The AccuPower IQ-328 is a battery charger, analyzer, and tester suitable for use with all NiMH and NiCD AA and AAA batteries. It offers four independent channels – one for each battery slot – for superior charging compared to cheaper alternatives that charge batteries in pairs. In addition to its charging capabilities, the unit also offers analysis and testing capabilities as well so you can track the capacity of your batteries and responsibility dispose of degraded cells. The AccuPower IQ-328 compares well to the La Crosse Technology BC1000, only lacking the selection buttons on each of the four channels. Rest assured that the IQ-328 *does* support fully independent operations on each of its four channels (within reason – see “Quirks”), just like its competitors.
- Charging rates in mA (AA) – 1800*, 1500*, 1000, 700, 500, 200
- Charging rates in mA (AAA) – 700, 500, 200
- Modes: Charge, Discharge, Discharge-Refresh, Test
- Channels: 4 independent channels
*Selectable when only two channels (1 and 4) are in use.
Why Buy a Battery Charger/Analyzer?
Clearly the AccuPower IQ-328, like its La Crosse BC1000 competitor, is more expensive than your run-of-the-mill NiMH charger. However, this is money well spent. Traditional chargers fail to incorporate the necessary logic to make the most of your rechargeable batteries. For instance, the worst offenders charge batteries based on time alone. Some of these cheap chargers rely on the end user (you!) to unplug the charger after a certain period of time specified in a manual while others make use of a built-in electronic timer. Neither method accounts for residual charge in the cells being charged, which leads to the overcharging – and damage – of your expensive rechargeable NiMH and NiCD batteries. One step up from these utterly terrible charges are chargers that will charge until a set voltage is hit. While this method of charging is certainly and improvement, these charges tend to pair up cells. For instance, a 4 cell charger would pair cells 1 & 2 into a single channel and pair the remaining cells 3 & 4 into a second channel. If the target voltage per cell were set to 1.5 volts per cell, the charger would stop charging when it observed 3 volts, or 2 x 1.5 volts in series. The problem is that cells do not age at the same rate, so one cell may measure at 1.6 volts and the other at 1.4 volts, leaving the latter undercharged and the former overcharged. Furthermore, these cheap chargers generally do not offer selectable charging current, leaving you at the mercy of the manufacturer’s discretion. While high charging rates can be useful when you’re in a rush (and for some other purposes), they wear out cells faster than slow chargers. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to choose based on your needs while ensuring all your batteries are fully charged? Battery charger/analyzers offer this functionality and more!
Charging batteries with the IQ-328 is straightforward. Upon the insertion of a cell, the charger defaults to “charge” mode at a current of ~ 200 mA. Each press of the “current” button ratches the charge rate up to the next level to a maximum of 1800 mA when charging 1 or 2 AA batteries. Note that the charge rate is set per-channel as each cell is inserted; as there is no selection button for the channels, your choices must be made at time of insertion. Once the batteries are charging, you are able to view statistics about each cell including the current charge current in mA, the current voltage, elapsed charge time, and the “charged capacity” in mAh or Ah. Each cell is individually protected against overheating while charging.
The IQ-328 supports a discharge mode, primarily intended to be used with NiCD batteries, that will discharge the cells at a selected rate of 100, 250, 350, or 500 mA until exhausted, then proceed to automatically recharge the cells at a rate of 200, 500, 700, or 1000 mA respectively. This will prevent a “memory effect” from forming (although I have read claims that NiCD batteries do not need to be cycled in such a manner to avoid the memory effect).
Taking the discharge mode one step further is the “discharge-refresh” mode. This mode repeatedly discharges and recharges cells while measuring cell capacity, with the intention of increasing cell capacity. Once the charger detects that the capacity is no longer increasing (which, according to the manual, can take several days), the process is stopped. I have tried this mode on a set of very old batteries with limited success; while capacity markedly increased (in some cases, from 100 mAh to 1900 mAh), the self-discharge rate of the batteries was extremely high and ultimately left them unusable.
In test mode, the IQ-328 will first fully charge the batteries, then fully discharge them while measuring the capacity of the cells, then finally finish with a full charge while reporting the usable capacity of the batteries. This mode is extremely useful for battery reviews, checking on the health of your batteries, and for those who are simply curious.
Most of the battery chargers/analyzers on the market have their quirks and the IQ-328 is no exception. Fortunately, most users won’t find these quirks to be a problem. First, the two quirks I’ve run into: dead cell detection and thermal tripping when charging 4x AAs at 1000 mA. The IQ-328, like most smart chargers on the market today, fails to detect completely dead cells and therefore will not charge completely dead cells. I believe the minimum voltage for proper detection to work to be 0.5 volts, so the cells affected by this are truly dead in most instances. However, should you actually want to recharge a cell that is below 0.5 volts, with a quick top off charge with another charger or battery, or sometimes just some fiddling, will be enough to jumpstart the IQ-328. The second issue is more troubling in my opinion and it too affects most other chargers on the market. Due to the heat generated while charging cells at a high charge rate and the close proximity of the cells, the IQ-328‘s thermal protection can trigger while charging four AA batteries at a 1000 mA charge rate, which will slow down the charging process. Again, I don’t view this as a fatal flaw but it can be annoying, particularly if the charger is being used in a hot environment, like a summer show.
Two other quirks I have read about include being unable to set a higher charge current for a cell on the right as compared to a cell already charging on the left, and the ability to only use any two modes at one time (oh no! /sarcasm). The first is legitimately annoying if you were to pop in a set of AAAs set to a low current and then a set of AAs that like to be charged at a faster rate. However, this situation can be alleviated with a little self-discipline and I don’t remember running into it in practice. At the end of the day, the few quirks present don’t hamper the usability of the charger. In fact, I’d argue the single largest shortcoming of the IQ-328 is the lack of dedicated channel selection buttons, or indeed any channel selection button at all. If this is a concern, spring for the Opus BT-C2000 which incorporates a “slot” button; PowerEx MH-C9000, also with the “slot” button; or the La Crosse Technology BC1000 with selection buttons for every channel.
After owning the AccuPower IQ-328 for two and half years, I have found it to be a reliable, cost-effective, and incredibly useful addition to my accessories. Prior to the AccuPower IQ-328, I owned the Energizer 15-Minute Battery Charger that eventually gave up the magic smoke while attempting to charge three sets of 4x AA batteries for my electronic flashes. During my ownership of the Energizer, I found its fast charge times attractive, yet found its performance lacking. The batteries would often become prematurely discharged during a shoot, leaving me to change batteries at inopportune times. With the AccuPower IQ-328, I am no longer worried about the reliability of my rechargeable batteries during a shoot. Because the IQ-328 is able to independently charge and measure each AA cell, I can rest assured each and every battery is fully charged and healthy every time. That confidence is worth 10x the asking price of the IQ-328 in my opinion. Get yours today!
Quality batteries are important. I switched to Sanyo Eneloops, now owned by Panasonic, and haven’t looked back. They have proven to be reliable, offer low self-discharge, and their capacity is still excellent. I recommend the “original” Eneloops over the high capacity “Pro” version.