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18650 Lithium Cell Recommendations: The good, the bad, and the ugly

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Final round of 10W testing. 

These were all charged on the NiteCore D4, but then topped off on the XTAR VP2 right before testing, like I did with the LingsFires.  This may make a difference and I'm probably going to top off the NiteCores the same way and run them all again to see if their capacity improves compared to the previous testing, where they were charged on the D4 alone.  This may lead to more testing to see if there's a difference in capacity based on the chargers and charge current settings.

EagleTac34  $38/pair    3400mAh    47g

Test Result: Cell #1 - 2.74Ah    Cell #2 - 2.90Ah    83% stated capacity    $6.74/Ah

Another disappointment from this brand.  Like the 3500mAh version, there's not much consistency between these cells discharge curves.  Both the Olight and Nitecore cells are much more consistent, have nearly the same capacity, and are cheaper.  Unless these are discounted as part of a bundled deal, I wouldn't get them.

Simon  $35/pair    3400mAh    47g

Test Result: Cell #1 - 2.99Ah    Cell #2 - 3.01Ah    88% stated capacity    $5.83/Ah

This is the top performer!  And they're not the most expensive, or the heaviest.  These cells look identical to the Orbtronics (but 1g heavier and a few bucks more), or at least they did until last night, when the Amazon picture changed on the cells coming into stock on Jan. 11.  I hope the change in the shrink-wrap doesn't correspond with a decrease in performance, because this is a great product.

Orbtronic  $63 per 4 cells    3400mAh    46g

Test Result: Cell #1 - 2.98Ah    Cell #2 - 2.91Ah    Cell #3 - 2.93Ah    Cell #4 - 2.96Ah    87% stated capacity    $5.35/Ah

This was a very close race, but the Orbs lose to the higher priced Simons and the lower priced Eastshines.  The discharge curves are not quite as consistent as the more expensive Simons, Olights, or NiteCores.  For those wanting to maximize performance to weight, the Orbtronic is the cell to get, as it performs at the top of the heap and only the LingsFire and UltraFires weigh less. 

My Interpretation and Recommendations:

If you're looking for the absolute longest run times, the top three are Simon, Eastshine, and Orbtronic, which are all capable of getting really close to 3Ah (equivalent to 1 hour) of run-time at 10W.  All three cost less than the other premium cells and only the ThruNites are cheaper than Eastshine.  However, the Eastshine is the heaviest and slightly bulkier than all but the FoxNovos. 

Olight, FoxNovo, and NiteCore are solid performers, but they're not the best or the least expensive of the premiums cells and probably not worth getting unless discounted when bundled with another product. 

I wouldn't waste much time looking at the EagTacs, the most expensive of the premiums, or the ThruNites, the least expensive.  Both performed inconsistently and there are better performers for less money.

Definitely stay away from UltraFire, at any price.  There's something really wrong with them and they have no business being considered alongside any of the other cells.  LingsFire turned out to be better than I initially thought, but not nearly as good as the ThorFires, and both are probably a reasonable value buy.

The big unknown, to my mind, is what the expected lifespan and durability of these cells is.  This might be reason enough to spend a bit more on one of the brands that has a longer reputation, but who knows? 

I do know that there is good consensus on higher charge currents being detrimental to the life of cells, but I don't know what the optimum current is.  It takes about 8-9 hours to charge the top performers in this group on the D4 at 375mA, so you definitely need to plan ahead, like the day before, if you want to avoid hitting the button for 500 or 1000mA currents.  Biggest bottle neck for this testing scheme was the charging, believe it or not, and that's with using a combination of three chargers for a total of 10 slots.  Kind of thinking an 8 slot charger could come in handy for some situations.


The first Nitecore just blew 2.95Ah, up from 2.87, after an XTAR 250mA top off between the D4 and the CBA.  Can one charger make that much difference over another?

If the pattern continues to show marked improvement, there's a bunch of other cells that deserve a retest with the same top off:  Nitecore, Olight, Eastshine, Foxnovo, both EagTacs, and Thorfire.  Both the Simon and Orbtronic cells already got that treatment.

What do you bet the Eastshines really shine, now?

I guess I must be a geek if I'm still up messing around with these 18650s.  I'm seeing a 0.1Ah improvement in the overall average capacity, after topping them off on the XTAR, with just a couple cells left to test. 

I admit, I bought the XTAR VP2 because of it's ability to use an 18650 cell for USB charging purposes and was kind of disappointed when I found out that only the left slot was available for that purpose, so it wasn't possible to use two cells as a USB charger.  However, looking more closely at the online reviews tonight, it sounds like this is a very highly regarded Li-ion charger.  After watching some YouTube reviews, I went and pulled a Sony 18650VT cell, from my second bad Makita pack I harvested over the weekend, out of the discard pile and slipped it into the VP2 to see if it could wake the dead.  And, believe it or not, it's taken that cell from 0.59V up to 1.33V, when all my other chargers rejected it as a bad cell.

If anyone's looking for a superb 2 slot charger for 18650s, the VP2 is probably worth the extra money over a Nitecore.  It's made me a believer tonight and now I'm considering whether I should get the VP4 for increased capacity.

The other thing I like about this one is the ease with which you can slip a cell out after it's charged without disturbing the other cells.  They actually designed in enough finger space, unlike my Foxnovo and Nitecore.

You really don't want a multi cell USB type charger that uses parallel cells as not all batteries are the same and the differences can lead to a real surprise while charging or discharging some day....these things can burst into flames if not properly balanced.


--- Quote from: Carl on January 07, 2016, 06:09:59 AM ---You really don't want a multi cell USB type charger that uses parallel cells as not all batteries are the same and the differences can lead to a real surprise while charging or discharging some day....these things can burst into flames if not properly balanced.

--- End quote ---

That's the thing that scares the crap out of me about this stuff, the ever looming specter of bursting into flames because I do something stupid. 

Wait, I thought parallel was the safe route?  And how hard would it be to build chargers with appropriate balancing safeguards for multicell USB charging?


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