By Michael Evans
AS FROM NEXT YEAR all mobile phones sold in Europe must be capable of being charged via a USB cable and this is a welcome development. No longer will there be dozens of different types of charger, all with different connectors. Consumers will be able to keep one charger–a USB device similar to, for instance, the iPod power unit–and use it for all future phones. The word is that mobile phone manufacturers will cease to provide chargers in the box, merely a USB cable for connecting to a computer or universal charger. EU officials believe this new law will save thousands of tons of useless chargers being dumped every year.
One problem, though, is the bewildering array of USB connectors found on a wide variety of devices. For some years the USB Mini connector has been common on cameras (for data transfer, not for charging) but recently we've seen the USB Micro-B connector appearing on devices such as the MiFi and the Morphie Juice Pack for iPhone. While this connector, the flatter Micro-B, is likely to become the de facto standard for most small devices, it is currently new and little supported. I wanted a USB-A to Micro-B cable for the MiFi and had great difficulty locating one in Tottenham Court Road. One shop asked £15 for a one-meter cable and I thought this excessive. Fortunately, the internet came to the rescue and I found Cable Universe who supplied a 1.8-meter for £1.73, including tax. This is a very fair price and I bought two for under a third of the £15 in-store offer.
I then turned my attention to the Sony Reader which, in addition to the Mini USB connector, has a jack socket for charging. Strangely, the device will charge though the USB cable provided it is connected to a computer running the Sony reader software, but it will not charge from a hub or from a wall charger via the USB Micro socket. I discovered, though, that the reader shares its jack and charging arrangements with the Sony Playstation, so I was able to buy a USB-A to Jack cable from a local games shop.
Armed with just three USB cables (with Apple, USB Mini and USB Micro-B plugs) I can now travel light, with only one USB charger–either the handy Apple device or a multi unit such as the four-outlet Kensington charger available from the Apple Store online. This should be the future, but we do need to standardise on the smaller Micro-B USB plug. Experts tell me that the Micro-B is both smaller and sturdier than the Mini, so let's hope we find this on more devices.