When Rechargeable Batteries Meet the USB Port: The Low-down on the USBCell

Everything these days seems to have a USB port or plug attached to it, and for good reason: as you’ll read elsewhere on the internet, the USB port and its plug offer amazing technological benefits. Most impressively, USB technology offers a kind of “smart electrical socket” that can both provide energy and transmit data simultaneously. The combination of these two features is impressive, which is why new applications for the technology continue to open up.

Rechargable battery technology is no exception to to the USB phenomenon. There are quite a few battery chargers on the market today that allow users to not only charge their NiMH rechargeable batteries, but also to recharge iPods, iPhones, digital cameras, and other mobile gadgets via USB as well. In this way, you don’t even need your computer to charge mobile devices anymore, and any gadget that doesn’t use aa or aaa NiMH rechargeable batteries can still be recharged from the same hub as your own set of rechargeables.

The folks at USBCell, however, have taken this fusion of USB and rechargeable batteries one step further by introducing NiMH-based batteries that charge directly from a USB port. The solid, one-piece battery housing that we’re all used to have been replaced with a nifty cap that flips ope to reveal a USB plug that fits deftly into any USB port.

Clearly, the overall design concept of the USBCell comes from the myriad of “keychain hard drives” currently out on the market — micro-sized, USB-connected portable hard drives that usually are no bigger than aa-sized battery. The USBCell has the same general concept, sans the hard drive factor: it puts the convenience of USB technology directly into the battery itself, so a charger is no longer needed.

But aside from the novelty of plugging your aa rechargeable batteries into the side of your laptop, does the USBCell really add up to a practical product that rivals real NiMH rechargeable batteries?

In doing my research, I found that all of the reviews you come upon for the USBCell spend most of their time commenting on the “coolness” of the battery; the reviewers are enamored with the design concept itself. Tech journalists cannot seem to get over how ingenious it is that the USBCell’s top flips open to reveal a hidden USB port. These are the same journalists who’d essentially like to see almost anything and everything with a hidden USB port. It’s like they’re trying to live the life of James Bond vicariously through their gadgets.

Truth be told, however, the USBCell has some serious drawbacks that should be considered before ditching your regular NiMh rechargeable batteries. First off, you’re going to need 250mA from your USB port to get a full charge for the USBCells, and many people have reported major problems in getting a full charge on the batteries via USB port, even from the first time they attempted to charge them. This is a major drawback to the USBCell design, since the primary feature of the battery is the convenience of charging them from any USB port.

Second, if you’re planning on charging more than one USBCell on your laptop at the same time, you’d better hope that it has USB slots on opposites sides. You typically cannot charge two of the batteries in side-by-side USB ports. After all, the big laptop designers do not consider the size of the USBCell when spacing USB ports, and so two aa batteries cannot be charged at the same time. This is a serious drawback, since a large majority of people wish to charge their rechargeable batteries from their laptop, and 99% of all electronics that require aa batteries use two of them.

Finally, although the USBCell can also be charged in a NiMH battery charger, it cannot be charged in a “fast” charger. The FAQ on the USBCell clearly states, “USBCELLs should not be used with any charger rated at above 600mA. In general USBCELLs should not be charged by any charger that has a charge time of less than 2 hours.” Although the USBCell fully charges in 5 to 6 hours, you do not have the option to “fast” charge them, further diminishing their convenience.

In conclusion, although the USBCell is indeed an amazing development in USB and rechargeable battery technology, it still remains to be seen if it is a serious enough alternative to a traditional NiMH rechargeable battery. The fact that some USB ports won’t fully charge them, you cannot use a fast charger, and you often cannot charge them side by side, all make the convenience of the USB plug little more than a novelty. To be sure, you can never go wrong with a set of high quality rechargeable batteries, accompanied by a solid battery charger.

Thanks for reading our article! If you’re ready to purchase some rechargeable batteries, battery chargers, or any other electronics accessory, then visit the Electronics Warehouse website and use promo code EWBLOG at checkout for 10% off your entire order, plus FREE shipping Australia wide!

6 Responses to “When Rechargeable Batteries Meet the USB Port: The Low-down on the USBCell”

  1. 1 Dominic Monaghan Interview Apr 1st, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    Its like you read my mind! You seem to know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with a few pics to drive the message home a bit, but other than that, this is great blog. A great read. I’ll definitely be back.

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