March 22, 2006

Universal Connector

Filed under: digital — mhoye @ 11:04 am

I bought a new widget a little while ago. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best bluetooth headset I’ve tried so far. “Tried so far” has a price axis to it, you understand, whose metric consists mostly of “not willing to pay more than X for a widget that’s more about nerd-fun than real need”. I haven’t tried any of the $200 models, and this one set me back about $60. And so far, this thing is pretty good.


It’s so close to meeting my exact criteria for this device that I am physically pained that it didn’t quite make that last step.

It doesn’t, you see, charge over USB. There’s a cute little power adapter that plugs into a wall and ends two feet away in a cute little entirely-custom, never-seen-anywhere-else plug, which you slot into the headset in its own custom, never-seen-anywhere-else socket. It takes five volts and half an amp.

Please, dear people who make little low-power widgets, I beg of you, let me charge your widgets via USB. Sell me your device without your power adapter, and instead with a tiny little cable, perhaps as little as a foot long, that has standard USB-cable bits at either end. Make them as dumb as you possibly can, so I don’t need to do any more work, like installing a driver, and just suck up the voltage. If you really need a to put a transformer in the box, an off-the-shelf wall-voltage-to-usb thing would be fine. I would be shocked if this wasn’t cheaper for you than including a custom-built power brick and mobile users, especially your hard core have-gun-will-travel types who want to travel light at all costs, will love you for it always. And though I’m hardly a member of that frequent-flyer elite, even I’ve had days where turning laptop juice into widget power was, or would have been, pure gold.

I’ll even forgive you if you need a custom cable, say because you want one end to work on your widget and the other to be USB or Firewire or whatever; I won’t love you any less, I just need you to stop filling my bag with an assortment of transformers when I could just carry a few ounces of short cable. Still, standard USB ends are really the best, because they’re ubiquitous – cables you can’t buy off the shelf everywhere are cables you can’t easily replace if something wears out or goes missing, something that only seems to happen when it matters the most.

The power adapter for my cellphone is in Toronto right now; I’m going to have to find a store that sells my precise brand of two-year-old phone (a T610 that naturally has entirely custom, this-line-of-phones-only connectors), hope they’ve still got the right one in stock (Sony-Ericsson has obsoleted that plug style a while back), and probably spend more than the actual phone is worth just to replace its power cable.

That’s my gadget-related wish for today. Make my life a little less cluttered and a little simpler. Make my travel bag lighter. I’ll give you money. Thanks!


  1. Agreed re: USB charging. I don’t understand why Plantronics provided four ends for various cel phone adapters, but didn’t make a USB version (especially since my phone charges using a USB port). Frig.

    As far as the power adapter goes, have a peek at the iGo stuff at The Source. Kinda handy, and dual power source (car/home) is about the same price as a dedicated AC charger.

    Comment by kev — March 22, 2006 @ 3:32 pm

  2. Do you have FidoDollars available? 5% of your bill paymets get set aside for new handset purchase — you might be able to get a whole new phone for nothin’.

    Comment by Quotation — March 22, 2006 @ 6:02 pm

  3. Conversely, I wish that my iPod had come with some form of charger that was not exclusively USB. It was very inconvenient when I was on vacation without access to a computer for a week to not be able to charge the thing.

    Comment by Lara — March 22, 2006 @ 6:41 pm

  4. The “FidoDollars” situation is grim. One twentieth of my cellphone bill basically amounts to about a fifth of a decent cellphone, at this point. They even have the phone I covet, the z520a (with an entirely different set of custom connectors, the bastards) but I’m holding out.

    For what, exactly, I’m not sure, but since Fido is now part of the Rogers organism any resistance can be justified.

    Comment by Mike Hoye — March 22, 2006 @ 9:31 pm

  5. I wish all my little electronics used a common adapter. Then they could sell it for less without the adapter, and I could just pickup a generic adapter the first time and never have to think about it… but then that’s counter-productive for the manufacturer.. Like with cars, it’s in their best interest to make the parts as specialized as possible, so when something breaks, you have no choice but to come back to them for replacement if you ever want to use it again… Did I mention that I hate capitalism? Oh ya.. and a big gratuitous “Death to Rogers” while I’m at it.

    Comment by Oli — March 24, 2006 @ 8:03 am

  6. You know, if you have a spare cable end for your cell phone, a spare USB cable, and some soldering experience you could probably make your own USB charger. A standard powered USB port will give you 5V at about 850mA (not exactly sure about the amperage). This is what I would’ve done for my cell phone had I not found a USB data cable for $5 on eBay.

    As for the cell phone charger, well, you’re probably screwed unless you want to either pay out the ass for a new charger or wait 2 weeks while one arrives from eBay.

    Comment by Guillaume — March 26, 2006 @ 4:23 pm

  7. If I had a spare cable end for my cellphone, I would have a spare charger attached to it.

    My experience so far building my own standins for these things has not been good. I’ve tried it for an old PDA, and received both no love and the lovely smell of oven-fresh ozone for my efforts. And really, that’s not the point. Of course I can build my own power adapters. What I’m asking for is to not have to.

    Comment by Mike Hoye — March 27, 2006 @ 10:28 am

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