The dangers of really cheap iPhone USB sync/charger cables... or not?!

Discussion in 'iPhone Accessories' started by TheGreatMuta, Mar 6, 2013.

  1. TheGreatMuta, Mar 6, 2013
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2013

    TheGreatMuta macrumors newbie


    Feb 24, 2013
    I'll try to keep this brief, but I'd really appreciate it if you hang in there with me, stick it out and see this through as I think it's a point that really divides opinion, and frankly, I'd love to know for sure. In fact, I actually need to know.

    So, recently, with my iPhone 4S and its tiny usb cable, I'd had enough. I could plug it in, and it wouldn't reach me anywhere. I may as well have nailed it to the plug or the laptop. I went searching around for something super-long, that would cover my needs. Now, I knew that Apple didn't offer this luxury, so I started looking at Belkin and Griffin cables.

    I have a Griffin case on my 4S, with a nice gap around the connector port, and I figured that there would be some sensible thinking going on there, and everything would slot together in sensible design. I'd get two. One for work, one for home because frankly the battery doesn't have a life of its own.

    Two Griffin XL 3metre cables (no plug) at the price of £20/$30 each.

    Well, what joy to find that not only did the Griffin cables not fit with the Griffin case still on the phone, as the plastic around the 30 pin connector on the lead is too big... but if you took off the case, the connector was wider than the phone even.

    It made for a whole task of always removing the case and having this lead that was overbearing in every way. Zero convenience, not to mention the fact that it didn't even slightly click into place in the phone. I would just slide out at will.

    Okay, really, stay with me. There might be prizes in it for you.

    So the cables went back. I've yet to get the refund.

    Anyway, I've been searching around, and I need a LONG lead. 3metres would be great, with one of those slim 30 pin ends, so it will just slip into my case, just like a regular Apple one does.

    Problem is, the internet has a couple of fairly short-in-length branded cables that are thick and tough and ready for when crocodiles attack just like some of the over-the-top third-party cases, but the cables just won't slip in through a case. They've been designed with their own company's ego in mind. The rest of the internet is flooded with REEEEEAAAALLLY cheapy cables to do the job. All the way up to the neon pink 3 metre ones made by some poor kids' tiny hands in the far east. Cheap and unbranded, yet sized perfectly.

    So here's the issue:

    I know little about electronics, wattage, ampage, current, mAh, danger, overheating, regulated, unregulated etc. etc.

    I was wondering, with some degreee of actual science in mind/applied here, how safe are those cheap cables? Are they a risk? Will they cause overheating? What's the deal? Are they perfectly good for the job? Avoid like the plague? Can they cause harm? Do they deliver too much current? (note how I have no clue, here). Do they damage gadgets? Risks? Danger?

    All in all... cheap iPhone 4S usb syncing/charging cables, we all know the ones... what's the story?

    Any opinions? / Facts? / Conclusions?

    All opinions welcome, feel free to highlight my stupidity if that works for you, also. Those with some hard science on the topic are more than especially welcome. :)

    As I say, hit me up with opinions or anything. :)


    Please note: I am talking only about the usb cables. Not any power units. I use the Apple plug or a Griffin one for that. I'm not sure I'd chance much else.
  2. bigcstyle4 macrumors 6502

    Sep 22, 2012
    Why don't you just get a USB extension cable and use the original charging cable with it?
  3. JohnLT13 macrumors 6502a


    Dec 9, 2012
    Boston (aka Red Sox Nation)
    This is what I do. :cool: Easy fix.
  4. TheGreatMuta thread starter macrumors newbie


    Feb 24, 2013
    Ah, but surely anyway, with the idea of getting an extension cable you're already entering the field of 'different cables', i.e. non-OEM. You're already mixing it up with other brands/things and getting a little bit messy, no? :)

    Well, It's more like this... I'm looking to have multiple cables. Very simple. I need one for home, one for work and perhaps one thrown in my bag to move around with me etc. etc. The kind of thing an iPhone 4S battery sadly demands. I can't be caught short.

    The power supplies/plugs I have worked out/done/owned. Those are reliable. Fine. Done. They're Apple/Griffin.

    I just need to know about these usb/sync cables.
    There are these 3 metre/10 foot cheap cables everywhere. Non-OEM (by a long shot). Different levels of cheap, but ALL cheap nonetheless.
    eBay is drowning in them. Now in any colour of the rainbow you'd care to choose. Immediately, my last sentence puts you off, right?

    ...but what really is the deal with these cables? What's the science going on between the power supply, the lead and the gadget?
    Someone on here must know, and they must be able to tell me a little bit about what using a cheapy cable would mean at best/worst etc.

    It's just my science is lacking a little and therefore I don't know if they're actually a perfectly acceptable idea (just probably not very durable)... or one that's very bad indeed.

    Anyone able to help me out?
  5. Mrbobb macrumors 601

    Aug 27, 2012
    I have a degree in electronics, I'd buy the long cables, but I would expect them not to fit with a case on.

    See. Short, no need to write a manifesto.
  6. Partridge macrumors 6502

    Jul 28, 2007
    It's a cable. There are wires inside. If they conduct a signal, the cable works.

    Unless there's a serious electrical fault, it's a cable. What you're looking at difference wise is build quality, and the quality of the connectors they use.

    The non-apple approved lightning connectors are reverse engineered and from what I've seen seem kind of sketchy. As far as build, I have yet to see a third party lightning cable that is as slim as the apple one, which can cause case fit issues for some.

    30 pin cables have been around for ages and the manufacturers for the most part have their stuff together.

    If you're hard on your cables, look specifically at the quality of the strain relief on the cable ends. The authentic apple cables are notoriously crappy in this regard. On the other hand, when they break, you can take the to the apple store for replacement.

    The risk you run is from a cable break causing an electrical short. Not likely to happen before you notice damage to the cable sheath.

    I agree with you about the chargers. Stay the hell away from the fakes.
  7. TheGreatMuta thread starter macrumors newbie


    Feb 24, 2013
    Ah, congratulations on the short message, then. Maybe we should all follow suit and communicate less. Especially on forums.

    One of the points I was making about these long, cheapo cables, is that they actually do fit when you have a bumper or a case on your phone. They're essentially slim, Apple-size connectors, whereas every name-brand sync cable you buy has a huge connector and 'rugged design' for very little reason.

    Again, I just don't know the science or implications of a super-cheapo lead. One person will tell you they'll overheat your gadget or at worst fry it, another will tell you the worst they will do is fall apart as they may not be durable. Another will tell you they are absolutely fine and they live by one.

    I'm just in the (relevant) accessories section of the forum trying to discover some truth and quite happy to hear opinion.

    I couldn't find a thread on this, these cables are just everywhere, and I'm in the market for some cables.
  8. TheGreatMuta thread starter macrumors newbie


    Feb 24, 2013
    Thanks, although long-winded on my part (as always), this was what I was really asking for.

    My interest had been piqued when I looked at an eBay listing for 3 metre, 30 pin cables today where the deal was that they were throwing in another free 3metre cable or two plus a 1 metre cable all in any selection of colours you chose just for every one you bought on its own at £2.39/$3.50 each. You'd expect that to be a lot of bang for your buck.

    In the listing, there came the following caveat:

    "Safety Notice: It has brought to my attention that a very small number of products compatible with these cables have been experiencing overheating problems leading to various accessories and charging devices, genuine and pattern. The root cause of this has not been identified, but is not linked with the cables themselves, all of which are tested by the manufacturer before being dispatched. As a precaution, do not leave these items on charge unattended for long periods of time, as this may lead to damage to the devices and the cables/accessories they are attached to. If your device has been 'jailbroken' it may adversely affect the operation of the device and subsequently lead to damage. These cables should be primarily used for data exchange/syncing, and supervised charging.
    The cables require careful handling and storage. Do not allow the cables to become crushed or crimped, and always take care when inserting or removing the connectors from the USB port or your device. Do nut pull by holding the cable as this is likely to cause internal damage to the cable connections.

    As I say, if a guy as daft as me doesn't fully grasp the science, then he's certainly left wondering what multi-coloured, freebie/giveaway cables are going to do to his gear.

    Needless to say, I haven't invested in the neon-pink 3m 30 pin model yet.
  9. Partridge macrumors 6502

    Jul 28, 2007
    At 3 meters it is possible for the cable length to introduce enough resistance in the cable to cause the cable itself to overheat. They would be having to use some really crap thin gauge wire for this to be an issue though. More likely the problem was that the cables were being used with crap counterfeit chargers that did properly regulate their output.

    30 pin cables are simple and cheap. Barring a bad connector or bad solder job there's not much to go wrong. They've been making them for years.

    Lightning cables are a different matter. Now you're talking about a new connector design that they have to work the kinks out of, a chip to reverse engineer, and dynamic pin swapping. I stick to the real thing for those, or reputable manufacturers for now.

    Just buy your cheap 3m 30 pin cable and be done with it. Really. It'll probably be fine. And if not, hey it was cheap.
  10. AlphaDogg macrumors 68040


    May 20, 2010
    Boulder, CO
    I once had a cheapo lightning cable short circuit (the red and black wires touched... I know this because I took the cable apart and looked at where it failed) and the lightning plug started smoking and melting. I got a refund for that cable and I've since found better cheap lightning cables. They look 95% like a genuine apple one, at 1/6th of the cost.
  11. TheGreatMuta thread starter macrumors newbie


    Feb 24, 2013
    Just a fairly pointless post to say, I took the plunge and I'm still waiting on the arrival by post of THE cheapest, nastiest, neon usb/sync cables. Tons of them for barely any moolah. All at 3m long. We'll see how they do, what they cause, and how long they last.
  12. TheGreatMuta thread starter macrumors newbie


    Feb 24, 2013
    Okay, I DO recommend this as a good read. it may well equip you in the future.

    So, just as an update for anyone who can't be bothered to read the thread, I'm talking about the dirt cheap far-east 3m, 30 pin iPhone sync connector cables you see for sale very cheaply all over the internet. The knock-off sync cables you find everywhere. Mostly eBay.

    Now, I'd paid £2 something.... the equivalent of $3.50 it was, and for my money I'd gotten about 5 cables in total. There was this whole, tacky deal where you buy one and you get to choose so many others in all these different colours for free and you don't pay a penny for postage.

    They arrived today.

    Okay, so they seem slimmer than the Apple cables, and the 30 pin connector head is even slimmer, I would say. They immediately look cheap, they look weaker and flimsier (if that's possible) and they have a huge amount of translucency. You can pretty much see through the things. The plastic that coats them and makes up the connector heads is most definitely not the same material as Apple's cables for example. They really look like cables used for internal electronics. A slightly 'harder' plastic, and much thinner. They have less 'give' and they don't like to bend or move around so much.
    You wouldn't really want to see them hanging around, and the fact they offer them in so many crazy colours is baffling, because they just look terrible anyway. Thin, hard plastic.

    Put to use... okay, they're not the happiest fit, but at the usb end, they do a job...

    At the usb end, it feels only a touch loose left and right (but that can be common with so many usb peripherals anyway, so I can let that go - it's not like it's about to come out in a hurry). It has that little bit of worrying left-right movement once plugged in. Fine. Whatever. It has enough 'grip' and the connector seems possibly ever-so-slightly oversized so it stays in there, and it doesn't feel like it's going to slide out at all. Pulling them out feels like you're going to drag/scrape out a bit of your PC/Mac with them. At worst, if feels like you're going to pull something else out... at best, they feel very scrapey and scratchy in coming out.

    That said, it's not such a worry. They stay in place.

    Now, at the 30 pin connector end... well, the plastic housing around the connector seems a touch slimmer than your standard Apple housing, so no worries about fitting your cable into a third-party case. Take (slight) note: Griffin/Belkin etc. etc. These cables really will fit in through any case opening.
    Once again, we're back to this slightly harder, waxy-looking plastic applied to the connector, yet thinner and translucent. The kick here is, that they don't look 'different' or interesting no matter the colour... they look nasty. Really cheap.

    The thing is... the fit isn't great as regards plugging the connector in. It's really quite stiff and tight. It takes a little bit of work to plug the thing in, and the same to remove it. The upside of this of course is that you have yourself a connection that isn't going to pull out in a hurry. It sure as hell stays there.

    Okay, so they're cheap, they're almost see-thru, they're worryingly thin cables. They're visibly off-colour (e.g. the white is quite a deepish grey) and there's something about the cabling that you'd expect to find as internal electronics, NOT as an external lead. CHEAP!

    If you can live with all this, and you think I'm some guy who likes to have a Kevlar case on his iPhone and all the perfect peripherals, then... just... no. Far from it. I just like things to work. That's good enough.

    Here's where we slip up.

    Now, bearing in mind how I've said that both connecting ends, although far from perfect, are tight and stay put...

    Well, at any given point, the connection will go. Bang, Error message on your screen suggesting one of many different things. Sometimes, it'll be that you've removed the device etc. etc. (when NO, you have not removed a damn thing). Worse, and more worryingly are a variety of different messages I've seen suggesting that the device cannot be read or a particularly dramatic and urgent one that there is an error with the device itself.

    Very worryingly, one of these messages I've been seeing was actually one that I used to get as a recurring message when I was beggingly trying to unbrick my phone some time back. The phone was an utter brick. Just pure, cold, dead remains and I would try to communicate with it, and would get this exact message.

    (note: whether you believe in the ultimate possibility of completely bricking an iPhone or not, I'm talking about a phone that REALLY HAD just become a slab of glass and metal, a paperweight, and EVERY recovery method, no matter how obscure, no matter where it was sourced from would NOT help. Effectively, I spent a long time attempting to communicate with a dead, cold, unfiring cinder block of glass and metal.

    That's one of the messages these leads seem to trigger.

    Anyway yeah... as if I ever needed to see that message again... there it is. A colossal worry that's popped back to say hello.

    I mean, frankly, there's more (less) to these leads than is even worth typing here, and I'm sure I've once again bored you all rigid, but I got my answer.

    If you get the bright idea that you need a long sync cable, and the convenience would be wonderful... I would first start by urging you to reconsider the necessity because all roads seem to lead to these things.

    Secondly, if you really have to own one for whatever functional purpose, then absolutely DO go for a reputable brand, e.g. Griffin or Belkin.
    I can tell you now, having researched this topic with my own money quite intensively... the decent, brand cables just WILL NOT fit through your bumper or case. No chance. Not even close. Don't hope for it on the off-chance. They will not fit.

    There is of course a highly dubious workaround, which is to take a Dremel to the plastic connectors on the Belkin and Griffin leads in order to slim them down.

    I've done this, and what happens is that you very quickly end up reaching a hollow inside to that plastic connector since it's NOT a solid block of plastic around that 30 pi connector. You'll quickly buff through to open air and the internal wires . If you even manage to do this WELL, it looks for all the world like it has been melted and horribly damaged, It's not pretty, and it's not worth it. Not at the price of those cable.

    You might see a YouTube video or two on the subject, with a little demo, but I can assure you this... as rough and truly AWFUL as you see the end results looking. THAT is the best you will get if you are lucky/careful/skilled.

    I've seen a video where a guy filed his connector down with a Dremel, and it didn't look great by any stretch, but it's certainly a million country miles better than you'll get it with all the experience and tool-know-how in the world.

    I've waffled again... but this is what you get for your buck, and these are your options.

    I hope this helps someone, rather than hinders.

    Many thanks :)
  13. Brian Y macrumors 68040

    Oct 21, 2012
    At the end of the day, I'm not going to entrust my £700 phone with a 50p knockoff cable.

    Even though it's probably built in the same factory as Apple's, it's not built to the same QC levels and specifications, and definitely doesn't use the same materials. And if it doesn't use the same plastics, I doubt they use the same metal inside.
  14. takeshi74 macrumors 601

    Feb 9, 2011
    "Those cheap cables" covers a wide selection of cables that vary in quality. Your question's impossible to answer. If you want inexpensive cables from a reputable source then hit up Monoprice. If you want to ask about a specific cable from a specific source then do so.
  15. pnyc macrumors 6502

    May 12, 2007
    Brooklyn, NY
    You sure like to write a lot. Is that something you do professionally or maybe as a hobby?

    In general manufacturing of grey market goods in the "far-east" is all about cutting costs and it's important to understand that there is very little holding back these manufacturers from cutting as many corners as possible.

    The subject of unauthorized accessories is an interesting one and it comes up on the forum quite often. The reality of purchasing cheap cables from unauthorized manufacturers is that their quality varies greatly. There is no such thing as "the dirt cheap far-east 3m" cable, the reality of how these are produced is that their quality varies greatly from one manufacturing outfit to another and even within production runs done by the same manufacturer.

    To break it all down:
    Today you might buy a cable or a charger from a seller who sources his wares from a manufacturer A and few days later that seller might run out of his stock and source the same cable from manufacturer B, the cables might look identical but its quality can be very different. Even if the seller sources the cables again from manufacturer A there is no guarantee that the quality has not declined due to a change in manufacturing process or components.

    So as you can see there is no definitive answer on the question of the quality of these accessories. In my opinion the best answer that can be given is that these very greatly in quality and you can never be sure what you get.
  16. theautopilot macrumors 6502a


    Jul 27, 2010
    The amount of time the OP had spent on reading up on this, writing and debating it - could have been spent doing a couple of hours work to just buy an original one.
  17. pnyc macrumors 6502

    May 12, 2007
    Brooklyn, NY
    Okay and how doing what you suggest would help him answer his original question of the danger/lack of danger of using cheap iPhone accessories?
  18. TheGreatMuta thread starter macrumors newbie


    Feb 24, 2013
    Yep. Well done. Snarky comment that completely missed the entire point.
  19. Amylovestacos macrumors newbie

    Nov 17, 2013
    Go to amazon and you can get a 10 foot Iphone charger for really cheap
  20. Perth12 macrumors member

    Jun 26, 2013
    Apple Charger

    using a standard apple lightning to usb connector with a third party wall adapter. After 5 minutes of charging this happened

    Attached Files:

  21. MacNewbski macrumors newbie

    Sep 10, 2014
    cheap cable = dead iPhone and iPod

    New user here, so please be gentle :) I created an account, just so I could respond, but just this past weekend, I lost not only my beloved iPod touch but my iPhone as well, most likely to a cheap dock extender. My 2008 VW has an actual 30 pin iPod port located in the arm rest, so I'd been using a dock extender, which I purchased off Amazon for around $5, probably over 1yr ago. There'd been no issues over the past year, but the cable had started to look a little sketchy lately, but it was still working, so I kept chugging along. But I'm thinking it was most likely the cheap cable, rather than my car's electrical/audio system, which most likely caused the damage. At first, I was thinking it was just an iPod issue (since it's over 4yrs old), and my naïve, overly optimistic self plugged in my iPhone Monday. It worked for a while with no issue. When I went to get back in my car, after running a quick errand, I started up the car and the iPhone was dead too. And yes, dead as a brick. The motherboard/logic board was completely dead -- nada. So, now I get to cough up a few hundred bucks (and will need to sign a phone contract) to replace my no-contract cell phone freedom and iPod. So, in my horrible experience, stay away from cheap cables. I'm almost terrified to try a new, legit cable once I get a new phone. Oh well, the iPhone 6 arrived at a great time.

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