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.

14 November 2018, Comments: Comments Off on Our Top Choices for USB-C Accessories & Peripherals

 November 2018         Ian Chiu

Without further ado, here’s a round-up of our favorite USB-C accessories that will bring possibilities for new applications in addition to making the transition to USB-C easier.

SteelSeries Arctis 1 Wireless USB-C Gaming Headset

Designed to bring lossless & low latency wireless audio to Android, PC, Macs, PS4 & Nintendo Switch

This versatile headset from SteelSeries is a no-brainer choice for gamers who are looking for a cross platform headset.  Dubbed as Arctis 1, this pair of wireless cans works with Nintendo Switch, Android smartphones and Windows laptops right out of the box.

Simply turn on the headset, plug in the bundled USB-C dongle and you are good to go.  Instead of Bluetooth, the Arctis 1 relies on proprietary 2.4Ghz wireless radio to guarantee lossless sound quality as well as ultra low latency audio up to a maximum range of 9m.  The wireless dongle also keeps a low profile so it doesn’t protrude too much.  This is particularly important for mobile devices.  For PS4, SteelSeries provides a USB-A adapter so technically, Arctis 1 should work on older PCs as well.

As for the headset itself, the Arctis 1 comes with the same 40mm drivers you’ll find in the Arctic 7. Gamers will appreciate the breathable cloth mesh earcups as well as the aluminium reinforced headband.  There’s no RGB LED lighting, however.  The headset is made with mobility in mind so it makes sense you don’t want to turn your gaming sessions into a light show for other commuters in the subway or on the bus.  There’s only one caveat.  The headset’s built-in battery, which lasts about 20 hours on full charge, can only be recharged via micro-USB. So much for embracing USB-C.

Creative SX-Fi USB-C Amp

Designed to bring holographic audio to Android, PC, Macs, PS4 & Nintendo Switch

Creative hasn’t scored a big hit in years, yet it continues to experiment with different audio technologies and sometimes yields surprising results.  Here’s one that is equally promising as it is future-proof: SXFI.  In a nut shell, it’s a USB-C amp that fine-tunes audio by creating an optimised holographic sound profile based on your shape of your ears and head as well as the headphones you are wearing.

To do that, Creative has a free Android app that guides you through the steps necessary to provide your pictures needed for the personalization.  The app then extracts your unique physical characteristics and presumably sends them to Creative’s cloud.  It’s where Creative’s trained AI, which has extensively studied how different ears perceive sound, determines the best acoustic settings for your listening experience.  Lastly, you also have to pick from Creative’s short but growing list of certified earphones and headphones.  The improvements of matching SXFI with a pair of supported cans is said to be quite remarkable.

Once the sound profile is uploaded to the SXFI, the amp personalized for your ears can work on any platforms that accept USB-C as an audio source (e.g. PC/Mac, Android, PS4, Nintendo Switch, etc.).  For $150, early adopters can also get the amp and a complementary pair of Creative’s Aurvana SE headphones.

Satechi 108W USB-C PD Charger

90W charger even for the power-hungry USB PD laptops

We are getting close to a PD charger that can handle everything we throw at it. The Satechi 108W USB-C PD charger is one step closer in that direction.  It packs a 90W USB-C port as well as one that supplies 18W.  Unless you have a 16-inch MacBook Pro, the more powerful port should be plentiful for ultra-thin laptops as most of them don’t draw no more than 65W.  The same goes for iPad Pro (2018 or later) that accepts max. 30W power input.

In contrast, the 18W USB-C port output is ideal for smartphones, Nintendo Switch and power banks as well as 15W wireless chargers.  There are additionally a pair of 2.4A USB-A ports that can still charge devices through USB-A to USB-C cables.  Do note that the Satechi wall charger isn’t Gallium Nitride (GaN) variant.  Otherwise, it would have a much smaller footprint as GaN chargers don’t require as many components (e.g. heatsink) as silicon counterparts.  GaN chargers are also more power efficient since they produce less heat.

Mophie PowerStation USB-C 3XL Power Bank

Perfect for charging MacBook, MacBook Air, iPad Pro & Nintendo Switch at full speed

There aren’t many choices when it comes to USB-C power banks with support for USB Power Delivery.  This one from Mophie has a maximum charging rate of 45W – enough juice to power a MacBook or MacBook Air operating at full power through USB-C.  In addition, it can recharge another smartphone or iPad over its 12W USB-A port simultaneously.

The 18 oz. Mophie PowerStation USB-C 3XL is actually a step-up model of XXL that has been shipping since late 2017.  It is able to accommodate voltage requirements (up to 45W) of a variety of portable devices.  In the case of a MacBook, the PowerStation can supply a maximum of 30W whereas in the case of an iPhone X, the power bank can deliver up to 18W.  Its 26,000mAh battery should easily be able to extend running time of a MacBook by as much as 18 hours.  Just don’t expect the Mophie to do magic on an Apple MacBook Pro.  These power-hungry powerhouses require as much as 90W to stay charged when handling heavy duty tasks.

Plugable USB-C 2.5G Ethernet Adapter

Designed to bring wired Ethernet to USB-C only laptops and tablets

One thing you won’t find on modern ultra-thin laptops is an Ethernet jack.  As very few manufacturers would throw in an external network adapter with their notebooks, USB-C Ethernet dongles will remain popular among road warriors for years to come.  This USBC-E2500 USB-C Ethernet adapter from Plugable is capable of reaching 2.5Gbps with ubiquitous Cat 5e cabling.

Powered by Realtek RTL8156, the adapter supports full-duplex operations as well as auto-negotiation between grand old 100Mbps, 1Gbps and 2.5Gbps mode.  Since we are still at the early stage of adopting 2.5GBase-T standard, this should be fairly future-proof.  You can also get two of these to form a closed 2.5Gbps network if you don’t plan on upgrading your current router.  It’s highly likely this adapter will work with iPad Pro (third generation and later) right out of the box, just like on Windows 10 and Mac.  Last but not least, Plugable provides a two-year standard warranty with the adapter.

Sandisk Luxe Dual Drive

Designed for speedy data transfer between for PC, Macs & Android devices on the go

Those who need to transfer data between legacy USB-A and USB-C devices will find the Ultra Dual Drive from Sandisk to be quite handy. The drive’s dual interface is future-proof for 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.

The Sandisk has a metal unibody with swivel design that protects one of its connectors when the drive is tossed in your pocket. In terms of speed, the Sandisk drive is clocked at 150MB/s read on a PC. The drive is available in sizes all the way up to 1TB. Sandisk also ships with a mobile app that automatically backs up content on an Android smartphone or tablet. To top it off, the drive is backed by a generous 5-year warranty.

G-Technology G-Drive

Data backup and recharging for Apple MacBook & MacBook Pro 13″

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.

Crucial X8 SSD

External NVMe SSD on PC, Macs and iPad Pro as well as Android devices

Crucial X8 is one of the first USB externals to switch to NVMe-based solid state. It has a top speed of 1050MB/s, leveraging the potential of its USB 3.2 Gen 2×1 (10Gbps) interface. Last generation drives, despite also having same interface onboard, are limited by their SATA 6Gbps SSDs. The best you can squeeze from these is around 500MB/s. With the X8, you are getting about twice the performance over SATA-based models.

The X8 initially offers in 500GB and 1TB, both of which are Crucial’s P1 entry-level NVMe SSDs with Micron’s 64L QLC NAND. The enclosure features black anodized aluminium finish with plastic caps on opposite ends, and it is rated to survive 7 ft. drops (on a carpeted floor). As a USB 3.2 storage, the X8 is compatible with everything from PCs with legacy Type-A ports to USB-C only laptops, and from iPad Pro equipped with latest USB-C (10Gbps) to Android smartphones.

Asus ZenScreen Go MB16AP Monitor

Secondary screen for Windows, Macs and Samsung Galaxy smartphones (Note 9 or later, S10 or later)

Asus ZenScreen Go MB16AP 15.6” IPS display is the third iteration of the company’s USB-C portable monitor line-up.  Though, the MB16AP is almost every bit the same as last year’s MB16AC whose improvements include a narrow bezel and the introduction of USB-C to receive video signal as well as power from a laptop.  What distinguishes the MB16AP from its predecessor and all the other USB-C mobile monitors is its integrated 7,800mAh battery.

When fully charged, the USB-C monitor has enough juice to power itself for up to four hours before it has to draw precious laptop’s battery.  Most importantly, running on its own power allows the MB16AP to finally work with smartphones whose USB-C port will never have sufficient output to run a 15.6” monitor.  Asus claims the MB16AP will work with Samsung Note 9 and S10 right out of the box through the phones’ DeX full-screen desktop mode.  It would be a welcome change if Nintendo Switch – also with a full-featured USB-C – also works in the same setup as mobile gamers will rejoice over the news.

The monitor itself is 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.  The MB16AP also brings back DisplayLink to allow compatibility with legacy PCs without the latest USB-C ports.  However, if you have a choice, DisplayPort over USB-C always yields better video quality than DisplayLink over USB-A as the latter involves lossy compression during video output.  Lastly, Asus protects the ZenScreen MB16AP with a three-year warranty, which is essential for a productivity tool to business travellers.

OWC USB-C Laptop Dock

Ideal for Apple MacBook, MacBook Air & MacBook Pro 13″

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″ but it is more than capable of recharging a MacBook Pro 13″, MacBook or MacBook Air (Retina) with power to spare.  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.

Satechi Braided 100W USB-C Cable

Ideal for heavy-duty USB PD recharging

Minimalists who have already transitioned to a USB-C life must be well aware of the fact that USB-C cables aren’t exactly one size fits all affair. At 2m long, this Satechi USB-C cable is a sufficiently long “charge” cable, yet it is limited to USB 2.0 (480Mbps) speed. While you can expect this cable to charge your MacBook Pro 15” at maximum power, your external USB 3.1 SSD will be brought to down to said speed over the same cable.

There’s actually nothing wrong with Satechi as this has to do with an inherent limitation of the USB 3.1 specs. Optimal performance can only be guaranteed over cables within 1m in length. Having said that, it doesn’t hurt to carry around a second charge-only cable like the Satechi when all your gear charges over USB PD. The cable also features a durable, braided nylon construction that may prove to be a viable alternative to Apple’s USB-C counterpart whose easily-deformed design raises durability concerns.

Plugable USB-C Power Meter

Ideal for diagnosing USB PD charging issues.

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.

YubiKey 5C Nano USB-C Security Token

Ideal for Macs and PCs

Two-factor authentication has always been at our disposal, but most of the less tech-savvy don’t really bother unless we are forced to comply with online banking requirements. Now, it would seem the trend has picked up pace with the likes of leading social media services actively promoting this additional layer of security.  There has been a solution called YubiKey; it works with U2F, an emerging open authentication standard hosted by FIDO Alliance whose goal is to add an extra layer of security for browsers and mainstream web services, such as Google, FaceBook and DropBox.

The YubiKey neither requires drivers nor client software.  Since it is recognized as a USB HID device, the platform-independent token works seamlessly with Windows, Mac and Linux.  The keys themselves are manufactured in Sweden and USA in ways that reportedly make them tamper-proof.  The fourth-generation of YubiKey now offers even faster and stronger crypto.  Between the four models, there are two with USB-C connector and there’s also one that can flush mount it on your laptop.

Belkin USB-C to USB-A Adapter

Perfect for bringing USB-A compatibility back to USB-C laptops

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.

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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