Best of the Budget Chargers: BQ-CC55 vs FCT344 vs BQ-CC17

Editor's Note: I'm pleased to introduce Jim Hyman as a new writer for FilterJoe for the battery category. With my research and writing energy mostly devoted to baseball these days, it's great to have another knowledgeable battery enthusiast on board to research and write articles with even more depth and testing than I did. Expect more battery related articles and reviews in the future from Jim, and I will continue to provide the annual battery update — Joe Golton
Fujitsu FCT344 vs Panasonic BQ-CC55 vs Panasonic BQ-CC17

We’re here today to look at three advanced compact budget smart battery chargers: the Panasonic BQ-CC17, the Fujitsu FCT344, and the Panasonic BQ-CC55.

To get the best performance and long life from your low self-discharge (LSD) NiMH batteries the three most important features are:

  1. independent charging bays so that each battery can be properly filled but not overcharged
  2. proper voltage termination for each battery to avoid under charging and over charging
  3. overheating detection to prevent damage to batteries and the charger

For more detailed information about these features see What Every Charger Needs and the Budget Models sections of this site’s Annual Battery Overview.

Note: Fujitsu sells four different budget battery chargers in the U.S. that are bundled with four or more Fujitsu low self-discharge (LSD) batteries but the FCT344 charger is the only Fujitsu charger that meets the requirements for an advanced smart charger. The Fujitsu FCT343-AUFX(CL), FCT345-AUFX(CL) and FCT345-AJ models are not smart battery chargers. Using dumb chargers will lead to under or overcharging your NiMH batteries more often than not. Overcharging is not good for the long-term health of your NiMH batteries, and extreme overcharging at a rapid rate can in some cases lead to safety issues such as batteries melting down or starting a fire. Undercharging will not damage your batteries, but it will cause lower run time performance.

The Panasonic Eneloop BQ-CC55 battery charger in North America is available as a stand-alone charger or it can be bundled with Japanese made Eneloop batteries from the FDK factory, but for best performance and long life make sure that any Eneloop bundles you buy indicate that the batteries were made in Japan (see Japan vs. China NiMH battery story).

Features

The BQ-CC17, FCT344 and BQ-CC55 chargers share the following features:

  • all chargers are designed to be plugged in to a vertical wall outlet, preferably above a kitchen counter top
  • 4 battery bays where each battery can accommodate standard and high capacity AA and AAA NiMH batteries
  • each of the 4 battery bays has its own LED indicator which shows if each battery is charging, done charging or it is faulty
  • The BQ-CC55 has additional LED functionality which seems much more advanced and helpful in theory but wasn’t too precise in practice—each individual LED starts red for nearly depleted batteries, switches to yellow if battery is between 20% to 80% full, and then green when close to full. It also claims the capability of indicating faulty or non-rechargeable batteries but we found this feature to have several false positives, where low quality, high self-discharge batteries were indicated as not rechargeable. Probably the most useful of the different colors was yellow, which did tend to reliably indicate when a battery was neither close to empty, nor close to fully charged. The “yellow” color is actually green with a thin yellow color below the main green color.
  • you can charge different AA or AAA NiMH battery sizes and brands at the same time
  • with the BQ-CC55 and FCT344 chargers the battery charging rate is set by the charger based on whether you are charging 1 – 2 batteries (faster charge rate) or if you are charging 3 – 4 batteries (slower, more moderate charge rate)
  • the BQ-CC17 charger always uses the 300mA charging rate for AA batteries and it uses the 150mA rate for AAA batteries
  • all chargers are made in China
  • In North American, Japanese and European markets, bundled battery kits for all three chargers are made in Takasaki, Japan at the Fujitsu FDK battery factory. This is the same factory where Sanyo developed and manufactured the original Eneloop LSD NiMH batteries.
  • In Australia and remaining Asian markets, the bundled battery kits for both Eneloop chargers (BQ-CC17 and BQ-CC55) will probably have the inferior, made in China Eneloop battery kits

Charger Dimensions

Model Height Width Depth
BQ-CC17 4.14” 2.5” 1.1”
FCT344 4.45” 2.6” 1.1”
BQ-CC55 4.75” 2.75” 1.1”

 

Default Charge Rates

Charging times are the time it takes for completely depleted batteries to be fully charged.

Charging Rates for the Eneloop BQ-CC17 Charger

Battery Type Number of Batteries Charging Rate
AA 1, 2, 3, or 4 300mA
AAA 1, 2, 3, or 4 150mA

 

Charging Rates for the Fujitsu FCT344 Quick Charger

Battery Type Number of Batteries Charging Rate
AA 3 – 4 (normal) 550mA
AA 1 – 2 (quick) 1100mA
AAA 3 – 4 (normal) 280mA
AAA 1 – 2 (quick) 560mA

 

Charging Rates for the Eneloop BQ-CC55 Charger

Battery Type Number of Batteries Charging Rate
AA 3 – 4 (normal) 750mA
AA 1 – 2 (quick) ~1400mA
AAA 3 – 4 (normal) 275mA
AAA 1 – 2 (quick) 550mA

What is a good, safe charge rate?

With battery chargers, lower charging rates usually generate less heat but this results in longer charging time to fully fill batteries. The following formula shows the relationship between charging rate, charging time and battery capacity:

charge rate X charging time = battery capacity

An example: 500mA X 4 hours = 2000mAh

In this example 500mA is five hundred milli-amps where amperage is the rate of current flow. Battery capacity is measured in mAh (milli-amp hours). A charging rate that is too low can cause a battery charger to miss the termination signal that signifies that the battery is full and that the charging process should stop. Using a charging rate that is too high puts more stress on the battery with higher charging temperatures and gradual degradation of the battery’s useful life. NiMH batteries do not tolerate being overcharged.

With proper care rechargeable batteries can be recharged many times and will maintain their rated capacity for many years. Charging NiMH batteries at higher rates often causes higher battery temperatures while the battery is being charged and if the temperatures are too high, battery capacity (how much energy it can store) and how many times a battery can be recharged will be significantly lower. A well designed battery charger has adequate thermal management protections that will prevent batteries from overheating.

Many battery chargers apply a small trickle charge to batteries when the charging process has completed. NiMH batteries can tolerate trickle charging for a short period of time. A few hours of additional trickle charging is OK, but I never let the trickle charge run overnight and certainly not for several days as this can lead to a shorter battery life. I prefer to use a charging rate that will fully recharge a fully depleted battery within a three to five hour range, but I recharge batteries when they begin to show signs that they are slowing down.

NiCD batteries are uncommon in recent years. They are susceptible to “memory” issues which reduce battery capacity if the NiCD batteries are not fully depleted before recharging. One of the main reasons they have been replaced by NiMH battery technology is that this is not an issue with NiMH batteries, which are not susceptible to this “memory effect.” This means that you can recharge NiMH batteries at any time and not have to worry that the “memory effect” could lead to lower capacity.

So back to the question, “What is a good, safe charging rate?” And specifically, how about the charging rates for the 3 budget chargers featured here? The BQ-CC17 has the lowest charging rates but clearly it is high enough as charging terminated properly with all of our tests. There does not seem to be many reports of this charger failing to terminate charging. The question remains as to whether the time-saving higher charging rates of the other two chargers generate too much heat. The next section answers this question.

Battery Temperatures While Charging

Compact battery chargers have the batteries very close together and this restricts airflow that can help to cool the batteries. It is normal for NiMH batteries to get lukewarm while they are being charged. Lightly touching a battery with your finger is good way to verify that battery temperatures are OK. Lukewarm is fine. Hot batteries, on the other hand, are a sign that something is going wrong.

Overheating batteries degrades performance and will shorten useful battery life. Overheating is caused by one or more of the following:
  • using a “dumb” battery charger that charges batteries for a fixed length of time that is too long
  • using a smart battery charger with a charge rate that is too low to allow proper charger termination at the optimal time
  • using a charging rate that is too high
  • the ambient temperature is too high
  • using a battery charger that has faulty thermal management
  • charging an older battery where the battery’s internal resistance is too high
  • improper battery storage such as leaving batteries in a parked car that receives a lot of direct sunlight during hot summer days

To prevent overheating, a properly designed battery charger has protective features that should stop the charging process if temperatures get too high. Better chargers will continue the charging process after the charger and batteries have cooled sufficiently to safely continue the charging process.

The following tests were run using Eneloop or Fujitsu low self-discharge batteries:

  1. four 2000mAh AA batteries
  2. four 950mAh high capacity AAA batteries
  3. two 2000mAh AA batteries in battery slots #1 and #4 (left to right)
  4. two 2000mAh AA batteries in battery slots #2 and #3
  5. two 2000mAh AA batteries in battery slots #1 and #2
Eneloop BQ-CC17 smart charger
  Battery Size Battery Charge Battery Temperatures During Test
and Capacity Slots Used Rate Low Average High
1 AA 2000mAh 1, 2, 3, 4 300mA 31° (C) 38° (C) 39° (C)
2 AAA 950mAh 1, 2, 3, 4 150mA mid 30° (C) range
Fujitsu FCT344 smart charger
  Battery Size Battery Charge Battery Temperatures During Test
and Capacity Slots Used Rate Low Average High
1 AA 2000mAh 1, 2, 3, 4 550mA 30° (C) 35° (C) 39° (C)
2 AAA 950mAh 1, 2, 3, 4 280mA 3° – 4° (C) lower than test #1
3 AA 2000mAh 1 and 4 1100mA 28° (C) 32° (C) 37° (C)
4 AA 2000mAh 2 and 3 1100mA 31° (C) 35° (C) 38° (C)
5 AA 2000mAh 1 and 2 1100mA 32° (C) 36° (C) 39° (C)
Eneloop BQ-CC55 smart charger
  Battery Size Battery Charge Battery Temperatures During Test
and Capacity Slots Used Rate Low Average High
1 AA 2000mAh 1, 2, 3, 4 750mA 35° (C) 38° (C) 41° (C)
2 AAA 950mAh 1, 2, 3, 4 275mA low to mid 30° (C) range
3 AA 2000mAh 1 and 4 1400mA 30° (C) 35° (C) 41° (C)
4 AA 2000mAh 2 and 3 1400mA 34° (C) 41° (C) 48° (C)
5 AA 2000mAh 1 and 2 1400mA 39° (C) 45° (C) 53° (C)*
*test halted, battery too hot to touch

BQ-CC17 Charger Summary

  • The BQ-CC17 has been around for several years and is still a popular option.
  • There are four independent battery banks and each bank has its own LED indicator.
  • Each LED light goes out after a battery has completed its charge and a blinking LED light means that there is a problem.
  • It properly charged the batteries to their rated capacities. Battery temperatures were always below 40°(C).
  • Charging times for batteries are long and require ~ 7 hours for depleted 2000mAh batteries and ~ 6 hours for depleted 800mAh batteries.
  • Charging older NiMH batteries (even the high-discharge variety) is not a problem unless the battery is too far past its prime.
  • You can download Panasonic Eneloop battery charger user manuals from: Panasonic Charger Manuals

FCT344 Charger Summary

  • There are four independent battery banks and each bank has its own LED indicator.
  • It properly charged the batteries to their rated capacities. Battery temperatures were always 39°(C) or lower.
  • Battery charging times are:
    • ~ 3.6 hours for three or four depleted AA 2000mAh batteries
    • ~ 1.8 hours for one or two depleted AA 2000mAh batteries
    • ~ 2.9 hours for three or four depleted AAA 800mAh batteries
    • ~ 1.4 hours for one or two depleted AAA 800mAh batteries
  • Charging with only 1 or 2 AA batteries automatically uses the higher 1100mA charging rate which is moderately high but the temperatures are well controlled.
  • Charging with only 1 or 2 AAA batteries automatically uses the higher 550mA charging rate which is moderately high. My preference is to charge AAA batteries using a 300mA to 400mA charge rate.
  • If you want to use the lower AA 550mA charging rate or AAA 280mA rate when charging only one or two batteries, insert additional NiMH batteries until at least 3 battery banks are populated, even if the extra batteries are already fully charged.
  • Some older high self-discharge batteries get very hot, especially when only 2 batteries are inserted and the charge rate is even higher. The FCT344 has circuitry to prevent overheating which halts charging when the battery gets too hot. This is a good safety feature, but it does mean that batteries which start to get hot do not get fully charged.

BQ-CC55 Charger Summary

  • There are four independent battery banks and each bank has its own colored LED indicator.
  • With four AA or AAA LSD batteries, they were properly charged to their rated capacities. Battery temperatures were always below 41°(C).
  • Battery charging times are:
    • ~ 2.7 hours for three or four depleted AA 2000mAh batteries
    • ~ 1.4 hours for one or two depleted AA 2000mAh batteries
    • ~ 2.9 hours for three or four depleted AAA 800mAh batteries
    • ~ 1.5 hours for one or two depleted AAA 800mAh batteries
  • Charging with only 1 or 2 AA batteries uses the higher 1400mA charging rate which is moderately high and the temperatures are well controlled, but when charging two low self-discharge AA batteries, they must be inserted in the #1 and #4 slots to avoid over-heating the batteries.
  • Charging with only 1 or 2 AAA batteries uses the 560mA charging rate which is moderately high. My preference is to charge AAA batteries using a 300mA to 400mA charge rate.
  • Testing with four older high self-discharge AA batteries with high internal resistance caused the batteries to get too hot to touch but the BQ-CC55 charger did not pause or stop the charging process and temperatures kept rising. It was clear after 5 hours that the charging was unlikely to ever terminate and the temperature seemed dangerously hot so the test was halted.
  • You can download Panasonic Eneloop battery charger user manuals from: Panasonic Charger Manuals

And the winner is …

The BQ-CC17 is an oldie but goodie that uses lower charging current and easily handles older and newer NiMH batteries. Battery temperatures were always below 39°(C) during all tests. The only drawback is that this charger will take two to four times longer to charge your NiMH batteries.

If you want noticeably faster charging times, the Fujitsu FCT344 charger easily passed all of the tests and even with its higher charging current, the battery temperatures were excellent and were always below 39°(C) during all tests. The only drawback with this charger is that it can stop charging some older high self-discharge batteries when temperatures get too high and the charging process is halted.

Panasonic’s BQ-CC55 was slightly warmer than the FCT344 and BQ-CC17 chargers when charging four NiMH batteries but it was still acceptable. When charging with two AA batteries, the battery temperatures were noticeably warmer and approached 50°(C) in one test and rose to 53°(C) before the test could complete. The battery temperature rose to 58°(C) immediately after the test was halted. Charging with older HSD (high self-discharge) batteries also resulted in excessively high battery temperatures where they too were too hot to touch and even after several hours, they were not fully charged.

The BQ-CC55 battery charger has poor (if any) thermal management features and is potentially dangerous where batteries might melt or it might catch on fire.

Do not use the BQ-CC55 battery charger!

Joe and I are thinking there’s a moral to this story: compact chargers and high charge rates do not easily mix. If you want to charge at a high rate, you’re better off using one of the larger, more expensive chargers reviewed elsewhere on this site, as these larger chargers simply do a better job of dissipating heat.

11 thoughts on “Best of the Budget Chargers: BQ-CC55 vs FCT344 vs BQ-CC17”

  1. Ken, Based on a quick web search it looks like the “C” model is for Asian Markets. The Panasonic user manual that can be downloaded from their European site refers to the BQ-CC55E / BQ-CC55U models while my charger is the BQ-CC55A model.

    Other than the flip out connector on the back of the charger for the wall plug, I’m not aware of any differences with the different models. All models should be compatible with 100 – 240 voltage input.

  2. Great review. Would like to say thanks to the author for this and the Best Budget Charger articles, that’s how I found the Panasonic BQ-CC17 smart charger. I have recently bought it, and it’s indeed a great charger. It wasn’t cheap in my country, but was worth every cent spent on it. My batteries are grateful and will live longer, especially the ones which are not LSD type. The batteries do not get very warm, and I don’t care much about the charging current being low, as long as it keeps my NiMH batteries healthy. I put them into the charger in the morning before going to work, and when I get home in the evening, the batteries are fully charged. It seems to be a very reliable charger, and I highly recommend it.

    Being honest, I don’t think the BQ-CC17 I bought was that expensive. It came packaged with 4 Eneloop BK-3MCCA AA batteries, made in Japan, making a perfect combo.

  3. Cássio – thank you for your kind words. As you have found out, the BQ-CC17 charger does an excellent job taking care of batteries and it doesn’t have any shortcomings. Our goal is to provide accurate and useful information that helps readers make informed decisions.

  4. Great review. I have the BQ-CC17 charger. It and the eight BK-3HCCE batteries I have are only two months old. The batteries were made in Japan and came with the charger. All went well for a while but now the charger shuts down after about ten min, which I believe is due to the overheating issue. The batteries get quite hot. I can’t seem to get them charged because of this problem. I use them for photography ( flash ) and am afraid that I can’t rely on them. I thought about getting another charger but I don’t know if that will help. All eight batteries do this. I’m not sure what I should do. I don’t want to throw good money after bad if this will continue to occur. Does anyone else have this same problem Any comments or suggestions?

  5. Hi John,

    I have never heard of anything like this happening with BQ-CC17 so my best guess (without having your charger in hand to test) is that you have a faulty charger. If it were just 1 or 2 batteries I would guess faulty batteries but it’s just about impossible that 8 batteries would all fail in the same way at the same time. My guess is that the charger is charging at a rate much higher than the intended design, triggering the safety cutoff mechanisms.

    You should be able to get the charger replaced for free from where you purchased it or from Panasonic.

  6. John,
    I agree with Joe’s analysis that your charger is faulty and that the charging rate is too high. My concern is that your batteries might now have reduced capacity where they might not be able to be charged to their full capacity or that their designed number of charge/discharge cycles might be reduced. See if you can exchange your eight nearly new high capacity batteries with new batteries when you get a new charger.

    Let us know how you make out with your replacements. Good luck.

  7. I am using BQ-CC16 battery charger and I am having blinking lights issue with eneloop batteries.
    My clock is using 3x AAA batteries and there is always 1 battery that have blinking issues and refuse to charge it. And I will need to use an Energizer battery charger to charge it.
    Does BQ-CC17 exhibit the same behaviour? Even new AAA eneloop pro batteries have the same behaviour. Annoying to find batteries uncharged.

  8. Hansen – It sounds like there might be a defective AAA battery slot with your BQ-CC16 charger. Does the blinking charger light always happen with the same battery slot? Have you tried to charge the blinking battery by itself in a different battery slot? Have you labeled each battery with a unique identifier, such as E01, E02, …?

    The BQ-CC16 user manual states “For AAA battery, insert from (-) terminal, then place (+) terminal into (+) contact place.” This is different from the AA battery installation procedure.

    With compact battery chargers, I have found that installing AAA batteries can sometimes be somewhat tricky and it helps to spin or rotate each battery in its slot to ensure that it is making full contact. Make sure that the battery and charger contacts are clean before you insert batteries.

    The BQ-CC16 is a fast charger that uses higher charging rates when charging 1 or 2 batteries and a lower charge rate when charging 3 or 4 batteries. The BQ-CC17 is a slow charger that uses a low charge rate no matter how many batteries are installed.

  9. @Jim Hyman At which BQ-CC55 model do you get folded (flip-out) AC pins? There were in my older BQ-CC16 charger (recommended!!), but I see long bulky protruding AC pins in my ordered BQ-55CCE (still in plastic blister, as I consider returning the product due to its bulkiness). BQ-CC16 seems much better option when in travel (smaller dimensions, folded AC pins).
    BQ-CC16 is perfect for my Sanyo and Panasonic Eneloops (both classic white and black XXs/Pros), but refuses to charge any other NiMH battery (LEDs got blinking).

  10. Jacek – (this reply is actually from Jim):

    The BQ-CC55A model has the folding/flip out 2-pin USA setup. It looks like Europe has two BQ-CC55 models; E and a U models. I found references to BQ-CC55 C models in Asia. Check out HKJ’s review of the BQ-CC16 model that comes with a removable European adapter that is installed over the USA flip out plug. In his conclusion, HKJ says:

    I would have preferred a lower charge current for more time, instead of the high current pulses, the pulses may give problems with some old cells.

    Check out the discussion in the Eneloops: what charger do I need? (info and discussion thead) at the CPF forum.

    I don’t know if your BQ-CC55E model has a similar removable A.C. adapter. The BQ-CC16’s flip out adapter is located near the top edge of the charger. The BQ-CC55’s A.C. plug looks like has a different setup that does not have a removable A.C. plug, check out this picture.

    Your earlier post in the FilterJoe 2016 AA battery update blog did not mention if the other battery brands were older High Self Discharge types. A fair number of newer model, higher powered, faster budget chargers have problems with charging older HSD batteries. With non-eneloop batteries, after you started charging, did you wait for one or two minutes to see if the blinking green lights would stop blinking?

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