Here at Battery Force, we know a bit about batteries. We know about the history of batteries, the uses for batteries, and the types available on the market. We know why some are expensive, why some are cheap, and when to buy each. And we know lots about quality. So when we’re asked “what are the best rechargeable batteries on the market?” we know the answer.
There’s a short answer and a long answer.
The short answer is this. It’s depends on what you need them for.
Sorry. The short answer isn’t much use. So let’s get to the long answer.
What are the different types of rechargeable battery?
If we’re going to answer the question of what are the best rechargeable batteries, we need to take a step back and look at all the different types of re-usable batteries on the market. After all, there must be a difference, otherwise we couldn’t decide on which type (or brand) of battery is best.
There are four types of rechargeable batteries on the market today:
Nickel Metal Hydride (or NiMH) batteries. These are the top sellers. NiMH batteries are available in all of the most common consumer sizes, meaning you can find NiMH AA batteries, NiMH AAA batteries, NiMH C batteries, NiMH D batteries and NiMH 9v rechargeable batteries.
You’re going to be close to at least one Lithium Ion (or Li-ion) battery right now, even though they aren’t available as consumer size rechargeables. That’s because light, powerful Li-ion cells are used to power most mobile phones.
Like Li-ion batteries, Lithium Polymer (Li-pol) batteries are usually designed as custom fitted battery cells. That’s because these materials make for a robust, hard-wearing battery that can take a few knocks. You’ll find this type in RC vehicles and even drones.
The fourth type of rechargeable battery is the huge, robust Sealed Lead Acid (SLA) battery which is used for emergency power in commercial alarm and lighting systems. Because these batteries are bulky, you won’t find them in anything smaller than a golf cart!
We said there are four types of rechargeable battery on the market, but there’s something else you need to look out for. In some online outlets, you might find Nickel Cadmium (or NiCd) batteries for sale. These rechargeable batteries, if you see them, will be cheap. That’s because they’re all unsold stock, hanging around since they were withdrawn from sale in the EU. NiCd batteries are cheap, nasty and toxic. Steer clear.
Already we’re seeing that for consumers, there seems to be a clear favourite battery in the rechargeable market. NiMH batteries. They’re certainly the easiest to buy, but are they really the best?
And will a rechargeable NiMH battery outlast a standard single use battery?
Do rechargeable batteries last as long as single use?
If we’re going to decide on a best battery, we need to look at how long they last.
As most general purpose rechargeable batteries are the NiMH variety, we’ll look at those first. Unfortunately, “how long do they last” isn’t always a simple question to answer.
Let’s look at shelf stability. In a packet, rechargeable batteries do not hold a charge for as long as a single use alkaline battery. Alkaline batteries remain shelf stable for years at a time, which is why you can dust off a packet from the back of a drawer and expect them to work. NiMH batteries will gradually lose that charge in around thirty days.
But then a NiMH battery doesn’t need to hold a charge, because you can plug them into your rechargeable battery charger and top them up as needed. You can’t do that with an alkaline battery.
When in use, a NiMH battery can outlast an alkaline battery by 150 to 200%. This is especially true in high drain applications (like your digital camera) where that trusty NiMH battery can actually last four times as long as an alkaline battery. Given that you can charge them 500 to 1000 times, that gives you a serious lifespan.
Is there more value in buying a rechargeable battery?
Before we get to the best rechargeable battery, it’s worth a note on value. Compared to a single-use battery, a rechargeable battery can seem expensive.
Up-front, they’re more expensive. Let’s look at two of the top sellers from the Battery Force catalogue.
Single use Duracell Industrial AA batteries - ~30p per battery
Rechargeable Panasonic Eneloop Pro AA batteries - ~£2.94 per battery
Straight away, that doesn’t look good for the rechargeable battery. Per battery, you’re paying over seven times as much. But all an Eneloop needs to do to earn that up-front cost back is last seven times longer than the Duracell Industrial.
Before we get into the maths here, let’s just reassure you that the Eneloop ends up being much more valuable.
Let’s say we’re using the Eneloop Pro rechargeable batteries in a digital camera. This is a high drain device that’s pretty demanding on a battery.
These NiMH batteries are designed for high drain applications, and they’ll last four times as long as the alkaline batteries.
So on one charge, you can spend:
£2.94 on one rechargeable battery
£1.20 on four single-use batteries
Ok. Single use is still better value. But you can charge an Eneloop 500 times. Not a very high number for a rechargeable, as a matter of fact. In that time, you’d need to use 2,000 single use batteries. So let’s look at that value. Over the lifetime of the Eneloop, you can spend:
£2.94 on one rechargeable battery
£600 on 2,000 single use batteries
On up-front cost, a rechargeable battery is seven times more expensive than a single use battery. Over a rechargeable battery’s lifespan, single use batteries would be TWO HUNDRED AND FOUR TIMES more expensive.
Are rechargeable batteries better value? Yes.
If you’re wondering why you’d ever buy a single use battery, it’s because they’re shelf stable, making them better for leaving in rarely-used emergency equipment like torches. They also give a consistent charge, making them perfect for smoke alarms.
What are the best rechargeable batteries for different applications?
By now, you might be thinking that rechargeable batteries are better than single use. You’d be right for a great many applications. But that’s not answered the original question.
What are the best rechargeable batteries? Depends on what you’re using them for.
Digital Cameras – Digital cameras are high-drain devices that demand a high-performance battery. The Eneloop batteries we mentioned above are a fantastic choice, but Ansmann also make specialist digital camera batteries that are worthy of consideration. With a charger, Ansmann Photocam III NiMH batteries are a great value option.
Game Controllers – We hate to play favourites and recommend the Eneloop batteries again. So we won’t. Instead, we’ll point you towards this research by the experts at Analysis and Review and tell you that they tested Playstation and Xbox controllers with a variety of rechargeables and decided on Panasonic Eneloop AA 1900mAH rechargeable batteries.
RC Cars/Drones – If your RC vehicle doesn’t have an integrated Li-pol battery pack, you can swap in the correct size of NiMH rechargeable battery. Weight is usually a consideration, so a lightweight NiMH rechargeable such as a Duracell AA 2500mAH battery will suit. Especially as these batteries hold their charge in storage, making them perfect for travelling to RC events.
Smoke Alarms – TRICK QUESTION. You should never use a rechargeable battery in a smoke alarm. Rechargeable batteries experience a quicker drop-off in voltage. Normally that’s fine, because you can recharge them, but when it comes to safety you need something that’s reliable for longer. Choose an alkaline battery such as an Energizer Alkaline Power 9v/PP3 battery.