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.
In addition to two- ($17) and three-foot ($19) straight cables, the company offers a four-foot ($25) coiled cable that’s optimized for use in the car, giving users options that are slightly less and more expensive than Apple’s Lightning to USB Cable. It’s worth noting that the two-foot cable is actually 27” long including both plugs, while the three-foot cable is 39” long, and the coiled four-foot cable starts at around 15” at minimum extension, versus 48” at maximum.
Griffin’s two-foot cable is the most affordable Lightning cable we’ve seen, if only by a mere $2, while giving up 14.5” relative to Apple’s cable; the three-foot version loses 2.5” versus Apple’s without any price break, and the four-foot one costs $6 more with 6.5” of added length and coiling capabilities. It’s not as easy to carry as strikeLine Pro, but you get a little more length, and pay $5 less.
Each of Griffin’s cables has the same black color and USB/Lightning connector housings. As with strikeLine Pro, Griffin’s Lightning plug housing is slightly larger than Apple’s, and therefore might be tight or problematic with certain cases. However, it’s not huge or boxy, and our belief is that it will be trouble-free with most cases. The USB housings similarly use a plastic that’s a little easier to grip than Apple’s, making insertion and removal a bit less challenging.
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.
2′ / 4′ Cables
Company and Price
Company: Griffin Technology
Model: Lightning Connector Cables
Compatible: iPad (4th-Gen), iPad mini, iPhone 5, iPod nano 7G, iPod touch 5G