This might sound a little odd, but my favorite gadget of this young year is a laptop power adapter.
[UPDATE, July 2017: I’m no longer in love. I’ve owned two of these chargers, and the USB-C tip of each one gradually lost its connection with the cable inside; the first one, in fact, broke off completely. My guess is that the metal is too soft, and can’t withstand the minor tugs of gravity or laptop repositioning on the desk over time. The company says it hasn’t heard reports like this from anyone else.]
See, it’s no secret that I’m rabid USB-C nut.
Imagine: You’ll soon have one power cord for every device (laptop, desktop, phone, tablet) from every manufacturer. A genuine universal power cord.
There’s no upside-down way to insert a USB-C connector, and there’s no wrong end on the cord. The wattage auto-adjusts to whatever you’re charging. And the same cable carries not just power, but also video, audio, and data! It’s just crazy brilliant. (Here’s my interview with the guy who spent three years with 600 electronics companies designing it.)
USB-C is already on laptops from Apple (AAPL), HP (HPQ), Razer, Google (GOOG, GOOGL), Microsoft (MSFT), Dell, Asus, Lenovo and others. And it’s already the charging jack on phones from Microsoft, Motorola (MSI), Samsung, LG, Huawei, OnePlus, LeEco, and many others. Rumor is that the iPhone 8 and Galaxy 8 phones will both use USB-C as well.
As I’ve written, the switch to USB-C currently involves adapters and replacement cables. But in the long term, it means we’ll no longer have drawers like these:
It also means that we can carry just one charger for all our stuff. Since I’ve been learning to love the new 13-inch MacBook Pro, this is a big deal: Finding a smaller, nicer charger to replace the big white plastic 3-prong Apple one would make a huge difference to my bag’s travel weight.
And so I found this:
The Dart-C, billed as the world’s smallest laptop charger. And it really is tiny.
Yet somehow, it provides 65 watts—plenty for laptops like the 12- and 13-inch MacBooks, the Lenovo ThinkPad 13, ASUS ZenBook 3, Dell XPS 13, and so on. Really honking laptops, like the 15-inch MacBook Pro, expect more wattage (85). This charger will work on those machines—just not as fast.
How do I love this thing? Let us count the ways.
- It has a standard USB jack embedded in the cable. That means that you can simultaneously charge your phone, tablet, camera, or whatever—with no slowdown in charging your primary gadget.
- It has an indicator light that lets you know if you’re plugged into a working outlet. (Apple’s chargers no longer have a status light.)
- It comes in a choice of cool metallic colors.
- It has a six-foot cord.
- It has a two-prong plug, not three, so it fits into older outlets like the ones at my parents’ house.
I keep one laptop charger my laptop bag, and one plugged in by the couch. So I’ve been through the mill, trying to find just the right charging cord to be my spare.
Since USB-C means that I’m no longer locked into Apple’s proprietary chargers, I’ve experimented with a Dell ($27, 30 watts) and a Udoli ($35, 45 watts), shown below. I knew both would take longer to charge than my MacBook Pro’s original charger (61 watts), but that didn’t really matter for hotel-room purposes; they’d have overnight to charge.
What I found, though, was that the Dell makes my laptop chime every few seconds, as though the cord is being unplugged and replugged. (“It’s probably not ‘to spec,’” a buddy of mine guesses—a hazard of the new, open USB-C world.) The Udoli works fine as long as the laptop is open—but when closed, it occasionally does that same chime.
(I asked Anthony Sagneri, chief technology officer of FINsix, the Dart’s maker, about this chiming business. His suspicion: “The Intel chipsets inside most laptops can draw large peak currents for short periods. But if the charger isn’t designed for those surges, they can trip its overcurrent mode, cutting power; at that point, the charger re-negotiates its connection.” In other words—ding!)
But the Dart? No problems. It’s small, gorgeous, lightweight (3 ounces!), fast, and chime-free.
There are some footnotes. First, the prongs don’t fold up, as they do on some chargers. And the Dart-C is back-ordered; the company says it has begun shipping, but new orders won’t ship until next month.
(It’s worth noting that the actual Dart-C—the “brick” itself—is identical to the original Dart charger, as first seen on Kickstarter. All that’s new is the USB-C cable that plugs into it, which contains all the USB-C electronics and smarts. In fact, if you bought the original Dart—the one that comes with plug tips for a wide range of laptop models—you can get just the USB-C cable for it for $35.)
Second, this charger costs $100, which is even more than Apple’s chargers ($70 and $80). That’s a drag. I’m confident that in the new, open world of USB-C chargers, we’ll have more compact, attractive, well-engineered options.
For now, though, since this will be my one and only charger for all my gadgets, and since I travel a lot, and since space and weight are valued commodities in my laptop bag, I’m going to bite the bullet. I have no problem saying it: The smallest laptop charger in the world is also one of the best. If you’re a rabid USB-C nut like me, you’ll be in heaven.
David Pogue, tech columnist for Yahoo Finance, welcomes non-toxic comments in the Comments below. On the web, he’s davidpogue.com. On Twitter, he’s @pogue. On email, he’s firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read all his articles here, or you can sign up to get his columns by email.