Plugable USBC-VAmeter review: Easy-to-use USB-C multimeter

Diagnose your charging woes with Plugable’s tiny power meter [Review]

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Plugable USBC-VAmeter3 review
The Plugable USBC-VAmeter3 tests the quality of the connections between your computers and chargers and other peripherals.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Your MacBook isn’t charging right and you can’t figure it where the problem is? Plugable’s USBC-VAmeter3 can help. Connect it to the power cable running to your Mac, iPad or iPhone to see the voltage, wattage and amperage.

I’m no electrical engineer, but I tested this miniature power meter. I found it both useful and kind of fun.

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Plugable USBC-VAmeter3 review

Anyone who’s ever said to themselves “Is this $%&@ thing even charging?” can see the appeal of the USBC-VAmeter3 Plus, you can use it find out which of your USB-C cables can handle the most current. This is also a quick way to see if something is wrong with your Mac, iPhone or iPad charger.

But there’s an important caveat. “This meter is not meant to replace professional USB-C test equipment; it is designed for quick/easy measurements for users of any skill level,” warns Plugable.

The USBC-VAmeter has been on the market for years. In August 2022, a third-generation version launched that capable of handling up to 240W – far more than its predecessors.

Very portable bit of kit

The USBC-VAmeter3 is quite portable. It’s small enough to tuck into a gear bag, ready to be pulled out whenever you need it. Specifically, it’s 1.2 inches by 0.9 in. by 0.4 in, and less than half an ounce.

There’s a USB-C port on one end and a USB-C connector on the other. To test power flow, plug the meter into your Mac or iPad, then attach the cable cable.

Plugable keeps improving the product in successive generations. The second-generation had a brighter screen than its predecessor. And there’s now a button to rotate the screen so the information points toward the user. As noted, the new third-gen model I’m testing can handle more power.

Easy to use USB-C multimeter

Plugable USBC-VAMETER3 specifications
The Plugable USBC-VAMETER3 is easy to use even for non-experts.
Graphic: Plugable

This multi-meter can handle from 5V to 48V and 50mA to 6.5A. It supports USB 1.1 through USB 3.1 Gen 2. It’s not compatible with Thunderbolt 3.

I’ve tested it with dozens of computers, batteries, etc. and never had a problem. It’s been especially useful testing the solar panels I’m reviewing.

I can confirm that the USBC-VAmeter3 doesn’t interfere with data running through the USB 3.1 cables. It only taps into the power (VBUS) and ground connections.

But I can’t test the full capabilities of the third-gen version because no Apple computer can receive power at 240W. The 2021 MacBook Pro tops out at 100W. But I like that its futureproofed – I won’t have to worry about burning out the meter with the 2027 MacBook Ultra.

Plugable’s little accessory displays voltage, wattage and amperage. Just as importantly, it shows the direction of power flow.

I’m not an electrical engineer so my experience with those terms dates back to a single class I took at university. As such, I can’t take full advantage of the USBC-VAmeter3’s capabilities. But even with my limited electrical knowledge I found it useful to be able to check whether my devices were getting power. And no real expertise was required to find out that one of my USB-C cables can’t handle anywhere near as much current as the others.

Many chargers list their output in watts. It doesn’t take an EE degree to test that with this meter.

Plus, using this gadget is just interesting. For example, I’ve read that my iPad draws less power as the battery level gets closer to 100%. I can confirm that — the tablet draws about double the amps at 55% as it does at 95%. And I found myself testing all my gadgets to see how much power they use.

Plugable USBC-VAmeter final thoughts

Plugable USBC-VAmeter version 2 has better ports and a brighter screen. Version 3 can handle more power.
The Plugable USBC-VAmeter3 is very portable — about the size of a USB drive.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

The USBC-VAmeter3 is a handy little multimeter for non-professionals who want an easy way to look for electrical problems with their Mac, iPad or iPhone.

I found it useful and actually kind of fun.

Pricing

Plugable sells the USBC-VAmeter3 through Amazon. The price is $30.

Buy from: Amazon

An alternative is the KJ-KayJI 2-in-1 USB Tester ($23.99). This can test both USB-A and USB-C. Given the lower price and additional capabilities, this might seem like a slam-dunk but I can’t recommend a product from a company I’ve never heard of before. I’ve tested many Plugable products in the past and they’ve always performed brilliantly.

Those looking for something more professional should consider the Klein Tools ET920 ($39.97).

Plugable provided Cult of Mac with a review unit for this article. See our reviews policy, and check out other in-depth reviews of Apple-related items.

This review was first published in May 2021 and covered the second-gen USBC-VAmeter. It’s been updated to cover the USBC-VAmeter3 as the new version has only internal differences.