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Cellphones Power Upgrades Hardware Technology

SMK Toughens Up Those Tiny Micro-USB Connections 137

An anonymous reader writes "If a gadget ships with a micro-USB port, I see it as a plus because it isn't proprietary — meaning I can easily and cheaply buy replacement cables. But the micro-USB ports aren't the strongest connectors in the world, so if the gadget is expensive (a smartphone) and you accidentally bust the port, you're in trouble. And that's easily done. Japanese manufacturer SMK may have fixed the problem, though, with a new double-strong connector design. They started producing them on Friday, and at an output of 500,000 a month, hopefully they'll be shipping with most new gadgets before long."
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SMK Toughens Up Those Tiny Micro-USB Connections

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  • Sure they will (Score:5, Insightful)

    by silas_moeckel ( 234313 ) <silas&dsminc-corp,com> on Tuesday September 20, 2011 @09:46AM (#37455182) Homepage

    Unless it's going to reduce there under contract replacement costs smartphones will not have these. US phone companies want your phone to break every couple of years so you buy a new one with a new contract so they can have horrid service.

  • Already exists* (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GameboyRMH ( 1153867 ) <> on Tuesday September 20, 2011 @09:47AM (#37455202) Journal

    It's called a "through-hole mounted connector." Phone manufacturers just like to save a few pennies by using a surface-mounted connector, which is weak as shit.

    *Yes this is even stronger, good for the improvement. But through-hole is strong enough, the problem of weak connectors was caused by phone manufacturers being cheap bastards.

    • Re:Already exists* (Score:4, Informative)

      by bstreiff ( 457409 ) on Tuesday September 20, 2011 @10:08AM (#37455428)

      It's not always just to save pennies; a through-hole connector has to go through all of the layers of the board. By using a surface-mount connector you only lose the space on the top layer and can route things in the layers beneath (modulo signal-crosstalk issues).

    • Re:Already exists* (Score:5, Informative)

      by EdZ ( 755139 ) on Tuesday September 20, 2011 @10:23AM (#37455570)
      Through-hole uses a ton of extra space, bot for the component itself and on the PCB, something you don't want in a small device. Plus, SMT is a LOT more resistant to repeated sudden G-loads (e.g. dropping your phone). If you shove your USB cable in like an ape or dangle your phone by it then yes, a through-hole component would probably hold up longer.
    • by ajlitt ( 19055 )

      If you look at the photo, the frame is through-hole. What they're slashvertising is a connector with a second frame that resists torquing the PCB when stress is put on the connector.

    • not good enough. even thruhole will rip off the board.

      the problem is chinese crap pcboards and lack of thickness of the copper and the bonding. I work on pcb's and I hate the idea of having to do rework on a china board. some are ok but MOST are meant to be soldered once. try rework and the trace lifts off or rips off. not even ONE rework left in the boards, today.

      I get my own boards made at imagineering (as an example). and when I hakko unsolder mine and remove things that are thruhole, I can rework

  • Stop depending on a dab of solder to support a connector and mount it to the case where it belongs.

    This used to be the standard way of doing things.

    • by tibit ( 1762298 )

      Uh-huh. And deal with an impedance matched transmission line between the connector and the PCB. And do it such that it doesn't occupy half the volume available for the phone.

      Look at any high-frequency instrument assembled such that connectors are on the front panel, say any "vintage" spectrum analyzer. Take out the input connector assembly. Look at its volume and weight. Then put your phone next to it. Hopefully you'll understand then.

  • Already broken once. Filed down my cables (what the hell was Nokia thinking?) but still seriously concerned that things going to pop off anyday.
    • I filed down my cables from day one. I only plugged a cable in with the hooks still in place once to get a feel for how much force is needed. Considering that the connector is surface-mounted, the amount of force required to remove the connector is terrifying.

    • I'm in the same boat. I actually attempted to replace the connector but the contacts are ridiculously tiny. That's the last Nokia phone I ever buy (for that reason and for their embrace of Microsoft).
      • by Jmc23 ( 2353706 )
        Best soution is just an external battery charger and an extra battery, lots of their phones use the same battery. Then storage card or wireless for file transfer. Only if you want to keep using the phone that is.
  • by b0bby ( 201198 ) on Tuesday September 20, 2011 @09:51AM (#37455240)

    I thought that one of the reasons to move to micro-usb was that the parts most likely to be damaged are now on the easier to replace cable side, as opposed to mini-usb where the springs were on the device side. So I would think that the likelihood of device side damage was already less than with mini-usb.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The issue is that of the connector itself breaking away from the circuit board as they are soldered directly onto the surface of the board. It is very easily done. Solder doesn't have fantastic mechanical strength and solder pads on PCBs aren't that strong either.

      • by tibit ( 1762298 )

        The problem is typically their incorrect budgeting of mounting area on the PCB. Those miniature surface mount connectors demand large mounting pads for the frame -- really much larger than the minimum dimensions shown in the datasheet. The pads should also have plugged vias in them for mechanical strength against delamination -- this isn't a problem as I'm sure there's plenty of plugged vias in any modern motherboard, whether for a PC, laptop or a smartphone. It's just silly design, that's all.

    • by mttlg ( 174815 )
      Well, if that was the plan, then it worked too well; most of the cables and chargers that I've had for more than two years are completely useless due to wear. At first I thought it was the port, but a rarely-used cable worked perfectly while the others couldn't even get a momentary connection with any amount of wiggling. So much for not needing to replace all of your cables when you get a new phone...
  • Busted DC jacks (and sometimes USB ports) are a huge problem. Mounting the DC jack to the case and connecting to the motherboard with a cable makes replacement easier, but it's only treating the symptom and not the problem.

    Apple has a marvelous idea, but seem to be the only ones using it.

    • by rzei ( 622725 )

      Apple has a marvelous idea, but seem to be the only ones using it.

      I agree. However I remember that Apple also patented the discussed DC jack, and doesn't probably want to license it for less than 100% of your laptop's price.

      • I don't believe that Apple doesn't have a valid patent on it. Waring has had magnetic breakaway cables for years and has been using them for powering deep friers.

      • by Guppy ( 12314 )

        I agree. However I remember that Apple also patented the discussed DC jack, and doesn't probably want to license it for less than 100% of your laptop's price.

        Yup. There was a company that tried to make some external add-on battery for Macbooks, and they had to resort to buying Apple adapters and chopping off the connector to use on their product, because Apple would not license at any price (or the per-unit price was more than a new power adapter).

    • My experience is it's very rare that the connector itself gets busted. A far bigger problem is solder joints and/or PCB tracks getting busted as the connector moves relative to the PCB.

  • The EU decides that all cell phones should use a MicroUSB connector for charging. The MicroUSB port really wasn't meant for constant plugging and unplugging.
    Phones break when the ports fail.
    Like that isn't scary. I tend to plug my phone in 6 times a day I wonder how long the connector will last?

    • by rwa2 ( 4391 ) *

      Yay, a thread where I can finally whine about the flakiness of the microUSB connector and not get modded down!

      microUSB is supposed to have been designed for ~4x more cycles than miniUSB. But I don't believe it. I can barely keep it attached to my phone once continually enough to maintain charging, unless I arrange it so the wire torques the connector down instead of up. Lots of fun to try to do while driving.

      Also, it was designed so the moving parts that clip it together are in the cable instead of the p

      • Perhaps you have a defective device, or were abusing the product. Of the items that I have which use MicroUSB, none of them have displayed even the slightest bit of flakiness to them. But then again neither have my MiniUSB devices and they've been abused significantly more than my MicroUSB devices.

    • Re:Interesting. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by DavidRawling ( 864446 ) on Tuesday September 20, 2011 @10:04AM (#37455372)
      The micro connector was designed for 10,000 cycles, IIRC. So you can plug and unplug your phone 6 times a day for 4.5 years. Note that the mini-USB was only designed for 1/10th of that, so the micro connector is the better choice. Go check the Wikipedia article if you don't believe me (not that it's any more authoritative than I am).
      • The micro connector was designed for 10,000 cycles, IIRC. So you can plug and unplug your phone 6 times a day for 4.5 years. Note that the mini-USB was only designed for 1/10th of that, so the micro connector is the better choice. Go check the Wikipedia article if you don't believe me (not that it's any more authoritative than I am).

        I've got three devices with micro-USB ports, with an age of ownership of one year. One micro-USB port has failed.
        I've got four micro-USB cables. Two have failed at the micro-USB connector.
        I've got upwards of twenty devices with mini-USB ports, with an average age of ownership and frequency of connection similar to the micro-USB devices. None have failed.
        I've got even more mini-USB cables than devices. None have failed.

        Also, it's a lot easier to plug a mini-USB cable into a port without looking at it fir

        • by tibit ( 1762298 )

          I've got upwards of twenty devices with mini-USB ports, with an average age of ownership and frequency of connection similar to the micro-USB devices. None have failed.
          I've got even more mini-USB cables than devices. None have failed.

          And that's exactly what mechanics tells us should happen.

      • I say we adopt the Nintendo cartridge connector as standard, that way if it stops working all you have to do is blow into it and you're good to go..
  • Sad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hbean ( 144582 ) on Tuesday September 20, 2011 @10:02AM (#37455360)
    Anyone else think its gotten a bit sad that a company building something to last/stand up to use has become a news story?
    • Sad perhaps, but it was inevitable when companies started outsourcing work from the US and EU where they could easily keep tabs on production to China where it became less convenient to do so. Also, lower costs aren't what one normally considers a sign screaming high quality production capabilities.

    • >>Anyone else think its gotten a bit sad that a company building something to last/stand up to use has become a news story?

      Well, normal full-sized USB connectors (of the various flavors) have held up very very well in real-world use, with the only real issue being that you sometimes have to try to insert them twice, as they are symmetrical and in a dark environment you can't see the black plastic on the inside very well. I heard that they were designed based on Nintendo game plugs, which might explain

      • by sznupi ( 719324 )
        USB plugs tend to have an embossed logo on the "up" side (unless a manufacturer cares more about "aesthetics" than usability... ); one which can be easily felt, no need to see the plastic inside the connector. Too bad it seems to be less of a rule with USB flash drives - out of my selection, only around half have some embossed, Braille-like stuff (on the cable plugs it's usually the USB logo - on the flash drives it seems to be fairly random) on the "up" side. At least those which don't have it are only sym
        • >>I've never heard about the Nintendo twist - and I kinda doubt it; the USB comes from mid-90s, when the NES cartridge slot was still a fresh memory, and would probably make everybody wary about anything from Nintendo in the topic of connectors ;p

          It was an off-the-cuff remark made by one of my professors. He said they were inspired by the gameboy's connectors, which had been proven to hold up well in real life.

          Taking a look at them, I do see the resemblance. (

        • embossed logo on the "up" side

          If that is true, its too damn small for us over 50's to see or feel. Why can't they make the plastic reflect the shame of the metal?

        • USB plugs tend to have an embossed logo on the "up" side

          Except that the computer side does not, and many like to make them confusing on purpose it seems.

          • by sznupi ( 719324 )
            On the computer / hub side, "up" tends to be up of whole device, away from the centre of local gravitational well; especially ever since laptops dominate sales. Or at least, I don't think I ever encountered a USB hub or laptop which wouldn't have them in the proper orientation (though I probably wouldn't care to remember some isolated cases...but I would almost certainly notice if "logo = up" wasn't very dependable), or a motherboard for that matter (stationary machines aren't so obvious for "average Joe" o
      • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

        Micro-USB, though, IIRC, has those spring-loaded clips to make a strong connection, but the parts are very small, and hard to ruggedize very well with the very small form factor they have to deal with. My first Droid had it fail within a week of owning it, meaning that if I just tilted the phone on its side while it was plugged in, the charging cable would just fall out. It was pretty irritating, especially since it more than once fell out in the middle of the night, leaving me with a minimal charge on my p

    • Do you go out of your way to pay more for more durable products?

      People seem to forget that we voted for this.

      • It is difficult to tell how durable an item is. By the time you know how durable something is in the real world it is likely to be discontinued or silently changed. Some people base their decisions on brand trust. Unfortunately if there are financial problems or a need to look good to the stock market it's very tempting for a manufacturer to sell out their brand for a quick buck.

  • by Taibhsear ( 1286214 ) on Tuesday September 20, 2011 @10:11AM (#37455446)

    Original link seems slashdotted for me. Here's an alternate: []

  • by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Tuesday September 20, 2011 @10:12AM (#37455450) Journal

    I know it seems like an odd complaint these days, but my issue with USB connectors - pretty much all of them - is that I don't understand why they don't have a more obvious bias.

    It's not clear which side of the plug is up.

    Oh sure, if you are looking at it in bright light, you can USUALLY tell clearly.
    But if you have bad vision, or are trying to put the cable in a blind spot (we're never plugging in cables that are hard to see, under desks, in the dark, or all three, are we?) it's pretty much a 50% chance if you have the plug right side up.

    With the micro usb it's even worse, given their delicacy putting them into a phone, and the ease that one might misinterpret the "not fitting this way" with "not fitting because I'm not pushing hard enough".

    Why didn't they make the USB plug format a triangle or some other shape that has a clear "top" and "bottom".?

    • I have always wondered this as well and it seems that even the cable-makers have the same problem - I swear that not every device or cable has the USB symbol on the right side of the connection either!
      • by karnal ( 22275 )

        Consider my el-cheapo work Blackberry. The power cable for it has "UP" written on one side of the mini USB connector used to charge the phone. However, the connector on the phone is upside down compared to every other mini usb device I've ever seen when facing up on a table.

        So if I use the Blackberry charger on my HTC, "UP" has to face down. Nice one, eh?

    • ...or design it so it doesn't matter which way you plug it in.

      • by janimal ( 172428 )

        Most likely an Apple patent.

        • by hjf ( 703092 )

          Microsoft patented a battery holder that let you slide batteries in any way. Guess what? Slashdotters laughed at it, said it was useless, retard, and that only idiots would need a thing like this...


          • by DavidTC ( 10147 )

            You know, if you are going to claim what 'slashdot' did something, you might to actually check your link.

            Because, you see, I did.

            A few people seemed to think it was obvious and shouldn't have been allowed to be patented, and others pointed out some prior art, but I'm counting exactly four people, 'mcgrew', 'pandrijeczko', 'tius', and 'erroneus' who seemed to think it was 'useless' or that only 'idiots' would need it.

            That's it. That's all.

            453 comments, and you have such an confirmation bias that slashdo

            • by DavidTC ( 10147 )

              Oh, and FYI, the word 'retard' doesn't even appear in a post. That word is once in an unrelated sig, but not a post.

              The word 'useless' shows up twice, but neither time is it referring to the invention.

    • That's better solved by making the cable's orientation more obvious. You're not going to see the internals of the port when you're trying to plug it in, but you can see and or feel the look of the cable without too much trouble..

    • Type B is the worse because it does actually fit with the wrong side up. I've burned an external drive enclosure board because of that.

    • by MobileTatsu-NJG ( 946591 ) on Tuesday September 20, 2011 @11:39AM (#37456540)

      Fifty percent chance? Everybody knows that when you plug in a USB device you push it in, flip it over, push it again, then flip it over the way you had it to get it in! USB connectors are three-way.

    • Along with orientation, one pet peeve of mine with USB has been that the very 'squared off' edges mean that even if you have the orientation right, you have to get the parts exactly lined up before they'll insert. I wish there was a slight 'funnel' at the opening of the female port to make it easier to "start" the connector getting inserted.

      • by hjf ( 703092 )

        I'm surprised Gigabyte doesn't include something like this in their motherboards. After all, they like to add useless things to sell more. Like twice as much copper on their boards, or "3x technology" (1.5Amps per USB connector, instead of the standard 500mA).

  • That's essentially the question when it comes to whether we get to see them in devices. If they only cost a fraction of a cent more than the old connectors, there's no chance that they would get used, even if they tripled the lifetime of your gadget.

    • If they only cost a fraction of a cent more than the old connectors, there's no chance that they would get used

      They might cost less once you figure in the cost of in-warranty repairs.

  • I can't remember the last time I busted my Bluetooth port.

  • by MadCow42 ( 243108 ) on Tuesday September 20, 2011 @10:30AM (#37455654) Homepage

    Sometimes making something harder or stronger doesn't actually solve the problem. Firstly, you can simply shift the breakage point to something more expensive (the circuit board itself). Often, making something more flexible and forgiving goes a lot further. A "soft" connector that flexes instead of breaks would be much more useful.

    I see this with surface coatings all the time. If we have a problem with scratching, making the surface harder actually is counter-productive. Making it softer and more malleable is more likely to solve the problem (the surface deforms around the particle that's scratching it, often resulting in no damage. Even when it still scratches, the resulting defect is much less noticable).

    "Bend with the wind"... it's why Bamboo is such a useful material.

  • Somebody needs to do this for CAT 5. The network cables in the conference rooms always have the tabs broken off.
    • by PPH ( 736903 )
      Better the (cheap) cables than the expensive ports in the equipment. But I feel your pain.
    • Afaict there is already a soloution to that, boots that fit on the rear of the connector and provide both a strain relief and an anti-snag cover for the rear of the locking tab. On the downside they often make it harder to unplug the cables as you must compress the plastic of the boot when depressing the tab on unlock the connector.

  • by sootman ( 158191 ) on Tuesday September 20, 2011 @12:21PM (#37456986) Homepage Journal

    That's doubleplusgood news!

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Tuesday September 20, 2011 @12:25PM (#37457060) Homepage

    Wireless devices ought to be totally wireless. They already have Bluetooth, so they don't need a headphone jack. Syncing can be done over the Bluetooth, WiFi, or cellular radios, which are already present. Charging should be inductive. (The inductive-charging people need to agree on a standard, or one of the three competing schemes needs to win.)

    Then the unit can be sealed up and made watertight and dust-tight. There's already a Casio G-Shock phone that meets military ruggedness standards, so this is quite possible.

    • by DavidTC ( 10147 )

      I want someone to build the equivalent of a wireless USB dongle that also does induction charging.

      Leave it plugged into your phone, set your phone on the charging platform, and it would start charging and USB-connect to the computer.

      I have no idea what any engineering problems with that would be, though.

  • How about we go back to the rugged mini-usb and throw this micro-usb shit out? Night and day difference in robustness.

  • hey young cable and connector designers, I have this brand new concept for you. its called 'strain relief'.

    what a novel concept, huh?

    maybe consider giving it a try. I've heard they used to use them on reliable things, back when things were DESIGNED to be reliable and work for decades (and not months).

    when I see small connectors that could break and disconnect from the host pcb, I always look for some stubby cable to act as a strain relief.

    in the last 10 years, I have not seen a cable/connector design that

  • I've been looking for a low profile USB port saver, you know, like one of those mini Bluetooth dongles, with a female extension lead.

    Should manufacture it really, it's pretty essential and doesn't seem to exist

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