Ah yes... blue, my favourite colour. There's no denying that this little blue box is a pretty piece of kit. Beautifully encased in anodised metal and sporting a lovely matching blue LCD display, it wouldn't look out of place in the very smartest of workshops or living rooms.
Of course, for electric flight enthusiasts a charger such as this is an indispensible piece of kit; but there's also increasing interest amidst the 'oily' side of aeromodelling with many i.c. flyers beginning to appreciate the safety benefits that a good charger / conditioner can offer. Gone are the days when every model had a 500mAh pack powering the Rx and servos. Our now commonplace 1500mAh Rx packs deserve a little more care, and it is to chargers such as this that flyers are now turning, whatever models they campaign.
The 601AD is available from Al's Hobbies, and at £69.99 it's a well priced, mid-range unit. It can be powered either directly from a 12V battery or via a 240V mains transformer, which at £19.99 is probably worth the additional outlay... I've lost count of the number of times my 12V source battery has died during charging!
The 601's layout does seem to resemble other charging units on the market, but no matter; first impressions are very good. Many chargers leave the purchaser to make up his own charging leads, but the 601 is supplied with a number of prepared examples. As such, you’ll find connectors for the small orange BEC-type plugs, your glow starter, Futaba-style Rx packs, and lead acid batteries; users will, of course, need to make up leads to match the connectors of their various electric flight power packs. On the case you’ll also find a set of output terminals for industry standard 6mm (banana type) jacks.
Connection to a power source imediately activates the unit. Initial screen options include a number of general user preference choices such as source voltage cut-off trigger, display brightness, safety timer and temperature cut-off. These are fine, but the manual could sometimes be more helpful in allowing informed decisions to be made. For instance temperature cut-off can be adjusted from between 20 - 80°, but what temperature level should generally be applied? The unit defaults to 80° so I left it at this setting.
In the time honoured tradition of accurate and fair assessment I ditched the manual and dived straight in by attempting to charge a small NiCad pack, just to see how friendly the 601 can be.
UP & RUNNING
Getting the unit up and running is pretty easy; one button scrolls menus and another inputs a selection, then it's simply a case of adjusting parameters using the 'dec' and 'inc' buttons. Hold the start button for three seconds and away it goes. I usually like to set things for 'auto' and let the charger do the thinking.
The charging display is very bright and very blue... a lovely ambient glow. The information displayed is what you'd expect from a good charger and shows the battery type, voltage, charge administered, time elapsed and charging rate in amps. A high pitch whistle lets the user know when charging is complete.
Many electric flyers are 100% Li-Po users these days so the 601's performance with this type of cell is critical. Again, it's pretty simple to use here. First select the charging rate and then confirm the voltage (number of cells) before commencing the charge. It's difficult to go wrong, although again the manual could be a little more explicit with regard to the charging rates that need to be employed.
In places the manual doesn't translate very well but it generally manages to convey what to do in a reasonable fashion. It would have been nice to see some sections on general battery / cell care and the charging rationale behind different cell types, plus some help with the temperature probe.
Although the unit has some cooling fins discreetly built into the case there's no cooling fan, so there's a fair amount of heat build-up during charging, and a good deal more when discharging.
The 601 ships with a USB lead and has a connector outlet near the power input leads. A computer link-up sounds promising and a CD is also supplied. Regrettably, I can't report on this aspect of the unit as I was unable to load the software; certainly the CD doesn't self-load, and exploring the files on offer didn't bring success.
The 601 left me a little puzzled. It's well built, attractive and well priced with a lot of features (and that lovely blue screen, of course!) However it's a little shy and reluctant to share the knowledge required to use its capabilities to the full. Sure it'll charge and cycle all types of cell with ease, but the inclusion of a temperature probe and CD without instructions on how to use either feature left me feeling like I'd been stood up on a date.
Still I guess only a tiny fraction of users will ever need these items, so for the majority that probably won't need them (like me) the most important thing about this little box of tricks is that it performs its core tasks perfectly well. All in all, an item that’s well worth considering for all your battery care requirements.