If you’re like me, you probably have a plethora of mobile devices from different vendors, or maybe you’ve got an Android handset and the rest of your family or friends uses Apple iPhones. The problem is that all of these products tend to have their own proprietary connectors, all of which are incompatible.
Maybe you’ve experienced this frustration before – desperately needing a charge because you forgot to plug your phone in last night, finding a USB socket or an emergency charger pack but not the right cable. Or maybe you’re just sick of cluttering up your bag with a rat’s nest of cables. Help might just be at hand!
Thanks to the generosity of the guys at MobileZap, they have provided a sample of their OneCable Apple Lightning, 30 pin and Micro USB Sync and Charge Cable for a thorough review. Rest assured – this one’s going to get the full Gough treatment!
You might be wondering, what is a OneCable? Put simply, this is a cable which supports three different connectivity standards – microUSB, Apple Lightning and Apple 30-pin dock connector. This means that with one cable, you will be able to sync (i.e. do data transfer) as well as charge these devices.
This is a significant achievement – as microUSB covers a wide majority of Android handsets, tablets as well as some external hard drives, and development boards. The inclusion of the Apple 30-pin dock connector is compatible with iPods, iPhones and iPads prior to the current generation, and the inclusion of Apple’s new Lightning connector ensures that the owners of the latest iPod Touch, iPod Nano, iPad, iPad Mini and iPhone 5 aren’t left out either. Definitely, something for almost everyone.
Here it is! The cable itself is a single flat-cable wound on a spring-retracting winder mechanism with a set of adapters plugged onto the end. The winder itself has a small eyelet for passing a lanyard through or for hanging.
In a rather smart design move by the manufacturer, the adaptors feature plastic tabs which keep them captive – losing little adaptor pieces is no longer an issue! Hurrah!
Using the cable is quite simple, as the heads pivot around to provide sufficient clearance around the desired connector. The connectors themselves are not as elegant as the OEM connectors, but they are definitely intelligently designed.
The winding mechanism works somewhat well, winding the cable neatly on top of one another, although, my experience with some of these mechanisms suggest that durability may be a problem in the long run.
Still, it makes the cable nice and compact, and it makes losing the adapter pieces almost impossible. I say almost because, should you really wish to remove it, by levering the plastic tabs slightly, the adaptors can be released altogether. Be careful not to pry the tabs too hard, or they may snap. I had the idea that the adaptors might be usable with other cables, but the plastic tabs do interfere with other microUSB connectors. The Lightning to 30-pin dock connector may be usable with the Apple Lightning cables.
The head of the cable terminates in “your average” USB 2.0 A connector.
The cable itself is quite thin and flat – its thickness is barely a millimetre. I suppose it’s common sense that people should treat their cables with care – this cable especially. Its insulation may get nicked and the copper may stretch if you were to pull with any great force on the cable itself. The cable length is about 60-65cm depending on how tightly you pull the cable against its retractor mechanism. It’s not long, but it’s not too short either. In comparison, the Google/Asus Nexus 7 OEM cable measures around 93cm, and the Apple iPad OEM cable measures around 101cm.
The cable is wider than it is thick – and it seems that the cable is “separated” into the positive, data differential pairs, and negative. In this dimension, I find it highly doubtful that the cable has any braid or foil shielding (as that would make the cable very stiff and thick). I probably wouldn’t try to use the cable in any RF-harsh environments (industrial ones), but it would probably work okay at home.
The cable itself is unmarked – there are no brandings or markings to indicate compliance to any given standard.
Interestingly, you may have noticed that the end of the cable is a bit slack – when I unwound the cable to examine, the cause was revealed. A bit of plastic on the winder mechanism had been broken but the cable was assembled anyway. It looks like build quality and consistency may be a bit lacking.
At the time of writing, the cable is for sale at AU$13.99 plus postage, which is a reasonably good price when considering the versatility of the cable, and its claimed compatibility with the latest Apple Lightning connection standard.
Some of you, at this point, might be saying … ”but Gough, this is a cable – what can go wrong with a cable?” The answer is “plenty.“
Maybe in the past, you’ve had problems like loose connectors that cause disconnections during data transfer when it is moved, even slightly. Or cables which fall out of the connector on their own. Or you’ve had slow charging problems caused by thin wires. Or the USB drops out for no reason at all, possibly due to poor shielding in the cable. The fact is that cables are not as simple as they first seem. Higher data transfer rates, and higher charge currents place even more stringent requirements on the quality of cables and their connectors. Poor quality cables cause headaches – and that’s a fact!
The first thing we should test is whether the cable works at all. The connectors on each end look to be non OEM. Their construction looks a little different from the Apple cables, but they’re actually pretty good. All of the connectors seat with their respective devices with a positive clicking action, and do not come unseated too easily. That’s definitely a big tick from me – something that cannot be said of some of the other brandless cables from China.
I tested the cable with my Samsung Galaxy SIII, Google/Asus Nexus 7, Apple iPod Nano, iPad and iPad Mini. All of them detected successfully on the computer and allowed files to be transferred. The cable worked successfully with the lightning connector on the iPad Mini – and was tested both ways too. So, it does what it claims to do at a basic functional level. Good news so far!
To test how well the cable handles high current applications, a measurement of the resistance in the power lines on the microUSB plug was made using a multimeter. The resistance of the probe and probe leads was subtracted from this measurement to give the result. I wasn’t able to test for the 30-pin connector type because I didn’t have a thin-enough probe to make contact with the pins. The results are as follows:
|Google/Asus Nexus 7 microUSB OEM||0.02|
|Samsung Galaxy SIII microUSB OEM||0.06|
|ZTE MF60 microUSB OEM||0.03|
|Apple Lightning OEM||0.01|
Well, it looks like my trusty multimeter just isn’t quite there for measuring extremely low resistances, as a result, it’s hard to draw firm conclusions. It does appear that the OneCable is very good compared to the other cables in terms of resistance – i.e. it does not have a significantly, measurably higher resistance (using my multimeter) than OEM cables.
In order to investigate this effect a little further, I devised a simple test. I ran my iPad (original 3G) down until it completely shut down. Then I connected it to the supplied original charger (2A) to charge for an hour. After an hour, the battery percentage was recorded, the battery re-depleted and the test repeated twice. I also did this with the Google/Asus Nexus 7 tablet, which is known to be sensitive to the resistance of the cable. This was also repeated with the original OEM cable as a reference.
|Device and Cable||Run 1 (%)||Run 2 (%)||Run 3 (%)|
|iPad with OEM Cable||29||29||28|
|iPad with OneCable||22||23||21|
|Nexus 7 with OEM Cable||34||37||36|
|Nexus 7 with OneCable||36||33||35|
It takes much longer than one might expect to do these tests by virtue of the time needed to charge and to run the devices down, but the results seem to suggest that the cable is good with microUSB devices such as the Nexus 7, but not the iPad using 30-pin connector. When charging with the iPad, using all the adaptors, the adaptors felt just slightly warmer than ambient – implying there are some resistive losses within the adaptors rather than the cable. This is much less likely to be a problem when using the cable with phones and iPods which typically have lower current draws between 400mA to 1000mA versus the 2000mA demanded by tablet devices.
You might wonder why I didn’t interrupt the cable and stick a multimeter in there to read the charge current – this is because doing so actually alters the result. For low currents, the burden voltage of the multimeter will cause further voltage drops which can cause adverse reactions from the charging circuit which exaggerates the impact of cable resistance, which is why I didn’t want to do this. I suppose an amplified current shunt could be useful, but would take a little work to engineer and calibrate.
Finally, we have to investigate the problem of shielding. It’s hard to tell whether a cable is shielded or not without actually cutting it apart. But I don’t feel like cutting it apart. So instead, I did a quick test of the continuity of the connector shells at both ends of the cable. Surprise surprise, cable shell to cable shell shows no continuity. Shielded cables would have their foil and/or braid connected to the cable shell and typically show conductivity (0.01 ohm for my OEM Nexus 7 cable). So that’s already a hint that this cable is not shielded. The shielding acts as protection against radio interference getting into and leaking out of the cable, and is technically part of the USB specification.
Cable construction must contain a braided outer shield and a metallic inner shield. A drain wire of 28 AWG must be in contact with both shields. Cables must contain two data-lines of 28 AWG, and a power pair of 28 AWG to 20 AWG. Power pairs smaller than 28 AWG are prohibited.
Therefore, technically, this cable does not meet the requirements of USB certification – but it still does work. There is no guarantee, however, of its effectiveness in all environments and compatibility with all hosts once you deviate from the prescribed standards.
That being said, it wouldn’t be a Gough review without something being taken apart – so for proof, I parted the shell of the microUSB connector to reveal the cable which is crudely soldered with no shielding whatsoever. Just as I thought.
At the end of the day, this is a product which pretty much does what it says on the tin, at least, functionally speaking. For the price, one could hardly complain – it looks like it would be the perfect accessory to an emergency phone charger kit, or even just as an emergency cable to download photos from a friend’s phone. It’s definitely compact, easy to carry, and suitable for most mobile devices on the market today.
Of course, the design does appear to sacrifice a little in shielding and in charge rates (for the 30-pin devices) for convenience – so if you’re primarily only going to use one type of connector, you might be better off just purchasing a quality dedicated cable for that one connector as you might have slightly more reliable data transfers in harsh environments and faster charging.
That being said, it’s hard not to like this product – it’s pretty much earned its spot in my everyday carry bag.
And of course, thanks again to the guys at MobileZap for providing the product for review. They knew it was getting the full Gough treatment, and they consented anyway! That’s what I call “standing behind your products!”