I’ve actually been quite immersed in the industry’s shift to USB Type-C. It is present in my 2015 MacBook, it was available on the Nexus 6P, Nexus 5X and the Chromebook Pixel, which I used on a daily basis during the course of review periods for articles.
I use USB Type-C on a number of my personal devices including an HTC 10 as well as a Microsoft Lumia 950.
The big adjustment on my part was having to always keep the USB Type-C cable handy. Since I have many devices that use microUSB cables, it is easy to get them confused, especially when you’re rushing to plug in a device whose battery is about to die out.
USB Type-C cables tend to be a bit thicker than microUSB counterparts; the port is also quite different since it will fit in no matter how you plug it, which is convenient and more elegant than what we’re used to from older devices. Since USB Type-C has far larger bandwidth for current, devices that support the standard tend to charge a lot faster without any adverse effect on the device or its battery.
Being a new standard, USB Type-C comes with a lot of confusion as well as a bit of controversy. Many cheap third party USB Type-C cables are substandard, so they don’t work very well and can even damage devices. Here is a short introduction on what you need to know about USB Type-C.
Manufacturers have invested quite a lot on USB Type-C beause it is clearly the future. So, some of them (like Huawei with the Nexus 6P and Microsoft with the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL) include both a USB Type-C charger and a USB 3.0 to USB Type-C cable for connecting to PCs and other devices.
The list of devices featuring USB Type-C is growing quite rapidly; most new flagship smartphones have the feature and an increasing number of Ultrabooks, 2-in-1 convertibles and tablets are also coming to market featuring multiple USB Type-C ports. The devices available from Best Buy now include Apple MacBooks, gaming laptops and regular laptops.
For some devices, like the Apple MacBook, the USB Type-C port is both the power and connectivity port. There are now two generations of this ultraportable MacBook and Apple has refused to add an extra port. Other similar ultraportable devices coming to market offer a thin and light profile but have multiple USB Type-C ports, which makes them more versatile.
What can USB Type-C do?
On the surface, it seems that USB Type-C replaces the power port and also the microUSB port. Yes, we’ve long had low-powered devices like eReaders and tablets as well as most smartphones that only come with microUSB ports which can also charge and transfer files.
USB Type-C’s advantage is that it can charge your device, connect it to various peripherals as well as transfer files at an incredibly fast rate.
The USB-C cables comply with the European regulations calling for a universal connector for charging mobile phones. This means that soon, almost everything, everywhere, will be powered, charged and connected by USB-C cables. Here are the big three advantages of USB Type-C:
- Transfer data at faster speed (up to 10 Gbps)
- Power and charge devices such as laptops, tablets and phones very quickly (up to 100 watts and 3 Amps of power)
- Deliver high quality audio and video (4K/UltraHD)
The new USB 3.1 SuperSpeed+ standard transfers data up to 10 Gbps, which means transfers up to 20x faster than USB 2.0 (480 Mbps) and 12x faster than FireWire. Fast enough to transfer a year’s worth of music in 10 minutes or an entire HD movie in 30 seconds.
USB 3.1 technology also allows you to power some devices up to 100 watts, or quickly charge your laptop, tablet or phone. Most USB-C 3.1 cables contain an internal power management chip to ensure proper power delivery and a safe charge.
With great power comes a great assortment of dongles
Because many devices like smartphones and tablets that feature USB Type-C today can only offer one free port, the best way to really harness USB Type C’s powers and capabilities is by using dongles and docks. These dongles will drive up the price of the device, but give users far more latitude in how they use their devices and what they can accomplish.
Windows 10 for smartphones comes with a feature called Continuum, which we covered at length here.
USB Type-C makes it possible to turn a compatible Windows Phone into a desktop replacement by connecting a dock which then interfaces with a keyboard, mouse and monitor to extend the functionality of the smartphone.
This may seem like a pipe dream—that we can use our phones as desktops—and while the experience is far from perfect (i.e. you can’t run desktop class applications or programs), it is good enough to get some work done including working on Microsoft Office documents, using browser based apps as well as playing some light PC games.
Other USB Type-C devices need accessory dongles and add-ons to connect multiple devices, connect to current USB or microUSB devices and split the USB bandwidth across devices.
One advantage that USB Type-C has over proprietary power cables is that most devices can be plugged into external USB enabled batteries and easily charged on the go.
Life with USB Type-C
Living with the first batch of devices featuring USB Type-C was not all that easy because there weren’t many accessories available in the market and if you somehow managed to forget your cable or charger, you were cooked.
Very few people had a charger they could lend you.
Things are getting better now. There are USB Type-C charging solutions, docks and video adaptors which can enhance the user experience. You can find USB Type-C Flash memory too.
USB Type-C will gain ground considerably in the coming few months as new devices are being readied for back-to-school, and as more hardware comes to market supporting the platform.
I think USB Type-C comes at an important time when many notebooks, tablets and even smartphones have the processing power to run more intensive applications, have larger storage and more RAM. All of this potential power means nothing if these devices can’t connect to the peripherals and accessories that desktop PCs can connect to.
USB Type-C enables connections to multiple devices, it can manage fast transfer speeds and keeps everything powered up while doing so. It really is the future and hopefully the one standard we will all be using.