Awesome Battery Charger (with Total Crap UI)

We have an absolutely ridiculous number of devices in the house that eat AA batteries (and a handful of AAA batteries). LED flashlights. Wii Controllers. The Canon macro ring flash. Various remotes. Toys. Etc…

As a result, we use a lot of batteries. Thus, I decided that I would pick up a bulk pack of rechargeable AA batteries and find a decent charger to go with.

After a bunch of research, every sign indicated that the La Crosse Technology BC-700 Alpha Power Battery Charger

(pictured at left) was the best of the bunch (when this was originally written, it was the BC-900 or some such. Now it isn’t. But there is a 1000. I have the 700, too, and it seems to work identically to the 900 from years ago. Go figure. I still stand by the recommendation).

And it is. Which is sad, in a way.

The charger does a brilliant job of testing, refreshing and generally charging AA and AAA cells. It has multiple modes, including the ability to select the current level used to charge batteries (high current == fast charge, but lessens battery life) and does a great job of indicating the overall health of the cell.

The user interface, though, absolutely sucks. Horribly. It has four displays — one for each cell slot — and the contents are confusing at best. Definitely a device for which reading the manual at least twice and then looking up various online resources is required.

Hell, the damned display shows “null” for any slot without a battery in it. If that isn’t an indication of total lack of UI design, I don’t know what is!

But, the damned thing works. Really really well.

In fact, the first time I used it, I set it to refresh a set of batteries that I had been charging via some relatively cheap combo-pack charger. It basically returned them to about double the capacity that I was seeing.

Word of warning: Some really cheap battery chargers are, in fact, dangerous. If they are simply constant current charging sources, they can do damage to the cells unless you pull the cells right when they are done charging (too soon — incomplete charge, too late — bad for the cells). Seriously — at least invest in a “smart” charger that backs off when the cells are done!

Beyond the obvious green rah-rah-love-the-earth win of moving to rechargeable batteries, there are some additional benefits that I hadn’t entirely considered but am now happy to enjoy.

Most obviously, you don’t have to remember to buy batteries. Myself and everyone I know invariably has a remote or two that has no batteries in it. Why? Because the batteries were scavenged for use in a device that was higher in the pecking order whose cells have gone dead. With rechargeable batteries, though, the dead cells can be revived easily enough.

With ultra-low self discharge cells, you sacrifice a bit of overall capacity, but the cells hold their charge for much, much longer. Thus, the cells “stored” in the rarely used remote will still have a charge after many months.

Secondly — and this surprised me — rechargeable batteries seem to perform much better for longer in high current demand situations. For example, my ring flash recycles back to ready much faster across more cycles than it did with disposable AA batteries.

All in all, the move to rechargeables has been good in our house. Certainly, given the battery eating nature of the Canon flash and with several long trips where an iPod or iPhone needed power, the change has likely already paid for itself. Certainly close.



8 Responses to “Awesome Battery Charger (with Total Crap UI)”

  1. James Duncan Davidson says:

    You’re right indeed that flashes love the current that rechargers give. I hate when I’m somewhere that I have to use alkaline AA’s in my strobes. Instant buzz kill. But, chargers do suck. I also bought the exact same charger you have a while back. The one that I ended up getting is Maha’s 8 cell charger: http://www.mahaenergy.com/store/viewitem.asp?idproduct=407 … mostly for the 8 cell at a time feature. If somebody made a 16 cell smart charger, I’d buy it.

  2. Garrett Albright says:

    I have one of these chargers myself. It really is great. I didn’t think the UI was too terrible, but for those that disagree, it comes with a sizable if somewhat “changlish” manual.

    I haven’t purchased disposable batteries in years. Rechargables pay for themselves and their chargers quickly, and they’re more convenient too. And of course they’re more ecological if you’re in to that. Disposable batteries are for suckers!

  3. wii remote charger | Digg hot tags says:

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  4. Awesome Battery Charger (with Total Crap UI) says:

    […] Awesome Battery Charger (with Total Crap UI) We have an absolutely ridiculous number of devices in the house that eat AA batteries (and a handful of AAA batteries). LED flashlights. Wii Controllers. The Canon macro ring flash. Various remotes. Toys. Etc… As a result, we use a lot of batteries. Thus, I decided that I would pick up a bulk … […]

  5. Convert says:

    Only recently I went to electronics’s shop to buy a new charger which will charge other than AA size type batteries. I bought this digitor universal NiCd/NiMH charger. Before connecting it to the wall plug I noticed the charging instructions saying that AA type 1000mAh should charge 12 hours, or, AA 1700 mAh (max. size mentioned in the brochure) need 21 hrs. Well because all of our rechargeable batteries we use around the house are 2000mAh or bigger, and a quick calculation for 2400 mAh suggested I would have to keep these charging for almost 2 days, it got to me the product must be outdated now days. Reading your sentence “Some really cheap battery chargers are, in fact, dangerous.” I must agree, this one doesn’t even turn the actual charging auto-off, it has to be done manually and, as the instruction also mentioned a battery might burst when overcharged I went to the shop again to buy another one that turns charging off automatically, then keeps in the trickle mode, plus is much quicker. Does also 9V size for fire alarms around the house.

  6. Builder says:

    I am still using the very old Energizer charger for AA – AAA – 9V batteries, output power AAA – 4x at 1.4V — 150mA, I purchased in one of those packs containing 4 rechargeable batteries and with the charger inside. Its case is cracked and sticky taped for a couple of years, I reckon it would be a good time to change it for this new one so thanks for the reference.

  7. Ben Holt says:

    I highly recommend BatteryUniversity.com – tons of very detailed information about battery and charger technology

  8. n[ate]vw says:

    I’m late to this party, but as I’ve been happily using this charger for a while now, I was taken aback by your comments on the interface. I’ve been trying to become very sensitive to UI issues, but I don’t remeber ever being terribly frustrated with this charger as I have with other devices. I’d been kind of waiting until I had to use the interface more to respond, but in those weeks I’ve realized that 99% of my interaction with the device is extremely ideal:

    1) Drop discharged batteries into the nice slots.
    2) Take them out when they’re “Full”.

    The brief voltage display in step 1 can flag bad cells (under 1V is not normal), and occasionally I’ll cycle Display when I’m “watching the pot boil”. When I have time to tinker with my batteries, I don’t mind tinkering with the configuration as well. The next time I use an advanced feature, I’ll try look for ways it could be improved, but the UI simply hasn’t bothered me much. Rechargeables are great, low self-discharge rechargeables are totally awesome… and I also heartily recommend this charger (have even bought a few relatives their own).

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