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Best USB-C accessories and cables for 2020

Who knew power dongles could be so interesting?

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 -- at least if you have an Apple MacBook, Google Chromebook Pixel, or a higher-end model from Dell and HP. Increasingly, it can charge things like Bluetooth wireless earbuds, mice, Nintendo game controllers and MiFi portable hotspots.

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 (goodbye, Micro-USB!). If you're on the go, you can move your laptop charging cable over to your phone and back to keep both devices' batteries topped up.

"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, can charge smaller ones like a smartphone, giving you a juice boost to bail you out when you can't find a power plug. With older USB devices, 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 100 watts, enough for high-end laptops.

Another acronym to learn is GaN, short for the gallium arsenide chipmaking technology used in power electronics. Its biggest advantage: much smaller chargers.

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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 2018 and 2020 iPad Pro models use USB-C, so perhaps future Apple products will be able to benefit from USB-C ubiquity, but Apple didn't make the jump with its iPhone 11 or iPhone SE.

For those who want to be part of the future, USB-C (formally called USB Type-C) accessories can help you make the switch from old-style USB Type-A. Here's a look at some of the best USB C accessories I've been testing, which I'll update periodically. Almost all of these USB devices and cables can be found on Amazon. A quick note, though: I'm talking purely USB-C charging, not data transfer, so I'm not going into all the USB-C accessories like docking stations, HDMI adapters, SD card readers and network dongles.

Wall chargers

First things first: Moving from USB-A to USB-C on your wall charger can often mean topping off the battery for your device is done with a considerably faster charging speed. Opt for 18 to 30 watts for charging phones, tablets and other small devices, but you'll need to step up to a 60-watt or more "PD" (power delivery) charger for most laptops. And remember, you'll need compatible cables, too (see below).

If you're looking for a wider variety of USB-C PD adapters that are powerful enough to charge laptops, check out our list of the best USB-C PD chargers of 2020.  

Stephen Shankland/CNET

The Aukey PA-Y19 30W USB-C wall charger is a notably compact charger (you can thank new gallium nitride chipmaking technology, or GaN, for the size). It delivers 30 watts of power, and its power prongs snap back for easier travel. At $19, it's a notch cheaper and more powerful than Apple's $29 competing model. I use this every day to charge my Android phone and iPad Pro, and it's been rock solid. It's got enough oomph to keep my my 15-inch MacBook Pro for ordinary use.

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A bit bigger than a 9-volt battery, the $21 Chargerito is the smallest USB-C charger I've found -- it even comes with a keychain loop. It plugs into the wall with flip-out power prongs and another flip-out USB-C connector, so you don't need a cord -- which, let's face it, is often the bulkiest part of bringing a charger with you. You have to be comfortable perching your phone on the wall, though. I found it plenty sturdy, but don't put it in the hallway where you or your dog might bang into it.

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Sanho's HyperJuice Dual 87W USB-C charger is strong 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 87-watt 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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Apple's 18-watt USB-C power adapter isn't cheap at $29, and it's bigger than newer third-party chargers that can deliver more power. But it's a clean, solid adapter design that's good for charging tablets, phones and other smaller devices. With Apple's $19 USB-C to Lightning cable -- also expensive -- you can charge your iPhone or iPad fast, too.

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The $80 Satechi 108W Pro USB-C PD Desktop Charger has a USB-C port that can pump out 90 watts of power for high-end laptops, a second 18W USB-C port and two 2.4-watt USB-A ports. It's not svelte, but it can charge a lot of devices at once -- good if your family is traveling and you need to get the most out of a motel room's power outlet.

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The $79 Innergie 60C, a 60-watt 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 or you can use your own such as a USB-C to USB-A cable, USB-C to VGA Adapter or USB-C to USB C Lightning cable. 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 87-watt charger. An $89 version comes with an adapter to work in US, UK and European outlets.

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The $57 Aukey PA-Y13 46W USB-C Charger will charge even a top-end MacBook pro, though its 46-watt USB-C port won't do it as fast as Apple's 87-watt 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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The $70 Zendure Passport Pro travel adapter looks like many similar converters that ease international travel, but this adapter has a usefull 18-watt USB-C charging port alongside three old-style USB-A charging ports. 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 the adapter draws too much power, it's got a circuit breaker that'll trip and a one-touch button to reset it immediately.

Power banks

Need to charge devices on the go? Power banks (aka portable battery packs) have never been more affordable. Here again, though, make sure you get PD-compatible power output at 60watts or greater if you're looking to juice up a laptop.

Read more: Best iPhone portable chargers and power banks for 2020: Mophie, MyCharge and more

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Aukey's $30 PB-Y13 battery pack is a 10,000-mAh USB-C power pack about the size of a large phone that's good for keeping your phone going longer on a busy day or getting more time on your Nintendo Switch game console. I use it to get extra time on my big MacBook Pro, too. Small LED status lights on the edge tell you how depleted the battery is.

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Aukey's 26,800-mAh Power Bank is a beefy battery that kept up with power-hungry laptops like my 15-inch MacBook Pro. It's got two USB-C ports (you can only charge the battery with one of them, so be careful when you're plugging it in) and an old USB-A port for older devices or iPhones. An LED display shows how much juice it's got left. It comes with a lightly padded case, which is great for tossing it into your backpack. Just don't forget to turn on the power button when it's time to charge up.

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The $250 Lifepowr A3 USB-C battery pack has a 27,000-mAh 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.

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

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The $50 Elecjet PowerPie 20,000-mAh battery doesn't offer quite as much capacity as you can take with you on a plane, but it's got enough output to keep beefy laptops running for extra hours. I use it often, and it's got enough oomph to keep up with my 15-inch MacBook Pro. It's got a USB-A port as well for charging other devices. It's thicker but narrower than a bigger mobile phone and comes with a sleeve to keep some of the dust out when you're on the move.

Cables

You can't use your old USB-A cables with USB-C chargers. These cables will work with the other accessories on this page -- just be sure one side has a Lightning connector if you're connecting to an iPhone, AirPods headphones or other Apple portable device.

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Plugable's $26 Thunderbolt/USB-C cable may be shorter at 2.6 feet (0.8 meters) than some you're used to, but along side charging it can transfer data at a whopping 40 gigabits per second. It's a supple, durable cable that's served me well for more than a year of daily use.

Lifepowr's $25 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 $32. I was terrified its flexing coils would catch an arm hair and give it a painful pluck, but I didn't have any problems. I've been using it for more than a year almost daily traveling and at home, and it's as good as new.

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The $20 1-meter Apple Lightning-USB-C cable, while not inexpensive at $19, is useful when it's time to charge your iPhone or iPad from the increasingly common USB-C chargers -- like the one that may charge your laptop or your roommate's Android phone. A 2-meter version costs $33. You can also use this to top off your iPhone battery from a MacBook's USB-C port.

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Fuse Reels' $23 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 -- 45, 60, 61, 85 and 87 watts, but not the 29-watt 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.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Fuse Reels' $12 Side Kick is an adhesive pop-out spool that lets you wind your power cable out of the way when not in use. Even collapsed, it makes your power supply a bit thicker, which could be a problem on crowded power strips, but it's handy for keeping things tidy in your backpack or bag if you need it for a quick charge for your phone, laptop or tablets.

Car chargers

Newer cars have plenty of USB-A ports, but bringing your own USB-C ports to the vehicle can mean a better mobile charging experience.

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The Lifepowr Car Charge-a-lot will charge your larger devices like your laptop in your car with a 60-watt USB-C port, or just top off your phone or tablet battery faster than old-style USB ports. This USB C car charger also has an older USB Type-A port and a second USB C port that reaches 18 watts -- enough to give an iPad Pro a quick charge. The USB device costs $55 alone, and about $20 more with a charging cable or $30 more with the company's stainless steel-wrapped USB-C charging and data cable. It's worked well for me over months of road trips and daily use in our minivan.

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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 that charges at 12 watts. 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.

Adapters and dongles

Need to charge and listen at the same time? Look no further.  

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This $25 Satechi USB type-C adapter accepts both a USB type-C cable and 3.5mm audio cable. This headphone jack adapter is basic, but I find it handy in the office, where mostly what I'm plugging in is just my earbuds and power cord.

Read more: Best wireless charging pads under $20