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Mega-Cool Magnetic USB Adapters

A magnetic tip plugs into your smartphone or tablet, while a magnetic cable connects to your power supply. Three types of tips are available: Micro USB, Lightning, and USB Type-C.

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In my previous column, “Making Ice Cream with Liquid Nitrogen,” I regaled you with taste-bud tempting treats of a cryogenic confectionary character. As an aside, I’m sure you are familiar with the phrase, “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream,” but do you have any idea from when and whence this little scamp originated? In fact, this was one of a series of comic novelty songs from the 1920s that were set in pseudo-exotic locations. The verses of Ice Cream talk of a fictional college in “the land of ice and snow, up among the Eskimo”, the college cheer being the chorus of the song “I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream.” Here’s a recording of Ice Cream performed by popular American band Waring’s Pennsylvanians circa 1925. The reason I mention this here is that my mom told me that when she was a kid during the latter part of WWII, the only record she had was a copy of Ice Cream (see also Part 1 and Part 2 of “The Times They Are a-Changin’”).
Magnetic cable connects to tip plugged into device.
But none of this is what I wanted to tell you about. While Rick was here, I noticed an unfamiliar dinky doodad plugged into the power/data port on his Android smartphone (what would be the lightning connector port on an iPhone). When I queried Rick about this, he informed me that — on a recent trip to the beach — his phone, his wife’s phone, and a couple of other gadgets were plugged into a multi-way USB power block. At some stage, one of them (name withheld to protect the innocent) inadvertently tripped over a cable and caused everything to crash to the floor. Rick noted that they considered themselves lucky that they hadn’t snapped the connecters off the cables at the points where they entered their various gizmos. Following this incident, Rick located some mega-cool magnetic USB adapters on eBay. These are great; you can get tips for Micro USB (as used by Android), Lightning (as used by Apple’s iOS devices), and USB Type-C (as used by everything… one day).
Magnetic cable with three possible tip types.
You plug the relevant tip into your device and leave it there. The side of the tip presented to the outside world has a set of electrical connectors and is magnetized. You also need to purchase a special cable, which has a regular USB-A connector on one end (to plug into your power supply), and a magnetic connector on the other (to connect to the tip plugged into your device). The cable is common to all three tip types. One important point to note is that you typically have to purchase the cable separately. Another potential “gotcha” is to ensure that your tip(s) and cable(s) come from the same manufacturer, otherwise they are unlikely to work well together. Also, one last point is to make sure that your tips and connectors support both power and data (I’m not sure, but my impression is that some offerings are power-only). I think this is a brilliant idea. If you happen to drop your device while charging, the worst that can happen is that the magnetic coupling disengages, as opposed to a regular cable where you have a chance of snapping the end of your connector off in your device. Apart from anything else, leaving the tip plugged into your device prevents dust and moisture getting in. As an added benefit, this also cuts down on the wear and tear associated with repeatedly connecting and disconnecting a regular cable. Rick kindly supplied two eBay links: the first takes you to the tip page, where Android tips are $0.99 apiece, Lightning tips are $1.45, and USB Type-C tips are $1.59; the second takes you to the corresponding cable page, where you can select between silver, gold, rose gold, and black versions, each costing only $2.89. Oh yes, shipping is free, although you will have to wait a couple of weeks (you can purchase equivalents locally that will arrive faster, but these will cost a lot more). I just ordered ten Lightning tips and six cables, which should cover yours truly, my wife (Gina the Gorgeous), and my son (Joseph). Unfortunately, I was so excited that I ordered six silver cables — if I’d thought to use the “Add to Cart” button, I could have ordered four silver cables for me, a black one for Joseph, and a rose gold version for Gina, thereby circumnavigating the “Is that my cable” questions that are bound to ensue.
Underside of Countdown Timer (the Teensy 3.6 is on the left)
But wait, there’s one more thing… I may have mentioned my Countdown Timer project on occasion (I try not to talk about it, but it may have slipped out). As part of this, I’m using a Teensy 3.6 processor, which is mounted on a stack of header pins to allow it to clear the connectors on the cables I’m using to drive the Lixie displays. The Teensy is powered from the main supply. When I’m programming it, however, the data connection is provided via its on-board Micro USB socket. Whenever I plug the regular USB cable into this socket, I have to support the Teensy to prevent it from pulling out of the headers. Thus, I also ordered one of the magnetic Micro USB tips, which I will leave plugged into the Teensy. I tell you; if I was any happier there would need to be two of me to contain all the excitement. How about you, have you seen (or used) these magnetic adapters at all? If so, do you have any thoughts you’d care to share? If not, do you think you could be tempted?

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Aubrey Kagan

Max
“Also, one last point is to make sure that your tips and connectors support both power and data”

This is most important when you deal with Apple products. I recently bought a Lightning the 3.5mm headphone adaptor off Amazon (or at least Amazon’s website) for my iPhone XR. I was somewhat upset to discover that Apple uses embedded ICs in some of their cables and the generic one I had bought was not compatible. Actually it works for about 5 minutes and then stops. The Apple part works just fine.

MeasurementBlues

What if you want to remove the connector that inserts into the phone> Pliers?

Rick Curl

A fingernail will do the trick.

MeasurementBlues

Apple being Apple.

Rick Curl

I’ve always been concerned that one day the USB connector on my phone will fail, meaning I only have a few hours (if I’m lucky) to make sure I have a current copy of all of the stuff on my phone. These devices ease my mind quite a bit.

One interesting thing about these is that you can rotate the magnetic end of the cable either direction and it still connects properly- which is a mystery to me because the tip appears to be too small to contain polarity-correcting electronics.

If you use the compass in your phone (maybe for outdoor navigation or Geocaching), avoid the version of these devices that say “double suction”. Those have magnets both on the cable and on the tip, so they will put your compass out in the weeds.

Also, look for the ones with a symmetrical magnet. On some of them the magnet is D-shaped, so the cable end can only be attached on one direction.

You may also find some that are completely round, with a large circular magnet surrounding a smaller circular magnet. These only have two current-carrying conductors, so they will charge the device but they do not support data transfer.

I’ll be curious to know if any of you have tried these. After tinkering with a couple of them for a week I went “hog wild” and put them on all our devices at the house, the office and in the cars.

Absolutely ingenious devices! Why didn’t I think of this?

-Rick

David Ashton

Looks useful. One use that immediately occurred to me was for a bunch of Bluetooth speakers that the company gave to us as Christmas presents a couple of years ago. They had a micro USB connector, However after a few pluggings and unpluggings quite a few of the sockets fell off inside the device, which was impossible to open. And boy did I try. The first few the company replaced from its small stock of spares, the rest weren’t so lucky. But this would be great for those speakers. Mine still works so I might get one or two of them.

> “…the land of ice and snow, up among the Eskimo”

A propos of nothing much, I prefer the Led Zep version:

“… We come from the land of the ice and snow
From the midnight sun, where the hot springs flow”
(Immigrant song, Led Zeppelin 3)

David Ashton

Frank Zappa did have some weird lyrics. From “Montana”:

I might be movin’ to Montana soon
Just to raise me up a crop of Dental Floss Raisin’ it up
Waxin’ it down
In a little white box
I can sell uptown

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=smZA9Jv3qH0

Susie Creamcheese

I don’t understand what you mean when you say Frank Zappa had weird lyrics.
-Susie

Crusty

Hi Max, Glad I read this as I did not know that a USB version was available.. I do not know if you have the same problem in that with repeated insertion and extraction the USB ports on my laptops begin to wear out, so I am going to be buying these for the laptop. The lightning connector has already saved my iPhone a dozen times by now.

Thomas J Burke

Congrats Max — this column gets a bookmark!

I will be checking out these babies when I get home tonight. Reading about them fired the neurons associated with Android Auto in two of my cars. (As a side note, my son, who drives one car the most, regularly experiences pronoun troubles by referring to the car as “his.”) But I digress. I plug/unplug my phone into my car multiple times/day. While my phone connector survives, the Sacoshita cables I use wear out regularly — and always at the most inconvenient times.

These would solve that problem quite nicely.

Thomas J Burke

Long time reader so yes, the entire site is already bookmarked. It’s how I remember to look at it regularly because… SQUIRREL!

Since you’ve recently opened up this forum, this is the first specific column that got its own bookmark.

I’ll take a look at the link you mentioned in my spare**3 time.

Thomas J Burke

Quick update — I just one of these from Amazon:
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07Q3DQ923/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

I just ran, well, walked briskly, out to my car and plugged it in. It actually worked. Not only charging but data transfer too — Android Auto from my phone worked.

Woo hoo!

I’ll have to use it awhile to ascertain how durable it is, but my initial impression is all positive. Appears well made, plugs into my phone with a snug fit, and doesn’t stick out from the phone obtrusively. Really a great idea for car use because phones get plugged in often.

Better living through engineering baby!

Rick Curl

I’m not surprised that they get hot. Since you can connect the cable to the adapter tip in either direction, that would imply that there must be either an active or passive bridge rectifier in the tip- and it’s an awfully small tip, so there,s not much area available to dissipate heat.
Let’s assume there is a Schottky bridge in there. Two devices conducting, dropping half a volt each, with the phone drawing two amps would mean the you’ve got to dissipate two watts of heat.
I think we can rule out a silicon carbide bridge due to cost.
If there is an active rectifier made up of MOSFETs, using P-channel devices would allow the lowest parts count, but P-channel devices have a higher on resistance than N-channel devices for the same size chunk of silicon.
If they used N-channel devices they would have to include a charge pump to get the necessary gate drive voltage up higher than the 5 volt supply.

Then there’s the contact resistance of those tiny spring-loaded pins.

I’ve been using several of these cables. On my Samsung J7 phone the cable adapter barely gets warm. On a 10 inch Android it gets a bit warmer but not hot.

I’m curious – did you notice the phone charging any slower than usual?

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