Battery buying guide

Last updated: October 2014

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Getting started

AA batteries are the most widely sold battery type, used in digital cameras, flashlights, radios, remote controls, toys, and much more.

To find out whether you really need to buy expensive brand-name batteries to keep your gadgets up and running, we tested both alkaline and lithium batteries.

How we tested

This year we evaluated 13 alkaline and 2 lithium batteries. Our test scenarios were based on typical battery usage in toys and in flashlights. Our toy test mimicked an hour a day of continuous play. A second test involved turning a flashlight on for 4 minutes every hour for 8 hours, then leaving it alone for 16 hours. We repeated each test until the batteries were drained.

The two lithium models we tested (Energizer Ultimate Lithium and Energizer Advanced Lithium) outperformed all of the alkaline batteries. But alkalines are far less expensive, and several brands came close to the lithiums in performance. Within the 13 alkaline brands, we saw a fairly wide range of performance, but seven were recommended by Consumer Reports. The top-scoring alkaline battery model--Duracell Quantum--was not significantly different from the high-scoring lithium models, and it costs less than half as much. It's a cheaper option than lithiums for high-drain situations (such as often-used flashlights).

We prefer lithium batteries over alkalines for hard-to-access or infrequently used devices, because of lithium's higher stability (lower "self-discharge" or power loss over time). Unlike alkalines, lithium batteries don't contain a corrosive liquid.

Rechargeable batteries

Rechargeable batteries are a greener choice than any of the tested types. For devices that are used a lot, such as game controllers, consider high-capacity rechargeable batteries. In past tests, we've found that rechargeables of about 2,000 milliamp-hours or more are best for often-used devices such as these.

For information about tossing or recycling batteries, go to www.call2recycle.org or earth911.com.

Bottom line

Use lithium batteries in high-drain devices such as toys and cameras, and alkalines in low-drain devices such as flashlights and remote controls.

Remember, most alkaline batteries have a shelf life of about seven years, though some makers claim up to 10 years. And you do not have to store them in the refrigerator to prolong life, contrary to any old-wives' tale you might have heard. Check our current battery story for more tips on battery use and storage.

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