The 3 Best USB-C Adapters of 2021

Make sure you can hook up all of your important devices

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The rise in popularity of USB-C adapters in laptops has been coming for years. Like most other high-tech devices today, manufacturers have become obsessed with making laptops thinner and lighter. Accordingly, as with TVs and smartphones, this has come with some compromises. In the world of laptops, that compromise usually involves I/O ports. Laptops used to have all manner of ports from SD card readers to USB Type-C and everything in between. These days, shrinking laptops have led to the necessity of #DongleLife.


People don't really like USB-C adapters so much as they need them. If you want to connect your modern laptop to a peripheral device, there's a good chance you'll need an adapter. Adapters come in all forms and have all manner of ports on them; it's just a matter of what you need. We've got a roundup of our favorites here for you.

The Rundown
The Corsair TBT100 Thunderbolt 3 Dock has everything you could possibly want.
Best Card Reader Adapter:
Unitek USB-C Card Reader at Amazon
If you are a photographer, or just have a lot of memory cards laying around, this adapter is for you.
The Trianium USB-C Hub is a very slim and sleek USB-C adapter.

Best Overall: Corsair TBT100 Thunderbolt 3 Dock

Corsair TBT100 Thunderbolt 3 Dock
What We Like
  • Every kind of port you could want

  • Dual 4K monitor ports

What We Don't Like
  • Very high price

When it comes to USB Type-C adapters, the Corsair TBT100 Thunderbolt 3 Dock has everything you could possibly want. There are eight ports, overall, including USB, Ethernet, HDMI, 3.5mm audio, and Thunderbolt. That's basically the entire roster of ports typically left out of today's laptops. The dongle even supports dual 4K display output. This is all done through a single Thunderbolt 3 port on your laptop. Of course, that means your laptop has to have a Thunderbolt 3 port. Most modern laptops have this, but it's still worth mentioning.

Bottom line, this is all the I/O you could possibly ask for and it works with Windows and macOS. It has a solid aluminum build and it's fairly large at almost 23 centimeters, so it's not the most mobile solution out there. But if you're at a desk regularly and need more I/O for your laptop or even your mini-tower, this is a great way to go.


"This adapter just has everything you could possibly want in a dongle. This makes today's laptops lack of I/O not so terrible, even if it is large and expensive." — Adam Doud

Best Card Reader Adapter: Unitek USB-C Card Reader

Unitek USB-C Card Reader
What We Like
  • Reads three different kinds of cards

  • Transfer data between cards

What We Don't Like
  • Functionality limited to card readers

If you are a photographer, or just have a lot of memory cards laying around, this adapter is for you. This is a three-in-one card reader that supports full SD cards, microSD cards and CompactFlash cards. Transferring large photos or videos to your computer or smartphone can take a lot of time and data if you use the cloud. This adapter makes it easy to just pop in the card, pull what you need, and go.  

The adapter is very small, great to slip into a backpack or camera bag. There are no external drivers to download and install. This is 100% plug and play. You even can use this with some phones. This adapter is limited to just reading memory cards, though, so if you're looking for something more versatile, look elsewhere.

Best Design: Trianium USB-C Hub

Trianium USB-C Hub
What We Like
  • Smallest of the list

  • Durable aluminum frame

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive for what you get

The Trianium USB-C Hub is a very slim and sleek USB-C adapter. At just 7 x 2.5 x 1 inch (HWD), this adapter will fit in your bag, or even your pants pocket. It features two USB Type-A 3.0 ports, one HDMI out that supports 4K at 30Hz, and a single USB Type-C port with Power Delivery that supports pass through charging. What's missing is any kind of card reader or ethernet port.

At $40, this is not the best value on the list. You can get many more features for just a little bit more money. That may be due to the aluminum frame (while most of the rest of this list is plastic), but all the same, the price tag feels a little steep for what you'd get.

Final Verdict

Overall, the Corsair TBT100 Thunderbolt 3 Dock is the best on this list, and at the price it commands, it really should be. It's huge and it has all the I/O you could possibly want. It's well built and has a lot of great specifications. You can plug any laptop into this dock and it becomes a multi-purpose machine capable of input and output most laptops can only dream about. That commands a very high price tag.

About our Trusted Experts

Adam S. Doud has been a freelance writer and podcaster in the tech space for ten years and he's always on the search for a better USB type-C hub #DongleLife. He's a digital nomad who rarely works in the same place twice, so portability is key for his lifestyle. 

FAQs

Is there a difference between USB-C and thunderbolt?
Yes, unfortunately, while all USB-C connectors look the same, they are not all created equal. Some are capable of handling display signals, data transfers, and charging, while others are only really capable of topping off your devices. It's important to take a look at the specifications of your devices depending on what you need.

Does USB-C have a right side up? My device isn't connecting.
No, one of the benefits of USB-C is that there is no wrong way to connect it with your device. If your device isn't being recognized, there may be a compatibility issue with the port you're using, meaning that it may not support what you're attempting to do. Or, there may be a hardware fault somewhere along your connection, either with the ports on the devices you're attempting to connect or with the cable itself.

If my phone has a USB-C connector, can I attach a USB-C hub to it?
You can definitely connect your phone to charge, but you won't be able to use it as a source. While most USB-C hubs have their own dedicated power, that's still not enough for your phone to serve as its own platform even if it has a thunderbolt connection.

What to Look For in a USB-C Adapter

I/O: When your ports are limited on your laptop, you're going to want to expand that as much as possible.  Most adapters will have some combination of USB Type-A, USB Type-C, HDMI, Ethernet, card readers, and even more. Your workflow will help determine what you need in an adapter. 

Data Speeds: Not only do you need to pay attention to the type of I/O on an adapter, but what protocols are built in. USB is a port that has multiple standards. 3.1 is best with the highest data speeds. HDMI ports can have variable resolutions and frequencies. 4K is quickly becoming a standard in monitors, with 60hz being the minimum needed for most games.

Portability: Laptops are inherently portable, so it's important that your adapter be equally portable. The larger the adapter is, the less useful it will be on the road. It's important to make sure you're covering the basics of what you need without carrying around too much extra. Many USB hubs are designed to be portable, but the more you can cut down on features you don't need, the more satisfied you'll be with your ultimate purchase.

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