Review: Pale Blue Batteries
Pale Blue Batteries seek to help our pale blue planet survive a bit better by bringing a new battery technology to the market. This Kickstarter funded project created USB rechargeable lithium-polymer (LiPo) AA and AAA batteries.
Overview of Pale Blue batteries
When I opened them, the Blue Planet batteries, well, looked like batteries. Nicely packaged in reusable plastic cases, with one odd addition: a micro-USB port on the side. The box also contained a 4-headed micro-USB connector. (Note: the plastic cases do not sport recycling symbols. For a company looking to leverage a positive environmental brand, they should.)
Pale Blue batteries don’t charge in conventional nickel-metal hydride (NiMh) chargers. In fact, they ignore incoming electrical current aimed at their terminals. These batteries charge only via the micro-USB port. And when plugged in, they offer a spectacular light show that clearly indicates with a green band that the battery has reached full charge.
What’s so great about lithium polymer? First of all, over 1,000 charging cycles. Estimates from Pale Blue suggest they will replace up to 4,000 alkaline batteries. They also bring higher voltage and improved voltage stability and current output when compared to NiMh. LiPo batteries use a polymer electrolyte instead of a liquid electrolyte. The technology also makes the batteries significantly lighter than their competitors in the same form factor.
LiPo batteries provide more consistent charge with a rapid decline but more power to the end of each cycle.
Lithium provides constant voltage throughout its discharge. This means it delivers consistent power to end of life. The downside? LiPo batteries drop below a useful charge without much notice. That may catch their owners off guard if they are used to the more gradual decline of NiMh or Alkalines. On the flip side, it means Blue Planet batteries provide more usable power over the course of each discharge cycle. The chart above from Blue Planets illustrates the varying discharge profiles of different battery types.
Requests for the next generation of Pale Blue batteries
The Kickstarter site states “more convenience” as a benefit. I found that claim slightly mixed. On the road, a multi-headed micro-USB (or even a single micro-USB in the case of carrying a single battery to support a Bose headset) is convenient. Add it to Vogue Duo charger port or other USB charger and you’re off. At home, however, I have a conventional charger that accommodates recharging 4 NiMh batteries at a time. It has a go-to place on my wall. Sure, I could easily put in a USB charger elsewhere, but the pale cable is short. A longer cable would be good. It’s a nit-pick, but something the company should consider.
It is easy enough to just think of Pale Blue batteries as just batteries. And they are. But Pale Blue could offer its products as a platform.
With the built-in USB port, Pale Blue could offer an alternative to traditional battery compartments, ones that included micro-USB ports in order to charge the batteries while they are in use. Unlike NiMh, Pale Blue batteries in their current incarnation don’t lend themselves to industrial packaging like wrapping batteries into multiunit cells.
These aren’t the only batteries with micro-USB ports, but they are one of the first LiPos in a standard form factor. Pale Blue should consider leading the industry to a shift in-unit charging paradigms.
As for packing, I applaud the plain-wrap brown cardboard the batteries arrived in, but with all of the concern for plastics, I would like to see at least a recycling symbol on the accompanying plastic storage boxes.
I’m looking forward to exploring these batteries in the field. So far they are charging my Apple Magic Mouse and a pair of Bose headphones. Neither has gone dead yet.
And Pale Blue has proven itself to the Kickstarter community, bringing in $245,418 (as of 9/7/2019) against a $9,966 goal. It has 3,468 backers and still a few days to go in the campaign.
According to the EPA, Americans “throw out billions of batteries” a year. And that’s the real bottom line. First Lead Acid (your car), then NiCd, NiMH, Li-ion and now LiPo. A steady evolution of rechargeable batteries that last longer, take less time to charge and perform better continuers to support our addiction to mobile technology.
The team at Pale Blue delivers well-made, attractive batteries that may well help transform the battery industry. The micro-USB charging approach brings the battery into the fray with all other devices, but it removes it from commonplace in-device charging. For Pale Blue or other alternatives to disrupt the existing market, OEMs will need to adopt new approaches to recharging batteries inside and outside of devices.
Pale Blue batteries are currently only available through the Kickstarter campaign.
Pale Blue provided AA and AAA batteries for this review.
All images courtesy of Pale Blue.