Explained: Here’s what you need to know about USB-C

3 min read

Over the past year or so you’ve probably heard a lot about USB-C, and at this point, I think we can finally stop saying that it’s “in its infancy,” since so many more devices have adopted the standard.

With most new Android smartphones adopting USB Type C, a plethora of Windows laptops and tablets using it, a handful of Chromebooks, and of course Apple’s new collection of Macbooks, it only seems fitting to go over exactly what USB-C is, why you should be excited for it.

So What Is USB-C Anyway?

USB-C is the latest specification in the USB standard. The standard was originally designed about two years ago with a goal in mind ─ the ability to have the same port across the board. With Type C connectors, both devices use the same standard. Why does that matter? Basically, it makes the standard “future-proof” to a degree and makes the various products using the standard work that much better together.

Why Is USB-C Better?

USB-C improves over previous USB ports, such as microUSB or USB Type A (“full-size USB”), by offering a reversible connector and the capabilities for much faster data speeds as well as faster charging. USB-C works with everything from USB 1.0 to the newer, faster USB 3.1. With 3.1, most commonly seen on laptops, users will see significantly faster speeds compared to previous ports.


As for charging, Type C is capable of delivering the power to charge a smartphone, all the way up to the power needed to charge a power-hungry laptop. Type C is also capable of pushing audio and video content. It can replace an HDMI port for compatible monitors and with certain smartphones like the Moto Z, it’s the primary method for audio output.

The port is also smaller than standard USB ports which means that it can be used on full-size computers, thin laptops, tablets, smartphones, and pretty much everything else.

What’s All This “Spec-Compliant” Nonsense?

After USB-C debuted, we heard about it in the news quite often, but not necessarily in good ways. Between devices makers and accessories manufacturers, many companies were not following “Type-C spec.” What is that? Well, being honest, most of that goes over even my head, but here’s what you need to know.

Type-C spec is provided to ensure that products using Type-C, both accessories and devices, are safe to use. Since the standard works on everything, a lack of care when using the port could cause damage to a device, as we’ve seen happen in the past.

I’ve Heard Bad Things About Type-C Accessories, How Do I Know What I’m Buying Is Safe?

As I mentioned, Type-C didn’t get off to a spectacular start, and a big reason for that was the confusion among customers on what accessories were safe. Some accessories followed spec, others didn’t. We’ve reviewed quite a few safe accessories over the past year, and thanks to efforts from USB-C advocates like Benson Leung, things have started to clear up. Amazon has banned all accessories that don’t follow spec, so at this point, as long as you’re buying from safe sources such as Amazon or other major retailers, there shouldn’t be anything to worry about.


What Devices Use USB-C?

To finish things off, what devices actually use Type C? At this point that’s a pretty easy question ─ pretty much everything. Most new Android smartphones released in the past year, especially those released in the past 6 months, have USB-C ports for charging and data transfer. The same applies for Windows laptops and tablets. While not everyone has adopted it for charging, most manufacturers have at least one Type C port on Windows laptops. Apple has also adopted Type C as the primary port on all of its current laptops. The 12-inch MacBook has a single USB-C port, take that as you will, the 13-inch MacBook Pro has two. The higher end MacBook Pro models (with the TouchBar) bring four USB-C ports.

As more OEMs adopt this standard, it’s also going to push more accessories to adopt Type C and also push other products, cameras for example, to adopt the standard for data transfer.