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These 5 Adapters Make My USB-C Laptop Work With All My Other (Non-USB-C) Devices

The author’s adapter collection next to his USB-C Apple laptop. Photo: David Pogue

You’re sitting there, running your hands over the skin of your shiny new Apple MacBook, Dell XPS, or Microsoft Surface Book laptop. It’s sleek, it’s thin, it’s modern! And then it hits you: Where are you supposed to plug stuff in? The traditional jacks for plugging in a second screen, a monitor, a keyboard, a mouse, a flash drive, a hard drive, a Fitbit, a camera, an inkjet printer — they’re all gone. Instead, there’s nothing but a couple of thin, tiny, squashed-oval holes. Those, friends, are USB-C jacks.

In principle, this new connector design is amazing. Yes, it’s just a replacement for the ancient USB jack, the rectangular one you always wind up trying to insert upside down. But the same USB-C cable can also carry audio, video, and even power. There’s no wrong way to insert it. Plus, USB-C cables are interchangeable from gadget to gadget, brand to brand. It’s the Jesus jack.

Its miraculous power falls short, though, when you consider the fact that, because USB-C technology has only been around for a couple years, there are millions of people who are now in a transitional netherworld as they try to use their new USB-C laptops with products that require USB or other jacks. Until recently, I was one of them. But after plowing through way too many adapters, card readers, and flash drives from no-name Chinese brands, I put together the below list of minimalist, affordable, and flexible ones that will let you use a USB-C laptop without ever being stranded.

USB to USB-C adapter

Lots of things still require a USB jack. Out of the box, for example, you can’t even connect a new iPhone to a new MacBook (because the iPhone still comes with a standard USB cable). That’s just aggressively idiotic. For those situations, you need a straight-up USB to USB-C adapter. You can buy them as cables — but to save space and money, go for the Syntech plugs. They’re beautifully designed, with edge ribs for grip, in a choice of silver or gray metal, without any logo to uglify them. Each snaps onto the end of your gadget’s existing USB cable, consuming almost zero space. Costs almost nothing, too: two for $10.

HDMI to USB-C adapter

USB-C laptops like the latest MacBooks, MacBook Airs, and MacBook Pros also eliminate the traditional jacks (VGA and HDMI) for connecting to projectors or external monitors. For HDMI, my favorite is this sleek, tiny Uni HDMI Adapter. It’s got an aluminum body, braided cable for strength, drawstring bag, and it handles 4K with aplomb. I fish it out at every talk I give, and it’s never failed me. [Editor’s note: To get the sale price, you must click the box to apply a coupon on Amazon, which will show the discount when you checkout.]

HDMI and VGA to USB-C adapter

If you need HDMI and VGA jacks, well, Amazon is teeming with adapters, from $14 to $60. My favorite is among the least expensive, but that’s not the only reason I like this one. It’s also small, metal, neatly labeled, and the only one I’ve found without a logo obnoxiously painted on top.

USB-C card reader

Yeah, yeah, I know: Nobody buys cameras anymore — except for the 19 million people a year who do. I am one of them, and needed a way to copy the pictures onto my new laptop. For minimum bulk and maximum flexibility, Vogek’s card reader takes the crown. There’s no cable to tangle, rather it’s a sleek, brushed-aluminum, two-inch flattened tube that’s just big enough for an SD card (from a camera) or a micro-SD card (from a phone). It transfers files using USB 3 speed (5 gigabits per second) and comes with a protective cap.

USB–USB-C flash drive

This one might seem obvious, because there are a lot of USB-C flash drives designed specifically for the jack. But the whole point of a flash drive is to move it between machines — which is why a dual-tipped flash drive like this is such a good idea. It has a USB jack on one end, and USB-C on the other, with a switch to slide between them and no caps to get lost. Load it with files on your laptop, then simply hand it off to someone whose laptop isn’t quite as modern.

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These 5 Adapters Make My USB-C Laptop Work With All Devices