Gear Review: NITECORE SC2 Charger and F1 Charger / Powerbank

With so many chargers to choose from, it can be difficult to pick one, so you may be looking for those models with a little more to offer. NITECORE’s SC2 and F1 chargers both have extra features that make them stand out, so let’s see what they are.

A few more details of the F1:

Starting with the smaller F1. Well ‘smaller’ doesn’t do it justice, this is tiny. I must also point out straight away, that this is not just a charger, but it is a powerbank as well. (NOTE: The F1 is only intended for charging Li-ion cells and needs a Li-ion for use as a USB powerbank.)
 photo 01 F1 boxed P1200108.jpg

Along with the F1, you get two rubber bands which are used to secure an 18650 in the charging slot. This is for when you use the F1 as a powerbank and want the cell to stay in place when you carry it.
 photo 02 F1 box contents P1200126.jpg

At one end of the F1 is a micro-USB socket which is used for the input power to charge the cell fitted into the F1.
 photo 03 F1 input P1200133.jpg

Switching to the other end, the F1 has a full size USB socket which can provide USB power output up to 1000mA.
 photo 04 F1 output P1200135.jpg

The F1 contacts are gold plated.
 photo 05 F1 contacts P1200140.jpg

With a spring loaded sliding contact, the F1 can be used for any of the following Li-ion cells; 26650/18650/17670/18490/17500/17335/16340(RCR123)/14500/10440.
 photo 07 F1 slider P1200150.jpg

Underneath is basic information about the input/output ratings of this charger/powerbank.
 photo 06 F1 underneath P1200144.jpg

A few more details of the SC2:

With the SC2 we have quite a step up in power, and one of the headline specifications is a 3A charge current (if using 3A in one slot the other can only provide 2A), ideal for IMR or high capacity cells. This charger is compatible with a huge list of cells including both Li-ion and Ni-Mh cells.
 photo 01 SC2 boxed P1220057.jpg

With the SC2 you get a suitable mains lead (in this case a UK plug) and the instructions. Don’t throw those instructions away, you will need them.
 photo 02 SC2 box contents P1220065.jpg

Relatively plain looking the SC2 is full of functionality.
 photo 03 SC2 angle top P1220075.jpg

On the top end of the SC2 are the inputs and outputs. The yellow figure-8 socket is for the mains lead. There is also a 12V DC input for use in a car. Above the mains input is a full size USB socket which provides up to 2.1A USB charging output.
 photo 04 SC2 inputs P1220078.jpg

Considering its capabilities, the layout is very simple. There is an indicator panel (lights only, no digits are displayed), two control buttons, and the two slots.
 photo 05 SC2 top P1220083.jpg

On the underneath there are four rubber feet and the list of supported cells.
 photo 06 SC2 underneath P1220084.jpg

It’s a huge list of supported cells; IMR / Li-ion / LiFePO4: 10340, 10350, 10440, 10500, 12340, 12500, 12650, 13450, 13500, 13650, 14350, 14430, 14500, 14650, 16500, 16340(RCR123), 16650, 17350, 17500,17650, 17670, 18350, 18490, 18500, 18650, 18700, 20700, 21700, 22500, 22650, 25500, 26500, 26650
Ni-MH(NiCd): AA, AAA, AAAA, C, D
 photo 07 SC2 compatibility P1220088.jpg

The contacts are the typical chrome plated type.
 photo 08 SC2 contacts P1220095.jpg

A nice detail is that the NITECORE name is stamped into the slider contact.
 photo 09 SC2 slider P1220099.jpg

All the various options are selected using the two buttons. The C and V represent the Current and Voltage settings you can select.
 photo 10 SC2 buttons P1220100.jpg

When first powered on, the SC2 shows a set of lights indicating the default of 2A charging current.
 photo 11 SC2 lights P1220107.jpg

What are they like to use?

The F1 is one of those ‘don’t need to think about it, just buy it’ products for me. Combining the function of a Li-ion charger and powerbank into a tiny, easy to carry, device just makes it a must have EDC device.
When you insert a cell, it also tells you the voltage, so will work as a cell checker as well. If you use li-ions and have a smart phone, you will want one of these.

I’ve given the review sample a really hard time, with the worst conditions being the F1 having a 26650 fitted and used as a powerbank for a set of USB lights that try to draw 3A. Considering this should only output 1A, the actual output current was around 1.5A. Like this it was allowed to run constantly all day for a couple of weeks, swapping the 26650 when required. During this time the F1 did get hot, but expecting this to become a destructive test due to the extended abuse, I was impressed to find the F1 survived this without any issues.

For more details, have a look at the instructions by clicking on this image for the full size version. (Depending on your browser you might need to ‘right-click’ and ‘open in new tab/window’.)

Hidden within the casing are three green indicator lights. These tell you the cell voltage when inserting a cell, the remaining capacity when using as a powerbank, or the charging status when charging a cell.
 photo 08 F1 lights P1200154.jpg

The ideal cell for powerbank use is an 18650, and the supplied rubber bands fit this size cell perfectly. This is how it looks when you have it ready to carry as a powerbank.
It is important to note that there is parasitic drain when in Powerbank configuration which in the sleep/low power mode measures at 390uA. When using a 3100mAh cell it will take 331 days to drain the cell.
According to the YZX Studio Power Monitor, the output of the USB charging port is ‘Android DCP 1.5A’ meaning the D+ and D- lines are shorted.
 photo 09 F1 powerbank P1200158.jpg

Once you are back at home/work, just top up the cell with any USB charging point. Of course another major advantage of the F1 as a powerbank is that you can carry spare cells for it, and swap as needed.
 photo 10 F1 charging P1200169.jpg

Now onto the SC2. This is a very versatile charger, but I have to say it has not been the easiest to work with. Using the defaults is easy. Turn it on, and pop in your cells, the SC2 will charge them quickly, but it is when you want to change modes that it hasn’t been that easy. Because of this I’m not even going to attempt to explain so you definitely will want to refer to these instructions. I did find that some double clicking was required to enter manual mode. This is not mentioned in the instructions, so if it is not responding as you expect, try a double click.
Click on this image for the full size version. (Depending on your browser you might need to ‘right-click’ and ‘open in new tab/window’.)

Here is an IMR cell (from the TM03) charging on defaults. It is now displaying a full charge, as during charging the current lights show the charging current, and the voltage lights are used to display charging status with three LEDs. Once the three LEDs remain on steady, the cell is fully charged.
 photo 12 SC2 lights with cell P1220112.jpg

It is important to note that due to the high charging current, the SC2 will terminate a little early. You don’t quite get a completely full charge. You can always pop the mostly full cell into another charger for that final top-up but you don’t really need to.
This graph has three traces on it and two of them compare the SC2 and D4 chargers (both used to charge the TM03s’s cell).
The SC2’s slightly early termination can be seen with the earlier drop to low mode at around 1h 20m. Considering the vast reduction in charging time, this minor loss in overall output is well worth it.
 photo TM03 runtime.jpg

There is one major design flaw with the SC2 sent to me. The numbers on the display to show current and voltage are only printed on the plastic film on the display. When you unpack the charger you normally expect to remove a protective film from the display. As you do this, you find the numbers come off as well!
I had to put the film back on after finding this which is why there are some bubbles under the film.
My advice is to NOT remove the protective film (unless you have confirmed the number are now printed on the actual display.
 photo 13 SC2 lights close P1220116.jpg

As explained in the user manual, Slot 2 and the USB charging output contend with each other. If the cell in Slot 2 is charging the USB output is stopped. So you can charge a cell in Slot 1 and a USB device at the same time, but if using Slot 2, only once the cell is charged does the USB charging work.
 photo 14 SC2 USB charging P1220122.jpg

Review Summary

The views expressed in this summary table are from the point of view of the reviewer’s personal use. I am not a member of the armed forces and cannot comment on its use beyond a cutting tool or field/hunting knife.

Something that might be a ‘pro’ for one user can be a ‘con’ for another, so the comments are categorised based on my requirements. You should consider all points and if they could be beneficial to you.

_______________________________________________ _______________________________________________
Things I like What doesn’t work so well for me
_______________________________________________ _______________________________________________
F1 – Tiny Li-Ion Charger. F1 – Parasitic drain could be lower.
F1 – Tiny Powerbank with changeable cell. F1 – Cell quite easily knocked even with rubber band.
F1 – charges from any micro-USB charger.
SC2 – Super Fast 3A Charger. SC2 – Display Labels Printed on removable protective film.
SC2 – USB charger output. SC2 – Mode changing a bit tricky.
SC2 – Huge list of compatible cells. SC2 – Cells not quite fully charged.
SC2 – Mains and 12V power options.

 

Discussing the Review:

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Gear Review: ZTS MBT-1 Pulse Load Battery Tester

In the course of reviewing, I use rather a large number of primary and rechargeable cells. MyFenix generously sent Tactical Reviews a ZTS MBT-1 Pulse Load battery tester to help me keep track, and it has certainly proven its worth.

 photo 05 ZTS probe out P1150583.jpg

Taking a more detailed look:

Unlike many blister packs, the MBT-1 has an easy to open blister pack as it is closed by moulded poppers. This means you can use to store the MBT-1 in if you want.
 photo 01 ZTS boxed P1150570.jpg

There are two information leaflets included with the MBT-1.
 photo 02 ZTS unboxed P1150577.jpg

On the front panel are a set of contacts for the positive terminals of the various cells to be placed onto when testing them.
 photo 03 ZTS front P1150578.jpg

Tucked away neatly along the side is a test probe and its wire.
 photo 04 ZTS probe stowed P1150580.jpg

The probe pops out easily for use.
 photo 05 ZTS probe out P1150583.jpg

A closer look at the probe tip.
 photo 06 ZTS probe tip P1150587.jpg

This battery tester, runs on 4xAA batteries fitted into a compartment on the back.
 photo 07 ZTS back cover off P1150592.jpg

There is a simple display showing percentages from 10% to 100% capacity.
 photo 09 ZTS display P1150602.jpg

In case you misplace the instructions, there is a reminder on the front panel.
 photo 10 ZTS method P1150603.jpg

I’m not going to list all the exact cells as they are in the picture, but the tester works with Li-ion, various button cells, NiMh….
 photo 11 ZTS types P1150606.jpg

…loads more coin cells, Energizer L91 and L92, 1.5V Alkaline…
 photo 12 ZTS types P1150608.jpg

…12V and 6V Alkaline and 9V Alkaline.
 photo 13 ZTS types P1150609.jpg

Troubleshooting

This section is included to mention any minor niggles I come across during testing, in case the information helps anyone else.

No issues were encountered during testing.

As per the description of this section, this information is provided in case anyone else finds a similar ‘issue’ that might be fixed in the same way.

The MBT-1 in use

Even moderate battery users are going to appreciate the MBT-1. It is easy enough to lose track of which cells are which and then have to start again with new cells or recharging cells. Not so with the MBT-1 as it is so quick and easy to test a cell and find out its real condition. You can also check cells in remote controls, doorbells and other devices that would otherwise have no indication of the condition of the batteries.

Remember, this is not a voltage based tester, it is a pulse load tester. Cells can often recover their voltage when not loaded, so the reason this tester has so many test contact points for different cells, is because it is actually loading the cell to truly test how it responds when it will actually have to do some work (so needs to use the different responses at each contact point to work out the percentage).

Notice in this photo I have marked an X on the cell with a sharpie to indicate it has been used for a runtime test. Normally I simply discard these cells as I’ve taken the test light down to the ANSI cut-off, but as you can see here the MBT-1 has revealed that this cell still has 20% capacity left. Perfectly fine to use for some low output backup lights and not yet ready for the recycle bin.
 photo 08 ZTS testing cr123 P1150599.jpg

I’ve even found that it can be worth testing new cells as I’ve had some turn out not to be matched perfectly for use in multi-cell lights.

The testing methodology is that even during the first set of pulse loads the cell may have recovered and give a false reading, so the recommendation is to test each cell three times. That last reading is the most accurate.

No more guessing with straight voltage readings, simple quick and effective testing.

Review Summary

_______________________________________________ _______________________________________________
Things I like What doesn’t work so well for me
_______________________________________________ _______________________________________________
Pulse load testing (not simply voltage). Relatively expensive.
Huge range of cells can be tested. Relatively bulky.
Very simple to use.
Allows for cells to be matched and graded.
Minimises wastage.

A big thanks to MyFenix for supporting Tactical Reviews with this ZTS MBT-1 Battery Tester (MyFenix is the Official UK Fenix Distributor).