USB-C plugging into device

Fast charging minimizes downtime away from your phone or tablet, but it can be tricky with so many various standards. So if you’ve got a new phone or charger, do you need a new cable too? Well, it depends.

Is Your Cable Compatible?

There are almost as many types of cable as there are USB fast charging standards. The good news is that, in most cases, you don’t need to worry about whether you’ve got the wrong sort of cable.

Why? Because these cables are meant to be as standardized as possible. This means that as long as the cable properly plugs into the ports you’re using, and it isn’t broken, it will work.

That said, there’s a difference between whether the cable will work at all and how well it will work. To explain why, let’s take a look at different USB standards and their charging speeds.

USB and Transfer Speeds

You’ve probably heard of USB 2.0, USB-C, and other sorts of standards. While all you really need to know about these cables is the type of connector they have, the different standards are capable of different speeds.

The USB Type A connector is most likely the first thing that pops into your mind when you think about USB because of how ubiquitous it is. This is a highly backward compatible connector, and as such it’s capable of working with USB standards from 1.0 to 3.2.

USB Type A can be a little confusing because of this backward compatibility. That said, the easiest way to tell whether you’re dealing with a more modern connector is the color: blue means USB 3.0 and is faster.

The USB Type C connector is similarly ubiquitous, and its design makes it much easier to use than its predecessor. Since it works in either orientation, you don’t need to worry about which way you plug it in.

USB-C also brings faster speed in general. This means both data transfer speed and faster charging, thanks to a new standard known as USB-PD, or USB Power Delivery.

RELATED: What Is USB-C? Here's Why You Want USB Type-C

Enter USB-PD

USB-C connectors and cables are almost synonymous with fast charging. There’s a reason for this. Along with the better connector, USB-C introduced the USB-PD specification, which meant much faster charging speeds.

This meant that as the new USB connectors and cables arrived, things started speeding up considerably when it came to power. The problem arises in how much power is delivered.

USB-C cable capable of fast charging
Kris Wouk / How-To Geek

While the USB-PD standard can deliver a maximum output of 100 watts, that doesn’t mean it always needs to. The cables that ship with devices, for example, often don’t deliver power faster than the device they ship with can charge.

That’s fine when you’re using the device the cable shipped with, but if you’re using the cable elsewhere, it can limit how fast other devices can charge.

RELATED: What Is USB Power Delivery (USB PD)?

Are All Cables Created Equal?

As we’ve mentioned before, there are a few different fast charging standards. USB-PD and Qualcomm Quick Charge are the two most common fast charging standards, but they’re not the only ones.

In order for fast charging to work, both the device you’re charging and the charger itself need to support the same standard. As long as you have those two elements, fast charging will work, regardless of the cable.

Any USB cable of a different type needs to follow basic guidelines on how to implement the standard. That said, cable manufacturers do have some leeway on how they implement the standards. What this means is that not every cable has the same performance.

While any cable that matches the proper standard will give you some sort of fast charging, they’re not all created equal. Any cable will work, but certain cables will deliver faster charging speeds.

One of the first things to check before cable shopping is the type of charging that your phone or tablet uses. Then, you’ll want to make sure your charger matches that same specification. If a charger came with your device, that’s probably the correct one to use, but these can be underpowered.

If your cable doesn’t match the same Power Delivery speed that your device requires for the fastest charging time, you need a new cable. When you choose one to buy, just make sure it matches the same Power Delivery standard and your device will charge as fast as it is capable of.

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Profile Photo for Kris Wouk Kris Wouk
Kris Wouk is a freelance tech writer and musician with over 10 years of experience as a writer and a lifetime of experience as a gadget fan. He has also written for Digital Trends, MakeUseOf, Android Authority, and Sound Guys. At MakeUseOf, he was Section Editor in charge of the site's Mac coverage.
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