Techie: Power up
Know your battery options for best performance
John “jaQ” Andrews
you’re like most Americans, you either gave or received at least one
electronic gadget this Christmas.
you gave, did you include batteries? If not, shame on you, and here’s
your chance to make up for it. If you received, read on as well.
Many toys (including grownup “toys”) require AA batteries. But all
batteries are not created equal. Aside from the rechargeable vs.
disposable debate, there are a slew of options that can make a
difference in how long a device runs — translating to the best value for
Alkaline: The old standby, alkaline batteries range from the dollar
store two-pack to fancy name-brand varieties with descriptions like
“Ultra” or “Super Long Life.” In general, these superlatives can be
believed, and more expensive batteries will last longer. Alkalines
generally supply 1.5 volts of power.
you’re powering something with occasional, small load usages, like a
remote control or small flashlight, cheap batteries will do just fine.
Clocks, answering machines and other devices that require more constant
power will do better with name brands.
Lithium: Lithium batteries are often marketed as “Photo Lithium” because
they do well in digital cameras — inactive most of the time, with
occasional high power draw. They’re also good for other small
electronics, like handheld games. They offer high voltage, up to 1.75
volts, and are lighter than alkalines.
big problem with lithium batteries is that they’re expensive. A
four-pack might set you back ten bucks. The extended life in high-drain
electronics is worth it, though, especially if you’re traveling and
don’t want the hassle of carrying and changing extra batteries.
Rechargeable Nickel: Nickel Cadmium (NiCd) rechargeables used to be all
the rage, but they had issues. For one, if you threw them out, they
tended to leak into water tables and kill things. They also had a
relatively low capacity which decreased rather precipitously with each
recharge, so a 15-minute remote control car race on Christmas morning
became a four-minute sprint by New Year’s.
Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries didn’t completely solve these
issues, but they’re a darn site improved. They can typically be
recharged 1,000 times or more, and last longer than NiCd batteries. They
even come with a handy capacity rating most of the time. The
longest-lasting AA NiMH cells these days are about 2,500 milliamp-hours
(mAh). The higher that number, the more use you’ll get out of each
Rechargeables generally only supply 1.2 volts. That means quick rundown
in high-drain electronics, and near uselessness in devices that require
low drain over long periods. They also tend to self-discharge pretty
quickly if not used. Of course, you make that all up by not having to
buy new batteries, only new electricity.
Rechargeable Alkaline: These were supposed to be the great breakthrough,
but they didn’t live up to the hype. While they supply the full 1.5
volts of conventional alkalines, they can only be recharged up to 100
times. Even then, their capacity and voltage diminish with each charge,
so after a while, it’s like using NiMH cells anyway. Their
self-discharge is extremely low, however, so they’ll last longer on the
Using the right batteries will give you the most play time for your
hard-earned money. For gift-giving, they’ll earn you even more thanks.