The importance of a good battery charger
Next to a high quality battery, one of the most important components in any electric powered hobby is the battery charger. In addition to significantly extending the life of a battery, a good charger can also make your batteries more reliable, maintain their capacity longer and provide more consistent power while out in the field.
Whether you are an avid Airsoft player or into model helicopters, planes or cars, you will be using one or more types of batteries while in the field. Field performance is where it all matters.
You might have the hottest AEG Airsoft rifle, but if your battery is less than adequate, you might find yourself in the middle of the battle with nothing more than a big paper weight for a ‘gun’. Better get running…
Imagine you are flying a model airplane when the receiver battery dies. If you are lucky, you might be able to salvage a few parts from the hole your plane makes in the ground.
When it comes to battery performance, consistency and predictability are key and the best way to maximize both aspects is to properly maintain your batteries. Proper battery maintenance used to be an art that required careful monitoring of the charge current, voltage and time. Mess any of these up and you could literally fry your battery.
Battery types abound…
Rechargeable batteries have come a long way from the days of the NiCd pack.
These days, there are quite a number of types of batteries on the hobby market. Each battery type has different charge and discharge characteristics. Here are a few of the most popular:
- Nickel based batteries
- Nickel Cadmium (NiCd)
- Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH)
- Lithium based batteries
- Lithium ion (LiIo)
- Lithium iron (LiFe)
- Lithium polymer (LiPo)
- Lead based (Pb)
- Lead acid
- Gel cell
A charger for all types
With all of these various battery types, it would be very easy to confuse or otherwise mess up a charge parameter. Fortunately, there is a relatively inexpensive battery charger which can handle LiPo/Life/LiIo, NiCd/NiMH and Pb based batteries.
I recently purchased the SuperMate DC6 charger under the Dynam-RC brand from hobbypartz.com. This charger is actually pretty common. It is manufactured in China and is being sold under many different brand names. There are several models, some of which support up to 4 (DC4) or 6 (DC6) lithium cells per pack. Most support up to 15 NiCd/NiMH cells per pack.
Fully programmable settings for all battery types
One of the best things about this charger is that you can program virtually all of the settings including charge current, cutoff voltage, time limits, temperature limits, and numerous other settings.
A great LCD screen
The charger comes complete with an integrated, back-lit 2 line x 20 character LCD screen. The menu system is fairly intuitive after using the manual as a guide the first time through.
The charger is powered by 11-18 volt DC. This makes the charger truly portable. My only disappointment with the unit is that it does not come with a 12volt car (ciggarette) adapter. While annoying, it is easy enough to add the adapter to the input cable.
Unpacking and using the charger
Pros and Cons
- A very good price when purchased from hobbypartz.com
- Supports all of the popular battery types
- Very nice LCD screen
- Easy to use menu
- Easy to program with custom settings
- Balances Lithium batteries
- Small form factor
- Can refresh batteries via the built in discharge/charge cycle
- Beeps when the charge program is complete
- Tracks and displays discharge and charge capacity
- Shows the correct voltage level for each cell in a multi-cell Lithium battery
- This model supports a USB cable and a temperature probe, but did not come with either
- I should have purchased it sooner
Where to purchase the charger
I bought the charger from hobbypartz.com for $35 + $4.95 shipping. Because the deal was so good, I was a bit skeptical. After I received the charger within the expected shipping time, I must say that I was quite pleased. I was very pleasantly surprised by the promptness of the shipping and the quality of the product. As I said before, the charger is the Dynam Supermate DC6 Lipo Balancing Charger.
The charger is manufactured in China and distributed under numerous brand names so you may see similar versions and feature sets from multiple vendors. I have seen chargers with the same firmware and features in the local hobby sore for over $100. This is a great deal on a great charger!
Update – 4/17/2010
I have used the charger 3 times now and I have got to say that it has been a great investment. It charged my 11.1v 1200mAh battery in 20 minutes. One of the coolest features of the charger is that it keeps track of how many mAh that it charges into the battery. My lipo had not been used for about 3 weeks and had self-discharged only a little bit. It only accepted 15mAh before the charger determined that it was full. I also ran my 8.4v 1400mAh NiMH battery through a discharge/charge cycle. the charger discharged ~650mAh and charged ~1450mAh back into the battery. Overall, I am thrilled with the charger. If you don’t have one yet, get it.
Update – 9/12/2010
I have had the charger for almost 6 months now and it has performed flawlessly on every charge. I am using it to charge LiPo’s, NiMH and NiCd packs for my airsoft guns and my Motorola FRS radio. I have had no problems with the unit and the way thins are going, I don’t expect any problems. I have started experimenting with different maximum charge rates for my various batteries. I have typically been using a 1.0 amp max charge rate for my LiPo’s.
This last weekend I charged several LiPo’s at 1.5 amp max charge rate with no problems. These LiPo’s are a little larger at 2200 mAh, 7.4v. I charged one of the batteries at the 1 amp rate and it took ~53 minutes to become full in the balance mode. The second battery I charged at 1.5 amps and it took on ~40 minutes to become full in the balance mode. I’ll make my pitch again… If you don’t have one yet, get it.
Update – 7/1/2012
In addition to using this charger to balance my airsoft LiPo batteries, I have also started to use it balance my R/C helicopter batteries. In the case of the R/C helicopter, the LiPo batteries are smaller in capacity than those used in an airsoft gun. My 250 size helicopter uses an 800 mAh 7,4v LiPo. I currently have the charger set to balance the battery at a charge rate of 800 mAh. So far, the charger is still working perfectly and has been one of the best purchases that I have made considering the price and the value that I am getting out of it. I have been running a lot of charge/balance/discharge cycles through this charger over the years and never had a problem.
Other charger options
While I am a fan of the Dynam Supermate DC6 charger featured in this review, it may not be right for everyone. In order to help you find the right charger for your needs, I have rounded up a good selection of LIPO chargers that can be ordered directly from Amazon.com: