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For example, if I plug a USB 3.0 device and find that the I/O performance is rather slow, how do I check whether it's because the device is actually doing USB 2.0 (even though I'm using a USB 3.0 cable, connected to a USB 3.0 port on my MacBook Pro).

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Try  menu > About this Mac > System Report...

Select USB on the left, then find your device in the list.

The reported speed ought to be a giveaway. Mine shows it's only running at USB2 speeds [but that's because I don't have a USB3 machine]

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