top of page

USB-C: Everything you need to know

USB-C is finally beginning to pick up traction, with most smartphone manufacturers now adding the new digital connection. After all, it’s not just as a better way to charge a device, but it’s also a means of phasing out the headphone jack on handsets. Here’s a closer look at USB-Type C.

If you have an electronic device that plugs into something, the chances are it’ll make use of USB. From desktop computers to smartphones, USB memory sticks to laptops, USB is the standard when it comes to connectivity. The last major update to the ever-evolving USB standard came in 2013 with USB 3.1, and that was accompanied by the introduction of the new USB-C connector. If anything, it could become the default connection standard for even more devices.

Apple helped kick off the trend with the 12-inch MacBook that used a single USB-C socket to not just connect to all its peripherals, but also to provide power. The rumored upcoming MacBook Air 2018 is likely to do the same, relying heavily on the USB-C socket in order to keep its design as slim as possible. Smartphones have since widely embraced the USB-C into their design, including all the latest Samsung Galaxy, OnePlus and Google Pixel handsets. But just what makes USB-C better than its predecessors? Let’s take a closer look.

USB-C is not a new standard

The first thing to realise about USB-C is that it’s not a new USB standard in the same way as USB 1.1, USB 2.0, USB 3.0 or the very latest USB 3.1 are. Those upgrades focus on defining what the connection can do in terms of speed and feature improvements, whereas USB-C is all about the physical connection, like with microUSB and miniUSB.

The crucial difference here, though, is that unlike micro and miniUSB, USB-C is aimed at being a replacement for both ends of the cable. More on this later.

Thunderbolt 3 will use the USB Type-C connector

USB Type-C received another big boost in the form of Thunderbolt 3. In June 2015, Intel revealed that its latest version of the port would piggyback on the new USB Type-C connector, giving it all the benefits and a new reversible look. It’s not all smooth sailing though – as Thunderbolt requires circuitry in the cable itself, it won’t be fully inter-operable with Type-C.

Thunderbolt is a lot faster – well, four times – than the USB 3.1 standard which Type-C is built upon, which will obviously give plenty of benefit to those who need to transfer lots of big files very quickly.

Smartphones have widely adopted USB-C

OnePlus, the exciting young Chinese smartphone manufacturer, went with USB-C for its second flagship phone, the OnePlus 2, back in mid-2015. Google then implemented it into its flagship phones, the Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X, towards the end of the year.

The latter is particularly telling, as Nexus phones typically act as reference designs for other Android manufacturers. Sure enough, we’ve now seen a bevy of USB-C toting flagships to the extent that it’s now unusual to see a decent Android phone released without one.


This brings us to USB-C. Where Type-A and Type-B have had to work within the framework of being backwards compatible, Type-C is intended to replace both and is designed to be small enough to not need any mini or micro variants. The intention is that it will completely replace all types of USB on both host and client devices.

What’s more its headline feature is of course that it’s reversible. This means you no longer have to get the plug the right way round – or even the cable the right way round – but instead, like Apple’s Lightning connection, it’ll work whichever direction you try – no more USB superposition.

To enable this USB-C cables actually require circuitry to tell which way round they are and route power and data in the right way, just like on Apple’s Lightning connection. This is unlike all existing USB standards which are just ‘dumb’ cables.

USB-C also builds on the new USB 3.1 standard so to all intents and purposes is the connection type that brings in the new power and speed advantages of USB 3.1.

USB-C is still backwards compatible with existing USB variants, but that of course requires adapters.

This article originally appeared at:

4 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page