Some Android users face quandry with USB-C
Q. My new phone has a USB-C port instead of micro-USB. When can I expect the average charger to support that so I don’t have to buy a separate adapter?
A. After years of being able to laugh at iPhone owners for having to buy new cables and chargers after Apple switched from its 30-pin dock connector to the new Lightning, some Android users now face a similar cable conundrum.
Google’s Nexus 5X and 6P and the Chinese startup OnePlus’s OnePlus 2 each trade the traditional micro-USB connector for its eventual successor, a USB Type-C port. This same input also replaces older power connectors on Apple’s ultralight MacBook and Google’s latest Chromebook Pixel.
As a piece of technology, USB-C has a lot going for it. Unlike micro-USB and all earlier versions of the “Universal Serial Bus” cable standard — but like Apple’s Lightning –it has no right-side-up or upside-down, so you can’t plug it in the wrong way. But in contrast to Cupertino’s preferred connector, USB-C isn’t proprietary and doesn’t come with licensing fees that pad out the price of peripherals.
When paired with the related USB 3.1 standard, USB-C also charges and transfers data faster. It can even let smaller devices donate power to larger ones — you could have your phone replenish your laptop, a capability I could have used at least once in the last three days alone.
But if you want an enormous selection of cheap accessories, USB-C is not yet the connector of choice. Even the discount vendor Monoprice’s USB-C options are scarcer and many times more expensive than micro-USB equivalents. For example, its cheapest C cable runs $8.99, while a micro cable of the same length goes for as little as 72 cents.
In an e-mail sent along by a publicist for the Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., firm, senior product-management director Shane Igo predicted this will change in two phases.
First, USB-C replacements without the extra performance of USB 3.1 (powered by extra circuitry inside each connector) should reach price parity by the end of the 2016. Then full-featured cables, which won’t just work like micro-USB hardware but should do so faster and across devices of all sizes, should also see pricing drop to micro-USB levels by the end of 2017.
I found a micro-USB-to-USB-C adapter for $7 on Amazon for my Nexus 5X that seems to work okay, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it can’t charge a larger device like a Pixel laptop. Many no-name USB-C accessories aren’t built to the full C specification, as one annoyed Google engineer has been pointing out in Amazon product reviews.
Competition should help both of those shifts as more accessory vendors get into the USB-C market. For instance, Hong Lip Yow, CEO of Trident Case, told me that he Ontario, Calif., firm will introduce USB-C adapters and chargers at January’s CES tech convention.
Analyst Carolina Milanesi, chief of research at Kantar Worldpanel, offered a similar forecast.
“I would hope we should start to see a decline in price mid year,” she said in an e-mail. But getting to the point when, as she put it, “we could get rid of all the different cables we currently carry,” will be a slower journey.
“I would expect we won’t see USB-C as standard across platforms before 2017,” Milanesi said. Apple, in turn, might need much more time to let go of Lightning: “For iPhones and iPads it will take a while, as proprietary has ruled thus far for them.”
Tip: Adjust app permissions in the latest version of Android
The 6.0 version of Android, aka Marshmallow, hides a sweeping change in how apps get permission to use your data and such phone components as the microphone and camera. Where older Android releases required you to approve all of an app’s requested forms of access when you installed it — your only alternative was canceling the install — Marshmallow lets you accept or decline each such request when the app actually needs a type of data or phone feature.
And if you later decide you don’t want an app to see your calendar or record audio or video, you can revoke that permission. To see which apps have access to what parts of your information and your device in Android Marshmallow, open the Settings app, select the Apps heading, touch the gear icon at the top right, and select “App Permissions.” You’ll see a list of eight broad sources of data and a count of how many apps can get at each; tap one to edit those permissions.