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Using rechargeable batteries is just plain sensible these days.

Rechargeable batteries last as long as alkaline batteries, but can be recharged many hundreds of times. You save money, and save the environment too.

 
 
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Nexcell rechargeable Ni-MH batteries and intelligent charger

The Nexcell charger kit has AA batteries, charger, mains and car power supplies, and adapters for C and D cells too.

 

 

The humble NiCad rechargeable battery has come a long way over the decades. Ten years ago, you'd consider yourself lucky to find an AA sized Ni-Cd battery with a 600 mAh capacity. Nowadays, NiCads offer up to 1000 mAh and newer better Ni-MH batteries can provide more than double this capacity.

With a life of 200 - 1000 charge/discharge cycles, and capacity equivalent to non-rechargeable alkaline cells, NiMH batteries are every bit as convenient and much more sensible.

This product combines high capacity batteries with the most intelligent charger we've seen, along with some nice extra features, all at a low price.

Terminology Explained

The life or capacity of a battery is typically shown as so many mAh (milli Amp hours). 1000 mAh means that the battery can supply 1000 milliAmps for one hour (or 500 mA for two hours, etc). The larger this number, the longer the battery life.

There are three main types of rechargeable battery. The oldest technology is the Ni-Cd type, Nickel Cadmium (sometimes also called Nicad). These batteries have relatively low capacities, but are the least expensive.

Much better are the Ni-MH batteries, Nickel Metal Hydride. These batteries have about twice the capacity of the Nicad batteries, but are also up to twice as expensive.

The third type is a different technology - Li-Ion, Lithium Ion. These batteries have much higher capacity than even Ni-MH batteries, but are much more expensive and are not yet readily available as traditional rechargeable batteries. They are widely used in better cell phones, digital cameras, and other such devices, however, because of their long life and small size.

Nicad and Ni-MH batteries are each 1.2 volts, whereas normal non-rechargeable batteries are 1.5 volts. If you are replacing normal batteries with rechargeable batteries, you need to be sure that the lower voltage of the rechargeable batteries does not affect the operation of the device.

If you're using rechargeable batteries in a flashlight, you might want to get a lower voltage bulb. If you are using them in a two-way radio, your range might decrease slightly.

What You Get

The Nexcell Power Station has everything you'll need :

  • Four very high capacity Ni-MH batteries (2100 mAh)

  • Plastic carry case to carry/store the batteries

  • Intelligent charger/discharger that can charge 2 or 4 AAA or AA batteries simultaneously

  • 110V power supply

  • Car power supply

  • Two C cell adapters to enable the AA batteries to be used in devices that need C cell batteries

  • Two D cell adapters to enable the AA batteries to be used in devices that need D cell batteries

  • Instruction sheet

When purchased from Pro Travel Gear, it has a 30 day money back guarantee and a one year warranty, and lists for $39.95 (remember to get a 5% discount by using the 'travelinsider' discount code on their site).

Description - Charger

The charger is correctly described as 'intelligent'. Simple chargers are typically no more than a power source that just feeds power to the batteries, without stopping. These types of chargers can overcharge and damage your batteries.

The Nexcell charger uses four different tests to determine the level of charge in the batteries, and carefully ensures that batteries don't get overcharged. It monitors the voltage in the batteries while they're being charged, it monitors the temperature of the batteries (when they start to get fully charged, they start to heat up more), it has a safety test for maximum temperature, and it also simply has a time logic circuit that also prevents overcharging.

The charger can charge two pairs of batteries simultaneously.  The right hand pair of batteries can also be discharged before charging to eliminate any residual 'memory effect' by pressing the right hand button after the batteries are inserted.

Once the batteries have been fully charged, the charger then switches itself to a very low current that continues to 'trickle charge' the batteries until you remove them.

Triple color LEDs tell you what the charger is doing - whether it is discharging batteries, charging them, trickle charging them, or finished.

A red LED means rapid charging, a green LED means charging completed.  A Green and red flashing LED means trickle charging, and flashing yellow means the battery is being discharged and conditioned.

You know when the batteries have been fully charged, because not only does the charger's LED change color, but it also starts to play a simple musical tune!

The charger is cleverly designed so it is impossible to put batteries in the wrong way.

You have both a regular 'brick' power supply that plugs into the regular mains power and also a cigarette lighter adapter that will take power from a car or other similar source.

It takes about 4 - 5 hours to fully charge the batteries in the charger.

Description - Batteries and Adapters

The four AA batteries have a very high 2100 mAh capacity. In comparison, a regular alkaline battery typically provides between 1500 (in high current usage) and 2500 mAh (in low current usage) of capacity.

The batteries are considered good for at least 200 cycles (of full charge and then full discharge). After 200 cycles, they will only be holding 80% of their previous capacity when showing as fully charged (but this is still a lot!), so they don't simply stop working after this stated life capacity.

Now for a secret tip from one of the Nexcell engineers. He says that if you only charge the batteries to about 80% of full charge, you'll be able to get 500 to 1000 cycles from them. Apparently all the 'wear' on a battery occurs as it transitions from nearly fully charged to completely charged, and so if you only charge to 80% of capacity, you'll get much longer life.

Use this information two ways.

Firstly, this is how you can charge your batteries to only 80% (if you choose to do this - it is a bit of a bother). Use the charger to completely discharge your batteries, and then time how long it takes from the start of charging them until the music starts to play. Work out how long 80% of this time is, and then use a timer to remind you to turn off the charger, when charging discharged batteries in the future, at this time point.

Secondly, remember that all batteries 'wear out' most during the final part of their recharging. So never fully charge or over charge any batteries, anywhere. It doesn't matter if you exactly charge to only 80%, or to 60%, or to 95%, but try and keep it down below 100%, and certainly don't go over.

The complete Nexcell Kit also has two C cell adapters and two D cell adapters. These are very clever. Simply slide the AA batteries into these hollow adapters and then they will fit into things that need C and D cells. Of course you won't get as much life out of the AA batteries as you would out of C or D batteries, but for things you rarely use, it saves you having to buy additional stocks of other sized batteries.

Other Issues

Nicad batteries have a 'memory' effect. What this means is that if you only half discharge them before recharging them, they mistakenly think that the half discharged point where they started to be recharged again is actually the end of their life, and next time give you much less capacity. For this reason, if you find yourself using Nicad batteries, be sure to completely discharge them (eg by using the discharge feature on the charger) before recharging them.

Ni-MH batteries don't have quite the same memory effect, but they still have some degree of memory effect. It is a good idea to completely discharge them perhaps once every five or ten charging cycles, so as to keep them at maximum capacity.

This charger takes four to five hours to charge the batteries. There are other chargers available that are much faster in operation, but these faster chargers can sometimes harm the batteries due to their higher speed. The thing that shortens your battery life the most is heat buildup inside them - and the faster a battery is charged, the more heat it gives off and at a faster rate. It is better to accept a 4 - 5 hour gentle charging rate, and enjoy longer battery life as a result, than it is to buy a 'fast charger' that runs the risk of not only quickly charging your batteries but also of quickly ruining them!

Update July 2004

Since this review was written in December 2003, technology has continued to move forward.  In December, a 2100 mAh battery was 'state of the art'.  Today - as you can probably see from the Google ads on this page - it is possible to find 2400 mAh batteries.  Tomorrow - probably even higher capacity batteries.

This does make the Nexcell product of 7+ months ago no longer as outstanding as it was, then.  The charger technology remains excellent, however.

Use the information in this review to help you evaluate batteries and chargers, even if you no longer choose to buy the actual Nexcell product that was reviewed back in December.  You can visit the Nexcell website to see their current product range.

Summary and Recommendation

This complete kit is priced at $39.95. This makes it very competitively priced, compared to other products available. Additional packs of four batteries are $14.40.

Although one of the lowest priced complete kits, it is also one of the best. Recommended without reservation accordingly.

It is sold through Pro Travel Gear (the same people that created the wonderful Plane Quiet headphones), and if you enter the code 'travelinsider' (without the quotes) into their coupon box, you'll get a 5% discount.

Rechargeable batteries can save you a great deal of money over their 200-1000 cycles. There's no reason not to invest in one of these units.

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Originally published 5 Dec 2003, last update 19 Dec 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 
 

 


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