With the Christmas gift-buying period in full swing, AA batteries will be bought in huge numbers to power-up those maddening toys, digital cameras, flashlights and anything else that needs a little bit of portable electric power to operate. There are a wide range of choices when it comes to buying AA batteries, and the consumer has little to go on with regard to performance when making a battery purchase. For some reason, battery manufacturers are not required to provide the consumer with capacity information on the battery or its packaging. This seems odd considering all the information that is mandated for other consumer goods.
It seems manufacturers are free to use just a few words to describe their product. For instance, Energizer has three types of AA batteries for sale with the descriptions Advanced, Ultimate and Max, and they usually have significantly different prices. Which should you choose? This gets really tricky when you have a choice of several manufacturers with equally intriguing descriptions such as Ultra Advanced, Digital Power, Supercell, and, my favorite, 8X Better (better than what?).
Dry cell batteries have capacities that can be measured in milliamp-hours. That is obtained by multiplying the electric current (milliamps) the battery delivers by the number of hours it can deliver it. However, battery manufacturers are not required to show this information on packaging, and they usually don't do it of their own volition. Why is that? If your battery-operated device draws 100 milliamps when working, a 1,500 milliamp-hour battery should last 15 hours if it is used continuously. If your device draws 500 milliamps, the battery should last three hours.
I have a 10-year-old digital camera that still takes very good pictures. It requires two AA batteries to work. I have bought AA batteries that have taken 100-plus photos, five photos and no photos. Those last two really irked me. Obviously, there is a wide range of battery choices out there, and we consumers are at the mercy of the battery manufacturers and counterfeiters.
Even that venerable consumer watchdog, Consumer Reports, provides little technical data when evaluating AA batteries. Their December 2011 Annual Electronics issue has a one page comparison of AA batteries that is based on performance tests with a digital camera. Twelve kinds of generally available AA batteries were tested in one make and model of camera. Results varied from 809 photos to 133 photos. The cost per 50 photos was the criteria used to compare battery economics. That varied from 29 cents per 50 photos to 94 cents per 50 photos. Obviously, there is a lot of difference in battery performance and cost, and the consumer largely is in the dark about which battery will perform best in any particular device.
While I won't mention what batteries were considered best buys, suffice it to say that lithium batteries are a better bet in high-drain digital cameras and toys, and alkaline batteries are better in low-drain devices such as remote controls.