Choosing the best hobby charger is essential and can be the real difference between getting your battery charged safely and having your garage catch fire. Hobby-grade chargers are being manufactured by a broad range of brands and it can be a rather intimidating task to choose the one that is in accordance with your requirements and preferences. With a price tag of $5 to worth $500, you can get chargers falling in all sorts of price ranges. People sometimes enquire about the actual difference among chargers of varying price categories. This guide will help you understand and know about the wide array of hobby-grade chargers available on the market and the one that really suits your needs.
Main Types of Hobby Charger
1 – Trickle Chargers
Trickle chargers are the most fundamental types of chargers out there. They are traditionally able to charge NiMH or NiCd batteries and generally boast the longest charging times that is typically in the range of 6 to 24 hours depending on the model and make of the battery. Once the battery is charged fully, trickle chargers do not cut-off and so boast very low output (100 to 500mAh) to prevent overcharging.
I take care to remove the hobby charger as soon as the battery has been charged for a particular amount of time. The charging time can be determined by dividing the battery’s mAh with the charger’s output mAh. For instance, the charging time for a 2000mAh battery on a 250mA trickle charger is about 8 hours.
Trickle chargers do come with a LED light generally but since they cannot detect when the battery has been charged completely, so the LED typically only indicates once a connection has been detected with the battery and not when the battery has been charged fully.
Trickle chargers boast simple electronic circuitry and consequently are the cheapest chargers out there. They are generally included with Ready to Run type models so that they can be used simply by taking them out of the box and not adding any extraneous cost.
Trickle chargers can only charge NiCd or NiMH batteries. Once a battery has been charged to the fullest, the spare energy is emitted in the form of heat; thereby minimizing the probability of them being damaged due to overcharging. Lithium batteries are not able to carry out this task efficiently and can be severely damaged if overheated. In the worst of situations, they may even catch fire.
2 – Delta Peak Chargers
Delta peal chargers are primarily used to charged NiMH and NiCd batteries. They incorporate intelligent circuitry in them to determine if the battery has been changed completely. This prevents the battery from being overcharged and hence damaged. This hobby charger boasts a higher current out (mA) in contrast to trickle chargers and have the capacity to get your batteries charged in 1 to 10 hours depending on the model and make of your battery. A dedicated LED light indicates when a battery has been changed completely. You can also customize some of the delta peak chargers which can prove to be quite handy.
For instance, the SkyRC eN3 battery charger comes with a switch that alters the output current and has three positions namely 1A, 2A and 3A. All in all, delta peak chargers are a better option as opposed to trickle chargers.
3 – Balance Chargers
Balance chargers are specifically engineered for Lithium batteries. They include intelligent electronic circuitry that monitors each cell and balances it accordingly. The overall charging process is similar to the delta peak chargers but these chargers are compatible with LiPo batteries only. These are primarily intelligent chargers but support only a specific battery type and voltage. For instance, SkyRC e3 battery chargers can charge LiPo batteries only that are 7.4V or 11.1V. However, the SkyRC iMAX B6AC V2 can charge 3.7V, 7.4V, 11.1V, 14.8V, 18.5V and 22.2V LiPo batteries in addition to other battery types.
4 – Smart Chargers
Finally, we come to the smart chargers. SkyRC iMAX B6AC V2 is one of the most popular smart chargers out there. Having said that, there are a number of third-party chargers as well that boast specifications similar to this one and can be used in place of each other. They are also known as 4 button smart chargers. We will be discussing the SkyRC iMAX B6AC V2 hobby charger here in particular but you can apply similar concepts to the other 4 button smart chargers as well. NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride), NiCd (Nickel Cadmium), LiPo (Lithium-ion Polymer), Li-Ion (Lithium Ion), LiFePo4 (Lithium Iron Phosphate) and Pb (Lead Acid) batteries can be charged with the SkyRC iMAX B6AC V2 charger. These are virtually all the batteries that you are going to come across in your hobby.
The above-mentioned batteries can be charged in a wide voltage range that can be adjusted subtly as well:
- LiPo/LiFe/Li-Ion – 1-6S (3.3-22.2V)
- NiMH/NiCd – 1-15S (1.2-18V)
- Pb (Lead Acid) total battery Voltage – 2-20V
Charge and discharge current can also be adjusted as and when required:
- Charge Current Range – 0.1-6.0A
- Discharge Current Range – 0.1-2.0A
The SkyRC iMAX B6AC V2 charger offers various modes that allow you to fast charge any type of battery, balance charge, storage charge, discharge and normal charge. Each mode comes with different benefits and can be quite handy for the batteries if used properly.
Moreover, the hobby charger can be powered from 100-240V AC or 11-18V DC similar to your real car battery.
The Bottom Line of the Hobby Charger
Charging batteries can be rather risky business in the hobby world but if you are familiar with the behavior of batteries and know how to handle them, it can be a safe and easy process. The kind of hobby charger that suits you depends on numerous factors.
- Maximum Voltage: If the charger is rated to charge only 7.4V batteries then charging a 11.1V battery with it would be futile
- Charging current (mA or A): It determines the charging time
- Battery type: the type of battery supported by the hobby charger
- Input power: Some chargers are powered only by 12V DC and not 240V AC
Until you got a trickle charger in your bundle, I would recommend you to get something better than it since balance or delta peak chargers are quite affordable.
These are great options if you own only a couple of batteries and are just getting a feel of the RC hobby.
If you own multiple battery types and batteries with larger capacities, you should opt for a smart charger such as SkyRC iMAX B6AC V2 owing to its ability to charge different types of batteries at different voltages or currents. You can save your time as well as money by purchasing a smart charger. Otherwise you will have to buy 2 to 5 different chargers which in itself can be rather frustrating to use multiple chargers simultaneously.