After years of having to search for the right charger to power each of your mobile devices, the tech industry finally seemed to be adopting a universal standard: USB. Gone seemed the days of looking through your car compartments to find that one charging cord with the correct plug, or scouring inventory online or at electronics stores to find an appropriate adapter.
With the ease of being able to use the same cord for multiple devices, and even borrow cords from friends and family, there is nonetheless a potential problem with micro USB. All USB power cords are not created equally, and failing to understand USB power can leave you with electrical missteps.
The World of USB Power Cords
As you’ve searched through dozens of USB cords to find the right one to power your device, you’ve probably noticed differences. Some cords are strong and others are flimsy. One USB socket might seem to give you more power than another.
Often, you can power your smartphone via a USB connection to your computer or car, even when the power source is not operating. Sometimes, however, this is not the case. This is how diverse the USB power plug landscape is.
How Does USB Power Work?
Just because a power cord uses USB power, that doesn’t mean it’s been made the same way or functions entirely identical to another USB cable. There are currently 4 new USB specifications for power cords: USB 1.0, USB 2.0, USB 3.0 and USB 3.1. These are on top of the new USB-C power connector.
Regular USB 1.0 and USB 2.0 sockets have 4 pins, and their cables have 4 wires. Pins on the inside carry data and those on the outside provide power. USB 3.0 is the most common of all input plugs. If you have a USB 3.0 port, you have an additional row of pins and, thus, wires. Various USB ports also have various types of currents, with USB 3.0 ports nearly doubling the current of 1.0 and 2.0 ports. USB 3.1 ports bump up current tremendously to give you SuperSpeed+ charging. USB-C ports work completely different, and theoretically they can double as USB 3.0 current and power.
Is it Possible to Blow Up a USB Device or Your Smartphone?
The variance between USB port current is huge, going from 500mA in USB 1.0 plugs to 3,000mA in USB 3.1 plugs. This begs the question: If you have a device that came with at 900mA charger and you try to plug it into a charger made for 2,100mA, could your device blow up?
The short answer is no, you should be able to universally swap out one USB device for another. But, the age of your device and power plug come into play, as does the intention for the USB cable to be used as a wall charger.
Modern devices should be able to use any modern USB port and charge just fine. But, older products may not work with old chargers, cables, or plugs. Aside from compatibility, older devices pose electrocution hazards if they are worn, broken, or used in a way that the manufacturer did not intend. The best idea is to get your hands on a modern charger, or one made specifically for your device, and keep it in good condition throughout its lifespan.
Today, we’re seeing some companies using the new USB-C connector as a power source, which may eventually replace USB altogether. Other companies, like Samsung, have toyed with large USB micro-B connectors for their smartphones. Apple, of course, is likely sticking to its Lightening input, but micro USB appears to be the preferred choice for powering up new devices these days. Only the future will tell what’s next for USB and the general world of mobile device power.