Types of Batteries
Disposable batteries come in two main types: alkaline and lithium. Alkaline batteries are less expensive and are best suited for low-drain applications, while pricier lithium batteries are better for high-drain devices such as a camera flash. Depending on type, disposable batteries can retain their initial charge from 10 to up to 20 years on the shelf -- far longer than even the best rechargeable. If you need a size other than AA or AAA, there are more options available among disposable batteries than rechargeable ones.
Rechargeable batteries are more expensive initially than disposable batteries, costing anywhere from $10 to $40 for a pack of eight AA's. Although older technologies such as nickel-cadmium (NiCd) batteries still exist, experts say that the most effective type are nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH), and all of the rechargeable batteries in this report use that technology. Many NiMH batteries are low self-discharge (LSD), which means that they can retain their charge longer in storage than earlier products, though still nowhere near as long as most disposable batteries.
Making the choice: rechargeable or
types of batteries have their pluses and minuses. Despite their higher initial
cost, for most uses, rechargeable batteries are a good long-term value. That's because batteries of this type can be recharged and
used again and again – hundreds of times, according to experts. If you
pay $20 for a set of four AA batteries and a charger, and you use the batteries
500 times before they wear out, their cost per use (including the electricity
used for charging) comes to around 5 cents. By contrast, four-packs of disposable
alkaline batteries could cost you between $3 and $4 a pop -- though some cheaper,
high-quality options are available as well -- see our discussion on the best disposable batteries (below) for more information.
addition to being more cost-effective, rechargeable batteries are a greener
choice. Choosing one rechargeable battery instead of 500 alkaline ones reduces
the amount of waste by a factor of 500. It's also easy to recycle rechargeable
batteries at the end of their life by dropping them off at a big box hardware
store such as Home Depot or Lowes, office supply stores such as Staples, and similar
locations. Disposable alkaline batteries, by contrast, can't be recycled in
most areas so they end up in landfills, etc. Lithium single-use batteries typically
must be recycled, but finding local drop-off points can be a challenge.
the past, rechargeable batteries had a few major drawbacks compared to
disposables. First, they tended to lose their charge over time, so batteries
kept in storage often had to be recharged before use. This made them less
suitable for emergencies. However, modern low self-discharge (LSD) rechargeable
batteries, such as the Panasonic Eneloop, have largely eliminated this problem.
These batteries retain around 75 percent of their charge after one to three
years in storage.
until recently, it was hard to find rechargeables in sizes other than AA and
AAA. Many popular brands, such as the Eneloop and the more powerful Eneloop
Pro, still come in only these sizes. However, there are now a couple of
well-known brands, including the Energizer Recharge and the Powerex Precharged, that come in all standard sizes: AAA, AA, C,
D, and 9-volt. The Powerex batteries aren't widely available in stores, but
they're fairly easy to find online, and the Energizer batteries are sold at
several major retail chains. You can find more information about all these
rechargeable battery brands in our discussion of the best rechargeable batteries.
to disposable batteries, the cheapest and the most widely available type is the
old-fashioned alkaline battery. Made by familiar brands like Duracell,
Energizer, and Rayovac, these typically cost around $6 for a pack of eight AA
batteries, the most common size. However, alkaline batteries do best in devices
with relatively low current draws; think remote control or alarm clock rather
than digital camera.
Lithium batteries, like
alkaline batteries, are disposable. However, they hold more energy than
alkaline batteries and can withstand higher current draws. In one expert test,
a typical lithium battery lasted about 50 percent longer than a typical
alkaline battery at a low current drain of 200 milliamps (mA), which is about
the amount used by a child's toy or a flashlight. At a higher current draw of
1,000 mA, comparable to a digital camera, the difference was even more
dramatic: The lithium batteries lasted nearly three times as long as the
batteries are also lighter in weight than alkaline batteries, and they function
better at extremely low temperatures -- both useful qualities for winter
camping and hiking. In addition, they have a longer shelf life. While alkaline
batteries last 5 to 10 years, in storage, lithium batteries can last 10 to 20
years, making them useful for emergencies. That's because they don't "self-discharge,"
or consume their own power, as fast as an alkaline battery.
downside to lithium batteries is their higher cost: around $12 for a pack of
eight AA's. This means that for low-drain devices, the old-fashioned alkaline
actually gives you a lot more bang for your buck. A lithium battery will last
about 50 percent longer, but it'll cost twice as much. The exception is devices
with very low power use, such as
smoke detectors. In these, the lithium batteries have an advantage because of
their lower self-discharge rate. Many users say they've been able to keep smoke
alarms going for ten years or more on a single lithium battery. And for
high-drain devices, lithium batteries not only provide a better value but also
save you the trouble of toting around extra batteries wherever you go.
Finding The Best Batteries
"The Best Rechargeable AA and AAA Batteries"
"BitBox's Battery Showdown"
To find the best
batteries, we considered two main factors: performance and longevity. Performance
includes battery capacity and how long batteries last in storage. Longevity,
for alkaline and lithium batteries, is simply a question of how much power they
can deliver before running down. For rechargeable batteries, longevity also
includes service life, or the number of times they can be recharged. Information
about both performance and longevity can be found in professional battery tests
conducted by consumer magazines and online publications. User reviews from sites
such as Amazon.com helped us find information about specific problems with
batteries, such as which brands are most likely to leak.
rechargeable batteries offer the best value for most everyday jobs,
old-fashioned alkaline batteries still come in handy for emergency use. But is
there really any difference among competing brands? We found conflicting
information on this point. Energy expert Michael Bluejay at Michael Bluejay's Battery Guide insists that "capacity is pretty similar from
one alkaline maker to the next" and cites several tests to back up his
claim, but most of them are several years old. More recently, a test of
batteries at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, reported at DealNews.com, found
that name-brand alkaline batteries performed almost identically to generic
brands and concluded that it makes most sense to buy based on price alone.
However, other tests of alkaline batteries contradict these findings
somewhat. Both the Battery Showdown conducted by Bitbox, a British electronics
maker, and the latest battery tests at ConsumerReports.org and Choice, its
Australian counterpart, found slight but significant differences in performance
between brands. Moreover, users on Amazon.com and other sites we consulted are
much happier with some battery brands than with others.
No alkaline battery earns more recommendations at Amazon.com than the (Est. $12 for 48 AA batteries). Over 14,100 users
have reviewed these batteries, and most say they last as long as big-name
brands but at a lower cost. A few reviewers have conducted their own at-home
comparison test and found that the AmazonBasics Performance holds its own
against name brands like Duracell, Energizer, Rayovac, and Eveready. There are
some complaints about batteries that leaked or were dead fresh out of the
package, but fewer than we saw for some top brands.
Performance batteries are included in only one professional test, at
ConsumerReports.org. Their performance there is respectable but not
outstanding, with above-average results in both a low-drain flashlight and a
high-drain toy. However, its satisfactory performance and low price tag put
together are enough to earn it a recommendation from the editors.
the two leading battery brands, Duracell and Energizer, don't fare much better
than the AmazonBasics in tests. The (Est. $15 for 24 AA batteries)
is among the top performers in one professional test, holding out longer than most other alkaline
batteries in both a flashlight and a child's toy. However, a different test
places these batteries in the middle of the pack. They do very well under
low-drain conditions, but their performance under high drain is unimpressive.
This, combined with their relatively high price, leads the testers to declare
them a poor value.
User reviews of Coppertop batteries are also
somewhat mixed. At Amazon.com,
where we found more than 3,000 reviews for these batteries scattered among
various sellers and various quantities, most users praise their endurance and long shelf
life. However, this brand also seems to get more complaints than
some other brands over leakage.
The (Est. $5 for 8 AA batteries), by contrast,
gets excellent reviews from owners for its leak-free performance. Energizer
even offers a "no leak guarantee," promising to repair or replace any device
damaged by leakage from an Energizer MAX battery. However, their performance in
professional tests is unimpressive. One test finds them slightly better than
Duracells for high-drain use, but in most tests, their performance is identical
or slightly worse.
There are a
couple of store-brand batteries that do surprisingly well in professional tests.
For instance, ConsumerReports.org gives very high marks to the Kirkland Signature Alkaline (Est. $40 for 144 AA batteries),
a store-brand battery from Costco. It performs nearly as well as the Duracell
Coppertop and well ahead of the Energizer MAX, at a significantly lower price.
However, user reviews for this battery at Amazon.com (where it is sold by
third-party resellers) and Costco.com, while not terribly abundant, are
consistently terrible, with the majority of owners of complaining about leakage
and ruined equipment. So despite their low price and good test results, we'd
have to say these batteries are no bargain.
The other surprisingly strong
performer in comparison tests is the (Est. $6 for 10 AA batteries). In the extensive Bitbox comparison
test, the IKEA battery is "the clear winner" for both high-drain and
low-drain use, delivering more power than its competitors at a very low price.
There isn't a lot of user feedback available for these batteries, but the
handful of reviews we found at IKEA.com and Amazon.com are mostly positive. Owners
generally say these batteries are a great value, lasting as long as the major
brands at a much lower cost.
Until recently, ALKALISK
batteries were only available in IKEA stores. Since there are fewer than 50
such stores in the country, this bargain-priced battery wasn't an option for many
buyers. It's now possible to buy these batteries from resellers on Amazon.com.
However, in a Facebook post, IKEA points out that they do not sell
products on Amazon.com or other third-party sites at this time, and do not have
any relationship with resellers that list products on those sites. In addition,
if you buy through an Amazon.com reseller, the batteries cost about three times
as much as they would if bought directly from IKEA, giving them little
advantage in price over the AmazonBasics batteries. However, if you happen to
have an IKEA in your area, you can pick up some good batteries at a great price
(Est. $2 for 10 AA batteries).
Energizer Ultimate Lithium is the best for
There may be some
question about whether any alkaline battery is better than any other, but
there's no question at all about the difference in performance between alkaline
batteries and lithium batteries. In professional tests, lithium batteries
consistently outperform alkalines by a wide margin, especially in high-drain
devices. In addition, lithium batteries lose charge at a much lower rate than
alkaline batteries. This means they last longer in storage and in devices that
draw very little current, such as smoke detectors.
In the United
States, Energizer is the leading manufacturer of lithium batteries and the only
brand that's covered in professional tests. Energizer boasts that its (Est. $13 for 8 AA batteries) is the "longest lasting battery in
high-tech devices." It also claims that the Ultimate Lithium weighs roughly 1/3
less than an alkaline battery, can perform at temperatures between -40°F and
140°F, holds its charge for up to 20 years in storage, and never leaks. The battery comes in AAA and
AA cell sizes, as well as the 9-volt size required for many smoke detectors.
Ultimate Lithium consistently trounces the competition in tests of disposable
batteries. It lasts longer than any alkaline battery in both high-drain and
low-drain devices, though its advantage is greatest with high-drain ones. The
Ultimate Lithium has excellent reviews from users at Amazon.com, as well. In nearly
2,500 reviews, owners give it 4.5 stars out of 5 overall, saying it's
long-lasting, lightweight, and ideal for use in cameras. They also like its
long shelf life and ability to perform at low temperatures.
disadvantage of the Ultimate Lithium is its high cost. At just over $1.50 per
battery, it's more than twice the price of the AmazonBasics Performance, our
best-rated alkaline battery. Thus, it's probably best to save these lithium
batteries for devices that really need their superior performance. For your
basic flashlight or remote control, you'll get better value from a simple
alkaline – or one of the rechargeable batteries, covered in their own section
of this report.