How-To: Choose the perfect battery

how-to-choose-the-perfect-battery

For your high-output devices, there’s a chance that your regular bargain-bin batteries aren’t cutting it any more. I know I’ve bought AA batteries from the dollar store thinking I’m getting a great deal, only to have them not even be recognized by my digital camera. A lot of cheap-o batteries don’t even have enough juice in them straight out of the box to power a lot of today’s high-end electronics, but luckily there are plenty of affordable alternatives.

Lithium

Lithium batteries are pretty much the brass ring of portable electric power. For a long time this technology had not been efficiently miniaturized, and Lithium batteries were either too big or too expensive for everyday use. In recent years, though, this cost has come down substantially, and now you can buy Lithium AA replacements for about the same cost as Alkaline (or “traditional”) batteries. According to some promo material picked up from Energizer reps, the Energizer Ultimate Lithium AAs (for example):

  • Lasts up to eight times longer in digital cameras, 7 hours longer in handheld GPS devices, and 2x longer in photo flashes than their Energizer MAX brand.
  • Are leak resistant and offer a 15-year storage life (vs. 7 years for ordinary Alkalines).
  • Function in extreme temperatures, from -40°F to 140°F, making them perfect for GPS devices, radios and other outdoor gear that may see hard-weather use.

The lists go on and on, but basically Lithium is poised to become the new standard in battery use. The only downside is that the cost is still relatively high when compared with traditional alkalines, though it’s nowhere near where it was a few years ago. Also, given the performance boost you get from Lithium, it’s a matter of buying one set of slightly higher-priced batteries or potentially buying up to three sets of regular batteries over the same time frame for the same amount of use. Seems like a no-brainer to me, especially when there are many price points to choose from (Energizer, for example, has an “Advanced” Lithium battery line to complement the “Ultimate” line mentioned above, at a slight reduction in cost and performance).

Professional or High-Output Alkaline

This type of Alkaline battery does not quite stack up to Lithium, but is a solid choice for buying in bulk and getting a comparatively dependable battery for your electronics. These Alkalines, like the Duracell Procell line, are formulated to be able to handle the high-power draw of devices like digital cameras, while still being as cost-effective as traditional Alkalines.

The downside to these batteries is that while they can handle the initial power draw of a high-output device, they won’t last nearly as long as a lithium of the same type. These batteries would be a perfect choice for flashlights, remote controls, and other devices that see intermittent use but need to be fully charged when you need them. You wouldn’t want to put a pricey Lithium battery in a flashlight you might not turn on for months, and these high-powered Alkalines are a suitable alternative.

Rechargeable Batteries

NiMH or Nickel-Metal Hydride rechargeable batteries have grown in popularity recently as one of the best ways to cut down on battery spending. In a world of high-power-draw, constant-use devices like MP3 players, cell phones, PDAs, wireless video game controllers and other gadgets, we’re burning through portable electricity like there’s no tomorrow, and rechargeables can help manage that.

The basic idea should need no explaining: make an initial investment of a charger and a set of batteries, and instead of buying new ones when they go dead, plug them into the charger. Presto! Fresh batteries in a matter of hours and no extra cost involved. The only real downsides to rechargeables are areas in which there is constant improvement: price and performance.

Rechargeables cost substantially more than use-once batteries, and the charges used to be a substantial investment as well. However, as part of a growing trend toward eco-friendly products, rechargeable batteries have seen a lot of support lately as an environmentally friendly alternative to filling up landfills with one-time-use batteries. This has allowed the costs to come down significantly.

As far as performance, rechargeables were never meant to be on par with their high-power counterparts, but were instead to be used in a case where you’re going to be drawing small amounts of power out of a device frequently enough to not want to keep shelling out for batteries. So for the products I listed above and other items like wireless computer mice, flashlights and so on, rechargeables may be the perfect choice.

Hopefully this information will help you make an informed choice about batteries and realize that there’s no need to throw away money on the cheap stuff when a smaller investment and a bit of planning can save you a ton of money in the long run.

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