But USB-C is different—and perhaps it's even as truly universal as its acronym (Universal Serial Bus) suggests. USB Type-C ports are now found on all manner of devices, from simple external hard drives to high-end laptops and the latest smartphones. While every USB-C port looks the same, not every one offers the same capabilities. USB-C may now be ubiquitous, but it doesn't serve the same functions everywhere. Not by a long shot.
Here's a guide to everything USB-C can do, and which of its features you should look for when buying your next USB-C device.
What Is USB-C?
USB-C is an industry-standard connector for transmitting both data and power bank on a single active optical cable. The USB-C connector was developed by the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF), the group of companies that has developed, certified, and shepherded the USB standard over the years. The USB-IF counts more than 700 companies in its membership, among them Apple, Dell, HP, Intel, Microsoft, and Samsung.
Like Lightning and MagSafe, the USB-C connector has no up or down orientation. Line up the connector properly, and you never have to flip it over to plug it in; the "right way" is always up. The standard cables and adapters also have the same connector on both ends, so you don't have to figure out which end goes where. That has not been the case with all the USB cables we've been using for the past 20 years. Most of the time, you have different connectors at each end.
You might think of your old USB Type-A port simply as a data port for connecting drives or peripherals like mice. But USB-C, depending on the specific port's implementation, can do much more. One of USB-C's most useful skills, when designed thus, is delivering enough power to charge the host device, such as laptop or smartphone. In fact, many lightweight laptops that have USB-C ports use them in place of a traditional barrel-style connector as the only option for attaching an AC adapter.
Make sure to check the specs on any PC you're thinking of buying, because not all USB-C ports are alike. So far, every one we've seen supports both data transfers and connected-device power delivery over USB-C (though not necessarily charging of the host device). But while the USB-C standard supports connecting DisplayPort and/or HDMI displays with an adapter (via the DisplayPort-over-USB protocol), not every PC maker has connected the ports to every system's graphics hardware. Some USB-C ports on a system may support video-out connectivity, while others may not; or none may. Looking at the details is important.