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Avoid Overspending for iPhone 15 USB-C Cables and Chargers

As someone who has written about the joys of USB-C for nearly a decade (for instance, in “USBefuddled: Untangling the Rat’s Nest of USB-C Standards and Cables,” 3 December 2021), it has been a delight to watch the 180°-reversible, high-speed, high-wattage cable standard march inexorably across the tech landscape, culminating with the iPhone 15 series.

The USB-C cable’s reversible orientation has always been a plus compared to USB Type-A (which apparently could have been reversible) and the wonky near-trapezoid of USB Micro Type-B. USB-C is also more robust—it’s less likely to snap or bend. Couple that with the ability to handle at least 60 watts and now up to 240W with the latest standards, and what’s not to like? (Thunderbolt 4, which uses the USB-C connector, demands a minimum cable wattage capability of 100W.)

If you buy one of the iPhone 15 models, you may find yourself digging around for the right cable or adapter to replace or complement the Lightning options you used in the past. (At least you won’t be stuck with unusable 30-pin-connected speaker systems orphaned in the Lightning transition a decade ago.) Avoid Apple’s $29 USB-C to Lightning adapter. It’s more expensive than most 2-foot-long cables with USB-C plugs on both ends rated for Thunderbolt 4/USB4 speeds of 40 Gbps and 100W.

Instead, I recommend upgrading cables instead of adding adapters. Why keep using a USB Type-A to Lightning cable for charging when you could get a USB Type-A to USB-C replacement for under $10? Or, if adapters still appeal, I encourage you to pick up a well-reviewed six-pack of Lightning, Type-A, and USB-C nubbin adapters for under $10. Carefully read reviews for third-party USB cables and adapters for comments about quality and overheating because not all meet the kind of standards Apple requires of Lightning-based products using the MFi branding and certification program.

Watch out for data transfer speeds: some Lightning adapters are designed solely to pass power, and then only at normal (not fast) charging speeds—that’s right: they pass no data whatsoever. Only somewhat better are the many charging-oriented USB-C cables that transfer data at only USB 2.0 rates of 480 Mbps. They include Apple’s new 240W USB-C Charge Cable and the USB-C cable that comes with every model of iPhone 15. If you buy an iPhone 15 or iPhone 15 Plus, the USB-C connection maxes out at the USB 2.0 rate of 480 Mbps, so a cheaper cable will suit.

However, with an iPhone 15 Pro or iPhone 15 Pro Max, Apple provides 10 Gbps USB 3 support (technically, USB 3.2 Gen 2), which requires a cable that says it includes USB 3 support (all USB-C USB 3 cables start at 10 Gbps) or a Thunderbolt 4/USB4 cable, which are backward compatible with Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3. For help identifying USB cable capabilities, see “USB Simplifies Branding but Reintroduces Active Cables” (29 September 2022). I recommend OWC’s lineup of Thunderbolt 4/USB4 cables, which are well-made and affordable at every length. (If you’re dying to know more about the ins and outs of USB and Thunderbolt, particularly matching an appropriate cable, speed, and power, consult my book Take Control of Untangling Connections.)

You may find the greatest variability when it comes to chargers. Depending on the devices you want to power with a single charger, you may be well served with one that’s at least 20W, the minimum required for fast-charging an iPhone. I’ve long been fond of Anker’s chargers and USB batteries, and the $19.99 foldable-plug Nano 3 30W charger is powerful enough to charge an iPhone, iPad, or MacBook Air. The company also offers more expensive, high-wattage chargers, some with multiple ports, that rely on GaN (gallium nitride) semiconductors that perform well at high temperatures, enabling higher-powered chargers in compact form factors.

The joy of moving entirely to USB-C comes in packing just a single charger and a cable or two when you leave your home or office with power-hungry tech gear in your bag.

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Comments About Avoid Overspending for iPhone 15 USB-C Cables and Chargers

Notable Replies

  1. Excellent article, as usual. Thank you, @glennf.

    Perhaps the only nuance I’d add is that if somebody is out to get a good cable for data transfer on an new 15 Pro, there are less expensive alternatives to TB4 cables that will do everything you want. TB4 cables are hands down awesome and there’s good reason to go with them. But if all you want to do is charging and 10 Gbps data to a new iPhone 15, you can get that for less than half the price.

    0.7m/2.4’ TB4 from OWC is $24 and from CableMatters it $27 at 2.6’/0.8m.

    But this 10 Gbps USB-C 3.2 cable is just $14. It’s fine quality wise and besides high-speed data transfer it also charges anything at up to 100 W.

    And if you give up full 100-W charging (for example so as to also charge your Mac) and instead settle for 60 W (which is still more than double what the iPhone needs), you’re now down to just $10.

  2. Yes, if cost is a real concern then I would definitely suggest a USB-C 3.2 cable. However, I think there’s enough confusion with USB-C cables already? So $14 versus $24 for peace of mind of never having to remember if it can pass 10 Gbps or 40 Gbps or whatever! Since you need just a single cable, it’s less of a big deal—if you had to buy three or five, it really adds up.

  3. Just a warning: the quality of Amazon Basics cables is highly variable (as is the case with most Amazon Basics products). A $10 cable sounds like a steal, but be aware that you have a reasonable chance of getting a bad one.

  4. I made that mistake. I got two Amazon Basic cables and BOTH were bad. Getting my money back was also a hassle. All to save a few bucks!

  5. I hadn’t read it, but now have. I think he’s both overstating the risk and not, paradoxically.

    A few years ago, a lot of USB-C cables were terrible. Benson Leung, who worked on the Pixel at Google (an early USB-C capable device) wound up on his own time testing and documenting earlier cables because some were dangerous at worst and specced wrong at best. Over the years, that’s changed a lot: the cables became cheaper to make well, and I think it’s hard to buy a bad cable unless you really spend next to nothing.

    So if you spend $5 on a USB 3-only USB-C cable and most cables are $10 to $20, then you are probably buying something no-name (or random name, like all the UXBKAC companies on Amazon), and you’re taking a risk. Brian is right (and the repair-shop he quotes, too) if millions or tens of millions of those cables are selling! That’s a huge risk.

    If you buy cables that have a lot of reviews, typically from well-known brands, there’s as little risk as could be imagined.

    Over eight years of using all sorts of USB-C cables, I have had zero go bad on me or heat up or cause errors—save one! Someone else in the family bought a cheaper USB-C cable and one of my kids was using it on a trip. I felt the cable, and it was blazing hot! They were charging their 14-inch MB Pro with it, and it was clearly out of spec. We ditched it, but it didn’t damage the laptop or catch on fire.

    Many USB-C cables lack chips to restrict the current powering your phone. So if you plug it into a source that charges at a higher voltage than your phone accepts, you could electrocute your phone, Ms. Jones said.

    I am not sure many is accurate here. It might that if you figured out the unit volume of all USB-C cables manufactured “many” could be right. But I think it does a hard service here, when essentially none of the cables that are sensible to buy by reviews and brand names are lacking those chips.

    It would be great if an industry association had a testing regime, but I think it’s just too much volume and things turn over too quickly to ever make that practical.

  6. Glenn:

    Many thanks for your thoughtful response. It is reassuring to know that legitimate USB-C cables do not in fact lack chips that restrict the current powering an iPhone. Brian Chang implies that this would completely go away with the demise of lightening cables. I hope this means that it will be OK to plug directly into hotel and airplane USB ports.

    Go well,

    John Heil
    St Louis

  7. This is a good and somewhat separate question! Right now, all the USB charging support I’ve seen in any public place was USB Type-A and I presume (but don’t know) that it’s limited to 5 or 12 watts (5V x 1A and 5V x 2.4A, common combinations). If companies start putting USB-C in place, it could still have limits—60W is the minimum cable requirement, but chargers aren’t required to deliver anything above a low minimum.

  8. I think the potential weak point of this system will be the port in the phone and not the cable. Time will tell if these larger ports are more prone to failure which could be due to leverage placed on them. The larger port may also have more problems remaining sealed against the elements and pocket lint. I am not certain that a weather sealed USB-C port can even fit in the width of the iPhone SE.

  9. I’d actually see this as an advantage of USB-C over Lightning. Unlike Lightning, which uses just a big open hole as its receptacle, the USB-C receptacle has a vane at the center where the actual contact is made (and indeed this vane is probably the weakest point compared to Lightning). But that USB-C receptacle design leaves a much smaller area on either side of the contact vane for ingress. I would expect fewer and only smaller objects to be able to get trapped in there compared to Lightning. Including lint.

  10. Most high-end Android phones have had USB-C for quite a while now, and, though I don’t have personal experience, I haven’t seen reports or stories that the port as being particularly problematic at all.

    My Beats earbuds case with USB-C doesn’t necessarily live in my pocket, but it’s there often enough, and I’ve no issues with those, either.

  11. Every usb-c to usb-c or usb-a-to-c or usb-c-t-lightning etc i bought from non-Apple brands has not functioned well or reliably or fast or consistently or long.

    The best usb-c cable i bought so far were by SuperCalla with magnets to curl the cables. But lately the super usb-c cable by MagFast launched, the best cables ever, fast, reliable, flexible, sturdy and beautiful.…they’re good for charging and data transfer. They start at $37, and now offer even faster speeds…

  12. The 6-pack of nubbin adapters that you linked doesn’t have a Lightning cable to USB C port connection, it goes the wrong way for what I need. I’m also confused by the plethora of different adapter options; some are for headphones, while others can transmit data. I’m trying to connect a Griffin iTripAux with AutoPilot to my new iPhone 15. Do I need data capability or headphone capability to get it to push music to my car stereo?

  13. This is about trying to transition to USB-C, not preserve Lightning cables, though!

  14. @Simon, that adapter is “unable to transfer data, unable to connect headphones”. I can find all sorts of adapters, but I can’t figure out what kind I actually need (see my original post). The Lightning cord is permanently connected, so I need an adapter, I can’t replace the cable.

  15. @Simon “Audio only, does not support charging”. I know I need “charging”, and I need either “headphone” or “data transfer”, but I have no idea which one this Griffin device needs. It has a Lightning cable for input, then it has an aux plug for music output to the stereo. Griffin Technologies has been sold to Incipio, but that was after this device was discontinued, so they won’t give me any support. The $29 Apple cord that Glenn mentioned at the top does all three, but I’d like to save a few bucks if I can.

  16. @Oakwine: If that $29 Apple adapter works for your use case, then consider it a bargain in that you don’t have to hope that the alternatives work and the time spent testing and/or debugging the solution.

  17. Ray

    I am buying all USB C cables and using these to bridge to the older iPhones and iPods

    30W, USB C Female to iOS 16 PD Fast Charge Adapter Compatible with iPhone 14 13 12 11 Pro Max, Xs,Xr, iPad, Convert MacBook Type-C Charging Cable, Data Sync,Holder,Case,Key Chain

    @Simon “Audio only, does not support charging”. I know I need “charging”, and I need either “headphone” or “data transfer”, but I have no idea which one this Griffin device needs. It has a Lightning cable for input, then it has an aux plug for music output to the stereo. Griffin Technologies has been sold to Incipio, but that was after this device was discontinued, so they won’t give me any support. The $29 Apple cord that Glenn mentioned at the top does all three, but I’d like to save a few bucks if I can.

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