* Prices may differ from that shown
[NB: A couple of the sub-ratings for this amused me. "Battery life", eh? For a battery charger. Hey ho.]
Not so very many years ago, rechargeable batteries had quite a few niggles. There was the "memory effect", whereby cells that hadn't been fully discharged would gradually reduce in full capacity. There was the environmental concern when it came to cadmium. There was the price, though that one's still relevant to some extent. But one of the most annoying drawbacks was the hours and hours a standard charger would take to recharge a set of (usually) AAs, thus making last-minute charging the morning before an outing impossible.
** This charger **
Happily those days are largely gone, and in the modern world of high-capacity NiMH batteries, one-hour (or even faster) chargers are now easily obtainable for a reasonable price. This particular model, although perhaps getting a bit advanced in years nowadays, can still cut the mustard for me. The brand didn't hurt when it came to making a choice: Maplin is a name I've generally had good experiences with, and for the most part stuff I've bought from that company has been both sturdy and reliable.
It's not the sleekest thing to look at, even by the standards of battery chargers: a silver-and-blue lump with the Maplin logo and the slightly cheapo-sounding slogan "Super Quick Charger" on the top. There's space for four batteries to be charged at once (the unit will take both AA and AAA cells, though not both types at once) and two indicators for each one. Below each battery slot is a light which glows red while charging and green when this is complete, while up top is small LCD panel giving the status of each individual cell in a mobile-phone-like "bars" display.
** In use **
Chargers are devices that, in general, you don't want to have to learn how to use: they should just work, in as obvious a manner as possible. Here the Maplin unit earns its keep perfectly well. It really is just a matter of clicking in the batteries (after folding down a plastic tab if charging AAAs), plugging in the mains lead, and letting it do its stuff. The "1 Hour" claim seems quite reasonable - I tested with Maplin's own 2500 mAh AA cells, by the way - and as with all modern chargers there's no danger of overloading the batteries.
Although this unit is nowhere near as noisy as some older fast chargers (I've heard ones which sound as though they're about to take off!) it's not completely silent: there's a quiet but steady clicking about every second. This can be annoying if you're charging the batteries in a room where you're working and would prefer a quiet environment, but for the most part it's not bothersome. The lights are pretty bright, and show up clearly even in sunny rooms, though that does mean that you might not want to leave the charger running in a dark one.
The Maplin unit has a small blue "discharging" button above the lower lights, which (surprising as it may seem) activates the discharging function; the lights flash if this is happening. This is probably only of interest if you still use old-fashioned NiCd batteries, which need to be discharged before recharging to avoid the "memory effect" mentioned above. Although NiMH batteries do gradually lose their effectiveness (after about 500-1000 charge cycles) I doubt many people spend the time doing full discharges. I don't, and I don't feel particularly wasteful!
** Buying and verdict **
At the time of writing, the Maplin website showed this model as out of stock, but it can normally be purchased for £32.99. That may seem a little bit expensive by modern standards, but you do get a four-pack of 2400-mAh AA batteries bundled with it, which would cost around £12.99 on their own. It's reliable and well built, if not quite living up to Maplin's claim of "elegant", and it's done sterling duty for me over a couple of years now; I use it all the time for my digital cameras' batteries, for example. Although it's hard to get excited about a battery charger, this one should do you a good job.