Is Your Charging Cable Killing Your Phone?

Category: Mobile

For years, folks with gadgets that need to be recharged have fought with those annoying, odd-shaped USB connectors. They can only be inserted one way, and they always seem to be upside down or misaligned on the first attempt. And forget about trying that in the dark! The USB-C standard was supposed to fix this problem four years ago. Read on to learn why we're not quite there yet, and why your charging cable might be damaging your phone...

The USB-C Standard Is Neither Standard Nor Universal

The USB-C specification was published in August, 2014. Its greatest improvement over previous USB specs is, in many minds, a “rotationally symmetrical” connector. That means you don’t have to worry about which side of a plug is “up;” it just fits without second or third tries. Additionally, USB-C supports data transfer speeds of up to 5 Gbps, and can carry low-amperage power to recharge compatible devices.

Microsoft’s newest line of Surface laptops, announced in October, are almost entirely lacking USB-C ports. Microsoft has been late to adopt industry standards in the past, but this time the fault lies with the standard. The latest version of the Universal Serial Bus (USB) is still not fully finalized, and competing versions of USB-C create a hazardous landmine field for consumers. The wrong USB-C cable can fry expensive hardware. Here's what you need to know about USB-C.

To borrow a line from Orwell, "All USB-C cables are equal, but some USB-C cables are more equal than others." More succinctly, not all USB-C cables are alike. All of them have the convenient oval-shaped connector. But that's where the similarities end.

Some support the fastest data speeds, others max out at slower USB 2.0 speeds. Some cables carry power, some don’t; when they do carry power, they may not carry it in both directions or support fast charging. The first USB-C standard was not compatible with Apple’s Thunderbolt 3 standard; now they are compatible, making a one-cable world possible yet still out of reach.

Which USB connector do you need?

The confusion and lax enforcement of fast-evolving USB-C standards led to a plethora of fly-by-night cable sellers who cut corners to lower their costs and sell cables cheaply. Things got so bad that Amazon had to clean house of many USB-C cable sellers.

Microsoft is defending their decision to hold back on offering USB-C charging ports on Surface devices. “We don't want our customers plugging in the wrong 5-watt power cord from their Android phone into the Surface and then wondering why it didn't charge,” Microsoft’s Chief Product Officer Panos Panay told a Mashable reporter at the latest Surface device launch event.

In addition to its own identity crisis, USB-C faces a challenging competitor in the form of USB-A, the 20 year-old standard that is found everywhere. It will take years for USB-C to replace all of those entrenched USB-A connectors. And Apple will be in no rush to develop a Lightning-to-USB-C cable.

That said, USB-C is rapidly gaining traction in the mobile world. Mobile users are very receptive to carrying just one cable, or even relying on whatever cable is sticking out of a charging station at Starbucks.

Practice Safe Recharging

But beware of strange USB-C cables; they may be lacking important features that can, at the least, mean that your mobile device won’t charge. At worst, they may deliver too much juice and damage your device.

I bought a Motorola Moto phone from an eBay vendor about a year ago, and while the phone was new, it was shipped with cheap third-party USB-C cables. After a few months, the phone would no longer charge. I thought the battery was defective, but after purchasing a new quality charging cable, it works fine.

When buying a USB-C cable, make sure it conforms to the USB Implementors Forum standards. If you don't want to read the tech specs, you can play it safe by purchasing a USB-C cable only from the vendor who sold you the device on which it will be used. Of course, that will usually mean paying more for the cable, but it should ensure you don’t damage your device.

One day, all USB-C cables will be the same, and safe for all recent devices. But that day is not yet here. Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Is Your Charging Cable Killing Your Phone?"

Posted by:

28 Dec 2018

Great article Bob - you get better week by week

Posted by:

Frederick Brill
28 Dec 2018

Thank you for your great article. Is there some consumer usable tester available for testing USB - c cables?

Posted by:

28 Dec 2018

Appreciate the information / advice. I have a Moto x4 and mostly use a 3' cable I bought on Amazon because the factory cable was so short. So far, no problems that I can see, but I'll return to the factor cable whenever possible, just to feel more secure.

Posted by:

28 Dec 2018

Very important information. Who would have thought? Good to know there is something to try (another cable) before assuming there might be more serious issues with the phone.

Posted by:

28 Dec 2018

The phones of today have more computing power than NASA's first moon technology.
The cameras in today's phones surpass most dedicated camera manufacturer's quality.
We have rovers on mars, and we receive photos from millions of space miles away.
We have driverless cars.
A train engineer doesn't even need to be at the controls anymore.

A universal plug for a USB seems impossible for us.

Posted by:

28 Dec 2018

I have a Google Pixel phone and have only ever used the Google supplied USB C cables. It is now almost impossible to connect to the phone or charge it. It is not the cables, as a new unused one does the same - it is the connector in the phone.

Posted by:

28 Dec 2018

The previous mini and micro USB connections always worked when attempted to be inserted the 3rd time!

Posted by:

28 Dec 2018

Bob, I just bought motog6 phones at B B. I bought adapters from Amazon to use with our plethora of micro cables rather than get new USBC chargers (a single came with the phone but I can't get by with one that I carry everywhere) Do the same precautions exist for these?

Posted by:

28 Dec 2018

Great article as usual, Bob.

I had to get a new USB-C cable about a year ago. Long story short, I found Benson Leung's blog on Google Plus. I'd already read some of his reviews on Amazon, where he struck me as doing for knowledgeable USB cable reviews what NLee the Engineer did for rechargeable batteries.

I selected a USB-C cable based on Benson Leung's recommendation and it, as well as my Android phone, is still good today.

Posted by:

28 Dec 2018

I do not see how "one day all USB-C cables will be the same" unless there is a worldwide roundup of all the cables being made incorrectly today. I see this problem lasting for a long time even after the bad designs are no longer made.

Posted by:

Ronald M Kausak
28 Dec 2018

To avoid the charging cable issue my wife and I put our S8s in wireless charging cradles(Seneo). We have a charging station on each side of the bed on our nightstands. And a charging station at each tv viewing chair in the family room. When we travel the wireless charging stations go with. The only charging cables we have are in the car. The issue with the cables has been eliminated

Posted by:

Robert A.
29 Dec 2018

So, essentially, buy your USB cables at Best Buy or Amazon or Micro Center, and not at Big Lots or a dollar store, where they probably don't know their cables from the shoelaces they sell.

Posted by:

29 Dec 2018

Thanks for yet another great article Bob! I got a USBC with my Moto G6 and love the ease of plugging it in. I keep thinking I should get an extra in case something happens to this one and being the eternal cheapskate, I look for the cheap one at the gas station. I will be looking for something a little better quality and based on your advice, I will probably go back to Motorola for an extra. I like my phone and plan to use it for a few years so I don't want to fry it too soon.

Posted by:

29 Dec 2018

Thank you Bob for keeping us the public up to date.
Sounds like the the fiasco of battery conformaty on all mobile phone manufacturers and phone models to reduce battery waste.
Whatever happened to that grand undertaking beyond just talk.
Bob, you may enlighten us on that issue.

Posted by:

29 Dec 2018

In order to measure the difference between a good cable and a poor cable, I connected an Ammeter between the charger and the battery to be charged.

I measured a difference of a factor of up to five in the current!

This factor translates directly to the difference in the time it takes to charge the battery using a good and a poor cable.

Posted by:

Larry Hawk
30 Dec 2018

The headphone jack is slowly disappearing from cell phones. Perhaps the charge jack will be next, as wireless charging will be the norm.

Posted by:

Brian B
30 Dec 2018

It's no only USB cables that cause problems. I recently experienced a problem charging my iPad. The iPad was giving a message telling me that it was not charging. After inspecting and cleaning the lightning socket it still would not charge. After hours of searching the net, I find out that the iPhone charging lead (which is what I was using at the time) is not compatible with the lead for the iPad. I now have both leads marked and have had no problems since.
Talk about standardization!

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