The cost of gambling with cheap cables and chargersTopic: Tech Specs
Here’s a question: Would you bet $20 on the chance to lose $500? Because that’s what you’re doing every time you buy one of those suspiciously cheap chargers or cables from a gas station or drug store.
You know the ones. They’re sitting in a candy jar next to the cash register. Sometimes they aren’t even packaged and they’re priced so low, you’d think they were disposable.
Using a cheap charging cable is like gambling with your phone, or worse, your laptop. Poorly made or defective cables can cause serious harm to electronics, from starting fires to damaging phone batteries.
It’s a bet with no upside. You might save $20, but you could severely damage your device to the point of no return. On top of that, these cables don’t last long. In one internal test we performed with aftermarket cables purchased from a variety store, we saw one cable fail with a simulation of one month’s worth of use. That means you end up buying new cables all the time, making that same bad bet over and over and over again.
Check out this video from our testing lab. After just 80 bend cycles, which is equivalent to approximately one month of use, two of the wires broke in the aftermarket cable. Comparatively, Ventev’s cables are tested to survive at least one year of use, but many last over 20,000 cycles, which is equivalent to approximately 20 years of use.
Here’s just a sample of things that can go wrong with cheap cables and chargers.
- Knockoff cables often use smaller wires. That means they can’t handle as much power, which may result in slower charging speeds and higher temperatures.
- Cheap cables may have shoddy insulation. This leaves the cable vulnerable to cable failure that exposes the internal wires, leaving you looking for a new cable.
- Poorly made chargers may skimp out on important components. Underwriters Laboratory (UL) bought 400 knockoff Apple chargers at locations around the world and tested them for safety. Analysis showed that only three passed safety standards. Twelve of the chargers were so poorly made that they posed a risk of electrocution, and some chargers even damaged UL’s equipment.
- Poorly made chargers may ignore other safety practices, like using insulating tape to keep parts separate, ensuring extra space between high voltage and low voltage components. The result? Chargers that deliver power inconsistently. We’ve found chargers that deliver 40 percent more power than they are supposed to. That’s dangerous, because it results in more heat, which could damage phone components.
- Drug store cables aren’t built for real-world conditions. Have you ever sat on a cable and pulled it from under you? Or yanked it from a bag as it dragged a mass of keys with it? That puts strain on the cable housing, where the wires connect to the input plug. In cheap cables, these become easily separated, resulting in cable failure. We routinely test our cables for pull strength by simulating the above scenarios. We’re happy to say that our chargesync alloy cables withstand 136 pounds of pull force. That’s the average weight of a 15-year-old boy and more than three times the strength of the cheap cables we tested.
- Poorly made cables can wreck your computer. That’s what happened to Google engineer Benson Leung when he used a cheap cable to charge his laptop. The problems included a positive wire soldered to the negative solder pad, and an unsuitable resistor that sent the wrong signal to the laptop. Instead of the 0.5 amp the laptop’s USB-A port was designed to accept, it received 3 amps, which led to damage.
How do we test pull strength? By pulling, of course. Check out this video.
There are a few easy steps you can take to better your odds at buying a cable that lasts.
First, change your mindset. Don’t treat cables as disposables. Buying cheap cables can cost you more in the long run. Because they’re built from flimsier materials, cheap cables can fall apart faster, and you end up buying more of them. For example, you may think you’re saving money by purchasing a $5 cable, but if that cable needs to be replaced once a month, that $5 investment turns into a $60 investment in just one year. A quality cable will cost you more upfront (our chargesync alloy cables start at $19.99), but it’ll last a lot longer.
Second, buy from reputable manufacturers. Look for a warranty, which is a sign that a manufacturer stands behind its products.
Certification marks, like UL, CE, ETL, USB-IF, MFi and others can also signify quality. Manufacturers of electric products usually have third-party labs test them for safety. Keep in mind that each mark just means the device complies with that particular standard.
Last, be wary of prices that are too low. If you are comparison shopping and one product seems too good to be true, it just might be. That doesn’t mean you should be suspicious of slight variations in prices. Reputable third-party vendors might sell a certified Apple cable for several dollars less than Apple itself. There’s no hard and fast rule on how cheap is too cheap, but if you’re only paying a few bucks for a cable, be wary.