Buying batteries is a pain. Whether you're sticking them in a remote control, in a wireless mouse or keyboard, or in a more demanding device like an external camera flash, it's really difficult to pick the right variety. With single-use alkaline cells, you use them once, they run out, and then you throw them in the bin and pollute the planet. With rechargeables, you have a world of choice of different milliamp-hour ratings, and charging is a whole new ordeal. Varta's Ultra Fast Battery Charger is the most versatile device you can buy for keeping your rechargeable batteries topped up and ready to go.
What Is It?
- Features: Charge, Discharge, Refresh, Capacity Test
- Fast Charge Time: 15 Minutes
- Max Charge Current: 8000mA (AA), 3000mA (AAA)
- Included: AC Charger, Car Adapter, 4x AA Batteries
- Warranty: 3 Year
The $69.95 LCD Ultra Fast Charger is the latest and greatest out of Varta's labs, and packs in all the company's battery recharging smarts and features. It's able to recharge AA or AAA cells, up to four at a time of each, and can top a battery up to 70 per cent charge from entirely flat within 15 minutes — that's the Ultra Fast rating taken care of, then.
The largest and most feature-packed of the entire Varta charging range, the LCD Ultra Fast Charger has a backlit blue LCD display on its right, which switches between four different displays when you're charging to show battery millamp hour charge, milliamp charge level, current voltage, and charging time. Four different modes let you charge, refresh a charge, discharge or capacity test your batteries; the Charger itself comes with four mid-range Varta Rechargeable Accu 2100mAh nickel-metal hydride AA batteries that hit a good compromise between capacity, charge time and discharge rate.
There's a fan hidden away in the guts of the Ultra Fast Charger, and you'll need it — this bad boy get hot while charging. It runs pretty loud during use, which might be annoying if you're stuck in an enclosed space like a car while charging, but the whole reason it needs a fan is that it gets the job done quickly. So you won't be stuck listening to it for too long anyway. The body of the charger is entirely plastic, but it feels pretty solid.
The Ultra Fast Charger can charge anywhere between 1 and 4 AA or AAA cells at a time, and can pump up to 8000mA charge current into 1-2 AAs. In 1-2 AAAs, that drops to 3000mA, and in 3-4 of either cell respectively you get 4000mA or 1500mA. Batteries won't charge and you won't damage the charger if you manage to jam them in with the wrong polarity, and there's a timer, delta-V and temperature cut-off for charging as well.
What Is It Good At?
If you need to get some batteries charged quick smart, this desktop beast should be your go-to. My main requirement for batteries is in the hulking external camera flash I use to take Gizmodo's review pictures, and when I'm stuck with dead cells or a painfully slowly charging flash capacitor (from batteries running low), it's just about the most frustrating thing in the entire world. Even the ability to put four AAs in the charger and come back 15 minutes later to half-charged cells, with more than enough juice for an extended photographic session, basically removes this headache for me. Now all I need is for my camera's battery to charge equally effectively.
The AAs bundled with the Varta LCD Ultra Fast Charger are great. They're mid-level 2100mAh, 210mA nickel-metal hydride cells from Varta's Rechargeable Accu range, and while they're not the top of the line 2600mAh cells they have plenty of capacity and longevity even when put through the ringer of constant full-power drain from a camera flash. They also come pre-charged, and while this only matters once it is good to see this little extra stand out.
If you are the kind of person that uses and abuses rechargeable cells a lot — there aren't many of you out there, but I know you exist — you'll be pleased to see the discharge, refresh, and capacity test features of the Ultra Fast Charger. Refreshing battery charge levels once in a while, as well as doing a full discharge and recharge, can massively prolong the life of your rechargeables, and turn them from a once-in-a-few-years to once-in-a-lifetime purchase if you're careful enough. When you're buying a set of rechargeable batteries and charger, you're doing it to save money from buying single-use cells constantly (and the enviromental waste that comes with that), so having these features is theoretically a massive bonus over a cheaper unit.
What Is It Not Good At?
$70 is a lot to pay for a charger and four batteries, when you consider that you can get something 90 per cent as convenient and useful and powerful for $25. You are paying a premium for those extra features, and they do come in often if you're a serious user of batteries, but you have to actually use them and get the advantage of them if you want to make the extra price of the Ultra Fast Charger worth it.
It's a minor annoyance, but the AC power brick of the Varta LCD Ultra Fast Charger — it's a wall wart rather than an in-line unit — has two little wings on its sides that, when you're using a powerboard with narrow spacing, can get in the way of the power sockets to either side. Again, it's a very minor thing, but it's something worth taking into consideration when you're buying and it's something that we expected to see a little more streamlined from a company that is all about electricity.
Should You Buy It?
You probably aren't reading this review unless you need some rechargeable batteries in your life. Sure, one-time-use alkaline cells are pretty damn cheap, and you really have to do the maths and find extra efficiences to justify the heavily increased price of rechargeables. But if you're committed to saving money in the long run, and reducing your environmental footprint at the same time, buying a charger and rechargeable batteries makes sense.
Buying a good charger and good batteries makes more sense, if you take that mathematical justification to its extreme conclusion. Recharging batteries is not a perfect science, so having the ability to run discharge and refresh cycles from the Ultra Fast Charger is a boon that goes a long way to paying for that extra upfront cost over the course of the next decade of its use.
It's relatively pricey to buy one straight off the store shelves, but if you outfit your house with rechargeable batteries to save money over your lifetime, it makes sense to go the whole hog and buy a good charger to go along with them. Varta's LCD Ultra Fast Charger will keep your rechargeables in tip-top condition, and if it means you throw out a set of rechargeables once a decade rather than a set of one-use batteries once a fortnight, you're doing the planet a hell of a lot of good.