11 Best USB
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11 Best USB

May 08, 2023

Simon Hill

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The humble cable is often the simplest and fastest way to charge your devices or move files from one device to another. But these ostensibly straightforward power and data conduits come in many shapes and sizes. Even cables that appear identical may perform differently when you plug them into your phone or laptop. Various connectors, specifications, charging rates, and data transfer speeds make for a confusing, messy scene.

Don't worry. We dived into the dreaded box of cables, identified the ones you need for different scenarios, and untangled them, ready for use. You'll find some advice here on USB-C, Lightning, and MicroUSB connectors, as well as a primer on everything you need to know about cables. After all, we're WIRED.

Updated April 2023: We added an adapter from Cable Matters, an Anker hub, and cables from Satechi, removed a discontinued Syncwire cable, and updated prices throughout.

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Cables are usually included in the box for whatever device you purchase. These are generally capable of charging the device at the maximum rate. Keep it safe, keep it simple, and if it is unmarked, consider labeling it.

Check your device's standards. Look for a cable that matches your needs. For example, if your device supports Power Delivery, then get a PD cable. Remember: The charging adapter also must support the same standards. We have more details about standards at the bottom of this guide.

You can use USB-C for displays. Manufacturers will state the data transfer speed or list support for 4K or 8K video on select cables. That means you can just use a USB-C to USB-C cable to transmit video from your laptop to your monitor. You should consider DisplayPort Alt Mode (DP Alt Mode) support, as this enables you to hook up displays and video sources that support DisplayPort.

It is safe to use your phone while it is charging, but it will charge at a slower rate. Heat is also bad for battery health, so it is best to take a break when your phone feels warm.

Poorly made cables can overheat and start fires. To boost your chances of buying a dependable cable, look for USB-IF certification or stick to trustworthy brands like Anker, Cable Matters, or Syncwire.

There is something to be said for the simplicity of getting the most capable USB-C cable you possibly can, and right now, an Intel-certified Thunderbolt 4 cable like this one will meet all your needs. It carries 100 watts, enough to charge a laptop, and it can transfer data at up to 40 Gbps. It's also capable of serving an 8K display (or two 4K displays). It supports both DisplayPort Alt Mode (DP Alt Mode) and USB Power Delivery (USB-PD), including PPS, which enables fast charging for certain Samsung devices, and it is backward-compatible with all earlier standards.

The two shorter-length cables are passive, and the 6.6-foot cable is active. (Active cables have an extra chip inside to help them push data further without degradation.) I’ve been testing the two shorter cables and have yet to find anything they can't do. The cables come with a one-year limited warranty in the US (lifetime limited warranty in the UK and a two-year limited warranty in the EU).

Length: 2.6, 3.3, or 6.6 feet. Supports 100 watts, 40 Gbps.

If you're looking for a USB-C to USB-C cable that can handle fast charging and speedy data transfers, look no further than the Anker Powerline II (USB 3.1 Gen 2 version). It is rated to carry 100 watts, meaning it can be used to power the beefiest MacBook Pro, and it can transmit data at up to 10 gigabits per second (Gbps). It's USB-IF certified, which means it has been tested to ensure it complies with standards set by the USB Implementers Forum, and it boasts a lifetime warranty. The downside? It's only 3 feet long.

Length: 3 feet. Supports 100 watts, 10 Gbps.

You can save a few dollars by going with this USB-C to USB-C cable, and you don't have to sacrifice, because it is capable of 100-W charging and 10-Gbps data transfer. You can even use this cable to connect a laptop to a 4K display. So, what's the catch? Well, it is very short, finished in plain black plastic, quite thick with relatively long connectors, and not very flexible. But these specs at this price make it a total bargain. It is also USB-IF certified and comes with a lifetime warranty.

Length: 1.64 or 3.28 feet. Supports 100 watts, 10 Gbps.

Jeremy White


Jeremy White

Medea Giordano

If you want to avoid contributing any more plastic to the world, these cables might tempt you. They boast an eco-friendly build with a flexible knit fabric finish crafted from certified recycled plastic and aluminum that looks (and feels) lovely and promises to last. WIRED reviews editor Julian Chokkattu has been using a few of these for years with zero issues. Available in three lengths with a two-year warranty, they charge at a rate that should be good enough for most portable devices, but they're slow for data transfer.

Length: 3.3, 6.6, or 9.9 feet. Supports 60 watts, 420 Mbps.

Apple's cables are notoriously bad. The casing around the wires easily falls apart over a short period of time, so it's smart to invest in a durable USB-C to Lightning cable. This thick braided cable only comes in black and is reinforced with Kevlar for durability. There is a leather clip you can use for cable management, and the ridged finish on the connectors makes them easy to grip when unplugging. There are USB-C to Lightning and USB-C to USB-C versions, and both are Made for iPhone-certified (MFi), so they'll work perfectly with your iPhone or iPad. Caudabe offers a one-year warranty.

Length: 5 feet. Supports 100 watts, 480 Mbps.

★ Another alternative: The Ugreen USB-C to Lightning Cable ($15) offers similar performance in a durable package with braided nylon and metal covers. It is MFi certified and comes in 3-, 6-, or 10-foot varieties.

Some devices with USB-C ports (certain camera accessories, portable battery packs, and other cheap gadgets) can only charge using a USB-A to USB-C cable instead of a USB-C to USB-C. Usually, this is because USB-C charging ports use the Power Delivery protocol and need to be told the required voltage by the device charging, which means it needs a controller chip. This USB-IF certified, braided nylon cable should do the trick and offers reasonably speedy charging and data transfer to boot.

Length: 3 or 6 feet. Supports 18 watts, 5 Gbps.

★ Alternative pick: The Cable Matters Gen 2 USB-A to USB-C cable ($10) is a good alternative if you want faster data transfer speeds (it maxes out at 10 Gbps), but it is limited to 15 watts for charging.

Jeremy White


Jeremy White

Medea Giordano

This cable is perfect for any older devices with MicroUSB ports, like older Kindles. It comes in various lengths and colors and has a durable-feeling braided nylon finish. It is USB-IF certified. The 1-foot option is handy if you are charging a device from a laptop and want to keep your desktop relatively uncluttered.

Length: 1, 3, or 10 feet. Supports 15 watts, 480 Mbps

I've used a few cables with this magnetic design, where the detachable tip can just permanently sit in the charging port of a phone, tablet, or laptop. The charging cable then attaches magnetically to this tip. The beauty is that kids won't need to precisely insert a cable into the port, and it reduces the danger of breaking the port or plug when they pull the cable out or trip over it.

It's also a nice way for any MacBook owners to get the MagSafe-style charger from the old days, especially if you don't want to upgrade to the new MacBooks that brought it back. The only problem? The tips can go missing, so be careful.

Length: 3.3 feet. Supports 100 watts, 480 Mbps.

Some pets like to chew charging cables, and some people just seem to wear through cables faster than others. If you've been looking for a more durable option, this Fuse Chicken cable should do the trick. The cable combines aluminum sleeves with several layers of cable protection, including Kevlar and stainless steel chainmail. They are not as flexible as other cables and are relatively heavy and pricey. But Fuse Chicken does offer a lifetime warranty. I encouraged my cat to attack one of these cables (when it wasn't plugged in!), but it still works and is unscathed.

Length: 6.6 feet. Supports 100 watts, 480 Mbps

★ Another alternative: The RUGD Rhino Power USB-C to USB-C (£20) is a solid option for folks in the UK. It has a braided nylon finish and can withstand a minimum of 100 kilograms of tension and 100,000 bends. It can also deliver up to 60 watts.

Jeremy White


Jeremy White

Medea Giordano

A long charging cable lets you place your devices wherever you want while charging (or continue using them without crouching at the outlet). This braided nylon cable from Anker is a durable option with a lifetime warranty. It is 10 feet long and can go up to 100 watts, which is enough to fast-charge practically any laptop, phone, or tablet, and it comes with a handy cable tie. You can get it in black or white, but I like the red, as it is easy to spot and less of a tripping hazard.

Length: 10 feet. Supports 100 watts, 480 Mbps

When you have multiple devices with varied charging ports, you often need multiple charging cables, but this clever offering from Smartish packs three connection types into one. It is technically USB-A to MicroUSB, but there's an adapter at the tip that converts it to USB-C or Lightning. It has a durable fabric finish in a choice of four colors and can charge most of your gadgets at top speed. WIRED review editor Julian Chokkattu has used it to juice up a range of devices, from wireless keyboards to a Fire tablet. It's also MFi certified for Apple devices.

Length: 6 feet. Supports 100 watts, 480 Mbps.

If you’re looking for a way to plug your USB-C device into a monitor or TV, this adapter can help. The USB-C to HDMI cables and adapters scene is a minefield for compatibility, so do your research first to ensure you get something that works. Provided your desktop, laptop, tablet, or phone supports DP (DisplayPort) Alt Mode, you can use this adapter to switch to HDMI 2.1 (you will still need an HDMI cable). It's a durable aluminum adapter with a braided cable, and it supports 8K at 30Hz or 4K at 120Hz. It can also handle 4K at 144Hz if the USB-C source is DP 1.4 and the monitor is HDMI 2.1, but it is limited to 4K at 60Hz for Macs. The adapter supports HDR and is lag-free, making it a solid choice for hooking up to the latest gaming monitors, though sadly, it does not support VRR, FreeSync, or G-Sync. We recommend you check compatibility before you buy.

Length 5.9 inches. Supports 48 Gbps

Jeremy White


Jeremy White

Medea Giordano

Folks looking to add connectivity to a laptop using the USB-C port should consider this compact and versatile hub from Anker. It tops our Best USB Hubs and Docks guide because it plugs in via the attached USB-C cable to give you two USB-A 3.0 ports, an HDMI output, and both a full-size and a MicroSD card reader. Using HDMI, you can get 4K video output at 30 Hz or 1080p at 60 Hz.

Keeping cables neat and orderly, ready to grab and plug in when you need them, requires a little help. I’ve tested various cable management options, and these simple clips from Syncwire are my favorites. You get five stick-on strips in the pack with between one and five slots for holding cable ends neatly in place. They stay put, hold your cables securely, and are fairly unobtrusive.

★ Alternative pick: I use the Smartish Cable Wrangler ($29) on my desktop to stop cable ends from disappearing off the back of my desk. It works great with metal connectors, but for some cables, you must attach a special cable collar that sticks magnetically (you get three in the box).

There are so many cables out there, and plenty of solid options did not make the cut. Here are a few I’ve tested and liked.

Jeremy White


Jeremy White

Medea Giordano

With various standards and charging technologies at work, it is much harder than it should be to work out what a cable can do. There are a few things worth knowing when shopping.

USB Standards: The Universal Serial Bus (USB) standard dates to 1996 but has seen many new standards, revisions, and connector types in the years since. Instead of running through all of them here, we try to highlight what matters.

Connectors: While USB-C is mercifully becoming a standard connection type, you want cables with connectors that fit your existing devices. Today, that still might mean USB-A, Lightning, or even MicroUSB. Remember that the capabilities of any cable are limited to its oldest connection type.

Data: The data transfer speed is always in megabits per second (Mbps) or gigabits per second (Gbps). You'll know the speed a cable should be capable of by the standard:

Power: While cable manufacturers always list the maximum charging rate, your device will determine how much power to draw, so it's important to know what standards it supports and combine your cable with the correct power adapter. The charging rate of a cable is measured in Watts (W). Sometimes manufacturers will list specifications on the cable in tiny print. If there's no W listed, you can calculate it by multiplying the voltage (V) and the current (A), assuming they are listed.

Basic USB-C cables are passive and can only carry up to 60W. Cables that can carry 100W or more must contain e-marker chips that identify the cable and its capabilities.

The Power Delivery (PD) standard is as close as we have to a common standard. A few manufacturers, like OnePlus, Oppo, and Xiaomi, still have proprietary charging standards. Then there's Qualcomm's Quick Charge (QC) standard, which was the most popular for phones for many years, although Quick Charge 4+ supports PD. Even PD has a variant called Programmable Power Supply (PPS), which is part of the USB PD 3.0 standard. PPS allows for real-time adjustments to maximize efficiency and charge phones like Samsung's Galaxy S22 range at up to 45W instead of the usual 18W. The latest addition to PD is Extended Power Range (EPR), which allows USB-C cables to carry up to 240 watts (they used to be limited to 100W).

Thunderbolt was a proprietary interface developed by Intel and Apple, but it's now open for royalty-free use (still certified by Intel). With Thunderbolt 3, the standard adopted the USB-C connector and is capable of data transfer speeds up to 40 Gbps and can deliver 100 watts of power using the PD standard. Thunderbolt 4 brings various improvements mostly related to the video signal (support for two 4K displays or an 8K display). It also supports the USB 4 standard and is backward compatible with previous standards.

Cable Certification: There are a few different types of cable certification. When a cable is certified, that usually means it was independently tested and conforms to specific standards. It gives you, as a buyer, peace of mind that your cable performs as the manufacturer claims. Certification can be expensive, so many cable manufacturers shun it, but that doesn't necessarily mean their cables are poor quality. The USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) is a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing USB technology. Run by members like Apple, Google, HP, Microsoft, and Intel, it sets specifications and offers certification. If a cable is certified by the USB-IF, it has been tested to ensure it complies with its standards. Apple has its own Made for iPhone (MFi) certification for Lightning cables. Intel certifies Thunderbolt cables. Certified cables usually have the relevant logo on the connector (for example, Thunderbolt cables have a lightning bolt).

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1-year subscription to WIRED for $5 ($25 off) Cables are usually included Check your device's standards You can use USB-C for displays It is safe to use your phone while it is charging Poorly made cables can overheat and start fires ★ Another alternative ★ Alternative pick ★ Another alternative ★ Alternative pick Monoprice AtlasFlex Series USB 3.2 Gen 2 for $10 Satechi USB-C to USB-C Charging Cable for $20 Plugable Thunderbolt 4 Transfer Cable for $60 Aohi Magline+ at $15 Cable Matters USB-C to USB-C Charging Cable for $13 Belkin Boost Charge USB-C for $8 Anker Powerline II for $16 TwelveSouth Surface Snap for $30 USB Standards: Connectors: Data: Power: Cable Certification: