.

    When I got my Pixel, I was pretty happy to see a C to C, C to A, and an adapter included in the box.

    Just got myself a Samsung Galaxy A5, which is the only device in the house that takes USB-C for its power. Moderately annoying, but I got a 3-pack of adaptors from Kogan for $7 that mitigated most of the issue. I figure we're just in a transitional state between the old and new, and it's going to remain mildly annoying for that time.

    There is bound to be a better solution for laptops than multiple fiddly docks, cables and dongles, though. We need hardware manufacturers to start bragging about how many USB-C ports they can fit on a laptop body, not how many different peripherals you could connect to a single port.

    Love it on phones, it charges nicely and quickly, is satisfying to plug in and it's never the wrong way. I can see it being pretty annoying with a computer, but my current laptop has two old school USB plugs so I'm OK for now. Only thing that ever is used is a mouse.

      Things I have (that need USB-A or even USB-B):
      Mouse,
      Wacom pad and stylus,
      Printer,
      Scanner,
      Multiple types of SDR (Software Defined Radio) including HackRF, RSP1, and RTLSDR .

      Most dev boards I've bought come with micro USB on board, and an adapter cable ending in USB-A.

    It's the resilience of USB ports on phones and tablets that troubles me. It doesn't take long before they start bending around inside the unit, and you can't get a reliable connection for power or data.

      Is that USB A or C that that issue?
      Or Micro. I've had several micro over the years that have never had that issue. USB C device, haven't had for over a year yet.

        Several USB micro devices with this problem. Tried various cables, and not found any lint. The actual ports seem to have moved around inside the device.

          I drove a nexus 5 pretty hard playing a lot of Ingress and PoGo which necessitated a portable battery so I had it plugged in a lot while moving it around and in and out of pockets with no damage. Wonder if you had something with a cheaper component? I guess it's the one thing that experiences the most physical stress in a phone besides a fall.

            Samsung Galaxy G5 phone and tablet amongst the victims. Samsung's service options were eye-wateringly expensive. With the phone, I tried getting a second battery so I could charge it externally and swap it out as necessary. After a month, the replacement battery (from Samsung) developed a bulge in the middle which meant that it couldn't be used (and looked like a potential explosion risk). Luckily I was able to install a wireless-charging adapter to work around that. Unfortunately no options for the tablet other than prop it up so that the cable and port are perfectly aligned for charging.

    my first contact with the USB-C was with the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro S which has one port.
    I got the HDMI and USB-A adaptor but couldn't charge it. I had to get the Samsung adaptor which (gasp) cost $129.
    It wasn't always obvious that 3rd party devices supported recharging, I think this is called 'pass through' charging. I just got the Samsung because I knew it would work, so I paid for the peace of mind.
    The Samsung shop didn't have one but JB HiFi did.

    Does anyone know where I can get a high capacity (i.e. 20000mah or more, 20v) USB c power bank in Australia? I.e. one that can charge a laptop? I've found a few with all manner of laptop Power plugs, but no laptop-grade usb-c ones.

      They are hard to find because they areover the watt-hour limit to carry on a plane, 20A/hr is about half a car battery.

        Yet I can get one that isn't usb-c at Officeworks...

          The non USB-C ones output 5V which is easily regulated from the ~6V battery inside it with simple electronics. The electronics to step the roughly 6V from the battery up to the 20V required for the high power applications of USB-C are more complicated, expensive and much less efficient (they waste a reasonable percentage of your milliamp-hours in your battery). When you do eventually see USB-C ones suitable they will probably have ~24V batteries inside, and will be marketed in Watt-Hour ratings, because the amp-hour values will be much lower for the same energy because the voltage is higher. So: You may find some, its a bit early for them to be common, and expect to pay at least double the price.

    Firstly, thank goodness for Pocket, to come across this article.
    I am in no way an IT wiz but this is my experience, which I gain as I go along.
    With in the last two months, i had to replace my dongle, according to Telstra, and so i was sold thier new, beaut Nighthawk M1 mobile router.
    10 days ago i couldnt make internet connection. Telstra technicians worked out the cable, a usb to usb-c, to be faulty.
    Took it back to the shop i purchased from, they confirmed the fault. I thought they would just replace it, oh no, Telstra want to send back to REPAIR, a turn around time of 3 WEEKS. I'm expected to BUY another cable, because of course, it is not INTERCHANGEABLE.
    Evidently it is rare for these cables, or should that be, out dated cables to break.
    Faulty cables could be another angle for your article. What a rort!

    The interesting thing about glancing at the comments is that pretty much 100% of them relate to cables, not to actual peripheral devices. As long as you have the right cable or an adapter, it really doesn't matter. USB 3.1 is fully backwards compatible so you can stick any USB peripheral into it and it will work. All you need is a few Type A to Type C cables and you're set.

    The problem I have is that neither of my supposedly USB-C peripherals will actually work with USB-C out of the box. Both came with C to A cables and I had to buy C to C cables so I could use them with the Type C port on my XPS 13 (it also has two Type As). But once you have a couple of cables or adapters, the whole thing becomes moot.

    Check out Gadgets for Geeks. They're based in Sydney but ship all around the country. They've got plenty of quality (56k ohm resistance) USB-C stuff for cheap such as cables, hubs, adapters etc.

    I think the best solution is to have both USB-C and USB-A.

    My Razer Blade Stealth charges with USB-C but also comes with two USB-A. Throw in a dongle-less Bluetooth mouse and I have enough ports free for most things (eg printers, external drives).

    The bonus is that when travelling, the Blade's charger can be used to charge my phone as well because my phone has a USB-C port.

    Apple's "all-in" approach is madness. When they've dropped ports in the past, they've at least had others available that are well-supported (eg Firewire -> USB-A, PS/2 -> USB-A). You may have needed an adaptor or two but you weren't expected to suddenly replace every connector you had...

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