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Why can’t all my chargers just charge all my stuff?

Why can’t all my chargers just charge all my stuff?


The dream of a perfect cable

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A bunch of USB-C chargers on a green backdrop
Photo by Vlad Savov / The Verge

One of the minor but underappreciated luxuries of this world is having two laptop chargers. It is wholly unnecessary in the great scheme of things, given that by their very nature each charger functions equally well. But not having to do the small chore of unplugging my charger from by my bed, wrapping it up, and plugging it in by my desk at work, day in and day out, is just a nice thing to be able to do. It’s one less thing to carry. It’s better for the overall life of the charger, since you’re not stressing the cable as much. And it’s ultimately better for my sanity of not constantly having to check whether or not I actually remembered my charger on any given day.

The problem is, laptop chargers are expensive. A spare 85W MagSafe 2 charger for my MacBook Pro costs $85 from Apple (and yes, I tend to stay within the more expensive name brand when it comes to the thing that courses dangerous amounts of electricity through my laptop.) A 65W Surface charger? $79.99. With prices like these, it’s more or less financially irresponsible to actually realize my double charger dream.

USB-C is both a blessing and a curse

Enter USB-C. With more and more tech companies embracing the new port standard as time goes on, USB-C is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to solving my charging conundrum. On the surface, it would seem to be perfect — one cable to charge them all. Just keep one or two by my bed, and a few by my desk, and I’ll never have to carry a cable again.

Except for the fact that USB-C is still a maddeningly confusing standard. Your laptop’s USB-C charger will charge your phone, but not the other way around. That “Fast Charge 3.0 compatible” brick you bought on the cheap from Amazon works with some of your stuff, but not others. Or when you try to juice up your Switch from your MacBook Pro, it turns out your laptop is actually draining your console instead.

All this speaks to the biggest issue with USB-C — just because the ports look the same, does not mean the standards are actually the same. This is usually an issue of raw power, where some chargers just aren’t beefy enough to juice up a laptop, but there are also different quick charging specifications that can factor into your experience. And while that’s bad for my current daydream of a universal charging utopia, things aren’t all bad. Generally, if you’re willing to invest in a powerful enough USB-C charger — like, say, most laptops — you’re probably safe when it comes to making sure you’ll be able to charge other things, even if that puts you right back at our original problem of the high cost of buying two laptop chargers. But at least here you’re getting a superpowered charger for all your gadgets, instead of a pricey proprietary cable for just one.

And who knows? Maybe one day technology will reach the ideal charging utopia: a single perfect cable standard that works with all your gadgets, wherever you go.