This USB-C power meter can help make sure you don't zap your phone into oblivion

USB Type-C is the new hotness when it comes to plugging things in. It's better that the old USB connector standards in every way because it provides a standardized way for everything with a battery and a USB-C port to be a charger and get charged. And you can plug your stuff in on the first try because the cable end is reversible — even in the dark. But one problem that's plagued USB-C since it launched was that you can't use just any cable.

More: What to look for when buying USB-C cables and adapters

It can be a big problem, too. The wrong cable can fry the things it's plugged into and even start a fire. Since most of us have a bunch of cables sitting around, knowing which ones won't wreck things is kind of important. It's not hard to tell — if you have multimeters and get way up inside the end of the cable, which nobody is going to do. Luckily, now we don't have to.

This is the Satechi USB-C Power Meter (opens in new tab). It plugs into your phone or laptop or anything else with a USB-C port, and you plug the cable into the other end of it. It measures both the input and the output power you're sending through the cable in real time. This will let you know if the power source and cable are providing the proper power and that your USB-C equipped phone or laptop is getting the right amount of power to safely charge its batteries. As long as you know the amount of juice a thing is supposed to be getting, you'll know at a glance if everything is good or not.

The one thing the Satechi meter doesn't do is shut it all down if things aren't right. Remember that this isn't a surge protector and has no buzzers or red lights to let you know you have a potentially bad cable or power source. You have to know how to read the information.

You should still try to buy the right cable when you get something new that uses USB-C and make sure it's properly built for the charging technology your phone uses. But this cheap meter is a way to double check everything before it all goes boom.

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Jerry Hildenbrand

I'm an RHCE and Electrical Engineer who loves gadgets of all kinds. You'll find my writings across Mobile Nations and you can hit me on Twitter if you want to say hey.

  • I'll have to pick up one of these.
  • Is this all serious? How can the article start by saying USB-C is universal and then merge into selling a product by saying how non-universal usb-c is? Never heard of any of this. After reading this article it would seem that usb-c is the biggest boondoggle of a non-standard standard in quite some time.
  • It's more about poorly made usb c products that can mess up how much power goes through the cable. This google engineer named Benson Leung reviews usb c products. Check out his profile and reviews on amazon. There's also a google doc spreadsheet he started originally but I don't know how up to date it is now. There are even cases where I've seen companies fix their cables because of his reviews.
  • The problem is people that buy cheap crap and then go ahead and plug in their devices. Same goes for when you buy a crappy surge protector or UPS. You have to know that the correct voltage is coming out.
  • Good idea, would like a regulator or surge protector version
  • I need to get one of these too. Fried a couple cheap USB C Ethernet adapters already when I connected them to my USB C hub. Pop!
    But it doesn't seem like this device would prevent a situation like this either.... 😕
  • Yep, unless you know the numbers this thing is useless.
  • From what I read, you need to have a phone/laptop connected for it to read the power going through. Just connecting the powersupply and cable to this thing does nothing. So you basically need to know its safe before you can even "test it".
  • Haha, precisely what I was thinking when watching the video! This is useless gimmick, it wouldn't protect your device in any way.
  • How do you determine if the cable is safe for your device when buying one?
  • Never heard of this.
    It kind of takes away the 'universal' out of USB.
    I would just by anything that suits your pocket, starting from the top.
  • Buy high quality equipment, for example Belkin. Look and see what is for sale on the Microsoft Store related to your product. Avoid cheap stuff from manufacturers which you have never heard of.
  • Old usb cables never set anything on fire
  • Because you can't insert them 😉
  • There is a lack of information on this subject. My laptop power supply is 20V thru USB-C. I assume it would toast any phone it gets plugged into, is that right? In the meantime I have put some coloured tape on the connector.
  • Not if it's a real USB-C power supply, that will adapt itself to the phone and deliver 5V (it communicates with the USB-C input of the laptop/phone to ask what voltage it needs).
  • Perhaps I just need to write up a tutorial later today for people in the forums. No, WinSammie, a real USB-C power supply will not adapt itself. The universal part is the standard of how to transfer data, data speed, and how much power is OUTPUT through the port to power a device plugged into it. There is no standard for supplying power to a device through it, and how much power is provided depends upon what components have to be powered. My laptop needs a 45W charger with 15V, 12V, and 5V inputs in order to power the Intel CPU, GPU, and other components in the device. However, other laptops with higher-end, higher power-draining CPUs and GPUs may require a 90W power supply, etc. Laptop power supplies should never be plugged into a phone, as a phone can only accept the 5V input at lower wattages. Phone power supplies should never be plugged into a laptop, as the laptop will not receive enough power, and a "low voltage" situation will occur which can fry internal components as well as an over-voltage situation. It's best to use only a charger recommended by a manufacturer for a laptop, and use one that has the proper voltage output, amperage output, etc. for for your phone device. That's about all I feel like saying on this subject, excpet the tester won't do any good to prevent damage from your device. It will however, let you know if a charging device is performing as advertised so that you can leave a proper review for it. It's also good to troubleshoot power supply units if you happen to have a repair shop.
  • This!! Well said, Well explained!
  • Just try it and see what happens. Then report back here