As an Android phone owner, the one thing I have to envy Apple for is ease of plugging-in that $30 iPhone Lightning cable. No need to look closely at the cable, or fumble it a couple of times get it the right way around – it just plugs in either way, so you get it right the first time – definitely a win for the Apple monopoly.
Sure, USB-C will eventually bring this innovation to the Android/Windows world, but what about the millions of people with existing MicroUSB-plugged phones and tablets? Is there a way for them to avoid frustration, squinting at the end of their cables to figure out which way is up every time they need to connect their phones for a charge?
Surprisingly, there is – and it doesn’t involve upgrading to USB-C or some crappy adapter – someone has come up with a way to build Micro-USB cables with a reversible plug, and as a bonus, they also made the PC / USB charger Male-A plug-end reversible as well – take that, you Apple fanbois!
Such a simple idea – why haven’t they done this before?
This is the reversible / universal cable in basic black – I came across it at a Hong Kong trade fair in October 2015, and it looks to be a first of it’s kind anywhere.
Here’s a closer look at the connectors – the four power and data pins are duplicated on both “sides” of the plugs, so you can expect it to work either way up for both charging, and transferring data.
I tried it with a bunch of different Android phones and tablets, and it plugged firmly into all of them, with none of them failing to make a connection. Ditto for a bunch of different USB chargers and USB PC sockets. The PC/Charger end of the cable has no difficulty plugging-in to the regular one-way-only sockets found on PCs and chargers.
There’s no risk of you accidentally breaking the device plug socket with a wrong-way insertion either, as you might do with legacy MicroUSB cables. I really can’t understand why no-one came up with this idea when the MicroUSB plug standard was defined all those years ago, as it seems to be a no-brainer in hindsight.
But wait – there’s more!
The makers have built in an RGB LED into the MicroUSB end of the cable, which changes colour, based on what charge rate and voltage is being supplied from the charger to it’s connected device.
The default “ready” or “charge completed” colour is green. It’s fairly bright – to the point of being able to light up my bedroom far too much to sleep with it charging next to the bed!
If your USB device is charging normally, from a 5-Volt USB charger or PC USB port, the LED will pulse red. This is pretty useful too, as some devices don’t give any sign that they are charging, so the LED lets you easily tell if you connected a device successfully. Many devices will taper off their charge rate as they approach a full charge, and so the LED will go back to green when this happens.
And, if you have a phone and charger that’s capable of high-speed charging, AKA “Quick-Charge 2.0“, it’ll turn blue (it also briefly turns blue when connected to a charger, as a self-test).
Not many phones support high-speed charging as yet, mostly only recent flagship $700+ models, plus the USB charger has to be capable of up to 9 Volts at up to 2 Amps, which it not something a regular legacy USB charger or PC has to offer. More info is available on Quick-Charge 2.0 at LifeHacker.
Interestingly, there was a crowdfunded campaign at Indiegogo to build something like this cable earlier this year – it’s way overdue on shipping though, only offers a reversible end on the device plug, and has no LED lights, for USD 19 + shipping.
Availability and pricing.
These are due in Australia around mid-November, in 3 lengths, all below $15 delivered in Australia – 20cm, 50cm, and 100cm. There’s also word of a second version coming that has USB-C for the charger / PC end, for the people who want to connect a MicroUSB device to a bleeding edge Ultrabook or Mac with only USB-C ports.
Sure, legacy one-way-only MicroUSB cables are around half that price or less, but they can’t beat the usability of these reversible cables – I’ll be replacing all my existing charge leads with these.