Hackernoon logoThe USB cable that I used to know by@CodingJoe

The USB cable that I used to know

Joseph Nielsen Hacker Noon profile picture

Joseph Nielsen

Solution Principal

We all end up with the same question: why do bad things happen to good phone chargers. This is my problem: one old cable used to work and now it doesn’t, one new cable works great, one new cable says it’s charging but it’s flaky and doesn’t turbo charge. Let’s dive in and see what we can discover.

Left: my old Motorola cable; Center: Imkey USB cable; Right: my wife’s new Galaxy 7 charging cable. The blurriness is also a good estimate of my eyesight.

On the surface, these three cables look the same. (This is a cue for me to bust out my handy dandy Celestron microscope.)

But first, how do they work?

A quick Google Image search for “micro USB schematic” returns this image from this website.

If the USB cable were held like the bridge of a Tron Derezzer, the pin on the right is for 5V power, the pin on the left is for ground.

I was embarassed after I learned this information. I used to think the outer shell had something to do with the electricity after watching some bogus YouTube videos where people try to fix their cables with needle nose pliers. It all has to do with the edge pins on the inside.

My good old Motorola cable

I’ve got a Moto X Pure/Style. The cable has recently lost its grip and I have to hold it in in order for my phone to stay charging — (my third replacement).

Here’s the close up of the old Motorola.

The old Motorola cable that I used to know. It’s seen better days.

The Imkey cable (aka this thing looks clever with springs on the ends and it’s covered by Amazon Prime)

When the Motorola cable became loose I thought okay, I’ll order another cable online and to make sure it doesn’t get faulty again — and because I’m so clever — I’ll order this fancy cable with springs on the end. Except when I get the cable my phone constantly changes its mind about whether or not it’s charging. It also doesn’t do “Turbo Charging” mode. So yeah… I now have a clever phone cable that doesn’t charge. (But hey, shipping was free.)

Here’s the close up.

Everything looks perfectly in order

My wife’s new Samsung Galaxy 7 USB cable

While I may be prone to think I got unlucky with the Imkey cable, unfortunately the Imkey cable situation is true for every other cable in my house. I was thinking there must be something about either the turbo charger plug or the turbo charging cable. Then I tried out the USB cable my wife got with her Samsung Galaxy 7. It worked great. Not flaky. Not loose.

Here’s the close up.

Samsung Galaxy 7 USB cable. I thought interesting, it’s missing a pin, but it still works great.

What’s the difference?

The middle one is the old Motorola, top is new Samsung. Notice the flat bottom on the Motorola.

At first glance, the reason why my old Motorola USB cable slips right out is immediately apparent. It has no fangs!

(I had thought maybe it was filled with dust. I saw a YouTube video that talked about that. But there was nothing in there after I washed the cable out with an insulin syringe and rubbing alcohol, followed by lots of Nintendo blows to dry it out.)

The fangs haven’t broken off of the cable. They’ve just lost their spring. I needed to bend them back out.

I searched around for some different tools: blood sugar lancet, sowing needle, push pin, needle nose pliers. In the end, the push pin worked best at jimmying the fang back into place.

It’s not easy to take a close up cell phone picture with your hands full. Power off before trying anything.
It should go without saying: unplug any charger cables before you mess with stuff. This is not a “how-to fix” article but a “let’s mess with stuff and hopefully not kill myself or start a fire but if it happens that’ll be cool too” article.

So I bent back the fangs on the USB charging cable and it worked great. Fits snug. No longer has that “is it really plugged in all the way” feeling.

Check out this picture to see the opposite end of where the fangs go.

You can see the little sink holes where the fangs are supposed to snap into.

After reviewing this close-up of the female micro USB, I thought maybe I’ve also bent the impressions on the inside so that the fangs have to be bigger in order for the cable to work. It reminded me of how I fixed my old record player from Junior High — the needle wouldn’t work until after I taped three pennies on to it.

The Imkey isn’t exactly the same as the Samsung USB cable

Using sophisticated “count the pixels on the screen” measurements, I calculated that the Samsung cable’s fangs were 26% the height of the main cable male body. The Imkey cable’s fangs were only 24% the height of the main cable male body. Size matters.

So I jimmied the Imkey fangs out a little more. Sure enough it snapped to a lot better, however it still didn’t recognize ‘Turbo Charging” mode. That’s when I also noticed when looking down from the top, that the Imkey’s shaft was longer than that on the Samsung cable. Also, the Imkey’s pins appear to be slightly tighter. (17% on the Imkey; 21% on the Samsung and Motorola.)

So it’s still beyond me why the damn Imkey new cable won’t work as good as my newly fixed Motorola cable or the new Samsung cable. My best guess is that the pins don’t line up as good as the other two cables. I also don’t know if the cable simply doesn’t support the required ampere for Turbo Charging.

In conclusion, test what you think you know and look closer. I hope these close up pictures help any troubleshooting you’re doing with your own cables.

Here are links to the cables I worked with: Motorola, Samsung and the Imkey. I took pictures with this Microscope.

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Please follow me and the publication if you enjoy this type of technical stuff. :)


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