Cheapism: Batteries for less than $10

Dec. 28, 2011 at 8:03 AM ET

Duracell CopperTop alkaline batteries are lauded for their longevity.

By Kara Reinhardt,

For months, holiday toys and gadgets have been flashing, spinning, and flying all over TV. The commercials often end with fine print, read at our-lawyers-told-us-to-say-this speed: batteries not included. Perhaps gift tags should come with the same sort of disclaimer. Without the right batteries, even the most marvelous electronic toy is reduced to an inert hunk of plastic.

Before you dash out to pick up any old double-As, know that cheap, no-name batteries made from carbon zinc or zinc chloride cost the least but don’t represent the best value. You’re better off stepping up to a more powerful, longer lasting alkaline or nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery from a brand such as Duracell, Sanyo, or Sony.

Alkaline batteries are by far the most common. They power “low-drain” devices such as clocks and TV remotes. NiMH batteries are rechargeable and designed to run digital cameras, power tools, and other “high-drain” devices. A charger costs an extra $15 to $20 up front but saves money in the long run; it can juice up spent batteries hundreds of times, keeping you from having to buy new ones. One drawback to NiMH batteries is that they lose their charge relatively quickly when not in use. Within a month they can creep down to 60 percent capacity — or even less than that if stored at temperatures higher than 70 degrees, according to Green Batteries. The exception is low self-discharge batteries, which employ new technology and come pre-charged.

NiMH and alkaline batteries can be interchangeable, but it’s best to use whichever is recommended for your device. Alkaline units produce 1.5 volts of electric charge and NiMH batteries produce 1.2 volts. The higher the capacity — as measured in milliampere hours, or mAh — the longer the battery should last. Both alkaline and NiMH batteries come in AAA, AA, C, and D. Alkaline batteries can be tossed in the garbage two at a time, while NiMH batteries must be recycled.

Below are Cheapism’s top picks for affordable batteries. We’ve recommended either AA or AAA for each one, but performance reviews of one size generally extend to the other as well. Note that batteries come in different size packages depending on the brand and the vendor, so consider the per-unit cost before making a purchase.

  • Sanyo Eneloop pre-charged rechargeable batteries (starting at $9.50 for a 4-pack) have a capacity of 800 mAh and can be revived up to 1,500 times. These AAAs win fans for their low rate of self-discharge, which gives them a longer shelf life than other NiMH batteries. (Where to buy)
  • Duracell CopperTop alkaline batteries (starting at $10 for a 20-pack) are cited in reviews for their longevity. Consumers and experts report successfully using these AA batteries in devices such as flashlights, smoke alarms, and radios. (Where to buy)
  • Sony rechargeable batteries (starting at $8.60 for a 4-pack) boast a capacity of 900 mAh, and for the most part reviewers are satisfied with how long they last. These AAA NiMH batteries can be recharged up to 300 times. (Where to buy)
  • Rayovac alkaline batteries (starting at $10 for a 30-pack) are another reliable AA option. Users posting reviews consider them an excellent value. (Where to buy)

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