If you're searching for high-end NiMH battery chargers, you'll find the number of contending products is few. Only two consumer-level battery chargers are competing for the top slot: the La Crosse Technology BC-900 AlphaPower Battery Charger and the Powerex MH-C9000 WizardOne battery charger. For this review, I purchased them both and conducted numerous tests over a period of several weeks. Ultimately, I liked the Powerex MH-C9000 so much that I decided to carry it on www.BetterLifeGoods.com , so keep that in mind as you read this review. Here's my critical look at both products:
The La Crosse BC-900 Battery Charger
The BC-900 offers four main modes:
• Charge: Charges the battery to full capacity. • Discharge: Discharges the battery to empty. • Refresh: Cycles the battery multiple times to restore better performance. • Test: Determines the actual capacity of the battery in mAh.
If offers multiple safety features such as temperature sending, polarity detection and a way to determine if batteries are defective. Four independent channels allow you to charge batteries separately, and an LCD display shows you the status of each battery.
The features of the BC-900 sound very strong on paper, but in actually using the product, I found it to be extremely confusing, difficult to use and finicky. The display has no backlight, making it quite difficult to read, and the control buttons don't respond in a timely manner. Each time I inserted a battery, I ended up pressing the buttons several times to get the setting I wanted. Even worse, I soon learned that if you inserted a new battery too quickly after selecting settings for another battery, all your settings for the previous battery would disappear in a flash, and the charger would revert to "default" charging.
As a result, actually getting the BC-900 to analyze four batteries in a row was frustrating and tedious. Here's what I found works: 1) Insert a battery in slot 1. 2) Click the MODE button until you get the TEST feature to appear. 3) Keep clicking the CURRENT button until you get a higher current like 250mA (leaving it on 100mA, the default, can result in the test mode taking days to complete). 4) Now WAIT for the display to stop flashing before you insert a second battery. This can take about eight seconds. If you insert a second battery before the display stops flashing, then all the settings you just configured for the first battery will be wiped out.
Once the flashing stops, insert the second battery and repeat this process. If you manage to get that to work, repeat for batteries 3 and 4. Keep in mind that during this whole process, you only have a few seconds to select the settings for a new battery that's been inserted. If you take too long, the battery reverts to default settings and you have to pull it out and start over. Complicating this whole thing is that bizarre limitation that if you select 100mA for a battery in slot 1, the BC-900 will not let you select a higher current for slot 2, so you have to plan the charging currents for your batteries in advance, then sort your batteries from highest to lowest charge currents, and insert them from left to right.
Needless to say, this whole process is frustrating enough to make you want to throw the BC-900 against the wall and smash it into a thousand tiny pieces. It is by far the most frustrating piece of battery-related electronics I've ever owned. Sometimes, I wonder if the person who designed it had any training at all in basic user interface design. Given that most consumers can hardly manage to set the time and date on their camcorder, I think this product is far too complex for the average consumer to figure out. It left me downright angry at the La Crosse company for putting out what I considered to be such a lousy product.
For many months, this was the only consumer-level battery charger I could find that offered a test / analyze mode. But in the Spring of 2007, Maha Energy released the WizardOne MH-C9000, which was a breath of fresh air compared to the La Crosse BC-900.
The Maha Energy WizardOne MH-C9000 NiMH battery charger
In contrast to the BC-900 from La Crosse, the Maha Energy WizardOne MH-C9000 is a dream to use! The display is astonishingly bright (really, it will blow your mind when you see it), the controls are intuitive, and the buttons actually respond like you would expect them to. The unit is so easy to use that I didn't even have to unfold the instruction sheet to start using all its functions immediately.
The MH-C9000 offers the following operation modes:
• Charge any NiMH AA or AAA battery simply by inserting it and walking away (no button pressing required, but if you want, you can also control the charge current).
• Analyze any NiMH AA or AAA battery to determine its actual capacity in mAh (milli-amp hours). This is like testing how much fuel is in your gas tank. It reveals the actual power capacity of the battery and tells you how long it will last when you use it.
• Break-In any NiMH AA or AAA battery to raise its capacity ceiling and maximize real-world performance. Can also be used to "wake up" seemingly dead batteries and revive them back to their peak performance.
• Discharge any AA or AAA battery to find out how much power it was storing. This lets you test both NiMH or Alkaline batteries to see what their true capacity really is.
• Cycle any NiMH AA or AAA battery to "exercise" it back to its maximum performance.
For each of these modes, if desired, you can select the charge and discharge rates, giving you total control over the treatment of each battery (this charger has advanced, independent circuitry to control each battery separately). For example, you can select charge rates from 100mA all the way up to 1000mA, in increments of 100mA. Or, you can just let each mode run on automatic, using default settings.
After the modes run, the MH-C9000 reports the results to you in a clear, easy-to-read format. It will tell you the mAh of your battery (in Analyze mode), the capacity that discharged, the capacity charged and even the ending voltage of the battery along with the time required to charge it. The MH-C9000 gives you a lot more information than the BC-900, and it's easier to read, too. Simply click the "Slot" button and you can cycle through slots 1 - 4 to see either the current status or end results of each battery.
The MH-C9000 has all the same safety features of the BC-900, including temperature sensing, polarity detection and even a battery impedence check, making it the safest combination of NiMH charging technology you can buy in a consumer product. The instruction manual is well written with clear diagrams, and the charger comes with a three year manufacturer's warranty.
(Full disclosure: I liked the MH-C9000 so much that I bought hundreds of them and now retail them at www.BetterLifeGoods.com , an internet retail site for green living products. I had been looking for a high-end NiMH battery recharger for over a year that I liked well enough to carry. The MH-C9000 is the best I found, and that's why I decided to carry it along with a 30-day complete satisfaction guarantee. All sales help support the NaturalNews network.)
The bottom line
In my experience, there's no comparison between the two chargers. The MH-C9000 wins hands down. Although both chargers offer similar specifications, only the MH-C9000 was really easy to use. The super bright backlit display makes it easy on the eyes, and the simple, straightforward logic of the user interface means that just about anybody can figure out how to use it right away.
To be fair, the MH-C9000 is newer than the BC-900 by at least a year. Perhaps La Crosse Technology is working on a new, updated version of their BC-900 that will have an improved user interface and smarter circuitry that doesn't wipe out your settings when you insert a second battery too quickly. Personally, as the owner of an e-mail marketing software company, I would never release a product with such a poorly designed user interface. The operation of technology products needs to be simple, straightforward and intuitive. The BC-900 is none of those things, in my opinion.
If you're looking for the best NiMH battery charger on the market, go with the MH-C9000. The only drawbacks are that is doesn't charge C, D, or 9V batteries, it doesn't come with a 12V car charger, and it's more expensive than most other chargers (retailing at $69 or so). Cheap battery chargers that lack important safety features can be readily purchased for less than $20 practically anywhere, so it you just want a blind charger that slams current into a battery with no idea of the actual capacity, go get a charger at Wal-Mart or Target. But if you want a quality charger that puts you in control while maximizing the life of your NiMH batteries, go with the MH-C9000.
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