How Can A Simple USB Cable Fry Your Device?
HWM Singapore|May 2017

Hint: When its maker doesn’t know what it’s doing.

Ng Chong Seng

It wasn’t that long ago when a 5-volt/1-amp charger was good enough to charge most smartphones. But as screen sizes keep growing, SoCs get more powerful, data hungry apps become commonplace, and (as a result) batteries get bigger, good luck waiting for modern smartphones to recharge if you continue to use these 5-watt chargers.

Which is why many phone and SoC makers have taken matters into their own hands. In addition to the common Battery Charging v1.2 spec from the USB Implementers Forum, which is the non-profit organization behind the USB standard, we also see plenty of proprietary fast-charging methods out there in the market, such as Apple’s 2.4A discovery scheme, Qualcomm’s Quick Charge, Huawei/HiSilicon’s Fast Charging Protocol, and Oppo’s VOOC, just to name a few.

One that’s gaining a lot of attention lately is USB-C, which beyond its user-friendly reversible connector, is able to power 5V devices with up to 3A of current. On compatible high-power devices such as today’s smartphones, this mode will allow them to charge up faster. There’s also something else called USB Power Delivery, which increases power transfers even further for more powerful devices (see box story).

A do-it-all standard designed to accommodate past, current, and future devices, it’s only a matter of time before USB-C becomes a universal standard. This explains why you’ve been seeing more and more USB-C-based products, big and small, popping up in the last 12 months - from Google’s Pixel and Samsung’s Galaxy S8 phones to Nintendo’s Switch gaming console, Apple’s MacBook Pros laptops and LG’s Ultra Fine monitors.

New standard, new teething issues

Now, most people don’t (and shouldn’t) care about how USB works or the nuances of USB charging. If your phone has a USB Type-C port and your laptop has a regular USB Type-A port, to connect the two, all you need is a simple USB-Type-Cto-A cable, right? I mean, it’s just a cable with two different plugs, what can go wrong?

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