We have an absolutely ridiculous number of devices in the house that eat AA batteries (and a handful of AAA batteries). LED flashlights. Wii Controllers. The Canon macro ring flash. Various remotes. Toys. Etc…

As a result, we use a lot of batteries. Thus, I decided that I would pick up a bulk pack of rechargeable AA batteries and find a decent charger to go with.

After a bunch of research, every sign indicated that the La Crosse Technology BC-900 AlphaPower Battery Charger (pictured at left) was the best of the bunch.

And it is. Which is sad, in a way.

The charger does a brilliant job of testing, refreshing and generally charging AA and AAA cells. It has multiple modes, including the ability to select the current level used to charge batteries (high current == fast charge, but lessens battery life) and does a great job of indicating the overall health of the cell.

The user interface, though, absolutely sucks. Horribly. It has four displays — one for each cell slot — and the contents are confusing at best. Definitely a device for which reading the manual at least twice and then looking up various online resources is required.

Hell, the damned display shows “null” for any slot without a battery in it. If that isn’t an indication of total lack of UI design, I don’t know what is!

But, the damned thing works. Really really well.

In fact, the first time I used it, I set it to refresh a set of batteries that I had been charging via some relatively cheap combo-pack charger. It basically returned them to about double the capacity that I was seeing.

Word of warning: Some really cheap battery chargers are, in fact, dangerous. If they are simply constant current charging sources, they can do damage to the cells unless you pull the cells right when they are done charging (too soon — incomplete charge, too late — bad for the cells). Seriously — at least invest in a “smart” charger that backs off when the cells are done!

Beyond the obvious green rah-rah-love-the-earth win of moving to rechargeable batteries, there are some additional benefits that I hadn’t entirely considered but am now happy to enjoy.

Most obviously, you don’t have to remember to buy batteries. Myself and everyone I know invariably has a remote or two that has no batteries in it. Why? Because the batteries were scavenged for use in a device that was higher in the pecking order whose cells have gone dead. With rechargeable batteries, though, the dead cells can be revived easily enough.

With ultra-low self discharge cells, you sacrifice a bit of overall capacity, but the cells hold their charge for much, much longer. Thus, the cells “stored” in the rarely used remote will still have a charge after many months.

Secondly — and this surprised me — rechargeable batteries seem to perform much better for longer in high current demand situations. For example, my ring flash recycles back to ready much faster across more cycles than it did with disposable AA batteries.

All in all, the move to rechargeables has been good in our house. Certainly, given the battery eating nature of the Canon flash and with several long trips where an iPod or iPhone needed power, the change has likely already paid for itself. Certainly close.