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Charging the USBCELL AA-size nickel metal hydride (Ni-MH) batteries ($19.95, www.usbcell.com) couldn't be easier: Pop off the green plastic cap (which stays attached via a short piece of durable fabric-covered elastic). Then plug each battery into an open USB port on your Mac, powered USB hub, or other device.
The recommended charge time is five hours (and these batteries require a charge before you can use them). We charged one USBCELL AA battery on a MacBook Pro (plugged in to AC power, of course) and it took three hours to take a full charge. In addition, the company claims that you can top them up and get a few extra hours of life from battery-powered devices such as wireless mice and keyboards just by plugging them into a USB port for a few minutes.
A green LED on the end of the battery lets you know that it's plugged in and charging. When it's done charging, the light goes off. It would have been a nice touch to include two LEDs, one color for charging and one color for complete. But that would have probably also raised the price.
Green means go, err, charging.
Made in the UK by Moixa Energy, the USBCELL batteries are only available in AA size - at least for now. The company plans to roll out a full range of standard formats, as well as phone and camera batteries, in the coming months. In addition to offering a more affordable solution to alkaline batteries, the USBCELL encourages reuse - so it's a lot nicer to the environment than alkalines. And since you don't need a separate charger, juicing them up is a bit more convenient. (The USBCELL battery's package claims to work with a traditional 250 mA Ni-MH charger, however. We couldn't test them with such a charger because we didn't have one handy, but we'll be sure to do so in the full review.)
The USBCELL batteries are ideal for use with wireless mice and keyboards or other devices that don't require a lot of juice (or more than two AA batteries at a time).
Additional points to consider:
> Price is on the high side for U.S. consumers.
> With a requirement of three to five hours for a full charge, these aren't a great alternative if you're on the road without access to AC power. (When we do a full review, we'll test to see how long it takes to drain a MacBook Pro's battery when charging two USBCELL batteries at once without an AC power connection.)
> Battery heats up quite a bit while charging - this is normal, so don't be alarmed.
> The company's website doesn't specify the batteries' expected life span, but it does say that they can be charged "many more times" than typical rechargeables. When they do eventually die, you can return them to Moixa Energy to be recycled.
UPDATE: Moixa Energy is offering a 15 percent discount on USBCELL batteries for MacLife.com visitors! Use the discount code springsale upon checkout. This offer is good through the end of June.