USB Type C, Android, and You – A New Standard for All
Android has seen its share of charging ports and data transfer technologies: the original HTC Dream released with a Mini USB port instead of the Micro USB variant that we are so used to today, and along the way there have been some OEMs trying to stir up new things as well. The current Micro USB standard that we so commonly use to charge our phones works perfectly fine for most of us, but with an increasingly connected world full of cloud services and increasingly higher speed internet connections, some don’t transfer data through the old plug-it-in method.
At the same time, wireless charging standards have begun expanding into many popular Android flagships, and most offer the option to incorporate it be it through receiver kits or cases anyway. This seemingly futuristic way of charging up phones means that, for convenience’s sake, messy cables can take a back seat. There’s plenty of businesses integrating wireless charging in lounges and tables, and given the fact that there’s just a few standards going around and merging, you are bound to be covered. But even if you are not, the Micro USB format is so popular that you most likely will be able to borrow a cable if you didn’t bring one, wherever.
This last bit is something that makes huge transitions to a new standard quite of a lousy procedure, and the USB Type C that is approaching like a tempest in the horizon is bound to shake things up. There’s been plenty of buzz surrounding this technology given the news that Apple’s new “Macbook” thinner-than-life computer would feature that for a port – and just that. As ridiculous as having a dongle with multiple cables attached to a laptop might sound, Apple fans will have to get used to their octopus computers if they want to attach more than two things to this laptop.
But what is perhaps more thought-provoking is the that, while Apple grabbed most headlines with their USB-C incursion, Google is up-to-par on the adoption process. Chromebooks are Google’s vision of a laptop, and there’s many great options out there. The OS is typically criticized for its connection-dependent software functionality, but as far as hardware goes, the Chromebook Pixel packs a great punch. And this one comes touting this new USB standard too (and two, at that!), ready to go.
What should be noted here is that the Chromebooks are very much like their Nexus line in Mobile. They represent the pure Google OS experience, as the people at Mountain View intend it to be. Both the Pixel and Nexus devices feature extremely good performance, and they are known to feature hints of software vanguard. The Nexus line is particularly loved at XDA due to its developer-centric nature, as well as the immaculate Android experience the stock software provides. With the Nexus line, Google advanced what developers ought to expect from software. What about hardware?
As far as USB-C goes, it is bound to hit Android, and Google wants it to do so very soon. They recently released a video touting the capabilities of the new standard, and informing us that both Chromebooks and Android will begin proper adoption of the new port really soon. Many tech websites think that their statement regarding the proximity of the release implies that a Google sanctioned device or even a Nexus is coming up with the standard. The latest bit is, in my eyes, a guarantee.
What makes USB Type C so special? The aspect that could impact people’s daily lives the most is the fact that the port is symmetrical, and thus the plug is reversible. I’m willing to bet that most of you have heard of someone – friends, family, you – having a malfunctioning port in their phone. Both USB and Micro USB cables are notoriously known for confusing the casual consumer – sometimes dozy XDA members too – and forcing the plug the wrong way can damage the internal teeth that make the electric magic happen to get your phone ready for the day. Apple’s obsession with reversible ports is a detail consumers already love, so this will be a great selling point for the tech in Android as well.
Then there’s the fact that Type C plugs will come equipped with speeds rivaling the USB 3.1 standard for fast data transfers of up to 10 Gbps. This means it can easily sustain over 800MBps for both read and write without breaking a sweat – if you are into typical XDA shenanigans, this should sound very enticing. This speed is twice what the previous standard, USB 3.0, used to see. I personally owned a Note 3, which featured USB 3.0 technology in an attempt to push the standard forward in mobile. While the solution in that device was super durable and grippy, the transfer speed made me look forward to more of these advancements for it proved invaluable in swift hurries. And with new SSD-like solutions arriving to our phones, the synergy might be something to behold.
But what is perhaps the best part about the cable is the possibilities for power output it brings to the table: it has delivery of up to 5A and the ability to provide 100W of power as opposed to typical 10W of other USBs. What this intuitively means is that this new standard can easily charge up big devices such as laptops – obviously so, given Apple’s gamble of including just this port. The best part about this is that phones, laptops and tablets could all share the same standard, and the future-proofing of the peak capabilities of the cable (in most fronts) will make this a very positive aspect in the adoption process. Soon enough, the amount of different cables you’ll need to carry around will diminish, and you will most surely count on a business or friend having a spare one in case you forget yours. What’s better is that Type C can be used for just about anything, as it is also a standard solution for things like video output. And the cherry on top would be that, in time, all manufacturers could finally ditch obnoxious laptop brick chargers.
Are there downsides to USB Type C? The higher bandwidth could mean nasty things in terms of heat, something that will have to be carefully managed on the lower wattages. Other technicalities such as port durability could also prove unstable at first, but it is claimed that they will typically be good for over 10,000 cycles. What would take a while, however, is the transition: the huge bases of Android phones and consumer laptops that exist right now will result in a slow adoption where, for a while, both the typical Micro USB standard and the USB Type C will have to co-exist. In previous times, devices could hop standards more easily. Now with smartphones being so heavily inserted into the biggest markets for technology like North America and Europe, those with future-proof phones might not have a reason to switch for a while. Another thing that might prove annoying is the fact that early adopters will need to carry around certain adapters to make their USB Type C devices backwards compatible with Micro USB plugs.
These are, nonetheless, little obstacles that the standard will most surely overcome. With Google at the head of the adoption process in Android, be it through incentives or an actual Nexus device, we can safely expect big-name devices to begin incorporating this tech as early as this year. The Nokia N1 Tablet already made the jump. While it might still lack certain features beyond bandwidth like TRIM for SSDs, it will still prove to be an interesting development that will allow for all sorts of new possibilities. Companies have been focusing on battery charging lately with solutions such as Adaptive Fast Charging and Qualcomm Quick Charge, so the new power capabilities can surely play in favor of those wanting a better battery experience. For XDA users, moving huge backups or zips across our devices might no longer be as big of a pain. And for those drunk enough to ruin their ports, the reversible nature will be a godsend. With over 700 companies behind the development, you can expect it to be far-reaching and quite the change unlike Samsung’s attempt with the Note 3 (I still think they shouldn’t have piggybacked it though). If you thought smartphone technology was slowing down, this ultra-fast cable might power up your expectations again.