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Sony’s 2-in-1 headphone adapter is not our USB-C savior

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Sorry, Pixel owners

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Photo by Dan Seifert / The Verge

If you own an Android phone that lacks a headphone jack, you might be aware that there isn’t a simple, universal adapter that allows you to charge your phone and use wired headphones at the same time. This most often presents an issue in cars and on planes where you want to be able to keep the device charged throughout the duration of your trip while still being able to route audio to headphones or a car’s audio system without having to deal with Bluetooth.

Many phone makers produce and even bundle a standard 3.5mm to USB-C adapter with their devices, but no one makes something like this Belkin adapter for the iPhone that lets you charge and listen at the same time. Amazon is littered with many cheap, no-name adapters, but in my experience, many of them work poorly or simply don’t work at all. For some reason, established accessory makers have refused to enter this market.

Earlier this year, Sony announced its USB Type-C 2-in-1 Cable alongside its new line of Xperia smartphones (which, naturally, don’t have headphone jacks), making it the first name brand to produce such an adapter. It’s taken a few months for Sony’s $19.99 dongle to become available for purchase, but I was finally able to get my hands on one to see if it could be the universal adapter I’ve been looking for.

Photo by Dan Seifert / The Verge
Photo by Dan Seifert / The Verge

The short answer here is no, it is not the simple, easy adapter I’ve been seeking out. But there’s a little more nuance to it than just that, so let me explain.

At its base, the Sony 2-in-1 adapter does exactly what you’d expect it to do: it acts as a splitter for the phone’s USB-C port that allows you to plug in both a 3.5mm audio cable and a USB-C charging cable at the same time. The adapter is not annoyingly large, it’s flexible enough to get out of the way when needed, and it has a little collar on it to adjust the split of the end. It’s compact and simple, just like you’d want something like this to be.

Sony notes on the adapter’s packaging that it does not support data transfer, and there’s a qualification that it’s “for Xperia devices only.” That second point is not entirely true, as I found out in my tests, which I’ll get into shortly. Sony also notes that charging is limited to a paltry 500 mA, which means that fast charging is completely out of the question. It will keep your phone from dying while using GPS navigation in your car, but it will take a very long time to fully charge a modern Android smartphone using this adapter.

Here’s the other catch: though USB-C looks like a standard connector, and the adapter will plug into any phone with a USB-C port, whether it actually works or not is completely hit or miss. I tested the adapter with half a dozen modern Android phones that lack headphone jacks, and here are my results. (I took Sony’s word that it works with its own devices and decided to see what other phones it might work with.)

Sony USB Type-C 2-in-1 cable test results

Phone Charge? Audio?
Phone Charge? Audio?
Huawei P20 Pro Y Y
Motorola Moto Z3 Play Y Y
HTC U12 Plus Y N
Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S Y Y
Google Pixel 2 Y N
Google Pixel 2 XL Y N

What’s going on here? It appears that despite that all the USB-C ports look the same, different phones use different audio output standards, which makes it impossible to find an adapter that will work with all of them. If I were to hazard a guess, I’d wager that HTC has its own take on audio out, and since Google’s Pixel line was closely developed with HTC, Google adopted it for its own devices. (The HTC device actually pops up a warning that the USB-C audio device is incompatible when I plug the Sony adapter into them. The Pixel phones do not, but they simply route audio through the phone’s speakers instead of the headphones that are plugged in.)

If you own a Sony, Motorola, Huawei, or Xiaomi phone, then Sony’s adapter should work for you, based on my experience. But if you own a Google Pixel phone or an HTC phone, this adapter will do nothing for you. HTC does not make a 2-in-1 charge and listen adapter like this Sony, nor does Google, which basically means that you cannot charge your phone and listen to wired headphones at the same time.

The solution to this problem is laughably easy: phone makers have to either put headphone jacks on their phones or make sure that the adapters made for dealing with the situation are actually available for their devices by either making them themselves or partnering with another company to do it.

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