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USB-C power meter could save your devices from dodgy cables and chargers

Plus, check the true mAh capacity of your smartphone, laptop, or portable battery.

Sebastian Anthony


There will be many obstacles on the way to the promised single cable type USB-C utopia: new standards that aren't backwards compatible; USB-C sockets that outwardly look the same, but aren't functionally the same; and, of course, dodgy USB-C cables that can fry your exceedingly expensive Chromebook Pixel or MacBook laptop. In the mean time, might I recommend a healthy dose of vigilance, some branded USB-C cables and chargers, and if you're feeling fancy, perhaps a USB-C power meter?
Satechi, which makes a range of reasonably well-reviewed USB cables, hubs, and peripherals, has just released a USB-C power meter ($30, or about £35 delivered to the UK). There are lots of good USB power meters on the market for older USB sockets and standards, but this appears to be the first true USB-C meter (earlier meters aren't rated to the full 5A/20V requirements of USB Power Delivery 2.0).

The Satechi meter will tell you how much electricity is actually flowing into your device in terms of volts, amps, and milliamp-hours (mAh). There's also a little arrow that indicates which side of the dongle is currently being charged; for example, it would point towards a laptop while it's being charged from a wall socket, and then when you swap the cable to your smartphone, to charge it up from the laptop, the arrow would point away.
The voltage and amperage figures might be useful for detecting whether the charging circuit is operating correctly: if the numbers fluctuate, or they seem well below what the device should be capable of drawing, then there could be an issue with the charger, cable, or device (a bad battery, a bad USB controller that isn't negotiating with the charger correctly, etc.) The mAh counter is somewhat handy for testing the true capacity of a portable battery pack, or perhaps to measure the decreasing capacity of your laptop's battery over time.
It is important to note, however, that this USB-C power meter is not a surge protector; if you use a truly bad USB charger or cable, it will still fry the meter, and possibly the connected laptop/smartphone, depending on how the meter's innards are wired. I did look to see if you can buy an inline USB surge protector, but came up empty handed; there are tons of power strips with 120/240V plug sockets, USB sockets, and surge protection, but those only protect you from external surges, rather than dodgy cables.
If you really want to test a new charger or cable before plugging it into an expensive device, your best bet is some DIYish electronics involving a breakout board and a multimeter. But there doesn't seem to be a plug-and-play version of that yet.

Until USB devices safely negotiate a charging current, awesome machinations like the <a href="https://arstechnica.co.uk/gadgets/2016/12/usb-killer-fries-devices/">USB Killer</a> (pictured above) will plague humanity.
Until USB devices safely negotiate a charging current, awesome machinations like the USB Killer (pictured above) will plague humanity.

For the time being, if you want to keep your USB devices safe, vigilance is still the order of the day. Use the charger and cable that came with your device, or make sure you buy well-reviewed third-party USB-C cables and dongles. Contrary to popular belief, as one Google engineer discovered, using a really bad cable can immediately fry your laptop.
Eventually, when everything switches over to USB-C and supports the new USB Authentication spec, dodgy cables will be vanquished, "USB Killer" dongles will be thwarted, and your devices will be safe.
This post originated on Ars Technica UK
USB-C power meter could save your devices from dodgy cables and chargers Reviewed by Chidinma C Amadi on 2:41 AM Rating: 5

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