My love-hate relationship with Apple’s new USB-C port

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Date: Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015, 08:25
Category: Hardware, MacBook, Review, USB-C

My love-hate relationship with Apple's new USB-C port

Apple began shipping the new 12-inch Retina MacBook this week (more on it in a future post) and with it, a totally redesigned power adapter based on USB-C. (There are a lot of opinions about Apple’s roll in developing USB-C, which you can read here, here and here, but they’re outside the scope of this post.) As with most things in life, USB-C comes with a number of benefits and compromises which were undoubtedly debated ad nauseam in Cupertino for months. Here are my thoughts on USB-C after using it for a few days.

The positive

  1. The USB-C connector is small, which allows it to fit in small places (like the side of the MacBook 12-inch). It could conceivably end up on other Apple hardware in the future, but don’t recycle your Lightning cables just yet.
  2. The Apple 29 Watt USB-C Power Adapter is smaller than other MacBook power supplies, but it’s a one-trick pony. Apple also missed the opportunity to add a couple of female USB-A jacks on it which would have addressed the MacBook’s “one port” criticisms and earned Apple a ton of good will in the process.
  3. It’s a standard (part of the USB 3.1 specification) which means that third parties can make USB-C cables and dongles without having to worry about being sued by Apple. This should increase competition and lower prices. Eventually.
  4. When you plug in the MacBook’s USB-C power adapter it makes a satisfying “dong” sound – just like the iPhone does. While it’s a nice touch, it doesn’t respect the MacBook’s mute setting, which puts it dangerously close to the neutral category. The iPhone vibrates when connected to power while muted and I’ve heard that Apple could fix the MacBook behavior in a software update.

Read more about the things that drive me crazy about the new USB-C port…

The neutral

  1. USB-C is versatile and can be used for transmitting power and data. While this is a slight benefit over the single-purpose MagSafe, it comes with the tradeoff of requiring an adapter (or dongle) to convert it to another format (like HDMI or female USB-A). Dongles are a form of cheating in my book because they offload features to artificially reduce the footprint and price of devices. I’m putting “versatile” squarely into the neutral category because some see this as a benefit and some find it a nuisance.
  2. It’s reversible, which while nice, isn’t anything new. MagSafe was reversible too.
  3. The Apple USB-C to USB adapter only costs $19, which is reasonable by Apple standards (see below). This one falls into the neutral category because Apple should have built one or two female USB-A jacks into the MacBook the power supply.

The negative

  • USB-C isn’t not magnetic. Apple’s MagSafe connector (introduced in 2006) undoubtedly saved many MacBooks from their premature demise when users accidentally tripping on its power cord. How long will it be until we hear about about the first MacBook trip and smash?
  • There’s no LED light on Apple’s USB-C cable. MagSafe cables have two amber/green LEDs built into the connector which provide a visual indication whether your battery is charging (amber) or charged (green). Since the tiny row of battery indicator LEDs (one of my favorite features) were removed from MacBooks a while back, there’s no way to tell how much charge a MacBook without waking it up. Since USB-C’s a standard, hopefully a third-party cable will bring back the LEDs.
  • The Apple 29 Watt USB-C power adapter (just the brick part) is unnecessarily expensive at $49. I know that others will come onto the market, but most people will want two chargers right off the bat so that you can keep one on your desk and one in your bag. Apple knows this and is gouging loyal customers with its excessively priced accessories.
  • The Apple USB-C charge cable is unnecessarily expensive at $29 (see above). Luckily Monoprice sells a 6-foot USB-C cable for $13.
  • The USB-C Digital AV multiport adapter is criminally priced at $79. Seriously Apple? $80 for a dongle? Someone should be brought up on charges for that. (Does Cupertino know that you can buy whole tablets for $80?)

If you’re thinking about buying a bunch of USB-C dongles for your shiny new MacBook you should probably consider another product in the lineup. Most people will probably need a USB-A adapter at some point, but if you find yourself needing to connect and HDMI cable, you should probably reevaluate your choice of a $1300++ notebook with an anemic Intel Core M and HD Graphics 5300. Just sayin’.

Also, try to resist the urge to purchase Apple’s $19 USB-A adapter initially. If you really must have a USB-A jack, back the $18 (plus shipping) InfiniteUSB adapter on Kickstarter instead.

What’s your take on the USB-C port on the new MacBook? Love it or hate it?

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