Electrical test and measurement equipment reviews.

  Digital Multimeter, Clamp on meter, Oscilloscope, Electronic component testing tools, all measuring equipment for demanding applications of our times:  Switching or Uninterruptible power supply, PV Inverters, VFD motor controllers, industrial electronics repair & HVAC.

Written by Kiriakos A. Triantafillou, Industrial maintenance electrician, Hellas.

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17 November 2014

ANSMANN PowerLine 4 Pro product review by ITTSB Blog Europe

Written by: Kiriakos Triantafillou ©2014  - industrial electrician
Intro

28 of January 2002 was the timing that I got engaged with digital photography.
At that time I had in my hands the best middle range digital camera of OLYMPUS Japan, and more specifically the amazing C2100 Ultra zoom, with bright CANON 10X lens and image stabilization due gyroscope hardware, other strong points a perfect auto focus and great color balance even in Auto Mode.
The first ever accessory that I got for it, was one modern NiMH charger with Delta Voltage detection and also four SANYO 1600mAh AA rechargeable cells.

At 2004 I was still attracted by learning and using digital photography and that made me to expand more my collection of identical in model cameras and even invested money for an expensive FL-40 electronic flash for OLYMPUS digital cameras.
Today I own five Olympus digital cameras, five large one and a pocket one.

Bellow is my recorded history as customer of ANSMANN:

Jan 14 2010 - 8x Ansmann AA 2850mAh Digital
Mar 18 2010 - Ansmann Energy 8
Mar 19 2010 - Ansmann Energy 4 speed
Mar 24 2010 - Ansmann Energy Check LCD
May 20 2010 - Ansmann DIGISPEED4 (This came as gift)
Feb 28 2011 - Ansmann AAA 1100mA x4 NiMH

The long story in sort is that Ansmann chargers from their very beginning they were technologically ahead from the competition.
Even their Energy Check LCD is a product which even today is considered as very innovative and second to none.
What left a bad taste in my mouth from all those products was the life expectancy which I had for the Ansmann NiMH cells (production of 2010).
They started dying about 18 months later.
One by one those battery cells was unable to hold charge and cooperate well even by been perfectly balanced when charged.
I am not a wealthy man and I did start feeling partial disappointment by thinking that my SANYO AA NiMH even by been 10 years old they lost 70% of their capacity but are still functional for low power applications, when the fresher powerful Ansmann cells were triggering the charger cells detection circuitry which causes their rejection by the indication that they are damaged.

Near the end of 2013 one comment of my made at YouTube, it was read by sales manager Ansmann UK, Mr. Lenny Wood show significant interest to feedback or better said to my own pack of experiences about their products.
After reading my full story he kindly offered to me the suggestion to replace my cells with new by receiving the old for inspection.
At that time I suggested the idea of receiving also one PowerLine 4 Pro so to evaluate it among with the latest Ansmann NiMH cells.
My promise to Ansmann was that my review will not be an outcome of quick testing.
And this is the reason of why this review is available now that is 10 months later from the date which those products arrived in my mail box.
2) Ansmann chargers and their history

This review aiming to inform mostly people who have some experiences with chargers all ready and therefore the plan is to be compact and to present mostly the most important details.

Regarding Ansmann chargers among the last 10 years my comment would be that DIGISPEED4 that is the first fast charger who become widely known came out at a timing which the market was full of battery cells with much lower specification’s.
I received my own as a gift from another person because he thought that this device was responsible for killing his batteries.

The time that I was ready for shopping this DIGISPEED4 has been replaced by the newer equivalent model which is named as Energy 4 speed.
Energy 4 Speed was my very own choice as fast charger and safe charger, innovations as active cooling and battery diagnosis before starting a charge was there by default.
And generally speaking I am very happy with the product even up to date.

My decision to purchase Ansmann Energy 8 was made for two main reasons.
The first one is the obvious of having the potential to charge simultaneously x6 AA with it and another 4x AA with my other charger.
The second reason was my curiosity to discover what additional benefits bring on the table this feature called as refreshing which Ansmann was using only to their larger chargers which they could described also as battery stations.
In my case I did not see any advantage by charging exclusively NiMH cells with it.
Much later on and by the use of modern test and measurement equipment I manage to understand what this Ansmann Refreshing function was all about.
What this function does is the generation of pulses which its one from the other has reverse polarity in a time window of a second or one second and a half.
Very later on I read that reverse polarity pulses is one technique which benefits mostly or exclusively NiCd cells.
And therefore this explained to me of why I did not see any benefits with NiMH.  
 
In summary all those charger models as: DIGISPEED4, Energy 4 speed, Ansmann Energy 8, all of them were based at the same philosophy.
All of them smart, the fast chargers with adjustable charging speed, generally speaking no complain at all if you use high quality cells with them, or if you use compatible to the chargers specifications battery cells.
3) The arrival of PowerLine 4 Pro

PowerLine 4 Pro is a new product which brings at the hands of consumers benefits found so far only at the very expensive chargers of Ansmann.

Note:
In the rest of my review I will use the word P4Pro when I am referring to this charger.

P4Pro comes with additional features as adjustable charging current for each charging slot, individual charging programs for each charging slot.
And it range of functions is Charge, Discharge, Refresh, Test.

DISCHARGE (Discharges battery before charging to minimize the
“Memory effect” of batteries)

REFRESH (Cycle of charging and discharging to refresh old batteries)

TEST (Fully charges battery > discharge battery and measures capacity
> recharges battery)
4) Test results and experiences with NiMH cells

Measuring NiMH battery capacity was a feature that was totally missing from my hands all those years.
P4Pro gave me this capability which in the hands of an advanced users it is a must have, especially if you need to have a balanced set of four NiMH cells in a pack.
The expression balancing actually translates here and regarding charge level and also regarding its cell equal capacity.

It is known that just one weak cell in a set of four it can trigger the digital camera or camera flash unit to display prematurely the battery-low indication.      
Therefore it is necessary all battery cells to be inspected every few months so to be able gain the necessary confidence that nothing can go wrong when you will use your battery pack.

By charging and cycling very fresh batteries P4Pro showed a very minimum gain.
You may say that was close to 3% of capacity improvement.
To be honest I did just two to three cycles, and my opinion is that with fresher NiMH of our days the new cells break-in process is not necessary.

A small miracle happened when cycled by the Refresh function ten years old Sanyo 1600mAh cells, their capacity were measured at 35% and after been cycled and refreshed they got up to 48%.
Unfortunately the recovery of their capacity did not lasted for long, in three for days with out using them, the capacity dropped back to almost 35%.

The lesson which I learned is that if you revive the capacity of one cell you need to use it daily or you will not enjoy this gain for long time.
 
My second lesson or better said conclusion has to do with the called memory effect.
By using P4Pro for 10 months as reference point, other than new Ansmann cells I do own SANYO Eneloop first and second generation cells, and by testing their capacity it made clear to me that battery cell chemistry plays an more significant role than the memory effect.
NiMH cells of high capacity they do carry more active chemically compounds in them which eventually makes them prone to damage or better said much less life cycle compared to cells at 2000mAh in capacity or lower.

Therefore now I am convinced that high capacity cells and their small life cycle is a price to pay if higher capacity matters to you the most.

Naturally technology improves by the day, and I have the faith that the fresh produced high in capacity Ansmann cells will last more in time than the first generation of them.

After conducting a large in quantity tests, today I can now say with certainty that if your battery cells are failing apart it is due their chemistry limitations and not a fault of the charger.
5) PowerLine 4 Pro strong points

The top strong point in this charger which has so many features and settings is that Ansmann made it very easy to use.

The charger can be used from kids up to adults and by experts too.

P4Pro comes with separate Mains AC adapter and car lighter adapter, and therefore what Ansmann had in mind is to create a fully featured charger for travelers.

P4Pro is light weight and very compact.
It comes also with a USB port for charging mobile phones, and this expands it usability far and beyond of what regular NiMH cells chargers can do.

This September Ansmann informed me that they did update P4Pro by a fresh revision which has active Backlight by using LED.
To be honest I never tested P4Pro in a dark room but I do think to that this is a major improvement.
From the other hand the received information was that the Backlight is constantly on and therefore I would advice my readers to see from close range the new revision so to inspect if it is close to their likes or not.
6) PowerLine 4 Pro weaknesses

The major weakness of P4Pro according to my taste is it compact size.
All my personal complains about it has a source of the problem it small size.
By looking the product pictures with out having the product I made the impression that P4Pro is a medium format charger and in a way a smart replacement of the Ansmann Energy 4 speed series.

Instead what I received is a very compact design which has a very small LCD display and especially people like me at the age of 45 or more which are farsighted they will enjoy with difficulty the advantages of P4Pro.

The compact size brings and few other limitations as for example the battery cells are very close to its other, there is no active cooling, because of all those factors P4Pro should be used as medium speed charger.

When it comes down to the individual charging programs for each charging slot, the battery cells become warmer than it should due the lack of proper ventilation.
But this disadvantage generates another advantage, that you can run those programs and sleep at night too.
Therefore P4Pro is silent and friendlier for using it at home or even at a hotel.

Regarding the heat generation by the cells, if you think that is too much you may always change the charging current to a much lower point, and this will improve this condition especially in the summer, but the charging process it will last more time.

Probably it is the first time that I will use in my reviews the word versatile, P4Pro is definably versatile and multifunctional, but it compact size seems as problem to me.
7) PowerLine 4 Pro long term reliability

My curiosity forced me to take apart P4Pro so to see with my own eyes it inner world regarding electronics design.
I got truly surprised from the fact that every square mm in the PCB is in use for something.
The charger is made exclusively by surface mount components which are extremely close to its other, in a low volts circuitry what can raise as problem is naturally the factor of heat dissipation.
Ansmann made something which I have not seen before, they added soft pillows at the bottom of the PCB and their job is to spread the temperature from the hot spots to the entire PCB.
This translates that the charger it will feel warmer compared to chargers with active cooling, but even by running hot this does not compromise it long term reliability.

The charger is powered by 12V DC from the supplied Mains adapter, in all my tests the mains adapter remained cold or just a bit warm, and this translates that Ansmann did a good job there too.

All press buttons over the charger seems well build, they do require a bit of force on them so to respond, and this is good, because soft buttons can cause accidental double clicking.

The battery compartment is well build, the lower springs seemed a bit soft to me.
Close to the positive charging pole and under the plastic there are two thermal sensors, which monitor the temperature of the cells in pairs.

In summary regarding electronics design, P4Pro is designed with caution and attention to detail, but it gives me the feeling that is not possible to be repaired if it fail for any reason.
8) Final conclusion

P4Pro is an amazing in features newly released charger and in a very affordable price.
It does have powerful features which will help you to evaluate the true condition of your batteries.

It is compact and light weight, therefore is a valuable tool which combines functions found at expensive battery stations but still is easy to transfer and to use even at your travels.

Maybe I was a bit optimistic that by using one such advanced charger I would avoid spending the cash in the end for a larger format battery station.

I do like allot P4Pro despite it small in size digital display, now it is my smartest portable charger in my collection of chargers.

I like to thanks Ansmann for offering to me this PowerLine 4 Pro, definably has professional features in it tool box, the final buying decision is always at the hands of consumers.
By my review my intention was from the start to present a realistic picture about this product, and I think that I came close enough.
Product pictures of Ansmann PowerLine 4 PRO NiMH Charger at ITTSB Forum
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