When it's time to buy new batteries, there are plenty of choices out there. The way to decide which is the best option for you is to first consider what you need the batteries for, then examine what the battery is capable of doing. It all boils down to two choices; disposable or rechargeable. Simply put, disposable batteries are just that. You get a one-time use out of them and when they're drained of their power you throw them away. Rechargeables allow you to keep the cells and re-charge them repeatedly, saving time and money when it comes to the power source in your electronics. However, rechargeables aren't necessarily appropriate for every device or application.
Disposable batteries are good for almost all devices, as long as you have the correct size for the application you're looking to power up. These come in two common types; alkaline and lithium. Alkaline are the most widely used as they have a slow self-discharge rate, they can be stored for a long time without any loss of charge (roughly about seven years), and these are often used in low-drain devices such as radios, remote controls, and other devices that don't require constant use at high voltage. There are high-drain versions of alkaline batteries available as well and these are intended for devices that require more juice more frequently. These 'premium' alkaline batteries cost more but provide a charge that is similar to a lithium battery. Lithium batteries last longer, can be stored longer, weigh less than a regular battery and provide nearly double or triple the power capacity of a standard alkaline battery. They also perform well in extreme temperatures. But they all have one thing in common at their very basic purpose; when they've been drained, you throw them away.
Rechargeable batteries are cells that you can recharge when they're out of juice. Slip them into any charger and after a short period of time, they're fresh and ready for use all over again. They are usually more expensive than disposables, but you save money in the long run since you only buy them once. You can find them in three different types: Nickel Cadmium, Nickel Metal Hydride and Lithium-Ion (not be confused with the lithium disposables above). Depending upon which type you choose, some have low self-discharge rates, where the battery maintains its charge for an extended period of time, and others have higher rates, in which the battery does the exact opposite. No matter which type you choose, rechargeable batteries are often recommended for high-drain devices that require constant power and at large volumes. The reason is easy to understand; rechargeables can be re-charged and replaced quickly and easily and without additional costs beyond the price of electricity from an outlet. To go out and keep buying disposables for a device that needs such a power load would probably get more expensive than paying a one-time cost for a set of rechargeables and a charger.
Best Rechargeable Batteries:
The best rechargeable batteries sold today are the 'low self-discharge' variants. These are NiMH batteries with a different internal construction that allows them to hold over 80 percent of their maximum charge even after a year of storage, provided they are kept away from excessive heat. Some manufacturers also refer to these batteries as 'pre-charged', as their low self-discharge characteristics allow the factory charge to be retained months after production. These batteries are generally more expensive than standard rechargeable batteries, but offer the convenience of holding a useable charge even when you forget to use the charger. All of these brands will offer varying charge capacities right out of the package, and their true comparison can only be ascertained after a few charge cycles when their loads can reach full capacity. When choosing a rechargeable, it's important to know the application that it is being used for. If your appliance or device requires a lot of juice to be sufficiently powered, you may want something that has a higher-capacity load. If you're using these batteries to power a device that isn't used often, such as a flashlight or other type of unit that requires a low output of charge, then you'll want a battery that can hold it's charge for a longer period of time between recharge cycles. The following picks on this list were based upon a criteria of price, power capacity, amount of recharge cycles the battery can accommodate, power storage length, and output comparison in terms of hours of device usage.
The Eneloop was the first low self-discharge NiMH rechargeable battery, and remains one of the best today. These batteries come pre-charged from the factory and can hold 75 percent of their charge for over three years if stored properly. Sanyo makes this battery in AA and AAA sizes, with spacers available for use in devices that require C and D sizes; making them excellent for remote controls or clocks as well as digital cameras and portable entertainment gadgets. Read Full Review
It's entirely likely that you've never heard of Powerex when it comes to batteries. They've done just about as good a job on marketing their product to the mainstream as Sanyo has with their Eneloop, in that they haven't at all. With that said, these are excellent rechargeables that come in two different versions; an ultra-high capacity NiMH and a low self-discharge that compares most favorably to the Eneloop. Read Full Review
Tenergy makes two reliable battery lines, each one better suited for varying applications. The Premium is their high capacity line, similar to the Powerex; while Tenergy's Centura is their low self-discharge line of NiMH rechargeables. These stand up well when compared to the other brands on our list; not only in charge capacity and storage time but also in performance. Read Full Review
Durable, long-lasting and distributed by one of the leading electronics manufacturers in the world, these batteries from Sony offer highly comparable milliamp hours, and recharge cycle capabilities and storage length. However, you can only buy these in AA and AAA sizes. There are no C or D's available. Read Full Review
Don't confuse these low self-discharge NiMH rechargeable batteries for regular Duracell alkaline batteries, as doing so would be an expensive mistake. These batteries come pre-charged from the factory, and the low self-discharge rate allows the charge to be held for months on end. Read Full Review
Best Disposable Batteries:
The most commonly used battery is the disposable kind that you can find in any department store, supermarket or included in the packaging of many home electronics such as TV's, Blu-ray players, or remote control toys, among others. These power cells come pre-charged and are good for one-time use until they're thoroughly drained. Then it's time to toss them out and put in two or four more to get your gadget up and running again. So if these are just a one-time deal, which kinds are the best to use?
Alkaline is the most popular type of battery, but best suited for low drain applications such as flashlights or remote controls. These devices aren't used frequently and when they are, they don't require a lot of juice to work. However, there are high-quality, premium alkaline versions that will work in mp3 players, digital cameras and the like. Lithium batteries are ideal for just the opposite; devices such as video cameras or other appliances that require large amounts of power to operate quickly and effectively. These would be on par with a premium alkaline battery in terms of output and performance. Of course, lithium batteries have a shorter lifespan than the typical alkaline. But you can spend your dollar efficiently if you consider what you need your battery for and then compare the various brands out there that produce high-quality batteries for an affordable price.
Rechargeable batteries are another option (check out our Best Picks list for the leading rechargeables on the market today), but they too are best suited for certain devices that are in constant use and may not be appropriate for a clock radio, which uses battery power as backup in the event of a power outage.
All batteries lose their charge over time when not used, and one thing to keep in mind is how long you can store disposables before they are less effective. Most name brands have long shelf lives, approximately seven years, and some excel with certain devices than others. You will likely have heard of most, if not all, of the brands on our list of Best Picks below; so check out which ones we think are worth your hard-earned dollar. We considered each of them under the following criteria: price, storage life, output performance, and reliability.
Quite possibly the most recognizable battery brand in the world. The Duracell Coppertop didn't gain it's worldwide popularity for nothing. These batteries are some of the best products on the market for long-lasting output and consistent reliability for all of your important devices. They're the best alkaline batteries on the market at the moment, but not best for every device you own. Read Full Review
The Bunny is synonymous with the Energizer brand, they just keep going and going...and while the company's base alkaline battery is a good option; it has nothing on the Ultimate Lithium version. Only available in AA and AAA sizes, these batteries last twice as long as their alkaline counterparts under some situations, proving the company's marketing claims as particularly truthful. Read Full Review
These premium alkaline batteries from Rayovac fall somewhere in the middle between the Coppertop and the Ultimate Lithium in terms of performance and endurance. They last slightly longer than the Duracells and hold their own well enough in high-drain devices to compare favorably to the Ultimate Lithiums. Read Full Review
When you're one of the leading manufacturers of consumer electronics, it makes sense that you should be able to produce a strong and dependable line of batteries. Panasonic is that company and their Power Alkaline battery offers endurance and affordability by way of a different internal chemistry than most standard alkaline batteries. Read Full Review
Believe it or not, these private label batteries from Costco offer long-lasting power in low-drain devices for one of the most dependable alkaline batteries on the market today. They're inexpensive and you can keep a lot of them on hand for any emergency. These aren't high-performance alkalines so you may not want to stick them into your digital camera, but they'll give the Duracell Coppertop a run for its money in comparison. Read Full Review