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Rechargeable versus disposable batteries

Batteries -- they provide energy for many, many things in your home, from your kids' toys to your remote controls. Nobody wants batteries that drain easily, especially if you're using them to power important devices like flashlights or your bike's halogen lamp. Experts agree that when it comes to batteries, rechargeables are best. Not only are rechargeable batteries more cost-effective than disposable batteries, they're also a greener choice.

You can now get rechargeable batteries for pretty much the same price as -- if not just slightly more expensive than -- disposable batteries. You do have to buy a charger if you don't have one yet, but that pays off in the long run, especially for models with thousands of charge cycles. Still, experts recommend alkaline batteries for low-power devices like remote controls and smoke detectors, because alkalines can last as long as rechargeables when used with such devices.

The most effective battery tests answer two questions: Which batteries last the longest, and which cost the least in the long run? ConsumerReports.org does the best job answering them. Editors there load 17 brands of AA batteries into digital cameras and then zoom, flash and shoot until the last battery dies. They test name-brand alkaline batteries and store-brand cheapies alongside pricey lithium batteries and eco-friendly rechargeables, then pick the top performers and point out which type of batteries you should buy for certain jobs.

ConsumerReports.org's counterparts in other countries -- Which? magazine in the U.K. and Choice magazine in Australia -- run similar tests that include some top U.S. battery brands. Tests at TomsGuide.com and Engadget.com concentrate on rechargeable batteries, tossing them into everything from TV remotes and flashlights to wireless keyboards and Wii controllers to find the best overall performers. Testers at Wired and StefanV.com evaluate rechargeable batteries to see which ones can hack it in digital cameras -- one of the most grueling tasks for any battery. PopPhoto.com uses digital cameras, too, in a well-designed test that includes both rechargeable and disposable batteries.

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