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Quick charge and USB-C: Navigating the Next Generation of USB charging

It’s been over 15 years since the modest USB port first became a fixture on computers around the world, initially as a way to connect basic peripherals and then as a standard for faster data transfer. But the connectors and speeds people have gotten used to—USB-A, Mini-USB, Micro-USB, USB 2.0—have gotten a bit long in the tooth, as the original port and cable designs weren’t built to handle the power-hungry, fast-data devices everyone has come to rely on. Fortunately, a new generation of connectors (USB-C) and a fresh mélange of fast-charging standards (including USB Power Delivery and Quick Charge) have arrived to charge those devices’ larger batteries much faster than before.

Quick Charge

Enter Quick Charge (QC) from Qualcomm. Devices with QC technology inside are capable of safely pushing and pulling higher voltages than the USB standard technically allows, while still using the same USB cables you’ve probably owned for years. That’s possible because when you plug a QC-capable device into a QC-capable source, the two communicate differently to manage the extra power. Since the first version of QC debuted in 2013, QC has evolved to support ever-higher voltages that can charge compatible devices ever faster—20 V in QC 3.0, the latest iteration, or four times the voltage of standard USB. As an example of what this means in real-world use, the HTC 10 and LG G5 smartphones, which both feature QC 3.0 support, promise to charge the first 80 percent of the battery in about 35 minutes.

Quick Charge 3.0 claims to charge an empty battery to 80 percent in roughly 35 minutes—but only if the charger and device both support QC.


Manufacturers can technically implement Quick Charge in any USB port, but that seems less likely to become more common going forward due to the new USB power standards available with USB-C connectors.1 While QC works with the cables you already have, USB-C is a completely new connector that will soon replace ports on all sorts of devices. First popularized by Apple’s 12-inch MacBook and the Google Nexus 6P smartphone, the USB-C connector can be present on a source device or a target device (or both), and it can use either the older USB standards or the newer, faster power and data-transfer protocols. (It’s also a reversible connector, so you won’t end up trying to plug in your USB cables upside down. Every. Single. Time.) We’ll ignore the data-transfer part for now, since the power portion is complicated enough.

Since USB-C is a type of connector, and we’ve established that connectors don’t determine the underlying capabilities, it’s important to know that USB-C connectors can provide you with the performance of almost any generation of USB that has come before—what’s important is what’s behind the connector or at the other end of the cable. For example, if you were to have the right cable to connect the latest and greatest smartphone with USB-C into an old, low-power, USB-A port, the phone would likely alert you to the low power and refuse to charge. The slower protocol always wins out.

On the other hand, USB-C connectors can take advantage of the newest power standard, USB Power Delivery (USB PD), which has a maximum power output of 100 W (20 V / 5 A), meaning manufacturers can use it to power everything from laptops to TVs. Most devices, though, will likely fall somewhere between traditional USB power and USB PD. Going back to our water analogy, many small and inexpensive USB-C devices—think budget phones and their accessories—will still max out at USB’s old 5 V “pressure” but with a slightly larger 3 A “pipe.” Larger and flagship devices, such as the biggest tablets and top-of-the-line phones, will likely take advantage of what is essentially Power Delivery “lite,” pushing up to 20 V and 3 A through either USB-C cables or USB-C–to–Micro-USB cables. And manufacturers could start to use the full 100 W (20 V / 5 A) Power Delivery standard on anything from monitors to large laptops to network-attached storage devices, so long as both ends of the connection use USB-C.


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