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USB-C ushers in a golden age of charging accessories

Who knew power dongles could be so interesting?

Lifepowr Car Charge-a-lot 60W USB-C car charger

This is the Lifepowr Car Charge-a-lot 60W USB-C car charger

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The move from old-style USB ports to the newer USB-C has had its share of growing pains  But the updated design is leading to a profusion of new products to charge your gadgets.

The biggest reason is that USB-C can charge both your phone and your laptop. And, increasingly, other things like MiFi portable hotspots and Bluetooth wireless earbuds.

That means one charger or one battery pack can be useful in a multitude of circumstances. No more do you need lots of different chargers for lots of different devices, and if you're on the go, you can move your laptop charging cable over to your phone and back to keep both batteries topped off.

"USB-C is a truly universal connector for data, power and video, and it works across all device platforms from Mac to PC, iOS to Android, smartphone to computers," said Sanho Chief Executive Daniel Chin, whose company has aggressively pushed to take advantage of USB-C with a range of power and data accessories.

Another big USB-C benefit is that more powerful devices, like a laptop or a tablet, can charge smaller ones like a phone, giving you a juice boost that may bail you out when you can't find a power plug. With older USB, charging was a convenient afterthought useful only for phones, but the USB Power Delivery technology -- you'll often see "PD" on accessory boxes and port labeling -- can reach up to 100W, enough for high-end laptops.

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Of course, there are still problems moving from the earlier rectangular USB-A ports, on PCs for two decades, and from the smaller USB Micro B ports. Older or cheaper devices often use older USB connectors, so we're still a long way from one universal port. Airports, airplanes, hotels, cars and other charging locations rarely offer USB-C charging ports, so there you'll need your charger and a power plug.

And iPhones and most iPads still use Apple's proprietary Lightning connector. The new 2018 iPad Pro models use USB-C, so perhaps future Apple products will be able to benefit from USB-C ubiquity.

For those who want to be part of the future, there are a range of USB-C accessories that can help you make the jump. Here's a look at some of the ones I've been testing.

Note: CNET may receive affiliate commissions from the products featured on this page.

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The Lifepowr Car Charge-a-lot will charge your laptop in your car with a 60W USB-C port, or just top off your phone or tablet battery faster than old-style USB ports. It's also got an older USB-A port and a second USB-C port that reaches 18W -- enough for an iPad Pro to charge quickly. It costs $59 alone, $74 with a charging cable or $87 with the company's stainless steel-wrapped USB-C charging and data cable.

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The Aukey PA-Y18 Ultra-Compact 18W USB-C charger is a notably compact charger (you can thank new gallium nitride chipmaking technology for the size). It delivers 18W of power, and its power prongs snap back for easier travel. At $22, it's a notch cheaper than Apple's $29 competing model.

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The $299 Sanho HyperJuice 100W USB-C battery pack has a big 27,000mAh battery, enough to charge a 15-inch MacBook Pro at a fast 100W rate. It's also got a second USB-C port for 60W charging and an 18W USB-A port, all of which can be used at the same time. Or you can charge one device with the 60W port while charging the HyperJuice battery with its 100W port. With early-bird perks it's cheaper right now at Indiegogo. Status LEDs on the front tell you how much charge is remaining or how far through charging it is.

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The $109 Innergie 60C, a 60W USB-C charger built by the same company that makes some of Apple's own power adapters, packs a lot of power into a tall, thin package that squeezes nicely between other plugs on your power strip. It's not cheap, but it's smaller than Apple's own charger. Its power prongs fold out of the way for easier transportation. It comes with a USB-C cable, too. At 60 watts, it's got enough power for a 13-inch MacBook Pro, but I used it with no trouble for my 15-inch MacBook Pro that comes with Apple's 87W charger. A $119 version comes with adapters to work in US, UK and European outlets.

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Fuse Reels' $30 Side Winder snaps around your MacBook power adapter so you can wind up a 12-foot reach of cables into a tidy travel package. It's got different shims to accommodate different sizes of power adapter -- 45W, 60W, 61W, 85W and 87W, but not the 29W charger for the smaller MacBooks -- and it's not hard to put together. You can spool up the full length of your power cord by twisting the inner grip and unspool it just by pulling the cable ends apart.

I had occasional jamming issues but found it handy running from room to room at a tech conference: twist and spool, toss in backpack, scurry to next room, unspool and plug in. It includes a necessary, specially angled USB-C cable that reaches from the Side Winder to your Mac. I found it suffered from a bad connection at times, even after one replacement, but Fuse Reels is working on a sturdier connector.

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Aukey's $30 PB-Y13 battery pack is a 10,000mAh USB-C power pack about the size of a large phone that's good for keeping your phone going longer on a busy day, getting more time on your Nintendo Switch game console or even giving you boosting your USB-C laptop. Small LED status lights on the edge tell you how depleted the battery is.

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The $119 Lifepowr Sun20C is a portable solar panel that can charge devices directly or charge a battery that you can later use to charge your devices. It's got USB-C and USB-A ports but also comes with a cable including a variety of plugs for old-school laptop charging. The sun provides free power, but don't expect this to run a power-hungry device.

It took 40 minutes in direct sunlight to get my iPhone XS Max from 91 percent to fully charged, and my Google Pixel 3 seemed reluctant to charge beyond 95 percent. My power-sucking MacBook Pro, which comes with an 87W charger, wouldn't charge off the panel directly, but a battery intermediary worked fine.

The Sun20C works best if you micromanage it to face directly toward the sun. You can also hook multiple panels together for more juice. It snaps closed for protection during travel and has grommets so you can lash it to trees, backpacks or buildings.

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Apple's 18W USB-C power adapter isn't cheap at $29, but it's a clean, solid design that's good for charging tablets, phones and other smaller devices. With Apple's $19 USB-C to Lightning cable -- expensive, given that no third-party cable makers sell that type, by the way -- you can charge your iPhone fast, too.

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The $35 Zendure Passport Pro travel adapter looks like many similar converters that ease international travel, but it's got an 18W USB-C charging port alongside three old-style USB-A charging ports, too. That means you can plug in your laptop while you've got the family's phones charging. The power converter side of things can plug into US, UK, European, Australian and many other countries' wall sockets, and you can likewise stick an equally broad range of plugs into it. If it draws too much power, it's got a circuit breaker that'll trip and a one-touch button to reset it immediately. The 18W USB-C port is nice, but if you're using it to charge your iPhone fast, you'll need Apple's $19 USB-C to Lightning cable, because no third parties sell that type of cable.

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The Aukey PA-Y13 46W USB-C Charger will charge even a top-end MacBook pro, though its 46W USB-C port won't do it as fast as Apple's 87W charger. But unlike Apple's chargers, you can also plug in devices using regular and quick-charge USB-A ports. It includes a cable to plug it into the wall.

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Lifepowr's USB-C cable, called "the Beast," is wrapped in a stainless steel housing for durability. It handles both high-speed data transfer -- USB 3.1 at up to 10Gbps -- and high-power charging but costs $33. I was terrified its flexing coils would catch an arm hair and give it a painful pluck, but I didn't have any problems. 

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Aukey's CC-Y7 27W USB-C car charger, at $20, is useful for charging phones, tablets, power packs and small laptops with 27-watt output from USB-C alongside an old-style USB-A charging port. It's even up to charging a big MacBook Pro, albeit slowly, the company said. The USB-A port is equipped with the company's AiPower adaptive charging technology, designed to figure out the best charging rate possible.

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Sanho's HyperJuice Dual 87W USB-C charger is beefy enough to charge a big MacBook Pro with 87 watts of output. It's got two USB-C ports and a USB-A alongside it. It can charge three devices at once, but with a total power limit of 87 watts. It costs $60, a notch cheaper than Apple's 87W charger. It comes with a cord to plug it into the wall but not a USB-C cord to reach your laptop.

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The $250 Lifepowr A3 USB-C battery pack has a 27,000mAh battery and can power a MacBook Pro at a beefy 87 watts over its USB-C port. It's also got two USB-A ports. Surprisingly, it's got a standard US power plug on the back, too, so you can use it as an uninterruptible power supply as long as you have a USB-C charger plugged into the other side. It comes in a cloth bag to cut down on the banging and scratching during travel, but the bag covers up the LED status lights on the outside.