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OK we admit it – cables are dull. Whole articles on them are perhaps even more so. But bear with us, because when it comes to USB-C it’s important to invest in the best possible cables or risk damaging your expensive new equipment.
USB-C is emerging as a universal charging and syncing port on electronic devices. This is good because it means that already people can take just one charger on the road for both their phone and laptop. While Apple iPhones still use the Lightning connection, its laptops are transitioning to USB-C and many Android smartphones now use it too.
The two main advantages to USB-C aside from a universal port for all devices are faster charging and syncing technology, and the reversible design – no more fiddly micro USB cables and damaged ports!
The problem, however, is that USB-C has frustratingly not achieved official standardisation in the industry. This means that badly made, cheaper cables with dodgy components could potentially damage your expensive, beloved devices. This can be down to physical port damage or a badly managed flow of electrical charge. If you want something more, check out our recommended best USB-C hubs and adapters and best USB-C chargers.
Note that USB-C isn't one standard but several. USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 supports data transfer up to 5Gbps. USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 doubles that to 10Gbps. And there's a USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 that peaks at 20GBps. Intel's Thunderbolt 3 version of USB-C can handle speeds up to 40Gbps.
Confused? Here's the various types and what they are called (note that some have three different names!):
- SuperSpeed USB aka USB 3.1 Gen 1 aka USB 3.2 1: 5Gbps
- SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps aka USB 3.1 Gen 1 aka USB 3.2 2: 10Gbps
- SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps aka USB 3.2 2x2: 20Gbps
- Thunderbolt 3: 40Gbps
- USB 4 (don't worry, it won't be around till 2020): 40Gbps
If your computer uses the faster Thunderbolt 3 standard (identical in looks to USB-C but offering much greater bandwidth) then remember that, while you can use USB-C, a Thunderbolt 3 cable is best for you. TB3 computers include most of the latest Apple range (MacBook Pro, iMac, etc, but check in your About This Mac/Support/Specification), Dell XPS, Dell Precision, Lenovo ThinkPad, and HP Spectre.
We originally advised buyers to stay away from the cheap cables, but as USB-C slowly but surely moves towards standardization, you can find high-quality options for £10 or less. Here we give you the best USB-C cables out there, not only for quality, price and compatibility, but also for different uses and devices.
We've started with Apple's well-made range as many USB-C users moved to the standard when Apple switched from old USB-A to USB-C. Apple's cables will work with non-Apple products. They aren't the cheapest, but you can rely on the quality.
Apple USB-C Charge Cable
This 2m Apple cable is the same cable that ships in the box of Apple's MacBooks, and works best when connected to Apple’s MacBook charger.
It can also be used to sync a USB-C device with a USB-C laptop, and has the usual Apple quality to it. It’s slightly more durable than Apple’s iPhone cables.
Note, though, that even though Apple includes this cable with its MacBook Pro, it is not a Thunderbolt 3 cable, so handles 480Mbps rather than the 10x faster 40Gbps Thunderbolt 3 a MacBook Pro can accommodate. It is compatible but not as fast at syncing.
Satechi USB-C to USB-C cable
If you're after a very durable, longer cable then this USB-C to USB-C one from Satechi is one of the best you can get.
Capable of high-speed 100W charging if your device and charger support it, the braided construction means it should last a lot longer than cables with mere plastic flex on the outside.
With data transfer speeds up to 480Mbps it's a versatile USB-C cable at a decent price.
Apple Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) Cable (0.8 m)
While Apple’s 2m USB-C cable ships with the company’s laptops, it’s not actually the fastest cable a MacBook Pro can accommodate.
What you need is a Thunderbolt 3 (which looks the same as standard USB-C), which supports data-transfer speeds up to 40Gbps, and (with non-Thunderbolt 3 connections) it is capable of USB 3.1 Gen 2 data-transfer speeds off up to 10Gbps.
Thunderbolt 3 cables are usually much shorter, as to be longer requires more tech inside the cable. Apple’s Thunderbolt 3 Cable is 0.8m long.
Being faster, it’s best for for 4K and 5K video. It also supports DisplayPort High Bit Rate 3 (HBR3) video output.
This cable delivers a maximum of 100W power to any connected device.
Plugable Thunderbolt 3 Cable 0.8m (40Gbps)
The Plugable Thunderbolt 3 Cable offers the full performance of Thunderbolt 3, so reaching the fastest connection available at 40Gbps, support for 5A/100W charging for demanding computers, and more 4K pixels at 60Hz.
At 0.8m (2.6ft) this cable is longer than most TB3 cables. Any longer and you start losing bandwidth. Plugable also sells a 2.2m (6.6ft) TB3 cable, but this maxes at 20Gbps - still much more powerful than using Apple's supplied USB-C cable.
It's also cheaper than Apple's Thunderbolt 3 cable, although it's available only in black. If white's what you need, then you'll need to dig deeper for the Apple cable.
It's USB-C compatible but for maximum bandwidth you need a Thunderbolt 3 laptop.
Apple USB-C to Lightning
This 1m cable (which Apple reduced to £19 in the UK or $19 in the US from £25/$25) is available direct from Apple as a standalone accessory. It is primarily for syncing an iPhone with Lightning port to a MacBook with USB-C connectivity, for example connecting an iPhone 7 to a MacBook Pro with Touch Bar.
It’s a tad frustrating that if you own Apple’s latest iPhone and MacBook Pro that you’ll have to buy this cable on top of that to connect the two. It’s also available in 2m length for £35/US$35.
The alternative to yet another cable is an adapter. Here are the best USB-C adapters rounded up by our colleagues at Macworld UK.
Syncwire Nylon-Braided USB-C to USB-A Cable
Syncwire's nylon-braided USB-C to USB-A (3.1) cable does pretty much exactly what it says on the tin.
The technical specs are pretty standard, with 3A charging output and 5Gbps data transfer, but it's the build quality that makes this stand out for the price - it feels incredibly durable thanks to the nylon braiding, and we're beginning to suspect that our sample might actually outlive us.
Thankfully, that durability doesn't come with the cost of rigidity, and the cable is still flexible enough to be convenient for ordinary usage.
AmazonBasics USB-C to USB-A
Amazon also has their own range of USB-C cables. This USB-C to USB-A cable comes in two lengths (1.8m/6ft and 2.7m/9ft) and in two colours (black and white). The type-C end is reversible, so you don't have to worry about which side is facing up when you insert the connector into the port.
The cables support quick charging and syncing, with 3 amps of power output and 480Mbps data transfer speeds. You also get a 1 year manufacturer warranty from Amazon.
AmazonBasics also has a USB-C to Micro-B version available for £6.99/US$6.99. You can get it in 3 lengths up to 1.8m (6 feet), though prices vary.
Anker C to A
This cable from Anker does exactly the same as the Syncwire above, though it lacks the nylon braiding.
It’s a good, affordable option – you could opt to buy three or four and leave them at work, at home or in different rooms so you always have one to hand when you're running low on juice.
Anker Powerline II USB-C to USB-C
Since we were impressed with the original Powerline USB-C to USB-A cable from Anker, it only make sense to include the upgrade: the Powerline II USB-C to USB-C cable.
Anker, in a product launch in October 2018 said it aimed to make USB-C the standard mode of charging. This USB-C cable is designed to be twelve times more durable than other cables and even comes with a lifetime warranty.
Like the original Powerline, it's also affordable, so you can stock up without splurging too much.
Anker Powerline+ USB-C to USB-C
The Powerline+ takes the Powerline II a notch further with a braided cable – something we really wanted to see in the original Powerline.
The Powerline+ is available in 3-foot and 6-foot lengths, and allows fast charging and syncing for your devices, with speeds up to 480Mb per second.
The Powerline+ comes with a classy felt carry pouch with an integrated velcro fastener that keep the cable from getting tangled – the pouch also stays closed magnetically, which is a nice touch.
Like the other Anker cables, the Powerline+ also includes a lifetime warranty.
Belkin C to Micro
Belkin is a long-standing, well regarded brand and it produces a lot of USB-C cables. One of it’s most useful is this one which connects devices with micro USB to USB-C chargers or laptops.
This would be best if you own a USB-C laptop and want to charge and sync your Android smartphone or tablet – again, you are unlikely to have one of these cables already, and it will come in surprisingly handy once you’ve got one.
We also like Belkin's USB-A to USB-C cable that's using version 3.1 for speeds of up to 10Gbps. That means you can transfer a movie in seconds.
See Belkin’s full range of USB-C accessories here.
OneAdaptr Evri Magnetic Tip USB Cable
Some Apple fans were sad to see the MacBook line lose the brilliant MagSafe connector when it transitioned to USB-C. This cable and magnetic adapter from OneAdaptr allows for peace of mind – if you trip over the cable, it clips off rather than sending your laptop flying.
While the Evri Magnetic Tip USB Cable offers top-end charging (up to 100W), its syncing speed is capped at the old USB 2 data-transfer limit of 480Mbps, due to a limitation on the magnetic tip configuration. If you desire the fastest USB-C syncing, you'll need a Thunderbolt 3 USB-C cable that can handle up to 40Gbps.
It supports not only USB-C powered MacBooks but Windows laptops, Nintendo Switch, smartphones and tablets.
The Griffin BreakSafe is another magnetic-tipped USB-C cable that mimics Apple's old MagSafe charging cable.
It can be found cheaper than the OneAdaptr Evri Magnetic Tip Cable but note that it does not support data syncing or transfer for any device – just charging.