December 2017 Ian Chiu
USB-C makes it possible for delivery of power, video and data over a single cable and at the same time, offers the convenience of a reversible connector orientation so everyone can plug in his devices successfully in the first time. Going forward, most of the existing wired interfaces (i.e. DisplayPort, HDMI, USB-A) that we’ve come to know and love will gradually be replaced by the more versatile USB-C ports.
Without further ado, here’s a round-up of our favorite accessories that will make the transition to USB-C easier or that will bring new possibilities of usage for laptops and smartphones alike.
There aren’t many choices when it comes to USB-C power banks with support for USB Power Delivery. This one from Razer has a maximum charging rate of 45W – enough juice to power a MacBook running at full power through USB-C in addition to recharging a smartphone and another device over its pair of USB-A ports simultaneously.
The 12 oz. Razer Power Bank is able to accommodate voltage requirements (5 to 20V) of a variety of devices ranging from a Google Pixel to Nintendo Switch to a Razer Stealth. Its 12,800mAh battery should also be able to double the running time of 45W USB-C laptop by several hours. But don’t expect the Razer to do magic on a power-hungry powerhouse like a MacBook Pro or Surface Book 2. As of this writing, the Power Bank is only available at Razer Store.
Those who need to transfer data between legacy USB-A and latest USB-C PCs will find the Mobile C31 from Silicon Power to be quite handy. The drive’s dual interface is future-proof for the latest laptops and smartphones equipped with only USB-C. The USB-A on the opposite end of the drive maintains backward compatibility with legacy ports. So, it never hurts to have one of these dual-headed drives in case you need one.
In terms of speed, we were impressed by its transfer rate clocked on our MacBook Pro as well as Samsung S8. The Mobile C31 managed 200MB/s read and 165MB/s write during our real-world benchmark on our laptop. On our Android handset, the drive also maintained its lead over other dual-headed drives with a read and write speed of close to 90MB/s and 80MB/s respectively.
The transition to USB-C for external desktop drives isn’t particularly exciting. However, when a USB-C drive like the new G-Technology G-Drive works in tandem with USB Power Delivery, you may begin to realize it’s a killer app that everyone has been waiting for. With the G-Drive, you are no longer stuck with stock laptop chargers as the drive also charge your laptop (up to 45W) via USB-C while doubling as a multi-terabyte external drive.
The 2-pound all-aluminium designer drive – backed by a 3-year warranty – is available up to 10TB with speed up to 5Gbps (USB 3.1 Gen. 1). Realistically, you get 150MB/s on 4TB; 180MB/s on 8TB; and 195MB/s on 10TB model. Keep in mind the internal Hitachi drives are limited to 5400 rpm. So it’s best if you keep this to data archival purposes or incremental backup. And of course, you would need a compatible laptop or tablet to take advantage of the USB-C charging capability. A USB-C to USB-A cable is also included to maintain backward compatibility for legacy ports.
Samsung T5 is the successor of the T3 – the first USB-C solid state drive introduced back in 2016. It is also the first retail SSD to adopt the even denser 64-layer V-NANDs. The T5 has moved up to a more future-proof USB 3.1 Gen 2 interface, pumping performance further to 10Gbps with the onboard ASMedia’s ASM235CM SATA III-to-USB bridge chip.
The T5 is by no means your typical thumb drive. Yet, for its weight (51g) and size (74 x 57mm), it can handle some heavy duty workload and then some. You get 4 storage options: from 250GB to a whopping 2TB . Samsung claims the USB SSD can push transfer rate to 540MB/s, provided your PC has UASP enabled. Internally, the T5 houses a mSATA, which is likely what’s holding back its potential speed. Last but not least, the T5 brings official compatibility with a wide range of Android smartphones through an in-house app.
Asus’ ZenScreen MB16AC is the successor to the last year’s MB169C+ portable screen. The redesigned model benefits from a smaller bezel in addition to delivering a better brightness rating and contrast ratio. Like its predecessor, the MB16AC works in DisplayPort alternate mode to send video signal as well as power over a USB-C cable. It also brings back DisplayLink to allow compatibility with legacy PCs without the latest USB-C ports.
The 15.6” monitor has a IPS panel with a brightness rating of 220 cd/m2 and a contrast ratio of 800:1. It also comes with in-house Blue Light Filter with 4 different settings that promise to lower blue light emissions by as much as 70%. The included software enables auto rotation, but only on Windows. If you have a choice, DisplayPort over USB-C always yields better video quality than DisplayLink as the former won’t involve lossy compression during video output. Lastly, Asus protects the ZenScreen MB16AC with a three-year warranty, which is essential for a productivity tool to business travelers.
OWC takes a more conventional approach with this $169 USB-C dock. Despite of its pedestrian rectangular prism design, the dock is complete with a piano block glossy surface that gives it a classy look. The aluminum chassis is also available in 4 different colors to match that of MacBook Retina. Suffice to say, OWC is primarily targeting at this particular group of customers.
There are 10 ports in total on this dock. Front facing ports include a full-sized SD slot (with UHS-I support) and a high-powered USB port as well as an audio combo jack. The 4 other USB 3.1 ports, including a USB-C, Gigabit Ethernet and HDMI 1.4b (up to 4k 30Hz) are on the back. The other model has a mini DisplayPort in lieu of HDMI.
With a 80W power brick, 60W is allocated for laptop charging while the rest is reserved for the aforementioned ports. That means the dock cannot charge MacBook Pro 15″. Judging from its size, the OWC isn’t meant to lug around like the Marble DCS1 or the Samsung DeX. BootCamp is supported out of the box, but Ethernet driver is required if you are still running OS X Yosemite and El Capitan. Last but not least, OWC backs the USB-C dock with two years of warranty.
Plugable USB-C power meter has become an indispensable diagnostic tool in times when we are increasingly relying on USB-C to recharge everything from laptop to handheld console to smartphones. The USB meter makes it easy to gauge the charging capability of a wall charger, power bank or cable so one can better identify issues associated with USB Power Delivery-compliant devices.
We’ve tried the Plugable on our Nintendo Switch, MacBook and Samsung S8, as well as a couple USB-C power banks, on a variety of chargers. This self-contained meter was able to give us valuable information on voltage, amperage and current flow direction on the connected USB-C devices without involving an expensive USB PD sniffer and a more complex Linux setup. From its OLED display, we were able to tell immediately which charger or device is USB Power Delivery compliant. This meter is definitely a must have for USB-C junkies.
Those seeking an alternate solution to replacing their USB-A cables with USB-C counterparts can check out this adapter from Belkin. It’s basically a short USB-C cable tethered to a female USB-A that supports 5Gbps connectivity and delivers 3A current. This allows more flexibility than what you get with a dongle.
Additionally, it is particularly useful for anything that aren’t likely replaceable with a USB-C version (unless you go with another product). Those include wireless transmitters that ship with gaming peripherals and of course, legacy thumb drives. The USB-IF certified dongle will also work flawlessly with the latest Android smartphones and tablets if you need quick access to your existing USB peripherals.
Griffin has this breakaway cable aptly named BreakSafe that blends the functionality of Apple’s MagSafe and USB-C into one cord. Rated at 60W, the USB Power Delivery-compliant cable is intended to bring safety and convenience back to MacBooks; it will also work with Chromebook Pixel as well.
Granted, the 1.8m cable isn’t exactly a perfect replacement for Apple’s MagSafe solution, and it is reportedly plagued by frequent disconnection issues. Some users, however, have gotten around the problem by plugging magnetic connector to the charger instead of the laptop. The BreakSafe come with two other obvious caveats: its magnetic connector protrudes about 13mm from the side of a laptop; and the cable itself can only be used for charging power only.
When you start to have a dozen or more of USB-C cables lying around, trying to figure out which cable is which is a daunting task. After all, not every cable is created equal. Most USB-C cables can do Thunderbolt 3 (albeit at 20Gbps) but longer ones can only manage USB 2.0.
If you need to pack one or two on your trip, we recommend a full-featured cable certified by USB-IF anytime. One such cable is IOGear Smart USB-C cable. It is 1m long yet it is able to carry 100W of power. This also means the cable is rated for 5A – a level of current that is needed to recharge a MacBook Pro 15” or Surface Book 2. It can also deliver data at 10Gbps (USB 3.1 Gen. 2) as well as guaranteeing compatibility with USB 3.2 that doubles transfer rate to 20Gbps.
That’s all for now. Hope you like our latest round-up of USB-C accessories. If you happen to know any USB-C gadgets we should have added in the first place, please let us know in the comment section below.
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