What is the best battery charger for 18650 and other batteries?
Following on from the recent "What is the best 18650 battery" blog post here, next up, we look at the chargers used for them.
"Which is the best charger" is another equally ambiguous question. With hundreds of choices of batteries and an ever growing list of manufacturers and specifications for chargers, the real questions and answers are very much the same. What do you want/need it to do, and at what price point?
To kick things off, we'll look at function.
What should you consider when shopping for in a charger?
There are a few things you need as a minimum. Almost all chargers now come with reverse polarity, over charge and thermal protection. When choosing a charger, these should be the very least in terms of safety features that you should expect to see listed. None of our chargers come without these.
What else? This will depend on the type of batteries you use, how many you have, and how fast you need to turn them around through the charger.
Lots of chargers now have 2Amp+ outputs in a portion if not all of their bays. The XTAR VP4 Plus Dragon that i use for example, will charge at 2Amps in the outer two bays. This is great for a quick turnaround of my favourite VTC5A batteries but not so great for my tiny RCR123A cells i use for lasers which prefer a 0.25A charge because its lowest setting is 0.5A. If you are unsure of what the charging limits are for your batteries, your supplier should always be able to supply you with the factory Datasheet. On there, you'll find the maximum charging current. It'll look like this;
As you can see, this is for the LG HG2 18650 battery. Its normal charge current is 1.25A so a normal 1Amp charge is fine but it will actually be fine with charging at up to 4Amps (many people are unaware of how high the current can be set for charging 18650 batteries. Some have upper limits of 8Amps!). Most chargers available to the public are not actually capable of topping out 18650 charging capacities.
The number of bays is also a worthwhile initial consideration. There's no sense wasting money on a single bay charger if you use 4 or more batteries a day. In a fast moving world, something which offers the convenience of always having fresh batteries charged and available will save frustration. Consider the time it takes to charge your batteries and how many you need between charging. For me, i go through around 4 batteries a day so i have a 4 bay charger. This allows me to never have to worry about not having any ready. If you only use two each day, a 2 bay charger might be better.
Where you charge your batteries, or more so where you could charge them to make life easier is not a 100% necessary but certainly worthwhile consideration. The Nitecore range of battery chargers have been around longer than vaping and while their price point and robust design make them ideal for almost all uses, they're hardly mobile; requiring a mains plug for operation. XTAR however, are very much mobile. Almost all of their main line of chargers are USB powered, taking a single or double micro USB power input meaning they can be used on the move and plugged into a car, a laptop, powerbank or anything else with USB power. Some can also be used the other way. Placing cells in it while unplugged, it can discharge them back out via USB output and act as a powerbank!
The normal features discussed above aside, some chargers go even further. Going back to my desk charger, the XTAR Dragon has an internal resistance check function. This is great for identifying any changes inside the cell or even faults. Among many others, it also has a discharge and refresh function, completely draining the battery then charging all the way back up. These functions do come at a higher price point but can prove useful for some users. Some chargers have Bluetooth monitoring (although i feel this is a bit of gimmick, because you should never leave charging batteries unattended). There is even a new charger coming from Efan in China (Efan Lux S4 Battery Charger) with a full LCD touch screen beside the charging bays. RRP on this is expected to be circa £149, an unprecedented amount for a 4 bay unit!)
Price - Budget is always key for retail buyers and you should always buy the best possible charger you can afford, from a reputable retailer. This goes some way to ensuring both good performance and reliability and as mentioned previously, should limit the need to buy more or upgrade in the future should your battery collection increase. Battery chargers have dropped in price considerably over the last few years and in a recent poll of over 2,000 of our customers, Nitecore and XTAR chargers came out on top with 88% of the votes between them. This is the result of their continued developments in spec and safety, along with overall design and performance.
Lastly, brand loyalty deserves a mention. Many people have a preferred brand, me included. Although we have traditionally exclusively supplied Nitecore products and only in the last year started supplying XTAR chargers, they have quickly become my favourite. Nitecore are a very good product at a very reasonable price point and my old D4 is still used at home 4 years on, but i prefer the aesthetic design of the XTAR products along with nicer screens and more data availability for very little extra in price.
You can find our full range of battery chargers from Nitecore and XTAR here.
Of course, if you're struggling to choose the right product for you we are always available, just Contact Us.
Ben - Sales Director.