USB Stock Chargers, Dedicated Multi-Port Chargers, or Charge & Sync Hubs. What’s Best for Me?

In today’s world of mass portable devices with USB connectivity, charging should be as simple as plug and play. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Take me for example. On my desk I’ve got a Google Nexus 5, Dell Venue 8 Pro, Apple iPhone 4, and several generations of iPad. Each one came with a completely different power adapter for charging! My Nexus will charge off of almost anything, my Dell Venue 8 Pro is quite picky, but Apple might be the most confusing of them all.

The reason is USB charging has not been well standardized until recently. Apple has been charging devices via USB with special signaling since the first USB connected iPod. Devices determine whether and how fast to charge, and make that decision based on different non-standard methods to recognize “their charger.”

Take for example the following charging signals commonly seen today:

  • Apple 2.4A (12W)
    (iPad Air / iPad Mini, likely any subsequent iPad releases)
  • Apple 2.1A (10.5W)
    (original iPad through iPad Retina)
  • Apple 1A (5W)
    (first seen with the iPod all the way back in 2002, commonly found with all iPhones including the newly released iPhone 6/6 Plus)
  • Dedicated Charging Port, DCP (wattage varies per device)
    (often referred to as the Android charging signal, common for almost all non-Apple devices)
  • Samsung 2.4A (12W)
    (usually seen with Samsung tablets, potentially some phones)
  • USB-IF BC1.2 CDP 1.5A (7.5W)
    (the official USB charging standard, it’s not well adopted yet, but more devices are becoming compliant)

What exactly does all of this mean?

In short, taking my Dell Venue 8 Pro as an example, I can’t plug it into just any USB charger and expect it to charge, it works on Android and Apple 1A signals but won’t charge on any of the others. Or if we take my iPad Retina and plug it into my iPhone 4 charger, it’s going to charge at an overly slow rate.

Because of scenarios like these, most users have a preconceived notion that they must use the stock charger that came with their device. Sometimes with the fear that if they do not, their device won’t charge, or worse, could actually be harmed.

Fortunately this isn’t the case. In fact, most devices on the market can actually charge from the Apple 1A signal as it has unofficially been adopted as the universal USB charging standard; mainly because it’s been around for so long. Also a device will only pull as much power as it needs, so using a more powerful charger may actually help your device charge faster. The newly released iPhone 6 and 6 Plus ship with the standard Apple 1A charger, but will charge much faster on the Apple 2.1/2.4A chargers or another charger that the iPhone 6 recognizes.

Many consumers don’t realize they can downsize their growing pile of stock chargers for a more convenient multi-port charger that can charge almost every USB charging device in their home simultaneously from just one AC wall outlet. Take our flagship multi-port charger, the Plugable USB-C5T (replaced by the USB-C5TX). It has 5 USB charging ports with enough power (7.2A, 36W) to charge two iPads and three iPhones concurrently (or three iPads and one iPhone, etc) at their maximum charging rates.

Click to enlarge.

The Plugable USB-C5T, bringing order to chaos.

Three of the C5T’s USB ports simulate the standard Apple 1A signal which will charge most devices, including my picky Dell Venue 8 Pro, but where the C5T really shines is with the two outer ports which are equipped with a smart charging chipset made by the folks at Genesys Logic. The GL888F chipset can simulate all of the aforementioned charging signals and will intelligently select the best one for your device. This is great because if your device happens to not be compatible with the standard Apple 1A signal, chances are it will charge off of the smart ports.

Great. Sign me up!

Not quite yet, but we’re almost done. Have you ever tried to charge your device from your computer only to be let down by slow charging or no charging at all? If so, you’re not alone, it happens to the best of us. When you connect a phone or tablet to a computer, the device wants to put itself into a mode where data can be synced. Often syncing while charging either isn’t possible or is extremely slow, only drawing around 0.5A from the host computer’s USB port. This behavior is also expected on all USB hubs unless they are BC1.2 compliant. The BC1.2 charging signal, CDP (charging downstream port), is compatible with all current Apple Lightning Cable devices like the iPad Retina / iPhone 5 (and newer) and many new Android and Windows Mobile devices are moving this direction as well.

Our flagship 7-port USB 2.0 hub, the Plugable USB2-HUB7BC, is BC1.2 compliant and devices can charge at up to 1.5A while syncing data. The HUB7BC can also act as stand alone dedicated charger when the computer is turned off or not connected. To many this is the proverbial “holy grail” of USB charging despite slightly slower charging rates (1.5A) compared to a dedicated smart charger like our GL888F (up to 2.4A) equipped USB-C5T due to the added convenience of charge and sync.

In a time where USB charge and sync functionality can be unnecessarily complicated, we work hard to deliver simplicity to the equation. With charge and sync being available on nearly any BC 1.2 compatible device, which is most mobile devices produced in the last few years, why would you want to haul around an individual charger for each device?

 

3 comments on “USB Stock Chargers, Dedicated Multi-Port Chargers, or Charge & Sync Hubs. What’s Best for Me?”

  1. Ryan Reply

    I’ve been looking everywhere for a USB3 hub and wondering “Why can’t I have a device that charges anything quickly regardless of whether or not it’s plugged into a computer?” And I’ve been so frustrated with vague product descriptions that say things like “3 data ports and 1 charge port”. Does that mean the 3 data ports can’t charge devices at all, or do they just charge more slowly? Can the charge port also be used as a data port? Can this hub work with or without a power adapter? Who knows, because the description sure doesn’t say.

    So thank you so much for explaining the issue so clearly in this article and also clearly answering all the above questions in your product descriptions.

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