Choosing a first LiIon charger

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phouton
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Choosing a first LiIon charger

I’m brand new to LiIon batteries/flashlights. I just recovered 8 18650 cells from a laptop, and I will buy a flashlight to use with them. I am looking to get one good charger that serve current and future needs well:

  • quality: will last a long time
  • analysis: can report capacity and maybe internal resistance and maybe refresh cells
  • long-term compatibility: supports current and likely future popular formats
  • reviewed by experts: gets good recommendations (eg. by HKJ)


The Liitokala Li-500 was my first consideration but it doesn’t seem to support 20700/21700 (the updated 500S does), plus I’m not sure I want to buy from Liitokala given their shenanigans with fake/mislabelled batteries.

The Miboxer C4-12 v2 looks interesting, and Xtar also has interesting models though I’m not familiar with their versions and features.

As for price, of course lower is better, but I’d rather pay a little more now rather than needing to buy something else again in the future due to an oversight in the purchasing decision.

Also, I’m not in a hurry, especially if the first LiIon flashlight I buy has built-in USB charging. I’m fine with waiting for sales prices and delivery over the next few months.

Which chargers would make good options given these requirements, and more importantly, why? TIA!

Henk4U2
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BLF member HKJ has tested countless chargers. You don’t have to read all of them because he also made a

CHARGER INDEX

You are a flashaholic if you are forced to come out of the closet, to make room for more flashlights.

phouton
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Thanks. I am aware of that site and index, but it is difficult for me to make a choice from it. Plus some chargers are not yet reviewed, such as the Vapcell S4 Plus, Li-500S, etc.

RollerBoySE
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phouton wrote:
Thanks. I am aware of that site and index, but it is difficult for me to make a choice from it. Plus some chargers are not yet reviewed, such as the Vapcell S4 Plus, Li-500S, etc.

I strongly recommend choosing a charger that has been approved by HKJ. Even well known brands don’t always get it right.

phouton
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Yes, I noted such a requirement in the OP, though it’s not clear what rating constitutes an “approval” since it depends on one’s needs.

Given that I have time, I’d be happy to have models brought to my attention that are still in the review queue.

Again, the most important factor to me is not the recommendation, but the reasoning.

jon_slider
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phouton wrote:
Again, the most important factor to me is not the recommendation, but the reasoning.

What works for me is the Olight Universal Charger
I like
1. USB powered
2. small and portable
3. works with both LiIon and Eneloop
4. costs just $10

what I suggest to you is
https://lygte-info.dk/review/Review%20Charger%20SkyRC%20MC3000%20UK.html
because it is an analyzer and has 3 happy faces (see above link from HenkU)

RapidLux
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Klarus K1 Smart Charger. It has 73 mm slot, and I therefor think 21700 cells should charge nicely with it, even if it is not approved for 21700s.

This charger gets good review by HKJ ( To make the url link work, I put “%20” in its empty spaces )
https://lygte-info.dk/review/Review%20Charger%20Klarus%20K1%20Smart%20Ch...

Buy

phouton
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@jon_slider Wow the price and portability of the Olight UC is incredible. That’s one way to support virtually any cylinder size! haha Meanwhile the SkyRC MC3000 is the other end of the spectrum. Anything in between? Big Smile

@RapidLux Similarly, the Klarus K1’s price and versatility are also great (supports LiFePO4 too!).

However, if a charger does not have analysis capabilities, I’m not sure if there’s much point in me getting one at all since many of the lights I’m interested in come with built-in USB chargers. My current motivation for analysis is to gauge and track the health of the laptop pulls. Does that seem reasonable or unnecessary?

flydiver
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I’ve been using ‘analyzing’ chargers starting out with RC hobby chargers and graduating to Opus, Liitokala, and Zanflare. The most versitile=Opus. The most easy=Zanflare (hard to get now). The Liitokala isn’t bad but the IR test is pretty much useless, though to be fair it’s not very reliable in any of these.

I finally got this: ZB206+, suggested by another BLF member. It tests capacity from 0.1A up to 2.6A and IR quite reliably. It is NOT a charger at all.

BOY DID THAT MAKE A DIFFERENCE! My recycle box for NiMh and Li-on soon filled up. A huge majority of laptop pulls got dumped. If ALL you want them to do is light a ‘candle’ for hours they can do that. If you want them to actually put out amps, the ONLY way you can tell that is to test them in that kind of scenario. Analyzing chargers that max out at 0.5 or 1.0A draw are pretty limited in that regard.

phouton
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Thanks for the tip. I have no current plans other than “lighting a candle” but it makes sense that capacity tests should be done at the intended current draw, as shown in HKJ reviews with multiple curves. Thanks for mentioning the ZB206+. It’s nice and cheap though I do wonder if 2.6A is enough as there seem to be several applications that draw considerably more.

hiuintahs
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“Choosing a first LiIon charger”

Miboxer C4-12 Upgrade version like you mentioned or the less expensive Miboxer C4 Upgrade are good choices.

phouton
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What is the difference between the C4 and C4-12? I don’t know why they insist on these confusing model names…

This also just caught my eye: an interesting BLF charger http://budgetlightforum.com/node/67945

hiuintahs
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There are several models of C4: the original C4, C4 Plus, C4-12, C4 Upgrade, C4-12 Upgrade.
To know all the differences, it’s probably best just to go to the Miboxer website and look through the descriptions.

In short, I think the two best ones are the ones I mentioned above (upgrade versions) because those accept the longer 21700 cell. The C4-12 Upgrade has higher charging capability and also temperature display. But its also more money.

In my opinion, don’t worry about having a charger with built in discharging capability. I rarely need that feature and if I do I actually use a piece of equipment ( ZHIYU capacity tester) strictly designed for doing such. In discharging a battery to measure capacity……….that energy (in the form of heat) has to go somewhere which means either power resistors or a fan. My issue is that I do not like having a fan on a charger that makes noise. I would use a charger more for charging than for discharging so its nice just to have a charger without all that extra stuff (and cost) built in. Smile

BlueSwordM
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@phouton, the main difference between the C4-12 and C4 is current capability.

My very own high current Beryllium Copper springs Gen 3:
http://budgetlightforum.com/node/67401
Liitokala Aliexpress Stores Battery Fraud: http://budgetlightforum.com/node/60547

phouton
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Thanks for the clarification hiuintahs, BlueSwordM. Also, I can’t fault the reasoning of having a dedicated capacity tester that does its job well, even if having an all-in-one does seem convenient.

I’m starting to see why so many lights are including built-in USB charging. Probably for most people, including me, that will be simpler and cheaper.

hiuintahs
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When you have a battery charger that runs off of 12v, you get better efficiency than one that runs off of the USB 5v. The reason is that there isn’t much headroom between 5v and the fully charged 4.20v battery. Thus the USB chargers tend to use a USB charging IC that is a linear device. And the 12v based chargers will use a switching type of power conversion which is more efficient. If you have a linear USB charger going at a 1 amp rate, then the power into the battery is 1 amp times whatever the voltage of the battery is. But you also have one amp of 5v power being used. So you loose the power differential between the USB voltage and whatever the battery voltage is.

Pushing 1 amp of charge current through a small surface mount IC is kind of putting it at its max capability……..thus you see most of these with max charge rates under 1 amp.

I have been a bit skeptical of built in chargers in flashlights as I know they are simple chargers because there isn’t much room in there. And just seems like another thing to go wrong. I don’t know that its wise for someone that has a lot of batteries to rely on the built in battery charger on a flashlight. I think there main advantage is with someone that only has one lithium ion flashlight or as a backup means when on the road or where you have easy access to a USB charger.

But if doing a backpack trip for example, it makes more sense just to carry a spare battery and a smaller flashlight. In disclosure, I have no flashlights with built in chargers.

phouton
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Good point about efficiency, though with the amount of energy consumed for a single cell flashlight, it doesn’t seem too significant.

I remember reading one or two reviews of flashlights with built-in chargers (don’t remember which anymore) and they seemed decent in that they properly charged with CC-CV and proper termination, albeit a bit early. So there would be something to be gained from a good standalone charger, but again, how significant is the difference? Another good point about more things to go wrong, though I wonder how often that happens.

For disclosure, I don’t have any lithium ion battery flashlights yet. My inclination right now is to start with one with a built-in charger, and keep watching new developments and reviews of chargers to get if I don’t find it sufficient.

The Miboxer C4 upgraded variants with 70mm height support and the BLF charger in development look interesting.

Sirstinky
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I really like my Zanflare C4. It’s really easy to use and has a lot of features. Charges all cylindrical li-ion (except LiFeP04) nicad and nickle metal hydride up to 26650 and 27100. Each slot is independently controlled and you can see the real time info for each battery while some chargers you need to press a button to choose slots. Charges at 300 miliamps, 500, 700 and 1A on all slots too and it does all the fancy analyzing. You cab get it for around $25.

phouton
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Thanks for the mention, Sirstinky ! The Zanflare C4 seems well reviewed, including by HKJ, and the reports of IR being reliable make it appealing. Is it related to the identically priced Miboxer C4? Unbelievably confusing…

Edit: The inconsistencies in reported capacity give some pause: http://budgetlightforum.com/node/55835 I wonder if there are updated models now since it dates from 2017.

Sirstinky
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I think it’s comparable to the miboxer, except it doesn’t have automatic charging. The default charging current when you put in a battery is 500mah, which might be too high for AAA nickel metal hydride, or 10440 li-ion but is easy to change with a single button press. My capacity tests are accurate enough, within 50mah and that’s using old cells and brand new. The internal resistance measurement is very consistent and believable. I tested Sony VTC6 at between 24 and 18 mililliohms which is within spec. I tested Sanyo 18560GA at 45 to 55, a little high but still within spec, and old cells that I knew had really high internal resistance in the 100’s up to 1000 for some worn out AAA nickle metal hydride.

RobertB
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phouton wrote:
What is the difference between the C4 and C4-12? I don’t know why they insist on these confusing model names…

The 12 in the C4-12 is 12A spread across 4 slots. Capable of 3A each slot

d_t_a
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Definitely the SkyRC MC3000 if you want more analysis on the batteries you’re doing testing of.

Since capacity test and IR test is a requirement, then I’ll suggest these:
- Opus BT-C3100 (try not to do discharge testing at 1A since the unit will heat up and pause, which results in incorrect too high capacity readouts; consistent IR reading)
- ZanFlare C4 (not sure if this model is still available, the IR reading looks consistent, capacity test can read a bit higher — but if you’re comparing with this same charger it’s OK)

For general purpose charging of many batteries, I like the Miboxer C8 with its 8-slots. It won’t charge too fast (like the C4-12/C4-12v2) but has IR reading and charged capacity readout; but no “analyzing/capacity-testing” function.

phouton
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Thanks for explaining the differences. It’s gradually making more sense. If the main difference between the C4 and C4-12 is the charging current, I’ll probably be fine with the former as I usually plan ahead and am not in a hurry.

How do the Miboxer C4[-12] and ZanFlare C4 compare?

Sirstinky
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Miboxer (the C4+): automatic charging (based on battery type, internal resistance), higher available charge current (1.5a vs 1a for all 4 slots), LiFep04 support, supports li-ion 4.3 and 4.35v. The C4-12 adds 3A across all 4 slots, but is otherwise the save as the C4+.

Zanflare: analyzing function for measuring battery capacity and health (charges, discharges, recharges and measures capacity) real time battery info in all 4 slots (no need to cycle through them), really easy to use

You said you didn’t need fast charging. It’s up to you, but if those extra features on the miboxer don’t matter then get the Zanflare.

spudley112
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I have a noob question…please pardon my ignorance….does using a fast charger run any increased danger for batteries overheating?

d_t_a
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spudley112 wrote:
I have a noob question…please pardon my ignorance….does using a fast charger run any increased danger for batteries overheating?

I think most chargers, especially ones that charge with higher current, would have a resistance test (or temperature sensor, which is more rare) and shouldn’t charge high-resistance (old) batteries at too fast rate. Maybe the issue though is charging good batteries with small capacities (eg. AAA or 10440) at too high current, then they may heat up, but should reach the end-voltage (full-charge) faster — this may be bad for battery life cycle, but I think they won’t “overheat” enough to cause explosions or such to occur. (I might be wrong…)

However, old defective batteries (eg. Sanyo red 2200mAh 18650s from laptop-pulls) have been known to overheat dangerously (as in too hot to touch) when trying to charge them to full. It’s probably more dangerous to charge unknown-condition batteries without monitoring them..

for instance see here:
https://secondlifestorage.com/showthread.php?tid=303

I have also personally experienced the same scenario as the one posted in that thread.

phouton
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Thanks, Sirstinky, that’s a nice summary.

d_t_a What do people mean by “monitoring” charging? Being in the same building? Having it in the same room and sometimes peeking at readings? Occasionally touching the batteries?

Didn’t the Miboxer advertize “intelligent” charging by varying the current according to periodic internal resistance measurements?

flydiver
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I don’t think anyone is sitting in the same room staring at batteries charging. I charge mine in a basement (very little flammable nearby), on a steel shelf with tiles under the charger and battery, a smoke alarm a few feet away and 2 fire extinguishers within arms reach. I often have a small cooling fan running if I’m charging a bunch or running charge/discharge cycles. I never leave the house or go to bed with Lithium charging. I have no problem leaving NiMh charge unattended. I don’t push charging, batteries seldom get more than warm, but I don’t use really slow rates either.

Batteries are watched carefully through the first charge/discharge cycle to see how they act, laptop pulls, old cells, or unknown cells especially. I will check the charger reading periodically, and test the temps by hand. If they don’t ‘behave’, they get discharged and recycled.

phouton
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The lithium ion world of batteries is so different. I don’t really have fireproof areas, at least not within earshot or line of sight. With NiMh batteries my habit is to have them charge overnight which is why I don’t worry about charge rates. If one is to “watch the pot boil”, the rate becomes more significant.

Do people take the same precautions with USB charging flashlights?

spudley112
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Ugh..yeah, I found out about the Sanyo red laptop pulls. They got pretty toasty so I abandoned that real quick.

I have quickly collected a few lights and so my charging area is getting pretty busy. I have been thinking about wire rack shelves with laptop cooling fans mounted under to keep airflow…but was not sure if that is a moot dumb idea.

Sirstinky
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phouton wrote:
Thanks, Sirstinky, that’s a nice summary.

d_t_a What do people mean by “monitoring” charging? Being in the same building? Having it in the same room and sometimes peeking at readings? Occasionally touching the batteries?

Didn’t the Miboxer advertize “intelligent” charging by varying the current according to periodic internal resistance measurements?

Think of the monitoring like set-and-forget, meaning you stick the battery in, regardless of what type, or age, and the charger picks the best current setting and charge profile. Charge profiles are very different for li-ion and nickle metal hydride/nicads. I don’t care for those full automatic chargers since they sometimes might not get the charge profile just right, especially if their internal resistance measurement is not accurate. A old, high resistance cell might be overcharged or charged too quickly (termination is too late and it gets too hot or under charged. If you pay attention to HJKs reviews of those chargers, you find that they don’t always get it 100% right, meaning a human with experience will be better than a programmed machine.

You don’t want to charge a AAA cell at the same current as a AA or C size. The miboxer C4+, c4-12, C2-4000, C2-6000, SkyRC MC3000, and I believe the Opus all monitor cell temperatures. I think that is mandatory for fast charging. If li-ions get over 60 or 80 C, they are either damaged permanently or suffer damage and lose capacity. Old cells are especially vulnerable to this. If you get the automatic chargers, make sure you watch what the charger sets itself at, and if you feel it’s off, change it manually. That’s why I like my Zanflare. It’s default setting is conservative enough for just about all batteries except old AAA’s.

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