UPDATED May 20, 2021 with current products.
USB-C is Intel’s new replacement for USB-A, which was the standard rectangular plug we have been using for about 20 years. In the late 90’s USB-A unified many ports (Parallel, Serial, PS/2, ADB), and USB-C takes it a step further to add support for video, high power, and audio, as well as making the port small enough to work with mobile phones and tablets. They also took the opportunity to make the plug reversible, so you don’t have to worry about which way it plugs in anymore. And on top of that it’s the first universal laptop charging standard, so if you lose your Apple charger you can borrow someone’s Dell charger if it’s a recent model.
Last year some of the first USB-C computers started appearing on the market. The one that got the most attention was the MacBook Pro. Since then, many products have come onto the market for people with these newer computers. Here are some of my favorites.
USB-C Thumb Drive
This thumb drive flips around to work with either the USB-A or USB-C ports, and the metallic body makes it ideal for a keychain. It’s available in multiple sizes up to 1 TB.
USB-C drives are starting to appear on the market. Here are my favorite hard drive and solid state drive, both available in multiple sizes. They both include a native USB-C cable, with USB-C on both ends. But they also both include a small adapter for USB-A in case you need to connect them to an older computer.
USB-A to USB-C adapter
These little adapters are cheap enough you can buy one for every USB device and leave them permanently attached. There are many similar ones out there but these are my favorite because they are slim enough that you can use them side-by-side on a MacBook Pro. And they are cheaper and more compact that Apple’s own USB-C adapters.
The USB adapters above are great because they are cheap and easy. But if you want a more elegant solution that is less bulky and less prone to failure (every connection point is a possible failure point) you may want to replace the cables on your devices completely. First, you’ll want to figure out which type of port your device has.
Anker makes an excellent 60-watt USB-C charger with four additional USB-A ports. Enough to charge my MacBook Pro, iPhone, Apple Watch, AirPods, and my battery pack simultaneously. Though the new 15″ MacBook Pro takes 87 watts, that’s only the maximum draw. If am just using my laptop for the simple stuff I do on the road such as email and the web and if I’m not using peripherals the 60-watt charger is powerful enough to keep my battery at 100%. If I load up a power-hungry app like Civilization VI my battery will drop down to around 80% after a couple of hours. Without a charger, my battery would have probably hit zero by then.
If you travel to Europe you can get a cheap cable for the charger because it accepts any standard voltage.
Anker also just announced a new ultra-compact USB-C charger that’s powerful enough to charge a MacBook Pro slowly, crammed into a block just slightly larger than an iPhone charger. The only complaint I have about it is that the prongs do not fold down so it’s not as compact as it could be.
And also a dual USB-C charger that’s slightly larger but has two USB-C ports. It can charge a MacBook and an iPhone with the appropriate USB-C to Lightning cable (see above), or even two MacBooks.
In addition to a traditional USB-A socket, it has one USB-C that supplies 30 watts of power, which is enough to keep a MacBook Air running just fine for basic use, to fast charge an iPhone or iPad, or to slowly charge a MacBook Pro.
There are many options out there for different needs so you may want to search for the ports you want specifically. There are a lot of “dock” style adapters that include a video port, ethernet, SD card slot, USB-A ports, and many more in multiple configurations. but if you want one multi-purpose video adapter that can plug into just about any display or projector this one is a great option:
Hubs & Docking Stations
USB-C hubs and docking stations come in many configurations. Typically one refers to a hub as a portable block with many ports that you can throw in a bag. Some have “passthrough charging” that allow you to charge your computer and connect other devices with a single port, particularly useful for computers with only one or two USB-C ports. A docking station refers to a device that remains on your desk, permanently connected to power, a monitor, and other devices, allowing you to plug your laptop in with a single USB-C cable for data, video, and charging. There are lots of great configurations out there so you’ll need to decide which one fits your needs. My favorite brands are Anker, HooToo, and CalDigit. The list below is by no means complete, but it will get you started in the right direction.
One thing to keep in mind if you want an adapter with 4K video is that Macs only support 60 Hz 4K video over DisplayPort, Mini-DisplayPort, and Thunderbolt 3 connections. 4K over HDMI is limited to 30 Hz which is fine for watching video but is not great for working on because your mouse cursor stutters.
This 4K monitor from HP is an excellent option, and acts as a one-plug docking station. It will charge your laptop as well as connect three USB-A devices and a USB-C device such as a hard drive, mouse dongle, printer, and webcam, all with a single included USB-C cable. I’ve set it up for several satisfied customers, and it’s Wirecutter’s top pick for a 4k monitor.
Disclaimer: Though I do earn revenue from purchases made through these links, I was not paid to choose these specific items and brands. They are simply the ones that I find useful.