Every new product on the market seems to come with its own plug-in requirements making ports more confusing than they should be. With many different USB standards out there that range from device to device, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the options.
USB is seen as a standard port for most technological devices and accessories. This USB standard mainly comes in three forms- USB-A, USB-B, and USB-C. Knowing the difference between these different types of ports is essential for understanding what your various devices and plug-ins can do.
Knowing what to buy is also essential to stop you from wasting money on cables you don’t need and in avoiding the never-ending labyrinth of techno-accessories we tend to accumulate these days!
What Are The Different Types Of USB?
Smartphones, tablets, laptops, headphones, you name it, there seems to be a new cable for everyone! All of these different devices have their own use to us and therefore each one of them works in its way.
What do all of these devices have in common in one form or another? They all need charging, or a port to connect to another device.
What Are USB Cables?
There’s no doubt you’ve got one of these cables around your house right now. USB or Universal Serial Bus cables are the most predominant form of peripheral in our plug-in world.
They are in such high demand that every year tens of millions of these cables get shipped all around the world, which makes perfect sense considering almost every single electronic device requires these sorts of cables to charge or to connect to other similar devices.
Every USB connection makes up a ‘port’ in the host device (think the rectangular plug hole in the side of your laptops, home computers, charging plugs), a ‘connecting cable’, and a ‘receptor’ device (your smartphone, tablet or power bank for example).
There are 3 main types of USB cable. Type A, Type B, and Type C. Type A and Type B both have two groups they can be divided into- Micro and Mini.
It may seem counterintuitive to put USB-B type cables first, but they are not relevant to the rest of the comparison so it’s best to get them out of the way first.
USB-B cables have a smaller, square-shaped connector and are primarily intended to connect printers, cameras, or copy machines. These can come with either micro or mini receptors.
A Type A USB cable is probably what you’re most familiar with. They are still the most common plug-in and are the ones that fit into your ports on the sides of your home computer, most laptops, or on your mice and keyboards.
Type-A ports and cable plug-ins are flat, long and rectangular, and usually only insert one way. It is a horizontal port that takes up more room in the host device, with the bottom section dedicated to the pin connectors.
This alignment means the cable will only fit if it’s put in the right way up (which is universally not the first way you put it in…), making it a bit frustrating for the user and only works when perfectly inserted into the host device.
Type A cables have been around since the late ’90s and either has another Type-A port on the other end of the cable or in more recent years they usually have micro or mini connection ports that plug into the receptor device (your smartphone etc), basically, any device that wants to save precious space by having a smaller port size in it.
The reason Type A USBs are becoming less popular now is that they can only be used for one-way data transfer.
What’s The Difference Between Micro And Mini USB Ports?
In terms of appearance, a micro USB is simply smaller than a mini USB plug-in. Mini USB’s were added to the market around 2005 and micro came along in 2007.
Both were used mostly for charging, but can also be used for transferring data. Below is a more in-depth discussion of both types of connectors and the difference between them.
the mini USB was one of the first miniaturized forms of USB to be released onto the technology market. It is easily recognized by its roughly anvil-like shape and has a 5 pin connector.
When the new mini USB was first introduced in 2005, it was mainly used for a variety of devices including MP3 players, mobile phones such as the older versions of BlackBerry, Motorola, and HTC devices, and digital cameras.
Though the mini connector was not quite as powerful in transferring data as its larger Type-A predecessor, its convenient small size made it a very popular choice, especially with the rise of smartphones and the decreasing size of personal technology devices.
The size of a mini USB connector is 3 x 7 mm. It also has an average 5000 connect-disconnect lifespan, which means a mini USB should be able to be plugged in and removed 5000 times before having any significant wear or change in performance.
Released two years later in 2007, the micro USB improves the functionality and size of the mini USB in basically every way.
As the name suggests, the micro USB is a smaller size at 1.8 x 6.8 mm which may not seem like much but does make a significant difference, especially on smaller tablets and devices looking to save space. It is also more durable and long-lasting than its mini USB counterpart.
It lasts twice as long, with a connect-disconnect of 10 000. It also provides a faster transfer rate than the mini USB at 480 MB per second. You can usually find micro USB ports on many Android phones and tablets, GPS devices, PS4 and Xbox controllers, and digital cameras.
The other difference with micro and mini is that the extra 5th pin in the mini USB is largely useless, whereas, in the micro USB, the 5th pin acts as both a type A and B connector providing broader usage (this means you can get cables that have a micro USB connector on both ends, eliminating the need for a device to have a larger Type A USB port.).
On top of that, micro USBs support USB OTG (On the Go) which means smaller devices such as smartphones and tablets can be used as host devices for other accessories. This is incredibly useful for things like keyboards, lights, USB flash drives, and mice. The mini USB cannot perform this function.
It’s probably pretty clear by now that the micro USB is the superior bit of tech in basically every way.
Mini USB technology is close to defunct now, it’s still usable and serves a purpose for the devices it has been installed into, but manufacturers do not recommend using it in any new devices due to it being out-of-date technology compared to micro USB connectors.
As this cable is still in use, however, it is not quite obsolete yet and you’ll still find it in many devices especially if they are a few years old.
Type A Updates
Before we move on to USB-C, it’s important to mention that Type A USBs have been consistently updating over the years. By the standards of the 1990s, the rates of data transfer achievable by the first generation of USB (now referred to as USB 1. x), was relatively good.
But as the desire for more and more data transference grew, they started to become pretty frustrating. In comes USB 2.0. USB 2.0, released around 2000 is significantly faster than its previous model and is physically the same as USB 1. x but with a much better transfer rate.
The massive improvement on this came in 2008 with the USB 3.0 and again in 2013 with the USB 3. x. There are USB 3. x versions of both mini and micro USB connectors, but the most commonly found one is the Type A USB3.x. From the outside, these USB cables look the same.
They are the same shape but the upgraded USB 3. x has more signals and a faster rate of data transference. This also means you thankfully can use USB 3. x cables in USB 2.0 ports and vice versa with USB 2.0 cables and USB 3. x ports.
However, you will only see the increased speeds offered by the upgraded 3. x if you are using a 3. x cable with a 3. x port. Despite the outer similarities, it’s very easy to tell them apart as USB 3. x ports and cables both have an obvious blue ‘lip’ where the pins are placed.
Unless you are using an ancient USB cable, it’ll almost always be a USB 2.0 or a USB 3. x.
In 2014, out comes the USB-C. USB-C connectors are slightly smaller than their Type A micro and mini counterparts but are an updated version of a USB-A connector.
Type C connectors are not yet the most popular USB type but they do tend to be the one that’s compatible with the newest Android smartphones and emerging new technology (apart from Apple products, but we’ll get back to that in a bit).
Type C connectors are capable of uploading and downloading data at the same time, a feature that is lacking in the Type A USB connectors. Most techno-whizzes assumed that USB-C would have phased out Type A already but that’s not quite the case yet.
It is looking to go that way in the next few years though as USB-C is pretty much better in every way compared to USB-A.
Like the micro USB cable, the USB-C is usually equipped with the same connector on both sides, eliminating the need for one of your devices to have a larger USB-A port (though can also come as a cable with a Type A port). That’s about as similar as they get, however.
The USB-C is marginally smaller than the micro USB, is rounder, and better than anything, it can be plugged in in any direction! So no more fiddling around with your cables trying to plug it in the right way before your phone dies!
There is a whole host of chargers and gizmos that USB-Cs could replace due to their additional transfer rate of between 5 and 10 gigabits of data per second and their ability to provide a charge of 100 watts at any given time. This could theoretically include:
- Games consoles
- Laptop chargers
- HDMI cables
- Printing and digital camera cables
- Smartphone charging cables
It’s already beginning to be used in much of this technology already (most new models of Android phone and tablet, new Samsung devices, and some digital cameras among other devices) but how nice would it be to have a standardized cable that could work cross-platform for everything we use?
It’s here, but brands just need to all get on the same page (see Apple).
Apple Lightning Cable
In 2012, Apple released the Lightning connector to replace their other brand-specific 30-pin dock and charger. Like the USB C connector, it is non-polarized, so you can place it in either direction to your device. It’s also a lot smaller than Apple’s previous cable.
Apple has always made a point of having separate chargers and cable accessories for the brand. In part due to having control over the quality of the chargers etc., but mainly to dominate the Apple accessory market and keep buyers invested in remaining with the brand as most of the products use the same cable attachments.
Despite this, Apple’s newest model of iPad came with not only a lightning port but also a USB C port, showing how perhaps even Apple can see that USB C connections are becoming more and more universal.
What USB Accessories Should I Buy?
Hopefully, you now have a better idea of what sort of cables belong to what sort of product and the differences between them all. There’s a lot more to unpack about the technical idiosyncrasies between them, but that’s pretty much all the basics.
If you’re in doubt, there are absolutely tonnes of chargers, cable solutions, and power banks that come with multiple ports for every conceivable charger and cable. Below is a small collection of highly-rated solutions for you.
- Multi-car charger for USB A and USB C devices – UGREEN Fast Charging PD 20W – Cigarette Lighter Adapter
- Apple to USB C converter – Apple USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter
- Multi-purpose docking solution for different plugins – 12 in 1 Docking Station Adapter
- USB C and A compatible Power Bank – Crave PowerPack Portable Battery Pack
- 4 in 1 Multi-Cable – Multi Charging Cable Nylon Braided 4 in 1 Cord Adapter
These are just a few of the kinds of accessories available that have more than one USB port on them. This is incredibly useful if you’re not sure what your device takes, and if you’re looking to get some new tech in the future without having to replace all of your other accessories.
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