Wednesday, February 22, 2017

UK plug and wall socket is probably the best there is

While we are on the topic of sockets and chargers. UK three-prong plug (type G) allows you to put heavier things into the socket and they will sit there securely. Also it's rated 250V/13A allowing more powerful appliances and probably safer than any other plug type (not mentioned there that almost every socket has an off switch, as an additional safety feature, apart from all the shutters, insulation, and built-in fuses).

(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

If the world ever comes to a standard AC plug type, I hope it will be either that or at least something as robust and safe. And, let's face it, the only two alternatives (EU and US plugs) are not that universal, there are dozens of variations (where to put the ground prong, how to ensure polarity, even how big the prongs themselves must be) that makes either harder to adopt as a single universal standard.

Universal USB-C laptop chargers can't become industry standard fast enough

Adapter I had for charging my laptop broke yesterday. Now I need to give you a bit of a background to explain what kind of adapter that was. So, Lenovo produces lots of different laptops. And, just like all other manufacturers, they have lots of different charger connectors. With Yoga series, it was always some weird variation of USB, not a (more typical until recently) round connector. In particular, for Yoga 3 and 4 it looks like this:

(Photo from Aliexpress)



It's unclear why apart from making people buy their stupid chargers. You hardly can use the port for anything else when not charging (it's not even 3.0). And I mean stupid, just look at this:

(Photo from Aliexpress)

How can even call it a "travel" adapter is beyond understanding. If you actually travel, you have either to buy a new one for every socket type, or use a socket adapter which (considering most wall sockets are located in walls) will make this massive charger fall out every few minutes. Even without an adapter, it doesn't sit in a wall socket very well (UK plug is somewhat better in this regard).

Also cable is too short for almost anything.

There are two alternatives to this madness. First (more readily available) is a third-party adapter with swappable plugs. It looks like this:

(Photo from eBay)
Although you can get a set of plugs a travel more easily, it's still has the plug in it. You will still have trouble with plugging this thing at least to some wall sockets (unless it's UK plug, I currently suspect that's the best plug type ever).

Cable is also too short and, unlike the Lenovo's original charger, cable can't be replaced.

The second option that I find much neater:

(Photo from eBay)

It's a charger for some other Lenovo laptop (same 20V/65W) plus an adapter to convert round connector to weird USB. Some of you probably figured out why this is better despite more moving parts: it uses standard IEC C5 ("Mickey Mouse" cable). You know why it's a good thing. No? Really? I don't believe you but let me explain anyway. You can switch between different plug types by simply changing the cable (costs a couple bucks and available almost anywhere you go, so if you, say, find yourself in Malaysia unprepared, you just go to the first electronics store and buy a cheap cable, easy). Then it provides additional length, up to 2.5 meters from the socket or even more (AC cable can easily be longer than 2 meters, if you can find it, while DC cable can't be longer then a meter-something before it starts losing power). The charger is for something pretty old, easy to find and cheap if it breaks (unlike original adapter for Yoga). And, last but not least, adapter itself doesn't have to hang on the wall socket. It's almost perfect.

There are several downsides though. It's pretty rare, like just a couple of listings on ebay and aliexpress (not many people have this particular Yoga laptop and even fewer care about the charger). Adapter itself costs about $10 and pretty impossible to find offline.

So, I'm in Singapore, this flimsy little converter broke, and the only quick option was to buy a new charger (swappable plug, like above, but only UK plug included). It works ok, should be enough until I order a new converter cable (or three, just in case) although additional plugs would've been useful considering I'm going to Vietnam next. Cost me S$65 which is a bit more than I would like to pay (I could buy it cheaper online with a complete set of plugs), but I was kinda in a hurry.

So, I was saying. I can't wait for really universal laptop chargers (like we almost have with phones: most of the phones use either microUSB or USB Type-C, maybe a few years in the future even Apple will come to their senses, they already use USB-C for the laptops). There is a USB Power Delivery standard, there are several voltage/current options in it that should fit most laptops, and some manufacturers already use it. Even Lenovo, if I remember correctly, started doing so with some of their new hi-end ThinkPads. Maybe (and that's still a big maybe) if I decide to buy the next Yoga next year or so this non-standard charging connector nonsense will be over already. Or I might go with Dell or something instead. With USB-PD, I'm pretty sure I will be able to find a charger that is designed for travelling (a small black box with IEC C6 inlet on one side, USB-C outlet on the other, both cables easily replaceable), soon if not right now. There might even be some nice additions like more than one outlet so you can charge something else or power a USB hub or something that cannot be powered directly from laptop. The future is almost here... I hope.

Update(2017-04-13): Actually, it's already becoming better. For example, this is made by HP:
(Photo from hp.com)
It's standard USB-PD so it's totally compatible with other devices (that can take 45W in different voltages, doesn't support 20V though). USB cable is not detachable but that can be tolerated. IEC C6 ("Mickey Mouse") inlet is absolutely lovely.

Another example, independent manufacturer:
(Photo from Innergie)
This one supports 20V (in addition to other three possible voltages: 5V, 12V, and 15V). But it uses ungrounded IEC C8 inlet which is passable but has obvious disadvantages (apart from it being ungrounded I'd have to buy a new collection of cables for my travel needs :) on the other hand, ungrounded AC plugs are usually a bit more compact and universal, if you don't worry about fusing you can use europlug in UK sockets with just a little help to open the holes).

In other news, both new Lenovo Yoga 910 and 2nd generation of Thinkpad X1 Yoga have USB-C ports for charging. I'm couldn't determine from Lenovo's site which voltage/wattage they require but it's hopefully one of the standard PD profiles. That new Dell XPS 13 has them is not even news. So whatever I choose next, I'll probably won't depend on awful chargers that come in the box. Although if I had to buy a new laptop right now I don't know what I'd do, all they have some serious disadvantages (I'm not going to write a full review soon, so just a short preview: Yoga 910 doesn't have a single thunderbolt port nor IRIS graphic nor thunderbolt nor even full USB 3.1 but bigger almost-14" display in a still-small chassis probably beats everyone, except X1 Yoga has an OLED option which makes it about the only OLED laptop on the market, it's 14" albeit chassis is slightly bigger, but resolution is only QHD, 1440p, not even close to 4k, it also has all the nice stuff like built-in LTE, two thunderbolt ports, and native RJ-45 and HDMI for better connectivity; then XPS is kinda ok except it's not convertible but apart from that it almost wins in comparison with 910 except the smaller display; I'd probably take X1 Yoga if it had 4k OLED panel, guys from Lenovo reading this: consider it for 3rd gen or maybe as an option for 2nd and you got yourself a new fanboy). The worst part is many people alarmingly stop buying laptops altogether, they are ok with tablets and keyboard for their office work and entertainment needs. Hence many manufacturers stopping paying attention to that market so competition becomes weaker. Even I considered supplementing with a tablet for reading and stuff until I can get an OLED laptop, though it would be an android tablet in my case so I don't have to worry about linux drivers and everything, but it's not like anything can replace a laptop for work for me right now (there are nice mini-PC boxes that can compete with ultraportable laptops but they are desk-bound and I wouldn't be able to code while lying on a couch, in my underwear... or even without, because I'm that nerd :) ). But more about that whenever I have time and enough info for a full review (manufacturers are welcome to send me devices for review, as usual, if anybody reads this ever :) ).

Update(2017-04-13): OH WAIT-- I just noticed one reason why I'll probably never ever buy myself an X1 Yoga, OLED or no OLED.
(Photo from lenovo.com)
No, seriously. Who said those "designers" that it's an acceptable placement for an Fn key? I can tolerate senseless PgUp/Home keys placement, I rarely use them anyway, trackpoint I'd just disable never to worry about, but doesn't everyone do C-c and C-x? They are more sensible with Yoga 9xx keyboards, why is this shit here? Unless they change this or I start using Caps as Control (I currently prefer my Escape there but who knows) I'll never ever ever buy this. And given that there are no other OLED laptops to speak of and other bad press Lenovo receives (remember the innovative hinge preventing you from using linux? how about superfish?), it's possible that something other than Yoga 9xx will be my favorite next year.

Although I'm so sick of recent mind-bogglingly stupid "innovations" that it's possible that I switch to some weird DYI stuff, start wearing a tinfoil hat, and be done with all that mobile hardware world. Ok, not likely, admittedly, but if I start being a 9-to-5 office worker my preferences might change rather significantly.