When USB-C ports first started appearing on phones and laptops, we rejoiced because finally the days of trying to plug the cable in upside down were over. This new standard is reversible, so there both ways are the right way round.
But there's a problem. You can't just buy any cable with a USB-C connector on each end and expect it to work for transferring data and charging. It's way too easy to accidentally buy what you think is the correct cable, only to find it is not capable of the task for which you need it.
Some don't support Power Delivery, so won't charge a laptop, while others can cope with only USB 2.0 speeds, and won't offer the much faster transfer rates you'll get with a USB 3.1 Gen 2 cable. Ideally, find out how much power your laptop or phone needs when charging and buy a cable that can handle that much power. If you care about data transfer speeds, check what your laptop or phone supports before buying and choose a cable that matches that speed.
USB-C is merely the connector type, and the name says nothing about the performance of the cable itself. There are different versions of USB and therefore USB-C. Adding even more confusion is the fact that Thunderbolt 3 looks identical to USB-C and uses the same physical connector, but can offer faster data transfer when used with compatible devices.
The attraction of USB-C is borne out of a desire for a universal charging standard that is capable of transferring data and power at a sufficient rate for all the charging and syncing tasks we want to complete. USB-C is also preferable over Micro-USB for its reversible design, just like Apple's Lightning connector.
When buying a USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 cable, there are various things you must consider, namely price, cable length, durability, data transfer speed, charging speed and, potentially, warranty. Let us guide you through your options.
Best USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 Cable Reviews
Anker Powerline II USB-C to USB-C Cable - Best Value Cable
This USB-C to USB-C cable from Anker is USB-IF-certified and comes with a lifetime warranty from the manufacturer.
The company makes great claims about its durability, suggesting it can be bent up to 12,000 times and will last 12 times longer than other cables.
This is an affordably priced cable with a convenient 1.8m (6ft) length. Just bear in mind it's certified for USB 2.0 speeds, and that the USB 3.1 Gen 2 version is separate, and more expensive.
It supports Power Delivery up to 60W, and is therefore a very good choice for charging compatible phones or laptops, but faster data-transfer speeds will be found elsewhere.
Satechi USB-C to USB-C Cable - Best Charging Cable
This Satechi USB-C to USB-C cable is a great choice if you're after a durable cable that supports the fastest charging.
It's a useful length at 2m (6.6ft), and we love the double-braided nylon casing - expect this cable to outlive cheaper examples many times over.
For charging you won't beat it, with Satechi claiming maximum Power Delivery potential up to 100W, but do note that data transfer is limited to a maximum 480Mbps over the USB 2.0 standard.
Plus, it may not be the top choice if you're in the UK if you can't find it on Amazon - buying direct from the manufacturer will mean having to pay for shipping from the US.
Plugable Thunderbolt 3 Cable - Best Thunderbolt 3 Cable
This Thunderbolt 3 cable from Plugable is the best all-rounder here when used with a compatible storage device or Windows or Mac PC or laptop. It offers the fastest data-transfer speeds, can carry enough charge to power any laptop, and it has an appealingly low price.
When paired with a Thunderbolt 3 port you can expect theoretical data-transfer speeds of up to 40Gbps, which makes this cable well suited to carrying 4K+ video. You'll get lower bandwidth with a USB-C 3.1 port, but still up to 10Gbps.
When it comes to charging, Plugable specifies Power Delivery support of up to 100W. Note that it does not support Qualcomm Quick Charge, however, so this cable may not be your best option for fast-charging a smartphone.
As with many Thunderbolt 3 cables it is reasonably short, just 0.8m (2.6ft), which helps it to maintain performance. It also lacks the nylon braided housing of some of the more durable cables here, though it does come with a two-year warranty from the manufacturer.
It's cheaper than Apple's Thunderbolt 3 cable, but should you be bothered by appearances know that it is available only in black.
Apple Thunderbolt 3 Cable - Best Cable for MacBook Pro
Apple ships a 2m (6.6ft) USB-C 3.1 cable with all its MacBooks, but these Thunderbolt 3 cables are supported by the MacBook Pro and offer significantly faster charging and data transfer speeds.
Thunderbolt 3 ports look the same as standard USB-C, but support data-transfer speeds up to 40Gbps. When this cable is instead used with a USB-C 3.1 port it is capable of data-transfer speeds of up to 10Gbps. It can also support Power Delivery at 100W.
This is a short cable at just 0.8m (2.6ft), which is fairly standard for Thunderbolt 3.
The faster speeds make this suitable for transferring 4K+ video. There's also support for DisplayPort High Bit Rate 3 (HBR3) video output.
Apple USB-C Charge Cable - Best Value for Apple Products
This 2m (6.6ft) cable is the same that ships in the box with Apple's MacBooks, though it also works with non-Apple products. It is of the quality you would expect from Apple, and slightly more durable than standard iPhone cables.
Although Apple includes this cable with its MacBook Pro, it is not a Thunderbolt 3 cable. It can handle data transfer at 480Mbps rather than the 40Gbps a MacBook Pro can accommodate.
Anker Powerline+ USB-C to USB-C Cable - Best Short Cable
Anker is one of the best-known names in charging tech, and if you're looking for a short USB-C to USB-C cable this Powerline+ is a good example.
Available in 0.8m (3ft) and 1.8m (6ft) length, this USB-C cable comes with a flexible double-braided nylon cable that the company says is good for more than 5,000 bends. Supplied with a handy carry case and a lifetime warranty from the manufacturer, it's said to last five times longer than other cables.
Data transfer is possible at up to 480Mbps, but there is no support for Power Delivery.
Syncwire Nylon-Braided USB-C to USB-A Cable - Best Short USB-A to USB-C Cable
Syncwire's nylon-braided USB-C to USB-A cable does pretty much exactly what it says on the tin, and that's all you can really expect at such a low price.
The technical specs are standard for Gen 1, with this 1m (3.3ft) cable capable of up to 5Gbps data transfer and 3A charging, but it's the build quality that makes this stand out.
With nylon braiding it feels very durable for such a low-price cable, and this durability does not come at the expense of flexibility.
Apple USB-C to Lightning - Best for iPhone
This 1m (3.3ft) cable is primarily designed for syncing an iPhone with a Lightning port to a MacBook with USB-C connectivity, but you can also use it to fast-charge an iPhone with a USB-C charger.
It’s somewhat 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. This is because with the exception of the iPhone 11 Pro the cable supplied with all iPhones is Lightning to USB-A (that's full-size USB).
AmazonBasics USB-C to USB-A Cable - Best Value USB-A to USB-C Cable
Amazon has its own range of USB-C cables that are cheap but capable, with each supplied with a one-year warranty from Amazon itself.
This USB-A to USB-C cable comes in 1.8m (6ft) or 2.7m (9ft) and in two colours: black or white.
It's a USB 2.0 cable that can support data transfer at up to 480Mbps and charging over a 3A output.
USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 cable buying advice
To some extent your choice of USB-C cable is going to come down to whether you need both ends to be USB-C, or if the device you want to hook up has a USB-A, Micro-USB, Lightning or Thunderbolt 3 port. But there is more you should take into account before purchasing the cheapest cable you can find.
What are the different types of USB-C?
The slowest USB-C cables for data transfer are based on the USB 2.0 standard, and many of the cheap USB-C cables you find today will be of this variety. USB 2.0 supports up to 480Mbps data transfer. It will be sufficient for transferring most files, but for 4K video or other large files you'll really want something more powerful.
USB 3.1 Gen 1 is an improvement on this spec, offering data transfer of up to 5Gbps. This is sometimes referred to as SuperSpeed USB.
USB 3.1 Gen 2 doubles that data-transfer speed to 10Gbps. For 20Gbps transfers you need USB 3.1 2x2.
Are USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 the same thing?
No. USB-C is merely the connector type, and not indicative of its spec. Thunderbolt 3 is identical to USB-C in design, and it is compatible with USB-C ports and devices, but it has faster throughput of up to 40Gbps when paired with an appropriate cable.
If you have a Thunderbolt 3 port on your laptop, PC or storage device you should select a Thunderbolt 3 rather than USB-C 3.1 cable to achieve the best performance. This cable must have a USB-C connector at both ends to achieve Thunderbolt 3 speeds, though this is not necessary for achieving USB 3.1 speeds. This does not mean, however, that every USB-C to USB-C cable supports Thunderbolt 3.
Thunderbolt 3 cables come in active and passive varieties. Passive cables are typically shorter and cheaper, and unable to maintain the top 40Gbps transfer speeds over longer distances. Active cables can maintain this speed over distance, but they will also be more expensive.
As it is rarely advertised whether a cable is active or passive, your best bet is to opt for a shorter cable. This is because passive cables can deliver 40Gbps at 0.5m, but only 20Gbps at 1m.
The situation will be greatly simplified when USB 4.0 comes along in early 2021: with Thunderbolt technology underpinning it, USB 4.0 will be capable of the same 40Gbps data transfer speeds.
Will any USB-C cable charge my laptop?
The simple answer here is no. The various generations of USB and Thunderbolt take into account the data transfer speed, but for charging you also need to consider the power output.
When we talk about charging phones and tablets we might use the term Quick Charge, which is a technology built into Qualcomm processors but in essence just a standard that ensures truly fast charging. The same is true of Adaptive Charging, which is found in Samsung phones, and any other similar technologies used by alternative phone and tablet makers.
When we consider charging a laptop, however, extra power is required. Here you will encounter the term Power Delivery (sometimes simply PD), a specification that enables up to 100W of power output, although most laptops won't require more than 60W.
How cable manufacturers deal with this in their marketing can differ, but the key phrase you're looking for is Power Delivery. Some will claim speeds of 60W, others 100W, and rarely anything in between.
When charging you need to consider all links in the chain: to charge a laptop that requires 60W you need a cable that supports 60W and also a mains adaptor that supports 60W. (We've listed some of the best USB adaptors for charging a laptop.)
As an aside, do not assume that the fact your laptop has a USB-C port means it will charge over USB-C - some are present purely for data transfer purposes.