You probably don’t give much thought to the cable that charges your iPhone. But the right charging cable will charge your phone faster, resist fraying, and coil up nicely in your bag for tangle-free storage. CNN Underscored tested 10 of the most popular Lightning cables over the past few weeks so you can ditch the old, frayed fire hazard in your bag and pick up a charger that’s stood the test of time—only one we’ve tested A Lightning cable stands the test of time.
Best Overall Lightning Cable
It’s not much better than Anker’s Powerline II cable. It’s very affordable, charges fast, and outlasts Apple’s own cables. Plus, it comes with a lifetime warranty should anything go wrong.
Anker’s Powerline II is a basic cable that does everything well without any extras that would drive up the cost. The 6-foot cable does come in three colors, though: white, green, and black—there’s also a 3-foot cable that comes in white and black.
The Powerline II uses the same rubber shield as most other cables, though it’s a little thicker than Apple’s offering, with sturdier connectors. We stress-tested the cable with some hard pulls and some tight bends, and it feels like it will hold up well over time, whereas other cables can break and fray at the ends. It’s flexible enough to coil loosely with ease, yet stiff enough not to unravel and get tangled in your bag like some of the more flimsy cables, and it even comes with a small Velcro cable tie. The Lightning end is small enough to fit in the opening of every case we’ve tried, and the ends fit snugly into their respective sockets without the case wobbling or loosening.
Best of all, the Powerline II is also MFi certified, meaning it passes Apple’s quality tests for iPhones, iPads, AirPods, and other products. This is critical, as cables that lack Apple certification may not work properly, and may even damage your device—so buying from a reputable MFi-certified company is preferable to a cable you buy at the drugstore checkout. Oh, and we’ve owned several of these Powerline II cables over the years, so we can personally talk about the quality and longevity.
Anker also offers a USB-A version we tested, which would be a suitable option if you don’t have any USB-C chargers. That said, we recommend a USB-C cable for most people. Not only is USB-C the future—Apple and many PC makers already use it exclusively on their laptops—but it can charge your phone faster than USB-A. Using a compatible USB-C power brick, Anker’s USB-C to Lightning Cable charged an iPhone 8 or newer to 50 percent in about 30 minutes in our tests. You can see more information about which iPhones and iPads are compatible on Apple’s fast charging page.
USB-C cables can also charge older iPhones and iPads, and while they don’t necessarily charge at the same speeds as devices that support fast charging, we found them to charge slightly faster than USB-A cables in our tests. On our old 9.7-inch iPad Pro — which isn’t compatible with the new fast-charging standard — Anker’s USB-C cable charged the iPad 50 percent, about 15 minutes faster than its USB-A counterpart. In fact, we found that all the USB-C cables we tested were faster than the USB-A cables on this old iPad, so even if your device isn’t fast-charging compatible, it’s worth using USB-C—after all, your next A device might.
While Anker’s cables are pretty durable for general use — and come with a lifetime warranty should something go wrong — there are other, more durable cables on the market for those with more active lifestyles. For example, Anker’s Powerline II+ cable comes with a braided shield and more color options for just a few dollars more. If you have stricter durability needs, Nomad’s cables are second to none, thanks to a solid Kevlar reinforced design and very thick connectors. If you’re looking for a solution to the problem of cables that keep falling off your desk or nightstand, Native Union is worth a look. The brand offers a unique cable with a weighted knot on the end so it won’t fall off your desk.
Over the course of a month, we tested each cable on the iPhone 7, iPhone 8 Plus, and 9.7-inch iPad Pro using several different metrics. Of course, the most important thing about a charging cable is that it can charge and transfer data at a reasonable rate. So we used each cable in conjunction with a 65-watt power adapter, charged our devices from dead to 50 percent, and calculated the results. We also used them to transfer a 1.5GB video file from our computer to a device using iTunes, and timed the process.
Thankfully, all of our MFi-certified cables performed equally well in both cases — on fast-charging devices, all of the USB-C cables we tested charged to 50 percent in about half an hour, as Apple promises , while all USB-A cables take longer but perform within minutes of each other. Data transfer was also similar, with each cable taking about the same amount of time to transfer data to our iPhones and iPads. So aside from the difference between USB-C and USB-A (USB-C is slightly faster, even on our non-fast-charging iPad), we were able to basically eliminate the charging and data transfer speeds of the Pro in our evaluation, while the not a USB-A cable). The Native Union cable was the only one that charged significantly slower, most likely because it’s much longer than the others we tested.
This leaves most of the competition fighting over design. While we were unable to test each cable for months or years to determine its stability over time, we evaluated each cable for construction, joints and flexibility, and performed some bending and pulling to look for any obvious problematic weaknesses. We paid attention to the length of each cable’s warranty—after all, no matter how well a cable is made, some users will have problems, and how a company handles problems is just as important as how they build their product.
While Anker offers great value, Nomad’s USB-C cable actually scored the highest in our tests for its great design and durability. Shielded with a double-braided Kevlar jacket, the Nomad’s cable feels thicker and stronger than all the other cables we tested, without losing much flexibility in the process. It comes with a rubber zip tie that rolls it up neatly, and its connectors are easily the strongest in its class — backed by a five-year warranty.
If you want the best cable, Nomad’s Lightning to USB-C cable — and the Lightning to USB-A version we also tested — are second to none. Their $40 price tag is too high for us to recommend to everyone in every situation, and it’s more for the heavy traveler who wants a step up in luxury and durability.
Belkin’s USB-C to Lightning Cable is another great option for a high-end cable. Made from what Belkin calls “DuraTek,” the cable has a soft, braided sheath with unique spotted connectors on the ends.
It also comes with a leather snap strap for wrapping the cable around, though our model peeled when we took it out of the brand new box, which didn’t inspire much confidence. Belkin also offers a USB-A version of this cable in several lengths and colors, but we haven’t tested that version ourselves.
After publication, Belkin sent us another cable that came out of the box without fraying. They told us this is not a common problem and they are looking into it.
Anker’s latest cable is called the Powerline III Flow, no doubt because of the cable’s unparalleled flexibility. Unlike the typical hard rubber you usually find in charging cables, the Powerline III flow uses very soft silicone that flexes freely like no other cable we’ve tested.
The brand also claims the cable is the most durable yet, despite its flexibility — and it seemed to hold up to normal use in our tests. It comes in 3-foot and 6-foot models and comes in five colors — though unlike Anker’s other cables, it only comes with an 18-month warranty. Our top pick, the Powerline II, comes with a lifetime warranty.
Everyone knows the frustration of unplugging a cable from your phone only to have it fall from the end of your desk into the abyss behind it. Native Union’s cables try to solve this problem with a weighted knot that you slide along the cable to hold it in place. It’s functional and very stylish thanks to the woven cover in a variety of colors and patterns.
There’s only one downside: Native Union only seems to offer 10-foot lengths of these cables, which were 5 to 10 minutes slower to charge our test device than the more typical 4- to 6-foot cables. But if speed isn’t paramount, the utilitarian design here might be worth this small sacrifice. There’s also a USB-C version for faster charging, though we didn’t test that model ourselves.
If you like the idea of braided durable cables, but prefer something more affordable, Anker’s Powerline+ II cable is a good compromise. It’s a few bucks more than the standard Powerline II cable, but for the extra money you get a braided sheath and a few extra color options—backed by the same top-notch lifetime warranty as Anker’s other cables. We tested the USB-A version, though there’s also a USB-C version available for faster charging.
Belkin’s standard BoostCharge cable is similar to Anker’s Powerline II—no frills, just a quality cable at a reasonable price. They use the same standard rubber jacket and the same standard connectors as other cables in this price range.
We did find Belkin’s cables to be a bit more flexible than Anker’s slightly stiffer offerings — but with only a two-year warranty, we think the Anker is the better choice for almost everyone. Belkin offers these cables in both USB-C and USB-A models.
Apple’s own Lightning cable is thinner and more flexible than the competition, with a very small connector on the end. These might seem like a boon, but Apple’s own cables also have a reputation for being more prone to snapping and fraying — so while the USB-C and USB-A cables performed well in our tests, we think most people will be more comfortable. Well there are longer-lasting options from third parties.
Mophie’s USB-C and USB-A cables come in three different lengths of braided design, but don’t otherwise stand out from the competition — they’re thinner than Anker’s cables, but more flexible, and they’re only covered by a two-year warranty. But they performed well in our tests, so if you like the design, they’ll do the trick.
Satechi’s cables are apparently designed to be durable monsters, similar to Nomad’s Kevlar cables. However, while the Satechi performed as well as its competitors for charging and data transfer, we found it to be much stiffer than all the other cables we tested, without the extra-strong connectors of the Nomad cables. It’s a solid choice—we just prefer the more flexible nature of other cables we’ve tested.
Read more from CNN Underscored’s hands-on test: