Understanding USB means knowing the difference between types and versions, and how these influence which connectors and cables you use.
In this guide, we:
- define some common USB-related terms
- explain the different types of USB connector, port and cable
- answer some FAQs around USB types and how they work
Click on a link below to jump to the relevant section:
USB type and USB version—what’s the difference?
|The shape of the USB connector or port Examples: USB Type-C, USB Type-B Micro||The technology that allows data to be transferred along a cable from one device to another Examples: USB 2.0, USB 3.0|
USB types explained
The term “USB type” can mean three different things:
- The connectors at the end of a USB cable
- The ports the cable is plugging into
- The cable itself (and sometimes this will have two types in its name)
In the case of 1 and 2, the type describes the physical shape of the connectors or ports.
This cable would plug into two ports that have these shapes:
Although a cable has two differently shaped connectors, it takes the name of whichever connector is not USB Type-A. That’s because USB Type-A is the most commonly used USB port and connector so an alternative type is the most distinguishing feature.
For example, this cable would be considered a USB Type-C cable.
USB cable types are explained in more detail below.
Types of USB connector
USB connectors are sometimes referred to as “male” connectors, as they plug into a “female” port.
The different types of connector—shown by USB version—are as follows.
USB Type-A Mini
- Developed to allow On-The-Go (OTG) peripheral devices such as smartphones and tablets to function as host devices for keyboards and mice
- Superseded by USB Type-B Mini and Type-B micro connectors
USB Type-B Mini
- Found on digital cameras, external hard drives, USB hubs and other equipment
- Used by USB 1.1 and 2.0
USB Type-A Micro
- Found on USB On-The-Go (OTG) devices such as smartphones and tablets
- Doesn’t have a dedicated port but instead fits into a special AB port which accommodates both USB Type-A Micro and USB Type-B Micro
- Mostly superseded by USB Type-B Micro
USB Type-B Micro
- Used by modern Android devices as their standard charging plug and port
Types of USB cable
USB cables are named in one of two ways:
1. As a single type
For example, a USB Type-C cable.
With these cables, the type is whichever end of the cable isn’t the standard USB Type-A connector. So, for example, a cable with both a USB Type-A and a Type-C connector is a USB Type-C cable.
If both connectors are USB Type-A, it would be a USB Type-A cable (or a USB male to male cable or, simply, a USB cable).
An iPhone cable is described as an Apple Lightning cable, to correspond with the iPhone’s unique Lightning connector.
An Android cable is called a Micro-USB cable.
2. As one type to another
For example, a USB Type-A to USB Type-C cable.
If the cable has a Type-A connector at one end (as in the above image), that will usually be the first type. The second will be the shape of connector that will plug into your device.
Some cables have the same connector at both ends and are named accordingly—for example, a USB Type-C to USB Type-C cable.
Types of USB port
The port (also called a socket, jack or receptacle) is the part of your device the USB connector plugs into. USB ports are sometimes referred to as “female”, as they accept a “male” connector.
The different types of port—shown by USB version—are as follows:
- Classic flat, rectangular shape
- Used by the following devices:
- Almost all computers (desktops, laptops etc.)
- Most tablets
- Games consoles (PlayStation, XBox etc.)
- Smart TVs
- DVD and Blu-Ray players
- Peripherals (e.g. keyboards, mice)
- Flash drives/memory sticks
What is USB Type-A male and what is USB Type-A female?
Connectors and ports are sometimes referred to as “male” and “female”, as a way of showing which ones are compatible.
A USB Type-A male connector plugs into a USB Type-A female port.
What is USB 3.1 Type-A?
This refers to a USB Type-A connector or port that uses the USB 3.1 standard and is able to achieve that version’s fast speeds for transferring data.
Is there a USB Type-A to Micro-HDMI?
Yes. You might use one of these cables when connecting a smartphone or tablet to a larger display, such as a computer monitor, high-definition TV or video projector.
Micro-HDMI is also known as HDMI Type-D, and is a very similar shape to the USB Type-B Micro connector.
What is USB Type-B used for?
You’ll typically find USB Type-B ports on larger devices you connect to your computer, such as printers and scanners. You might also have external storage devices or drives that use them.
Most USB Type-B connectors are at one end of a USB Type-B to USB Type-A cable. You plug the Type-B connector into the printer, scanner or other device and the Type-A connector to the standard USB port on your computer.
Can I play video through USB Type-B?
Yes, if you have a video projector equipped with a USB Type-B port, and a computer with the necessary capabilities.
Simply connect the two devices using a USB Type-B to USB Type-A cable, and adjust the settings on the projector so it knows it’s receiving data via USB.
Be aware, however, that USB is not always the best format for playing video, and that HDMI might be a better option.
- Symmetrical oblong shape
- Still fairly new (2014), so used by only a limited number of devices, such as:
- Apple MacBooks (for charging, transferring data and playing video)
- some of the latest laptops
- Nintendo Switch games console
What is USB Type-C used for?
USB Type-C is still quite new, and is yet to be incorporated into most of the devices we use from day to day. Currently, you can only find USB Type-C in Apple MacBook computers, some Chromebooks and other new models of laptop, and some flash drives. It’s also used on the Nintendo Switch games console.
Does my laptop have USB Type-C?
If it’s an Apple MacBook, more than likely. If it’s a Chromebook or an up-to-date model made by another manufacturer, possibly.
It’s easy enough to find out—does your laptop have a port that looks like this?
Be aware though: your laptop might have a USB Type-C port, but might not be able to charge through it. MacBooks can, but other computers might only charge with their own charger. The manual that came with your computer should tell you whether this is possible, or you can check the manufacturer’s website.
Does my Mac have USB Type-C?
It depends on the model. The following Mac models have Thunderbolt 3 ports, which support USB Type-C.
- iMac Pro
- iMac models from 2017
- Mac mini (2018)
- MacBook Pro (2016 or later)
- MacBook Air (Retina, 13-inch, 2018)
If your MacBook has only one port, it’s a USB Type-C port.
How do I connect a USB Type-C device to a PC?
First, check your PC has a USB Type-C port—not all of them do! If it does, you can connect a USB Type-C device to it using a USB Type-C to USB Type-A cable, or a USB Type-C to USB Type-C cable.
How do you tell the difference between USB Type-C and Micro-USB?
These connectors do have some physical differences that allow you to tell them apart.
USB Type-C has an oblong-shaped plug and is slightly bigger than Micro-USB. It can be inserted either side up.
Micro-USB can only be plugged in one way and has two hooks at the bottom to hold the cable in place.
Can you charge a USB Type-C device with a Micro-USB charger?
Yes, but you’ll need a special adapter. USB Type-C and Micro-USB (Type-B Micro) are not the same, and will not fit each other’s ports on their own.
Look for a USB Type-C to Micro-USB adapter. This will have a USB Type-C connector that plugs into your device and a Micro-USB port into which you plug the charger.
Does USB Type-C work with Mini-USB?
Mini-USB ports tend to be found on USB On-The-Go (OTG) peripheral devices such as smartphones and tablets, to enable them to function as host devices.
With a USB Type-C to Mini-USB cable, you can connect these devices to any computer equipped with a USB Type-C (or Thunderbolt) port, whether it’s to charge the device or transfer data.
What is USB 3.1 Type-C? What is USB 3.0 Type-C?
It’s a USB Type-C connector or port that’s compatible with USB 3.1 or USB 3.0.
Is USB Type-C the same as Thunderbolt?
Although USB and Thunderbolt were once competing standards, the most recent version of Thunderbolt (Thunderbolt 3) changed to adopt the same shape as USB Type-C and much of its capability.
This means every Thunderbolt 3 port also works as a USB Type-C port and every Thunderbolt 3 cable works as a USB Type-C cable.
Any USB Type-C device plugged into a Thunderbolt 3 port will work as normal, but Thunderbolt 3 devices won’t work if plugged into a USB Type-C port.
Is USB Type-C reversible?
Yes. The connector is designed so it can be plugged in either way round.
Does USB Type-C take USB OTG?
Yes, USB On-The-Go (OTG) works with USB Type-C connections.
USB OTG allows compatible devices (most Android smartphones and some other models, although not Apple) to read data from a USB device without first having to connect to a computer.
This enables those devices to connect to:
- external hard drives or USB flash drives, to expand their storage capacity
- keyboards, mice or games controllers
- digital cameras
How fast is USB Type-C?
USB Type-C was created purposely to take advantage of the USB 3.1 standard, which is capable of transferring data at 10 Gbit/s (known as SuperSpeed+).
Are USB Type-C cables compatible with USB 2.0?
Yes. USB Type-C is backwards compatible with USB 2.0 and 3.0 devices. However, you’ll need an adapter because the USB Type-C connector has a different shape to the connectors on USB 2.0 and 3.0 cables.
Is USB Type-C the same as Firewire?
No. USB and Firewire are different standards, though they do the same job of transferring data. Once quite popular, Firewire has declined in recent years as USB emerged as the industry standard.
Can I charge my phone with USB Type-C?
The following smartphones have USB Type-C charging ports:
|Pixel 3, Pixel 3 XL|
|HTC||Exodus 1, U11, U11 Plus, U12 Plus, U Ultra|
|Huawei||Mate 20 Pro, Nexus 6P, P20|
|LG||G7 ThinQ, V40 ThinQ|
|Motorola||Moto G6, Moto Z3 Play|
|Samsung||Galaxy S9, S9 Plus, Galaxy Note 9|
|Sony||Xperia XZ2, XZ2 Compact|