Unlike the change from USB-mini to USB-micro, the move USB-C isn’t just about a new connector. Yes it is nice that the connector goes in either way up, but there is much more to it than that. Here are a couple of bonus features that I’m keen on:
- USB Power Delivery (PD): This allows compliant chargers to provide much more power than previous USB standards, and means that it can be used to charge devices including laptops such as recent MacBooks and various models from Lenovo. You really can have one charger that will charge a MacBook Pro, a Lenovo T480s, your phone or many other things. Behind the scenes the device asks the charger to increase the voltage from USB’s normal 5v to 9, 15 or 20V. Current goes up to a maximum of 3A at most voltages, but may be up to 5A at 20V to provide 100W of power. This is similar to various proprietary schemes such as Qualcomm Quick Charge or OnePlus Dash that allow for faster charging of mobiles, but with the benefits of standardisation.
- Alternate Mode: This allows the USB-C port to double up as an HDMI, DisplayPort or Thunderbolt port. Again standardisation means that you no longer need a vendor specific adaptor, the same one will work across a range of devices.
These features can be used at the same time, a single USB-C port can be charging your laptop at the same time as connecting USB devices and providing video output. Wikipedia informs me that you might only get USB 2.0 if the video signal bandwidth requires too many lanes (wires), but for many purposes that’s more than adequate.
There is one note of caution that I should add here: some people have reported issues with cheap cables damaging devices. These issues specifically relate to USB-A to USB-C cables, as you might use to charge a phone with a USB-C port from a traditional USB-A port. It is therefore worth sticking to known brands, I use the OEM supplied or Anker branded ones.
If you’re looking to buy any USB-C accessories then read on for my notes on the ones I’ve used. These have generally been “field tested” with a range of MacBook models (including MacBook Pro and MacBook Air models), Lenovo T470s and Lenovo T480s laptops and my GPD Pocket 2. I’ve also used the power adaptors to charge my phone (a Sony Xperia X2 Compact) without issues.
When looking at adaptors with multiple output ports I’ve found a lot marketing that I think is misleading, that gives the total power output of the charger rather than a per-port figure. So a device might be listed as 60W when in reality that means it can deliver up to 45W via a USB Power Delivery supporting USB-C port and separately up to 15W via 1 or more traditional USB-A ports. Anker produce an adaptor listed as 60W that can only output 30W of that via the USB-C port. Read the detailed description carefully!
Some devices will charge slowly off a charger that supplies less power than they need, while others may need to be turned off or put to sleep to do so. In some cases the device will simply refuse to charge if it can’t get sufficient power (about 45W for the Lenovo devices I’ve tried).
Both the Mac and Lenovo OEM chargers work well, but if you’re looking for something from a third party (perhaps to give more USB charging ports or for travel purposes) there are various options available. These include:
- AUKEY USB C Wall Charger with Power Delivery (there is also
a higher power variant with 2 USB-A ports though it is more expensive and I’ve not tested it)
- RAVPower “60W” 5-Port Power Delivery Desktop Charging Station (this only just scrapes the 45W needed to charge Lenovo laptops, and I found it wasn’t always capable of doing so if connected through a USB-C hub)
- RAVPower USB C Power Delivery Car Charger
These can really function more like a dock, as you can connect the charger, your monitor, networking and other things to the hub and then you just need to connect the single USB-C cable from the hub to your laptop when you get to your desk.
The first (Anker) ones we tried got rather hot and not everyone found them totally reliable at connecting and disconnecting to Lenovo laptops. We’ve since started buying this AUKEY model and feedback has been much better. The list of ports it has is pretty comprehensive: HDMI 4k, VGA, SD & Micro SD Card Slots, Gigabit Ethernet, 2 USB 3.1 Ports and 100W USB-C Power Delivery input/pass-through.
If you’re not interested in the USB-C Power Delivery pass-through then there is a much greater range of devices, often substantially cheaper.