Looking for a USB-C charger? Beware! Most USB-C chargers sold on Amazon can damage your devices!
Fortunately, experts like Benson Leung and Nathan-K, and websites like GTrusted, list tested USB-C chargers and cables in one location. Leung and Nathan-K collaborated on a spreadsheet containing a detailed analysis of a tremendous number of chargers and cables. The spreadsheet isn’t easy to read, so I’ve put together a list of their top recommendations along with some buying tips.
First, though, we need to explain why USB-C chargers can damage your gadgets.
Why USB-C Can Damage Your Devices
The biggest problem with USB-C chargers: manufacturers don’t perform proper testing and validation. It’s the same problem we saw back when dangerous USB-C cables set devices on fire.
Unlike 10-watt USB ports on older devices, USB-C can push 100-watts. A 10-fold increase in power dramatically ratchets up the potential for explosion and fire.
If you just want a list of safe USB-C chargers, skip to the section “What Are the Best USB-C Chargers?” below. If you want an explanation of the spreadsheet, and some of the flaws that can damage your devices, continue reading.
USB-C Charger Problems
Before reading further, you need to understand the reasons why Leung and Nathan-K rated some chargers poorly:
- Shady cables — While some chargers won’t start fires or damage devices, they often ship with cables that can. You’re better off buying vetted USB-C cables separate from the adapter.
- Quick Charge 3.0 — If a USB-C port can output Quick Charge, it’s out of specification (we refer to this as “out of spec”) and potentially dangerous. However, Leung and Nathan-K don’t regard this as a deal-breaking shortcoming.
- Legacy D+/D- Encoding — If a charger lacks legacy encoding, it means it can’t use old cables (such as Micro-USB) even when fitted with adapters.
- Split PDO or Bad PDO — This means the charger outputs an out-of-specification Power Data Object (PDO); it may not charge it its rated speed. It’s been reported that Split PDO causes a delay in when chargers output optimal power delivery.
- IR drop compensation — A lack of an IR drop compensation means the charger doesn’t output a flat voltage at all loads. Excessive voltage drop-offs are known to cause damage to electrical equipment.
In addition to the above points, there are a few other important charger features that you should be aware of.
Quick Charge 3.0, Turbo, and Auto
Quick Charge 3.0, Turbo, Rapid: Modern battery manufacturers throw additional features onto chargers, such as “Rapid Charging” or “Turbo Charging” (such as Motorola’s USB-C Turbo Charger). Don’t be fooled. The majority of second party charging technologies aren’t proprietary. Both Turbo and Rapid charging are versions of Qualcomm’s Quick Charge specification, which comes built into newer Snapdragon processors. Phones manufactured in 2014 or later likely offer Quick Charge. The standard is reverse-compatible, meaning a Quick Charge 1.0 charger will work with a 3.0 phone and vice-versa. The slowest link in the chain bottlenecks power transfer speeds.
Auto: USB-A ports (the rectangular plugs) on most chargers deliver an “optimized” combination of voltage and amperage. A USB-A port (with auto) automatically senses how fast a device can charge and supplies an optimized amount of power. There’s nothing special about this feature, and despite branding attempts, most implementations function identically to one another. More or less, you can ignore the marketing gimmicks as they relate to USB-A ports.
USB Type-C Power Delivery
USB-C (revision 2) transfers power using a standard called Power Delivery. When you connect a charger to a smartphone, both devices negotiate a power transfer which varies in amperage and voltage. Most chargers can deliver one to six different combinations — multiplying amperage and voltage together equals wattage. For example, if a charger uses 5 V at 3 amps, it’s pushing 15 watts. If it’s using 15 V at 3 amps, that’s 45 watts to your device.
When picking a charger for a device, you just need to know the maximum voltage and amperage it can use. Pictured below, you’ll see an adapter for an Acer Switch Alpha 12 that outputs 19 volts at 2.37 amps. That equals 45 watts. If you grab a charger from Amazon that maxes out at 5 V and 3 amps, it may not even charge your device. If it does work, it will deliver power at below the maximum wattage, meaning more slowly.
For those curious, you can perform the same calculations at RapidTables.com.
Out-of-Spec Power Delivery
Unfortunately, some of the chargers output out-of-spec (dangerous) Power Data Objects. On the spreadsheet, if a specific voltage/amperage combination fails testing, Leung and Nathan-K mark it as bad (=BAD!). For example, Apple uses an out-of-spec PDO (14.5W @ 2A). And many third-party charger manufacturers include this profile, without properly testing it.
The out-of-spec 14.5W @ 2A PDO isn’t always a sign that a charger will burst into flames. However, it does suggest that the device wasn’t properly tested.
Amazon’s USB-C Chargers That Don’t Comply
The problems arise when chargers do not comply with the USB-C Power Delivery specification. Shockingly, most chargers on Amazon do not fully comply with the USB-C specification. Here’s a list of the mediocre, bad, and potentially dangerous chargers tested by Leung and Nathan-K:
Out of the 30 devices tested, 16 are poorly designed pieces of junk (a zero means “decline to comment”). Five of these could potentially burn your house down. And while you’d expect similarly poor reviews on Amazon, the opposite is true. Even highly reviewed chargers pose a potential threat to your devices. For example, Aukey’s 60-watt 6-port charger scored a -3 from Leung. Yet its Amazon score strikes gold with a solid 4/5 stars. The reason should terrify buyers: many companies employ fake reviewers to fraudulently boost scores.
FakeSpot, a website specializing in detecting fake Amazon review scores, rates Aukey a D in overall honesty. The actual review score of the charger is around 1.5/5 stars.
So with the dangers highlighted, what USB-C charger should you buy?
What Are the Best USB-C Chargers?
When looking for the best USB-C chargers, there’s one important question: Will the charger work without wrecking your gear? No one should play Russian roulette with their expensive electronics. And with the amount of fragmentation in the USB-C market, even the best chargers may not work properly with all your devices. With that in mind, here are the best USB-C chargers, as reviewed by Leung and Nathan-K.
The Google 18W USB-C charger outputs the lowest wattage of the three best-rated chargers. That means it can’t negotiate a high enough output to charge powerful tablets or laptops at max speeds. Overall, it’s a good fit for charging smartphones. Even so, there’s an off-chance that it may trickle-charge a few tablets or laptops. Keep in mind that even Google’s 18W charger won’t charge the Pixel Phone at its advertised 18 watts.
Verizon’s USB Type-C charger is the best option for those with Quick Charge 3.0 devices. It also includes the latest (and potentially out-of-spec) Quick Charge 3.0 rapid charging capability. What makes this unique among charging solutions is that it’s the only Quick Charge capable adapter to receive praise from Leung and Nathan-K. It also sells in packs of two, so you get double your money’s worth.
Update: Benson Leung and Nathan-K recently downgraded the Verizon USB-C charger by a point. It’s still among the best USB-C chargers on the market — however, it violates the USB-C specification by combining Quick Charge and USB-C PDO into the same package.
Regarded by Leung — and many others — as the best travel charger out of the bunch, the “Universal” (it’s not really universal) Google Dual Port charger offers a combination of decent wattage output, two steps of power delivery, and two modular, replaceable USB-C cables. For the price, it’s probably the best charger on the list, although it doesn’t charge a Google Pixel phone at its maximum wattage.
What Are the Second Best USB-C Chargers?
Leung and company ranked a handful of chargers from Anker and dodocool slightly less highly than those from Google.
For the money, the best charger is probably the Anker 60-watt USB-C charger — if you don’t need Quick Charge. Not only does the Anker output the correct voltage to power most USB-C laptops, but it also includes a large number of modular ports. You’ll need to, of course, purchase USB-C charging cables (which can cost quite a bit more than USB-A cables).
Anker’s 60-watt charger offers five modular USB-A ports, a single USB-C port, and the full range of voltages necessary to charge most USB-C devices — at their maximum rated charging speed. Unfortunately, despite appearances on paper as a truly universal charging solution, Anker’s charger suffers from a lack of D-/D+ encoding. Without legacy encoding, it can’t use Micro-USB or Lightning cables with an adapter for USB-C devices.
According to Leung, the 60-watt Anker suffers from a split PDO, meaning its power delivery isn’t within spec. A split PDO isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker — but it does result in quirky, sometimes unreliable, power delivery. Some users report that the Anker doesn’t quickly detect the optimal charge speed of a USB-C device.
The dodocool 30-watt USB-C charger offers a no-frills 30-watt charging experience for USB-C devices. It features four different power delivery profiles, going all the way up to 20 V and 1.5 amps (which may work for some laptops). Nathan-K believes it to offer great per-dollar value.
On the downside, the dodocool only provides a single USB-C port and its included cable isn’t worth using. On top of that, it lacks legacy encoding, so it doesn’t work with older cables.
What’s the Best USB-C Power Bank?
Without question, the best USB-C power bank is the Kanex USB-C power bank. Unfortunately, it runs for almost $100 on Amazon. While it does justify its pricing by offering both USB-A and USB-C charging ports, along with a whopping 15,000mAh capacity (which should charge most smartphones at least three or four times). It suffers from a maximum output of 15 watts, which makes it unsuitable for many laptops or higher powered devices.
I should also mention that if you’re a Pokemon Go player, the Kanex ranks toward the top.
What are Best USB-C Chargers for Cars?
Verizon’s car charger received a score of 2/3 on account of questionable overload behavior. Most USB devices (usually hubs) automatically shut down when too many devices are connected. It’s not completely clear what Nathan-K meant — but one thing is certain: he only took off a point.
Otherwise, this is one of the two best USB-C chargers available for automobiles.
Rated a 2 by Nathan-K, this charger isn’t the fastest. However, I prefer it over the Verizon TYPECPDVPC charger because it’s more fully featured. In addition to providing two USB-C charging ports, Nomad’s hybrid charger also includes a 3,000mAh power bank battery.
Unfortunately, it’s completely out of stock online. I can’t even find it on eBay.
What are the Best USB-C Chargers?
If you’re looking for one of the best USB-C chargers, any one of the top three should meet your needs. Unfortunately, right now there’s a big issue with USB-C chargers. Third party devices are dangerous. On top of that, they’re not guaranteed to even work with your device. And if they do, they rarely charge a smartphone at its maximum charging speed.
As of the end of 2017, zero USB-C chargers offer everything you need. If you want modular cables, Quick Charge, Power Delivery, and for it to work with all your devices, there are no options out there. However, if you’re willing to compromise, thanks to Leung and Nathan-K, you at least have a few safe options.
Originally published in October of 2016.