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Goodbye Legacy USB Ports, Hello Dongles

Have you noticed the global shift to USB Type-C yet? Well, the ball is rolling. And, if the product launches at the end of 2016 were any indication, the shift is picking up speed. Now that manufacturers have successfully phased out optical drives, all of your most familiar (legacy) ports are on the chopping block too. Get ready to say goodbye to standard USB, LAN/Ethernet, HDMI ports. Oh, and SD card slots too. Nothing is safe.

The problem is that the transition to USB-C is happening very quickly. If you are like me, you probably have several great plug-and-go devices that you spent some good money on, and your next laptop may not be able to connect to them without the assistance of another pricey device — a dongle.

Wait, what’s a Dongle?

The Wall Street Journal put it best:

First, let’s get a few things out of the way: 1.) “Dongle” is a funny word. 2.) Dongles are your only hope for connecting your shiny new phones and computers to your favorite older accessories. And 3.) Boy, these things are the worst.

I agree, dongles are the worst. The are ugly, annoying, and expensive.

How expensive? Even after a mid-November price cut by Apple following customer backlash, these clunky connection adaptors are still $50 even with “special pricing for a limited time.” And if you don’t go with the Apple product, to get a good dongle with several ports, it costs $50 and up.

While these doohickeys seem pricey, when you realize you need an HDMI port and don’t have one, there’s no other choice.

The USB Type C backlash

What happened to the simple elegance of streamlined devices? I would prefer a heavier and thicker all-in-one device with all of the ports I need on a daily basis and protest having to lug around yet another annoying adapter or peripheral device. It’s a sign manufacturers have lost touch with consumer preferences.

At this point I have plenty in my laptop bag, including:

  • Portable external monitor
  • Mouse
  • Portable optical drive
  • USB Type-C dongle (as of this week)
  • Portable 10-key
  • Bluetooth speaker

Enough already. Since I still have an iPhone 6, at least I don’t have to deal with the iPhone 7s lack of 3.5mm headphone jack. This modification has created an equally impressive backlash from customers since the new phone makes it impossible to charge your phone and listen to music with headphones at the same time without a dongle (or two). Ridiculous. I don’t know who’s bright idea that was.

At least it creates a market for products that allow you to jury-rig the iPhone 7. An Incipio phone case announced at the Consumer Electronics Show last week “adds a decent amount of bulk to the iPhone, but it allows for simultaneous charging and music listening without the need for an adapter or dongle.”

I am not exactly sure why manufacturers aren’t listening. It seems simple to me. Bring back the ports we still need. But who am I to say?

Watch out for USB knockoffs

The WSJ does warn consumers to be suspicious of USB devices that don’t comply with the USB Implementers Forum’s safety requirements. You should only buy USB Type-C products that bear the USB certified logo or the USB-IF website lists as compliant. A cheap dongle can short-circuit your system if the electrical current is too strong. It is similar to frying your blow dryer by plugging it into an outlet overseas without converting the voltage.

Moral of the story: Don’t get caught without the port you need. Buy a dongle now if your laptop is lacking in the port department, even if you make the purchase begrudgingly. You don’t want to be caught off guard getting ready for a presentation and you realize you don’t have an HDMI port.


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