Review: Apple Lightning to USB Cable
Four months after Apple officially introduced the Lightning connector, the number of third-party accessories supporting the new standard is steadily increasing, but still incredibly limited, as the connectors' limited supplies and high costs have proved prohibitive for many developers. Consequently, Apple's Lightning to USB Cable ($19) was 2012's only real option for connecting a fourth-generation iPad, iPad mini, iPhone 5, iPod nano 7G, or iPod touch 5G to a computer or charger via USB. But in recent weeks, early third-party alternatives have started to arrive, including Griffin's Lightning Connector Cables ($17-$25), and Scosche's strikeLine Pro ($30). From an electronic standpoint, these cables all work identically for charging and syncing, so the only reasons to prefer a certain model would be size, cosmetics, case compatibility, or pricing. However, Apple's licensing fees for sync-capable Lightning cables are so high that developers can't charge much less than the "official" price for their own options -- a fact that the developers bemoan, but are apparently powerless to change.
Apple’s cable is sold separately, but also packed in with every new iOS device, guaranteeing that users will be most accustomed to it. Measuring about 41.5” from end to end, it’s extremely similar to the Dock Connector cable it replaces, with the biggest difference being the Lightning plug at the end. Of all the cables we’ve seen, including some of the company’s own adapters, this one has the thinnest housing surrounding the eight-pin connector. The oval-shaped, hard white plastic sheathe is just barely wider than the plug itself, guaranteeing the greatest level of case compatibility. Apple currently offers developers different sizes of Lightning housings to purchase, but doesn’t sell ones as thin as on its own cables.
Interestingly, the Lightning to USB Cable’s gray plastic-covered wire isn’t quite as thick as on prior Dock Connector to USB Cables, and Apple has continued to shave millimeters off of the hard glossy plastic jacket for the USB plug, as well, now adding a millimeter or less to the standard metal plug. Taken as a whole, the cable feels quite sturdy, though the USB plug doesn’t have much to grip and pull out. Longer sections of reinforced rubber underneath the plugs will hopefully help prevent cable fraying we’ve seen in the past.
Most of the accessories we review are easy to rate as “great,” “good,” “okay,” or “bad,” but due to Apple’s Lightning pricing policies, these cables aren’t quite so simple to summarize. There’s nothing worth nearly $20 in any of these accessories, and people who aren’t Apple users will reasonably scoff at paying an $17 premium for a glorified Micro-USB cable. Unfortunately, extra Lightning cables will be mandatory for most Apple users going forward, which means that customers will be forced to eat the costs while understanding that everyone’s being gouged by Apple, developers and users alike. While the best of these cables—Apple’s own, and two of Griffin’s—are just barely worthy of our general recommendation, there’s less reason to consider paying a third-party developer the same or more money for less cabling than Apple’s, at least in these cases. It’s deeply regrettable that Apple has forced the prices of Lightning connectors to be so unnecessarily high, and no surprise that developers and users are now considering other options because of it.