USB standards can be annoyingly obtuse, and not USB all ports are made equal. Likewise for cables.
I’m a cheapskate when it comes to accessories so let me be the first to call out the elephant in the room: why spend more money on cables when you can easily buy them cheaply off Lazada/Shopee/Taobao/etc?
So the answer to that question was addressed directly when Belkin sent me a bunch of these things. These aren’t high-speed cables, and yet prices range from $29 to $39. The nerve. If you have a high-end phone with high read-write speeds and a USB 3.1 port, then these USB 2.0 (essentially) cables are a bottleneck. But these cables were designed to be charging cables, and data transfer is a secondary feature.
- BoostCharge USB-C to USB-C 100W, 2m (CAB014bt) – $27.90
- BoostCharge Pro Flex USB-A to USB-C, 1m (CAB010bt) – $34.90
- BoostCharge Pro Flex USB-C to USB-C, 1m (CAB011bt) – $39.90
- BoostCharge Pro Flex USB-A to Lightning, 1m (CAA010bt) – $39.90
- BoostCharge Pro Flex USB-C to Lightning, 1m (CAA011bt) – $39.90
So what justifies these prices when transfer speeds aren’t extraordinary? Well, any iPhone user will certainly share stories where they skimped and bought a cheap Lightning cable only to find that they usually don’t last very long. I’ve even had encounters where the connectors on my USB-C cable were placed a little too far back and won’t work on some devices. There seems to be no easy way to determine what won’t give you trouble, though cables from more established brands tend to perform to spec. The gist of it is that we shouldn’t take things for granted that this is always the case, and we often get what we pay for.
What it is: made to last
For the money, the Belkin cables are well made–or at least they look that way. On the outside, we can see a silicone jacket with a braided exterior for protection and it curls up nicely and is very manageable, regardless of whether you want it straight or rolled up; very goldilocks between flexibility and rigidity. The inner cable, we’re told, features multi-layer graphene shielding, which prevents premature breakage and is rated for over 30,000 bends. The strain relief–the joint where the cable meets the connector–is pretty flexible and well-reinforced. Belkin states that the cable is good for over 10,000 instances of plugging or unplugging.
I was unable to verify claims (sorry not keen on RSI) for these two bullet points, but suffice to say that with less than gentle handling the cables have held up well so far. Of course, this purported show of durability does not mean you can ‘go ham’ with cable abuse because on paper it was not rated to be handled by Neandertals. But I do think the ability to be able to use cables without having to baby them is to me, the biggest selling point above anything else. Especially when these cables were made to be used primarily for charging. You’ve seen your friends who borrow your cables; you know how it is.
On top of their durability, these are quite nice-looking cables as the housings are accented with a matte, anodised aluminium or polished ABS plastic trim. The icing on the cake comes in the form of a magnetised cable strap, which helps in organising them on your tabletop, especially when you have many cables lying around.
Belkin also has a BoostCharge 100W cable; as the name suggests, it was made for handling large amounts of energy and fast charging. The downside of this cable is that it’s not the best data cable to transfer data. The marketing material states that it’s capable of 480Mbps speeds, but I would prefer if they added a reference that this is USB2.0 specifications. There’s no shame in marketing a wire that’s designed primarily for durability and power transfer, but I can understand that people may misunderstand.
What it’s not: I feel the need for speed
These cables are meant to be used with standalone chargers like the Boostcharge Pro 4-Port GaN Charger, which we will come to later. The Fast charge-ready cables mean that they support fast charging and are marked by the use of a USB-C connector instead of a USB-A connector. In the case of Belkin, it is similar to the fast charging speeds supported by Apple and Samsung, and they perform more or less as advertised. The fast-charging versions of the cable feature a USB-C instead of USB-A, which is kind of nice because it eliminates that scenario of my mum plugging the cable into a low-powered USB-A port and asking me why it’s so slow.
However, as mentioned, you are pretty much restricted to USB 2.0 speeds if you want to transfer data. Looks like there are no two ways about it–speed costs money–and you will need to buy cables specifically designed to support high-speed data transfers. (Note: it’s quick enough to transfer files like videos, photos and music in most cases. Transferring hundreds of gigabytes of files is another story. Sorry if there’s any confusion.)
Thoughts so far
$29 is pretty much stretching the limit of a premium cable but these cables seem to hold up after constant plugging and unplugging. I think that’s fair enough–aesthetics do cost some money as well.
The truth is, it’s hard to say if a cable like this is perfect for you when you can find something online for about $3; you need to outlast ten cheap cables over five years (Belkin’s warranty period) to be a worthwhile purchase. On paper, that sounds like a tough sell, but bear in mind every broken cable usually means another $5 or so dollars for shipping or transportation, not to mention time lost in getting one. Just shipping for a single cable alone costs puts the price closer to $8 and that makes a $30-40 dollar cable more palatable. Unless of course, you don’t mind buying a bunch of cables that you may or may not use at one go.
If you have a habit of constantly transferring large files via USB and you have a phone with a USB 3.1 port and relatively fast read speeds, then perhaps you should think about cables that prioritise data transfer. The BoostCharge is great if your friends and colleagues tend to keep using your cables to charge their phones as well.
BoostCharge Pro 4-Port GaN Charger
I genuinely mean this when I say that my favourite feature is a silkscreen print: the ports are labelled quite clearly and show the maximum power available to each port or set of ports. With the USB-C ports, you get either 96W maximum from one or 65W max and 30W max when both are connected, whereas the two USB-A ports share 12W between them. Why is this important? Try explaining to your elderly relative how to use the charger and deal with questions about why it doesn’t seem to charge quickly and you’ll understand soon enough.
If there’s a downside, it’s that you can only charge two USB-A devices concurrently sharing 12W. If you expect fast charging even for your earbuds (if supported) then this might not be for you.
As mentioned, the charger itself has four ports, which isn’t a lot. If you have a laptop and a phone, that leaves you only with two ports for perhaps a watch (newer Apple Watches can be picky so your mileage may vary) and your wireless earbuds. However, most similar chargers are in the same price bracket and might have fewer ports. Having more ports pushes the price into some rather uncomfortable territory, which we’ll get to in a bit. If you have a tablet and other paraphernalia, you certainly need another charger.
Is it worth the money?
You might find this boring as heck but the charger works as advertised and (thanks to GaN tech) doesn’t get alarmingly warm while doing it, even when all the ports are being maximised. I like that it uses a standard mains cable so you can easily get the appropriate plugs for travel and place the charger anywhere you want.
In fact, the only thing that gets the heart racing… is the price. At $129, you might think this is way too expensive to be worthwhile. And speaking as a cheapskate, chances are… it kind of is.
That is if you have all the time in the world to search out the cheapest of the cheap and live in the knowledge that the internals are made with the cheapest components possible. If it was a regular charger, I can get behind that–the tech is pretty mature at this point and even the cheapest components are more than good enough for the task. This is purely my conjecture and opinion of course, and you are more than welcome to disagree vehemently) But high-speed chargers handling considerably more current? I’m less willing to take the risk.
Furthermore, Belkin’s charger has a Connected Equipment Warranty (CEW) on top of the two-year warranty, which covers up to $2,500 worth of damage. If anything, the fact that they’re willing to add this bit of coverage says a lot about the confidence they have in their product.
I have been using a generic charger and cables for the longest time, so I’ve always wanted my cables ideally to be capable of high-speed data transfers (for Android) and I didn’t mind having to replace them often, as I’ve accepted that their short lifespans pretty much comes with the territory.
But having spent time with these premium accessories, I’m reconsidering my stance. It’s a pretty nice experience to have something that simply works and that stands up well to daily use and abuse. They may be pricey but given the benefits, I don’t think the premium is uncalled for.
Given the spec, price and warranty, the asking price for the BoostCharge GaN charger isn’t unreasonable. The closest would likely be the uGreen 100W GaN Charger, which has two USB-C ports sharing 100W (100W or 65W+30W), one USB-C port with 22.5W max and one USB-A port with 22.5W max. That costs $112.90 and there’s usually an offer ongoing (sometimes as low as $79) but you only get a year’s warranty of course; that, and the fact it plugs directly into the mains. As good as this sounds, I’d pick the Belkin over this if I’m getting one for people who just want something that works (too tired to be tech support).
What if you want more power? (Also) uGreen has a 200W GaN monster that costs $280 and has four USB-C ports and two USB-A ports (2x 100W, 2x 65W, 2x 22.5W) but you have to bear in mind that it maxes out at 200W; meaning if you have two laptops using the full 100W each from two USB-C ports, adding more devices simply lowers the power available to each port. As you can see, the more high-power USB ports you enable, the ‘overheads’ get trickier. However, you need an extremely specific use case for this expensive charger to make it worth your while.