NYTIMES: Discount Cable and Charger Brands You Can Trust
Posted on March 5th, 2019
Credit Simon Landrein
The future isn’t as wireless as we were promised. Whether you’re looking for a second charger for your phone or need a new video cable for your home theater, you need cords you can trust.
Unfortunately, when you’re shopping for cables and chargers of any kind — from phone chargers to home theater equipment — your search results will inevitably be flooded with low-quality brands that either cut corners to keep prices low or use marketing jargon to confuse you into paying more. To save you some time when you’re doing your research, we checked with the experts at Wirecutter, the New York Times company that reviews products, and rounded up a few brands you can generally trust to make high-quality products at a lower price point.
First, a few things to watch for
For the most part, cables only really have one job: transfer information or power from one place to another. There are few things an expensive cable does better than a cheaper one. However, there are still a few distinguishing features to watch for when you’re cable shopping, depending on your needs.
Here are a few tips:
- Check reviews on USB-C cables. Because of a change in the way that USB-C cables charge devices, it’s possible for a manufacturer to cut corners and create a cable that can physically damage your devices. The problem can be so bad that a Google engineer spent his free time reviewing individual cables for safety. We’ll recommend some generally safe ones, but if you’re not buying from the brands below, always check the reviews.
- Pick the right fast charger for your phone. Generic fast chargers can be cheaper than the ones your phone manufacturer sells, but they’re not all compatible with each other. We have a bit more information on how to find the right fast charger here. The brands below offer a variety of fast chargers, but it’s always worth checking to ensure they work with your phone.
- Get high-bandwidth USB cables only if you need them. If you have a 4K HDR TV, you’ll need cables that can support the bandwidth. These cables are usually branded with "High-Speed" or "Premium Certified" labels. These cables are growing increasingly common, and almost any HDMI cable will work for regular HDTVs, but if you’re upgrading your home theater, make sure the cable is rated for 4K and HDR. When it comes to USB cables, it’s even more important to find the right cable speeds. If you need a cable for a portable hard drive, get a USB 3.0 cable that can handle higher data transfer speeds. For charging your phone, cheaper USB 2.0 cables will be fine.
- Outside of these few distinguishing features, there’s not much you need to look for in a cable or charger. If a company advertises something crazy like gold plated connectors or "nitrogen injected dielectric gas," it’s usually marketing hype to try to convince you there’s a reason to spend more than a few bucks on a cable.
Just as retailers like Walmart and Target have their own store brand versions of various products, Amazon has its own line called AmazonBasics to cover your everyday needs. You can get AmazonBasics versions of everything from dinner plates to office chairs at relatively low prices. You could probably get something better from another company, but if you just want something that does the job, Amazon’s own brand is usually reliable.
Where it really stands out, though, is in cables and chargers. The AmazonBasics line includes HDMI cables, lightning cables, micro USB cables, USB-C cables, and all the other essentials you need for charging your phone or tablet, hooking up your home theater or connecting your desktop computer. You can generally trust them to at least be wired properly and not damage your equipment. As Wirecutter contributor Geoff Morrison explained, "A company like Amazon isn’t going to put out something that doesn’t work. It’d be too expensive and damaging to the brand."
When it comes to HDMI cables, though, Wirecutter chose AmazonBasics as its top pick. Other cables are at least serviceable. Best of all, they’re cheap enough that buying replacements is trivial. You could buy a $35 cable that promises to be "durable" and last a while, but when that same $35 could buy you seven AmazonBasics cables, it’s hard to justify the extra cost.
Like AmazonBasics, Anker sells a selection of micro USB, USB-C, and Lightning cables to charge your phone. The company doesn’t sell as many home theater or desktop cables, but it does have a wide array of chargers for your phones and tablets. You can find wireless fast charging stands, USB car chargers, fast charging wall blocks, and portable power banks.
Better yet, Anker has a reputation for being reliable. Wirecutter editor Mark Smirniotis explained that if you’re looking for an accessory that’s less expensive than the official ones, but more reliable than the dirt cheap, no-name brands, Anker is one of your best bets.
"The middle ground is held by companies like Anker or RAVPower — less expensive than official accessories, but well-made and well-supported," he said. "Anker has been around for well over five years now, and Wirecutter has tested and reviewed dozens — maybe hundreds — of their products. We see that both companies put a lot of thought into their designs and update them regularly. In our own long-term testing and reviews of reader experiences, we’ve also found that they’re well-made and generally reliable."
When Wirecutter has reviewed categories that Anker has an entry for, the brand regularly at least gets a runner-up slot, if not the top choice. While it doesn’t hurt to check around for the specific product you need if you want the absolute best, if you’re buying Anker there’s a higher than average chance you’re getting a product that works well.
Like Anker, Monoprice sells more than just cables. The company sells home theater equipment, smart home accessories, networking gear and a lot more. It’s also been around and selling off-brand accessories since 2002, giving it a strong leg up on some of the competition. Some of their gear is high quality at a low price, from these subwoofers to these banana plugs, both of which earned top marks from Wirecutter. They also found that Monoprice’s HDMI cables were just as good as AmazonBasics, but slightly cheaper.
Mr. Morrison, author of the site’s guide to cheap HDMI cables, lauded the cable selection. "Monoprice has been around for many years and nearly every cable in my theater is from them," he said.
However, Monoprice has been around long enough and has a big enough product library that there are bound to be some stinkers. When Wirecutter reviewed earbuds under $50, several Monoprice headphones came up short. Wirecutter staff editor Nick Guy also suggests paying close attention to what you’re buying from Monoprice.
"Stock levels can be inconsistent, to start. It’s not uncommon to see a product listed as out of stock with a return date several weeks in the future," he said. "Monoprice also has a habit of quietly swapping out commodity accessories like cables with newer models. While that new model still might be a good buy, it may not be the same model that was listed last week."
For basic products like cables, adapters and chargers, Monoprice’s products are generally reliable, but you might want to comparison shop a bit to make sure you’re getting the best deal. If you’re going to move up to bigger, more important home theater, networking, or smart home accessories, Monoprice can be good, but we still recommend checking out additional reviews first.
What to Buy is a new series in collaboration with Wirecutter, the New York Times Company that reviews products. Want buying advice from the experts, or need help picking out the right thing for the right job? Email Smarter Living editor Alan Henry, at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll look into it for you!
A version of this article appears in print on March 4, 2019, on Page B8 of the New York edition with the headline: Cables, Cords and Chargers on the Cheap. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/25/smarter-living/the-discount-cable-and-charger-brands-you-can-trust.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share