Everyone needs cables, whether you're looking for a new Lightning cable for your iPhone or iPad, or an extra Micro-USB cable for your Android phone, Bluetooth speaker, or portable hard drive. You could get lost slogging through hundreds of seemingly identical products, but Wirecutter's staff tested over 80 Micro-USB and Lightning cables to find the best ones.
This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter, a buyer's guide to the best technology. This is a condensed version of several of their guides -- you can find links to their full guides below.
You don't need to spend a lot of money to get a great cable. We regularly test cables across multiple categories, and we've found that some of the most affordable cables work just as well as astronomically expensive models. Whether you're looking to replace an old cable, to get something shorter or longer than the one that came with your gear, or to keep a few extras on hand; here are our safe bets for great cables at reasonable prices. (We'll be covering audio and video cables in an upcoming instalment.)
Even though most Lightning-connector-to-USB cables -- the ones you use to charge and sync your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch -- look the same, their insides can vary dramatically, and those guts can affect everything from the cable's long-term durability to the charging speed. Small differences in external construction can also make a big difference in how well the cable holds up over time. We measured the charging speed of more than 50 cables and then sent the top 11 to an electrical engineer for teardown analysis.
Top Pick: Anker Lightning to USB Cable
Anker's Lightning to USB Cable is the one we'd buy to replace an ageing cable or to supplement our collection. It stands out thanks to solid build quality inside and out, a Lightning-connector plug that works with almost any protective device case, and a price that's a fraction of what you'd pay for one of Apple's own cables. The Anker cable can also charge any Lightning-connector-equipped device at its fastest possible rate. Our favourite part of this cable's design is the stress-relief collar where the cord meets the housing beneath the connector -- a place where cables (including Apple's) often break.
Shorter and Longer option: Insignia's 6″ Lightning Cable
For a shorter cable that's great for travel, consider Insignia's 6″ Lightning Charge-and-Sync Cable. It lets you charge at full speed, and its build quality impressed our electrical engineer when he examined the cable's insides.
If you're seeking a longer cable for, say, using your tablet on the couch while you're charging it, Aduro's 10′ Extra Long Charge & Sync Cable is a good bet. It charges as quickly as a good standard-length cable, but it costs half as much as most other 3.05m models. Just keep in mind that due to their extra length and weight, and to the fact that you tend to use them in situations where you're pulling them and moving them more, longer cables don't seem to last as long as shorter models.
A cross-platform cable: Dodocool Lightning/Micro USB Cable
Given that most iPhone owners also have gear that charges via Micro-USB, we really like Dodocool's Lightning/Micro-USB Cable, a Micro-USB cable with an attached Lightning-connector adaptor. This single cable can cover all your charging needs when you're travelling, and it's also handy at your desk -- you can charge and sync both Lightning-connector and Micro-USB gear without having to take up multiple USB ports. Several companies make such combination cables, but we found the meter-long Dodocool model to be the best of the bunch, thanks to full-speed charging and good construction.
A retractable model for travel: Retrak/Emerge Retractable Lightning/Micro USB Cable
Retractable cables are appealing for travel and car use because of their small size and the lack of cable clutter. However, these models tend to be less durable than normal cables, as the wiring has to be thin enough to wrap tightly around itself; a thin cable can also result in slower charging speeds. But if you highly value retractability, we like the Retrak/Emerge Premier Retractable Lightning and Micro USB Charge and Sync Cable, which works with both Lightning-connector and Micro-USB devices thanks to a connector/adaptor similar to that of the Dodocool model above. Compared with the other models we tested, its strain-relief collars, Lightning-adaptor attachment, and retraction mechanism, as well as the cable itself, feel more solid. This model also lets you charge devices at full speed.
We have much more information about Lightning-connector cables in our full guide.
USB-to-Micro-USB cables can help you charge basically every non-Apple digital device; you also need them for transferring data between your computer and many portable hard drives, smartphones, and tablets. A good cable will let you charge those devices as fast as possible and move data at the maximum rate, and it will stand up to the rigors of regular use.
Top Picks: Monoprice 3' Micro USB Cable
After 35 hours of research, including narrowing thousands of available cables down to 33 and commissioning testing by a former NASA JPL engineer, we recommend Monoprice's 0.91m USB 2.0 A Male to Micro 5-pin Male 28/24AWG Cable w/ Ferrite Core (available in black or white) for most people. It can pass charging current at the fastest rate the standard allows, and it hits USB 2.0's speed cap for data transfer. Our electrical engineer found it to be built better than other cables we tested.
We also really like Anker's Premium 1ft Micro USB Cable. Available in surprisingly inexpensive packs of three, five, or six cables with free shipping, the Anker model comes at the lowest price per cable of any of the quality models we looked at, and it charged and transferred data as quickly as any other USB 2.0 cable we tested.
Shorter and longer options: Kero 3" Micro USB Cable
For a super-short travel cable, Kero's 3″ Nomad Cable is a nice option. Although we didn't tear it down to examine its insides, during our performance testing it transferred data and power at the same speeds as the top USB 2.0 cables.
EZOPower's Extra Long 1.83m Black Micro-USB 2in1 Sync and Charge USB Data Cable is a great pick if you need a longer cable. Doubling the length of standard USB cables, it allows you to sync or charge without having to be particularly close to the USB source.
A retractable model for travel: RETRAK Retractable Micro USB
If you're looking for a retractable cable for travel or car use, the caveats we mention in the Lightning-connector section above apply equally here. That said, we've been impressed with the Retrack Premier Retractable Micro USB Charge & Sync Cable. As with the Lightning -- and -- Micro-USB combo model above, its various components are solid, and it lets you charge devices at full speed.
A USB 3.0 cable for faster data transfers: AmazonBasics USB 3.0 Micro-B USB Cable
If you need a USB 3.0 -- to -- Micro-USB cable to take advantage of that standard's higher data-transfer speeds, the inexpensive AmazonBasics USB 3.0 A Male to Micro-B Cable -- 3 Feet (0.9 Meters) is the one we recommend. Much like our USB 2.0 picks, it allows you to charge your gear at the fastest possible speed -- we were surprised to see a few of the other USB 3.0 cables we tested fall short in this regard -- and it was just as fast for data transfers as any other USB 3.0 cable. Its internal structure also has all the positive attributes our testing engineer looked for.
We have much more information about Micro-USB cables in our full guide.
These picks may have been updated. To see the current recommendations, please check the Wirecutter.