Apple and Google both introduced new laptops featuring USB Type-C ports this week. The new 2 pound Apple MacBook and the 2015 Google Chromebook Pixel both use the new type of USB connector.

Both take advantage of some of the key features of USB Type-C: You can use the same port to charge your laptop, hook up a mouse, connect and chargea  smartphone, or attach external display.

But there’s one major difference between the MacBook and the Chromebook Pixel: Apple’s laptop has just a single USB port. The Chromebook Pixel has several.

USB Type-C can deliver up to 100 watts, which is 10 times more than the micro USB cable you probably use to charge your smartphone and more than enough to charge just about any laptop.

It can also handle data transfer speeds up to 20Gbs, supports DisplayPort, HDMI, and VGA video output (with an appropriate adapter), and supports reversible cables: there’s no way to insert a USB Type-C cable upside down.

Apple took advantage of that versatility by delivering a slim laptop that has just two ports: a headset jack and a single USB port. If you want to charge your laptop and connect a display or other peripherals at the same time you’ll need a $79 adapter.

macbook type c

Google took a different approach. The Chromebook Pixel has two standard USB 3.0 ports, an SD card slot and two USB type-C ports: one on either side. That means you can connect a monitor using one port while charging the laptop with another. You can also plug in a charger on either side.

You will need an adapter to connect an external display, but Google sells a range of adapters and other accessories.

Google also points out that if you leave your charger at home but have the USB Type-C to standard USB connector you can actually charge the Chromebook Pixel using any standard USB charger including a smartphone charger. The laptop won’t charge as quickly as it would from the official power adapter, but it will charge.

pixel port

In fact, you can even charge one Chromebook Pixel from another Chromebook Pixel… and while you could theoretically run a cable from one USB Type-C port to another, Google advises against trying to use the laptop to charge itself.

So while Apple is using the USB Type-C connector to make a cleaner-looking, nearly wire-free laptop that uses wireless technology to connect a display (AirPlay) or other accessories (Bluetooth), Google is using the new connectors to let you use cables in new, more versatile ways.

They’re two different strategies that probably tell us a lot about the ways these two companies are approaching technology. Google says we should expect to see USB Type-C on a number of upcoming Android and Chromebook products, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple expands its use of the technology… what’ll be interesting is to see whether Apple goes all-in on wireless technology or if future MacBooks will have multiple Type-C ports.

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14 replies on “A tale of two laptops with USB Type-C ports (Apple and Google)”

  1. What if you plug power charger to both type-c ports?(yeah, at the same time) Will it charges 2 times fast? Or will it result something unexpected?

  2. You just know some brilliant individual is going to try and use the Pixel to charge itself via the USB-C port

  3. Apple has dropped the ball with the single type-c port. They should have at least add some normal USB3 ports or at least a second type-c as Google did

  4. I would like to know who is dumb enough to buy a chrome pixel and use it with chrome os considering limited storage space? Core i5 is an overkill for such dumb browser based OS.

    1. Usually people replace Chrome OS with some kind of desktop Linux and use it with that. The Pixel’s hw support typically goes into the Linux kernel (ChromeOS is also based on the Linux kernel) so everything should work perfectly under desktop Linux distros. The worst thing that could happen is that you need to wait for the next kernel version since Pixel. Linus Torvalds also uses (or used to have) a first-gen Pixel.

    1. The pixel is an amazing, beautiful, and powerful machine. I’m glad it didn’t die! And I love being able to plug the computer in on either side. You don’t know how little details like this make the experience so much better until you’ve experienced it.

  5. Good points – and I suspect that most other manufacturers will be doing the Google route rather than the Apple route.

    I have the T100 with charges via micro USB and has just a single USB 3 port. It’s rare that I want to attach more than one device (and when I do, I can use a regular USB 3 hub, not an expensive Apple-only part), but very common that I’ll be using the USB port (e.g., transferring stuff to my phone, doing Android development, backing up to a USB stick – bluetooth is either more faff, is slower, or just won’t work for these needs) whilst also wanting to charge it (despite its longer-than-Apple battery life). Whilst Asus have replaced USB 3 with a microUSB slot on the new Chi models, my understanding is that it now has two separate ports for charging and peripherals.

    One obvious regular use for USB slots is charging other devices. So when I’m travelling, I’ll plug the T100 in, and then plug my Android phone into the T100. With Apple’s solution, you’ll need either the $79 hub, or have to deal with the often limited spare plugs that you get in hotel rooms.

    If Apple really believed in wireless for everything, why bother with USB-C at all? Just have the same old power connector, and use wireless for periphals and displays. The fact that they adopted USB-C shows that they do think people want to use it wired peripherals – but they want to sell $79 whilst fooling the media into thinking that they’re “forward thinking” by talking about wireless connections.

    Trying to do this for all laptops would have consequences – GPUs and sometimes CPUs may run at lower performance if on battery. Ultra-portables, 2-in-1s and tablets are meant to run on battery all the time, but for more powerful laptops, running on mains may be desirable even if you’re okay for battery. Also consider aged laptops that have poor battery capability, but might still be of use as a power connected machine.

    Note I’ve found my T100 to be a bit picky about what will charge it – I’ve never been able to charge from another computer, only when direct from mains (has charging one Chromebook from another been tested?) and it’s picky about some USB plugs I have. However, it can work from generic USB plugs, and that is definitely a big bonus, and means I don’t have to lug a separate power cable with the PSU “brick”.

  6. Actually Apple lists it as USB 3.1 Gen 1 (up to 5 Gbps) and they don’t specify if they use USB PD but we assume they are.
    Google seems to only use Gen 1 too but they mention 100W in a promo video so they seem to have USB PD.

    You are also misreading Apple’s intentions , it’s not about going wireless , the tech is not quite there to do so ( 2×2 wifi ac that the device has is just 867Mbps so some 108 MB/s). If they had WiGig it would be a valid theory but they don’t.
    Apple just recognizes that the device targets lightweight users that don’t require many ports. So they drop some bulk, cut some costs and end up with a cleaner design while the few that need more ports spend some more money on outrageously priced adapters.
    It’s similar to dropping the optical drive in the Air but of a lesser magintude.
    It is a device with a slow dual core SoC, little storage, so why would anyone pretend that it’s a serious PC and expect a bunch of ports, the Macbook Pro is for that.

    1. To me, a port is no bulk.
      About cutting costs: the retail price of this device shows rather the opposite.
      A cleaner design: I actually like ‘dirty’ more, as long as it makes sense.

    2. > hey drop some bulk, cut some costs and end up with a cleaner design

      It’s not a cleaner design than the pixel. The pixel has a much cleaner design when you look at the whole device, because it doesn’t have the large and tacky branding.

      And while apple did drop some bulk, they didn’t drop as much bulk as their competitors have been doing. This ‘apple netbook’ is a disappointment.

  7. You had to know Apple would still find a way to gouge their loyal customer base even after adopting the new standard USB port.

    At least more canny consumers will have plenty of lower cost alternatives to choose from.

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