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LEADERS OF THE PACK

 

INTRO

For the second year running we’ve been putting a selection of replacement cellphone batteries through their paces, Rick Maybury reports on this year’s runners and riders

 

COPY

You can almost guarantee the low battery warning on your phone will start bleeping  just as you’re about to make an important call. The good news is many of the most recent phones can now get through a normal working day on a single charge, but that’s a fat lot of use to the rest of us, stuck with phones, that rely on cantankerous nickel cadmium battery packs. They rapidly loose their ability to hold a charge after just a few months, and often need replacing after only a year of moderate use. Their only redeeming feature is price, compared with newer battery technologies they’re reasonably cheap

 

The cost of nickel metal hydride (NiMh) battery packs has fallen in the past year. They’re now available for a lot of phones and can be used instead of nicads. NiMh batteries are slightly smaller and lighter than nicads of equivalent capacity, more eco-friendly when it comes to eventual disposal and they’re far less prone to the dreaded memory effect, which can reduce a battery’s capacity by up to 50% in a matter of weeks or months.

 

The most common cause of the memory effect is cell-imbalance, where the rechargeable cells that go to make up a battery develop varying states of charge. The majority of cellphone battery chargers switch off when they sense one or more cells are fully charged, so that the others in the pack may only receive a partial charge. It’s not necessarily a permanent condition though, and by carefully discharging the whole pack several times, the cells inside can be put back on an equal footing, so they all get an equal charge. A growing number of chargers, sold through accessory dealers, have a ‘refresh’ facility, though few chargers, supplied as standard with mobile phones, can do this.

 

But we digress. The topic of this month’s accessory feature is replacement batteries. It follows on from the survey we carried out last year, where we tested batteries from a number of well known accessory companies. We’ve stuck to the same basic format used last year, so we can compare results, and hopefully spot any trends.

 

THE TESTS

Our tests centre on one type of battery, the ones used to power Motorola Micro TAC, Flip and Flare models. This is still the most popular family of phones, and that’s reflected in the number of companies that supply replacement packs. We should point out that all of the companies included also supply batteries for most other popular makes and types of phone as well, and that in a lot of cases they use the same cells in other pack styles.

 

We originally intended to focus on two types of battery: slimline packs, similar to the type supplied with a phones as standard, and high-capacity or added-value packs. We’ve kept this second category as broad as possible, giving accessory suppliers and manufacturers the opportunity to supply us with batteries that they feel are in some way special, either in terms of capacity, value for money, size or features. However, in the end not all manufacturers were able to supply both types. Several companies pointed out that phone users are become wise to the sometimes significant price differentials between standard and high capacity packs, which are normally much better value for money, in addition to giving longer running times.

 

The tests are conducted using the same test rig we used last year, that replicates different usage patterns. Cycle one represents medium to heavy use, equivalent to two, five-minute calls an hour. Cycle two simulates four, five-minutes calls an hour. In response to comments from several battery suppliers we’ve changed the way we present the results. Last year we gave actual running times; it was felt by some that the figures could be taken to represent real-life operating times, so now we’re just going to give each battery a set of scores, from one to ten. You can take it as read that five means average, with the best performances getting eight to ten. The overall rating take other factors into consideration, including price, build quality and any extra features.

 

Before we test each battery we subject it to three charge/discharge cycles, to condition the cells in the pack and eliminate any residual charge or memory effect. This year we’ve included a few more NiMh packs, and it’s worth pointing out that may require special treatment. Many standard nicad chargers will cut off, before a NiMh pack reaches full charge. We now use chargers designed to accommodate these battery packs. If you’re using an ordinary charger,  the trick is to take the battery off the charger when it says it’s charged, wait a few minutes, then put it back on again, when it should go on to receive a full charge.  

 

Last year we found at least one pack that was misleadingly labelled, so once again we open up suspect batteries, to check what’s inside. In addition to verifying the cells are what the manufacturer claim them to be, we also check for the presence of safety devices, and the quality of the contacts etc. We’re pleased to say we haven’t come across any rogue packs this time. We’ve also noted a general improvement in the performance of the batteries on test. There seems to be fewer cheapo or second grade cells about this year, though you can probably still find them in street markets and some accessory dealers, if you look hard enough. The best advice we can give is to buy brand name products from a reputable source. It will usually work out cheaper in the long run.  

 

And so to this year’s round-up. There were no nasty surprises and all of the packs tested have come close to the manufacturer’s stated capacity. This has tended to put more emphasis on the relationship between capacity and price. We’ve also weighted the results to take the higher price of NiMh packs into consideration, and any additional features.  

 

BATTERY PERFORMANCE TABLE

 

Make/model                              Type     Cap      ££s       C1        C2        Overall Rating

ATEC    BO80MT                       NiCd     800       20         8          8                      8

ATEC BU0120MT                       NiMh     1200     40         8          8                      8

DANIEL DESIGN IQ*      NiCd     1700     50         7          7                      8

GRM 1700                                 NiCd     1700     30         8          6                      8

GRM Slim                                 NiMh     600       40         8          8                      8

HAMA 41039                             NiCd     1700     40         8          7                      7

ORA MBP7B                             NiCd     700       20         8          7                      8

ORA MBPH1900B                     NiMh     1500     55         7          9                      7

PAMA 1100                               NiMh     1100     40         8          8                      8

UNIROSS UCB 310S     NiCd     1200     30         8          7                      8         

UNIROSS UCB 310HTE NiMh     900       50         6          8                      6

VIVANCO 6546              NiCd     1200     20         8          8                      8

VIVANCO 6538              NiMh     1200     35         8          8                      9 Star Buy

VOCALL CPB1 **                      NiCd     700       25         9          8                      8

VOCALL CHB 1S **       NiMh     600       50         8          8                      7

WESTAR EXTENDED    NiCd     1300     20         7          7                      8

WESTAR SLIM              NiMh     600       28         7          8                      8

 

KEY: Cap  -- capacity in mAh (milliampere/hour), ££s -- suggested/typical retail price, C1 - -medium/high usage cycle, C2 -- high use cycle, * built-in discharger and charge indicator; ** supplied with soft carry case

 

SUMMARY

This year’s batch of batteries have turned in a generally good set of results, at least as far as performance is concerned, with far less variation than last year. There are still some quite significant price differences though, particularly when it comes to NiMh cells. In some cases they’re only marginally more expensive than equivalent nicads. All of the batteries we’ve tried were satisfactory, a couple stand out as being particularly good value, but it’s up to you to sift through the data, and as usual, shop around for the best deals as actual street prices can be a lot less.

 

CONTACTS

Contact

Atec -- Lemon Accessories, telephone (0973) 282104

Daniel Design -- Small Talk Communications, telephone (01923) 218753

Hama UK, telephone (01256) 708110

Ora Electronics, telephone (01296) 415445

Pama, telephone (0161) 224 4444

Uniross Batteries (01275) 858101

Vivanco UK, telephone  (01442) 231616

Vocall -- Apex Distribution, (01707) 266222

Westar Connections, telephone 0181-903 0202

 

---end---

Ó R. Maybury 1996 0508

 


 

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