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Published Oct. 6, 2021

Despite the fact that USB cables are integral to keeping the laptops and smart devices we rely on charged and running, most of us subject them to harsh abuse. We yank them out of walls, wad them up at the bottom of backpacks, and stretch them so they reach a desk or bedside. Lesser cables quickly succumb to this kind of abuse by fraying, blistering, and ultimately failing. Quality cables can endure this handling, thanks to hardy construction. 

In addition to durability, cables also vary in performance. While standard USB-A models are among the most affordable USB cables, high-wattage USB-C cables can charge power-hungry laptops or fast-charge smartphones and tablets. With so many options to choose from, choosing the right cable to suit your needs can be a challenge. This guide will analyze what factors you should consider when shopping for a USB cable and provide reviews of some of the top models on the market. 

How we Picked the Best USB Cables

Methodology

With smart devices being essential to virtually everyone’s lives, there are few people who aren’t intimately familiar with the USB cable’s strengths and weaknesses. When analyzing the dozens of cables I reviewed for this article, I considered the factors that would be vital to most, including durability, charging speed, length, and compatibility.

  • Construction: Who hasn’t purchased a USB cable only to have it blister or break loose at the plug connections after only a few months of use? I only chose cables with durable jackets consisting of either thick vinyl or braided nylon with ample strain relief at the vulnerable joint between the cable and the plugs.
  • Charging Speed: Not all cords are created the same when it comes to their ability to charge. Where possible, I chose cords that offered faster charging speed with high wattage capacities.
  • Certification: Well-made cords are certified by either USB-IF or Apple’s MFi certification, which indicates that they meet certain quality standards that ensure they work effectively and safely.
  • Length: Since length determines how easy a cord is to use, I chose cords that were long enough to adequately service the devices they’re paired with, keeping in mind that length negatively impacts charging speed. For USB-C cords that meant cords longer than 6-feet to suit laptops. For lightning cords, I chose cords that were at least 3-feet long.

Best Overall: USB-IF Certified Cable Matters USB C to USB C

Low Price High Output

With its 100-watt charging power, this affordable USB C cord is capable of charging a laptop at lightning speeds. Cable Matters

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Why It Made The Cut: This USB-C is one of few at its low price point that can power a MacBook Pro and boasts a USB-IF certification.

Specs:

  • Charging Power: 100 watts
  • Data-transfer speed: 480 Mbps
  • Length: 6.6 feet

Pros:

  • Ample length
  • USB-IF certified
  • Inexpensive

 Cons: 

  • Data transfer speed of only 480 Mbps

The most notable feature of this USB-C cable from Cable Matters is its 100-watt charge rating. That means it can transfer enough juice to capably power a MacBook Pro, something few USB-C cables we reviewed were capable of doing. The cable  measures an ample 6.6 feet, eliminating the need to park the laptop within arm’s reach of an outlet. (It’s also available at a 3.3-foot length for those who’d prefer a shorter cable.) 

Given that it costs far less than an Apple charging cable, this USB-C cable makes a great replacement or backup for a MacBook or PC that uses a USB-C power cable. And, although it’s not as hefty as some of the more durable cables on the market, this one does have reinforced cuffs at the connections to the plug ends and jacketing that’s thick enough to prevent strains. Plus, it’s USB-IF certified. 

One minor gripe: it only has a USB 2.0 rating, which limits its data transfer speeds to 480 Mbps, which could be a deal-breaker for those who need to transfer massive video files. 

Best Value: Amazon Basic ABS USB-A to Lightning Cable Cord

Charging Cheaply

These affordably-priced USB-A lightning chargers are a great budget option for Apple iPhone or iPad users. Amazon Basics

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Why It Made The Cut: Of the Apple-certified USB cables we reviewed, the AmazonBasics version of the lightning cable is among the most affordable without sacrificing quality. 

Specs:

  • Charging Power: 2.4 amps (12 watts)
  • Data-transfer speed: 480 Mbps
  • Length: 6 feet

Pros: 

  • Affordably priced pair
  • Durable construction
  • Apple-certified

Cons: 

  • Does not support high-speed charging

Though it may use the slower technology of a USB-A connection, this pack of two lightning cables from AmazonBasics is one of the most affordable ways to supply charging power to an iPhone or iPad. This pack, which comes with two, black, 6-foot cables, may not be as durable as some high-end cables, but the cables are well-constructed. They’re made with thick vinyl jacketing around the cord and ample rubber strain relief at each plug connection. Ribbing on each plug end that provides grip for fingertips is a nice added touch. 

With their USB-A connection, these cables are capable of connecting to a variety of power sources; however, keep in mind that they won’t offer the rapid charging capability of USB-C cables. AmazonBasics cables, which are available in white, grey, or black (ideal for preventing unauthorized cable borrowing in the household), are also MFi-certified, so they’ll work safely with all Apple products.

Best Lightning: Anker USB C to Lightning Cable

Rapid iPhone Charger

This well-built lightning cable features a faster USB-C connection at lengths of 3 and 6 feet. Anker

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Why It Made The Cut: The cord is durably constructed while still being thin enough to wrap into a loop for storage, and it doesn’t cost any more than a good USB-C lightning cable should. 

Specs:

  • Charging Power: 18 watts
  • Data-transfer speed: 480 Mbps
  • Length: 3 or 6 feet

Pros:

  • USB-C connection allows for high-speed charging
  • Affordably priced
  • Durable construction

 Cons: 

  • Shorter than other lightning cables

Most iPhones come with the standard rectangular-shaped USB-A to lightning output, which is perfectly adequate. But if you’re planning on purchasing a replacement or backup for that stock charging cable, then consider going with a USB-C to lightning cable, such as this model from Anker. In comparison to USB-A models, a USB-C lightning cable is capable of greater charging power and hence faster overall charging when paired with a higher-wattage charging block. 

In addition to being faster, Anker’s cords are also durably constructed, featuring jacketing that’s thicker than stock Apple cords while still remaining flexible enough to easily manipulate around a nightstand or desk, or store in a small pocket. Large cuffs prevent damage to the vulnerable joints between the plug ends and the cord. The cords even have cable ties that make storing them easier.  Anker’s USB-C to lightning cables come in 3-foot and 6-foot lengths, and it’s MFi-certified, so you can rest assured that it will safely and reliably work with Apple devices. 

Best Micro: JSaux Micro USB Cable Android Charger

Macro Power

This USB micro cable is capable of high-speed charging and boasts data transfer speeds of up to 480 Mbps. JSAUX

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Why It Made The Cut: Despite its low price, this pair of USB-Micro cords are one of the more durably built USB cables we found. 

Specs:

  • Charging Power: 12 watts
  • Data-transfer speed: 480 Mbps
  • Length: 6.6 feet

Pros:

  • Durable construction
  • Fast charge capability
  • Multiple color options
  • Comes as a set of two

Cons: 

  • Shorter than some other Micro cords

This charger from JSaux boasts sturdy construction and a 2.4-amp charging output (12 watts) that gives it the ability to charge Android-based smartphones and other devices that use a Micro USB cable at high speeds. JSaux’ USB cable comes in packs of two, making it one of the better deals for a USB Micro charger.

This fast-charging capability is supported by one of the more impressive builds we encountered from a USB cable. The JSaux features nylon braided jacketing that gives it impressive flexibility. Long, black, bendable, rubber strain relief cuffs at either end create a sturdy connection between plug ends and cord. The cables come with a handy velcro strap that helps you keep the cords neat and tidy for transport. 

And while style may not be a priority when it comes to USB charging cables, we can’t help but like the five vibrant color options this cable comes in. 

Best Heavy Duty: Anker USB C Cable

Mobile Office Assistant

This USB-C cable boasts double-thick nylon braid construction and 100 watts of charging power. Anker

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Why It Made The Cut: Durable construction and ample length coupled with a 100-watt charging output make this rugged cable ideal for those working in remote settings, such as the local coffee shop or a busy airport. 

Specs:

  • Charging Power: 100 watts
  • Data-transfer speed: 480 Mbps
  • Length: 10 feet

Pros:

  • Durable construction
  • Enough power to charge a laptop
  • Ample length

 Cons:

  • More expensive than other USB-C charging cables 
  • Length can be overkill for some users

USB cables are prone to getting yanked and stretched in all different directions, which can cause lesser models to deteriorate and stop working. Though it may be more of an investment, the sturdy construction of this USB-C cable from Anker will certainly hold up longer. It features a double-layer nylon shell that makes it capable of bending without cracking or becoming distorted. It also features an extended cuff around the end connections for added durability. 

With its 100-watt charging output, this cable can power a MacBook or fast-charge tablets and smartphones that use a USB-C connection. This is an impressive feat given the fact that Anker’s USB-C cable is longer than most at a whopping 10 feet, making it ideal for trips to the coffee shop or library where the nearest outlet may be some distance away. 

And, though it’s only USB 2.0 rated, that 480 Mbps is suitable for the vast majority of file transferring most people need. Anker’s USB-C cable comes in black, red, and white. 

Things to Consider Before Buying a USB Cable

Though USB cables may look generally the same, there are actually quite a few factors to consider when shopping for the right one to charge your device.

  • Construction: How a cable is made determines how long it will last, so it’s vital to pay attention to the construction. Look for USB cables with thick vinyl  or braided jacketing. The vinyl jacketing should have a  thicker, more substantial feel than the stock charging cords that come with smartphones and tablets. If you can afford the additional cost, select a braided cord for superior durability. The most vulnerable part of a USB cable is the joint between the plug and the cord. A good cord should be reinforced at this joint with an extra layer of jacketing or rubber.
  • Charging Speed: Different cords have different capacities for carrying power from the outlet to the device. USB-C cords can deliver between 60 to 100 watts while a USB-A cord maxes out at about 12 watts. If you’re purchasing a USB-C cord to power a laptop, you’ll need a 100-watt cable to provide enough juice to power the laptop. Either a USB-A or USB-C cord will charge a smartphone, but a USB-C will do it faster. While a USB-A cord maxes out at 12 watts, newer iPhones can charge at a rate of up to 27 watts while iPads can charge at speeds of 30 watts.
  • Certification: Since charging cables carry electricity, it’s vital to buy one that you know is compatible with your device and will work safely without overheating. Look for cables that are either USB-IF certified or Apple MFi certified. These certifications verify that the cable has been tested for safety while ensuring that it will work with your device.

FAQs

Q: Are some USB cables better than others?

Cables do vary in the amount of current they can carry, which directly impacts how fast they can charge a device. Pay attention to the wattage rating on the cord. Cords with higher wattage ratings of 100 watts can power larger devices, such as a laptop, and charge smaller devices, such as smartphones and tablets, faster than lower-wattage cords that may have a maximum capacity of 12 watts.

Q: Are fast charging cables bad?

No. The enemy of a battery is heat which can shorten its life. Smartphones, laptops, and tablets have circuits that only allow a battery to charge at a certain level to prevent overheating that can damage the battery. Fast charging cables simply use the max power that the circuit will allow whereas standard cables don’t. And, if your device does start to heat up, most smartphones and tablets will automatically turn off fast charging to protect the battery.

Q: Are braided USB cables better?

Braided cables are more durable than USB cables with a standard vinyl jacket. A braided nylon jacket resists fraying or tearing even when yanked out of the wall or twisted up inside a backpack. 

Final Thoughts

The right USB cord should charge your device quickly and last for a long time. For superior charging performance, choose the USB-IF Certified Cable Matters USB C to USB C, which has enough muscle to charge or fast charge a tablet or smartphone. If you’re looking for a cord that can take a licking and keep on charging, then consider going with the Anker USB C Cable.

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