Why I'm done buying cheap Lightning cables

A high failure rate forces me to re-examine the "value" of cheapie cables, at least for iPhones.

Rick Broida Senior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Rick Broida
3 min read

For as long as I can remember, I've championed cheap cables. Fifty bucks for six feet of HDMI cord?! Don't be silly; the $5 jobs are just as good. Same goes for optical, Ethernet, Micro-USB -- you name it.

But Lightning cables? That's another story. Apple charges $19 and $29 for 3- and 6-foot versions, which is just plain ridiculous. Hit up Amazon or Ebay and you'll find five-packs selling for $6.99 out the door. That kind of discrepancy means this is just another case of the "Apple tax," right?

Maybe not. Or maybe it's a "tax" of a different kind. See, over the past year or so, I've ordered a variety of cheap Lightning cables. Some from Ebay, some from daily-deal sites, some from parts unknown (or at least, unremembered).

These are so I can charge wherever needed: the car, the kitchen, the nightstand. It's not like I'm constantly twisting and folding and stretching them, nor even shoving them into travel bags (though that does happen on occasion). Even so, the end result has been the same. Every time. Without exception.

Cable failure.

One day, it's working just fine. Plug it in, iPhone charges, unplug it. The next day, or even later that day, I come back, and nothing. Dead. And no amount of wiggling or re-plugging makes any difference. It's like the cable reached its expiration date. There's no sign of fraying or any other physical issue; it just flat-out quits working.

I've seen this happen within a week, within a couple months, and at times in between. And in one three-pack of cables I received, two of them didn't work right out of the package. (When you've paid all of six bucks, is it really worth the hassle -- or postage -- to send them back?)

What price Lightning?

What's going on here? It's hard to say, because I've used countless dirt-cheap Micro-USB cables over the years and can't recall one of them ever going bad. When iOS 7 debuted last year, there were reports that some so-called knockoff Lightning cables suddenly stopped working -- suggesting Apple is working to prevent the cheap cables from, well, working.

Indeed, if you shop around, you'll noticed that the more expensive Lightning cables are designated "MFi certified." This refers to Apple's licensing program, which requires developers and product makers to pay fees for that designation -- and pass that expense along to buyers.

That helps explain why a single MFi-certified Lightning cable sells for anywhere from $12 to $15 at Amazon, Monoprice, and other stores. Even on Ebay, the best you can do is about $8. That's a far sight better than $19 or even $29, of course, especially if it lasts longer than a few weeks.

My question for you: What's been your experience with Lightning cables, cheap and otherwise? Have you found long-lasting cheapies? Have you paid extra for MFi-certified cables and found them superior? Let's blow the lid off this controversial issue -- in the comments!

Meanwhile, if you want to learn more about this issue, check out Wirecutter's in-depth investigation, "The Best Lightning Cable."

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