Disposable batteries

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Which AA batteries are best?

We tested 17 disposable AA batteries to help you cut through the marketing hype and choose the right one for the job.

From our test

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Battery basics

Portable electronics can be roughly divided into low- and high-drain devices. A TV remote, wall clock, AM/FM radio or small LED flashlight are examples of low-drain devices. Anything with an electric motor, such as a remote-controlled toy car, will be high-drain, as will a digital camera.

Selecting the right type of disposable battery for your application is crucial. Rechargeable AA or AAA batteries are usually the most cost-effective in the long run (we’ve got 12 models currently on test and the results will be available later this year).

However, many of us lack the time or inclination to dutifully recharge enough batteries to keep all our devices running, and they’re unsuited for low-drain applications like TV remotes, as they lose energy while sitting idle.

There are three commonly available varieties of disposable battery, distinguished by the electrochemistry they use to store energy: lithium, alkaline and carbon zinc. Alkaline is the most common, while manufacturers claim more expensive lithium batteries last longer and deliver better performance. Carbon zinc is an old technology often sold as “heavy duty” batteries, but our testing shows they’re anything but.

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We’re the only New Zealand non-profit to independently put the products and services you want to buy to the test. But most of what we do is funded by our members, for our members. Becoming a member means you’ll have even more ways to get a fair deal, and choose with confidence.

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Which type do you need?

The low cost and solid performance of alkalines make them the best value for money in both low- and high-drain devices. But in high-drain applications, lithiums were the top performer. They deliver more energy so your device can run at full power for longer, and the batteries won’t need swapping out as often.

Carbon zinc batteries (like the Eveready Super Heavy Duty and Heavy Duty) performed poorly in our test, lasting less than half as long as alkalines and delivering feeble amounts of energy. We recommend against carbon zinc for any application.

How we test

Each AA battery goes through high- and low-drain tests to assess how they perform in different gadgets – we averaged the results from four examples of each model in every test. We measure how long they last in each test and the amount of energy they deliver over that time, then convert these measurements into a performance score. The low-drain test uses a load of 24 Ohms, while the high-drain test uses a 2 Ohm-load.

Our performance scores are weighted evenly between performance and run time from each battery’s starting voltage of 1.5V down to 1.0V then to 0.7V – some devices start to falter and won’t operate at 1.0V; we use 0.7V as our benchmark for completely empty. We also calculate a ‘Value’ score based on how much each hour of use costs.

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The Energizer Eco Advanced claims to be the world’s first eco-friendly disposable battery. But only four percent of its total weight consists of recycled material. If you’re concerned about the environmental impact of your battery use, rechargeable batteries are your best bet.

Disposable batteries are not classified as hazardous waste as they now use far fewer toxic heavy metals than they used to – they can be disposed of in your kerbside refuse. There are also voluntary recycling options in many urban centres, though some of these schemes currently stockpile disposables until a “commercially viable” recycling solution for them is found.

A note on AAAs

Our test only assessed AA batteries. But many of these AA models will also have a AAA counterpart, which are used for small devices and lower-drain applications. Since the composition of the corresponding AAA battery will be similar, just on a smaller scale, it’s a fair bet our top-performing AAs will also be the best AAAs.