SkyRC MC3000 Analyzing, Programmable Charger Review

Preface
Official Specs
Versions
Short Review
Long Review
  Key Features
  Manual and Packaging
  What's Included
  Build Quality and Durability
  User Interface and Operation
  Connectivity
  Size
Conclusion
  What I like
  What I don't like
  Improvements I'd like
Up Next
Notes
(The above is a new section for the posts.  Let me know in the comments if it’s useful!)

Preface

The SkyRC MC3000 is a charger I’ve been asking GearBest to send for a long while.  They finally agreed, and here’s my review!  This charger is ridiculously capable.  I’ll say up front that I will not be testing every capability of this charger.  I might only just scratch the surface!  But I will try to give you an idea about the charger, and if it lives up to the claims that will be useful for a flashlight enthusiast.


Official Specs

It’s worth noting up front that this charger is kind of special.  First off, while it might not have started with this in mind, SkyRC has graciously listened to the input from many forum members (namely at CandlePowerForums, thread here.)  Those users have made the charger what is today, because SkyRC was willing to listen and further develop  firmware for the unit.  Development (and improvements) continue still!

Versions

There is one model number for this unit, but it’s quite iterative.  There are constant improvements, both in firmware and hardware, without a new naming scheme, or revision number (at least for the hardware). The unit I got from GearBest has firmware 1.13, and hardware ≥1.3 and I’m satisfied that it’s the newest hardware available.  As far as I can tell there’s no way to confirm before purchase which HW/FW you’re getting, except what any listing says.  That’s true not just for GearBest, but for anywhere this unit is purchased.  This could be frustrating, but note that the firmware is upgradeable, and the case is replaceable, too.

Short Review

I really love this charger.  It’s smarter than I am, and can do things all the things I need, and many things that I don’t even need.  It’s easy to use, versatile, and [I’d consider it] worth the cost!

Long Review

Key Features

● Bluetooth 4.0: Enables users to operate the charger and view the real time charging process via mobile App
● Universal Charger: Compatible with Lithium-ion, Eneloop, Ni-MH, Ni-Cd, Ni-Zn, LiFePO4, Lilo 4.35 batteries
● Accurate Analyzer: Not only displays real charge / discharge voltage, current, capacity, MC3000 can help you refresh analyze, count batteries’ cycles, check current, restart voltage, repair (break-in) batteries etc.
● Rich User Interface, Professional Programming: The entire charging process is all in your control by just 8 buttons. 30 user-defined profiles can be set
● PC Control: Except Bluetooth APP control, software control is enabled for users to operate charging process via PC link interface
● LED Screen: The integrated 128 x 64 pixels LCD panel displays charging parameters and progress during operation
● Foolproof Protections: Features current limit, capacity limit, temperature threshold, charging time limit to protect batteries
● AC adapter input voltage: AC 100-240V
● Firmware revision: FW 1.12 HW 1.4 (my FW is actually 1.13!)

Manual and Packaging

The package is a nicely printed, glossy [very large] flip top box.  The items are secured well inside the package.

 

 

The manual is really next-level.  As shipped, it has a blank cover for protection, and the manual itself is nice glossy paper, with diagrams and tons of information. (Seriously.  Tons of information.)  Honestly the manual is worth a read just for gems like this:

Charging batteries is usually a primitive, boring task. Can’t fool your friends, it still is.

and also

The fan is noisy. What are my options?
– No, the fan is not noisy.

and regarding the System Beep:

Lets the user turn off the annoying beep tones at system events, e.g. when a slot has finished a program.

Just really, a top quality (and enjoyable) manual.

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Regarding the manual from SkyRC:  Some (many?) users are displeased with the format and quality of the manual from SkyRC, and have taken to crowdsource editing of the manual.  For example, there are many abbreviations that, if not memorized, can make the manual confusing and frustrating.  And the text on the OEM manual is small.  Those people are right, and it’s a good effort that is improving this manual.

What’s Included

  • SkyRC MC3000 4 bay charger
  • Wall wart (15V, 4A)
  • Manual

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Build Quality and Durability

This is one of the more solid chargers I’ve handled.  It’s also one of the biggest 4-bay chargers I’ve handled.  There’s a (~30mm) fan built in, and feet that allow the fan (which exhausts on the bottom of the unit) space to exhaust.  The buttons all feel very solid, and the display is good too.  It’s not the most current or amazing (like the Xtars or Nitecores) but it’s informative and clear.  The buttons are a bit loud and clicky, so bear that in mind if you plan to use this charger in your bedroom while your wife is sleeping.  Word on the street is that’s not going to be a popular decision.

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The fan does have enough clearance to work even if you don’t have the ramp feet extended.

The four flat feet are rubber, but the two ramp feet are just plastic, with no rubber non-slip coating.  For the life of me I can’t figure out why these aren’t connected so that there’s just one thing to open…. not like you’d ever use them individually.  But there are two individual feet.

 

 

The sliders in each bay are very high quality too.  One thing I really like on this charger over most other chargers, is that he negative terminal (the moving terminal) is quite a bit taller than most cells I typically charge (18650/AA).  This means there’s room over the cell for me to push the slider down, and it’s less difficult to futz with.  (Pushing at the very top of these metal prongs does put a fair amount of torque on the metal – they’re thick enough that this hasn’t been a problem on my unit!)

 

 

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Power

First off, the SkyRC MC3000 uses a wall wart.  I derided a previous charger (the Folomov A4) for using a wall wart but was corrected to note that this is needed for high current devices like the A4 and the MC3000.  So it’s no longer listed as a fault.  Also the MC3000 ships with an applicable wall wart, at 15V, 4A.  This is a high quality wall wart.  This same wall wart works with the SkyRC B6 Mini (which I’ll be reviewing ….. eventually).

 

 

The cords are long too.  There’s maybe 10′ of cord total.

The barrel connector is on the top of the charger.  There’s a polarity diagram right there too, which is great, since the charger has a range of acceptable voltages, and can use more than just the stock power adapter.

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The manual is very specific about connecting this brick.  First connect the barrel plug into the MC3000.  Then connect the wall wart into the wall.  The design of a barrel plug is such that if plugged when powered, it can spark and short. That’s just the nature of a barrel plug (and also why you generally won’t want to use a barrel plug in your DIY electronics projects.)

To describe what type cells the MC3000 will charge, have a look at the tag line for the product:

The most advanced cylindrical cell charger on the market…

I actually really do not doubt that.  Have a look at the compatible chemistries:

Charging Cell Type: LiFePO4, Lithium Ion, Ni-MH (Eneloop), NiCd, NiZn, Lilo 4.35.

And the sizes that will fit:

10340, 10440, 10500, 12340, 12500, 12650, 13450, 13500, 14350, 14430, 14500, 14650, 16340, 16500, 16650, 17350, 17500, 17650, 17670, 18350, 18490, 18500, 18650, 18700, 20700, 21700, 22500, 22650, 25500, 26500, 32600, 32650, AA, AAA, AAAA, C, D, RCR123, Sub-C.

That’s a bunch of chemistries, and a bunch of cell sizes.  The vast cell sizes supported partly account for the size of the unit, of course.  Every bay of this will fit the largest supported size.  Ie one can charge four 26650 cells concurrently in this charger.

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I don’t even own four 26650 cells.

Other notes on Power:

Since SkyRC (the brand) is focused on RC cells and charging, I’d love to see a 2S-6S charge connection (even if it was some kind of breakout board).  They already have many other chargers to do this, and since the MC3000 is moderately expensive (ok “expensive”) for a cylindrical cell charger, it’d be nice to have this addition.  They already have inexpensive chargers which do this (SkyRC B6 Mini for example), so it’d be a great addition for those of us who are mainly interested in cylindrical cells, but might dabble in RC batteries too.

The MC3000 may be powered by the USB connection (labeled “PC Link”).  It will not, however, charge from this connection (reasonably so).  Also if you have the USB connection active without barrel-plug power, and connect the ~12V power, the unit will not switch over.  You’ll have to disconnect both and reconnect ~12V first, then PC link.

One nice thing about PC Link powering the unit is that a user can still build programs and manipulate the software, outside of using the unit for charging.  Minor thing, but nice.

One final thing about power.  “Power” is usually the section where I have some tests on charging.  There are so many options and possibilities on this charger that I ended up testing them but not in the “testing for the post” way.  Primary concern is whether the charger performs the charging routines in the “right” way (per chemistry).  Yes, it does.  And does it terminate at the proper voltage. Yes, it does.  This is also customizable – the user may set the terminal voltage.  The user may also set the voltage at which charging is restarted (if at all) (ie if one leaves a cell in the charger for an extended time, charging can start back automatically).  It’s because I’m not including any charge graphs that I’ll be ok with you saying that this is a preview not a review.  🙂  A nearly 4000 word preview.  But hey you do you…

USB Output

There is a single USB output on this device.  It’s defined as USB A-type, and rated for 2.1A at 5V out.  My power meter shows this to be accurate.  It provided up to 3.3A down to around 4.9V, where the USB out goes out of spec up to about 3.4A but with only 3.4ish volts.  (3.3A out of USB is pretty high, in case you just breezed over those sentences above.)

Note that the MC3000 is not a power bank.  This USB port is simply a passthrough for the wall connected unit.  The USB does not provide any power whatsoever from any cells that might be installed.

User Interface and Operation

As I’ve stated, the MC3000 is extremely versatile.  It can actually be as versatile as you choose, though.  There are three UI options; Dummy, Simple, and Advanced.  Those UI’s are exactly as logic would imply.  Dummy is essentially for users who wish to drop a cell in, and have the charger all the legwork.  Simple is an ill-defined mode between Dummy and Advanced, likely for users who think they know what they’re doing, but really don’t.  (Yours truly falls somewhere between the Dummy and Simple best-use category.)  Advanced UI “lets the user control every single technical parameter of the operation mode.”  Every single?  We’ll have to see about that!

The actual interaction with the MC3000 comes with these 8 buttons seen below.  Each bay has a button for selection that bay.  Each of those buttons has it’s own indicating LED, too, which is capable of both red and green.

Below the display are 4 more buttons.  These do various things throughout the menu.

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Here are a few shots of the screen in action:

 

 

More in depth information on each UI is below.  As stated off the top, this is not a comprehensive review of these UI’s, and just partly of the charger as a whole.  This should be enough to get you started, and then you should spend some time with the manual.  In truth I thought I’d breeze over Dummy and Simple, and focus fully on Advanced, but the reality is that I lean toward using the phone app or PC app.  Using that app, I can leave the unit in Dummy, which makes things very easy at the MC3000 level but very granular control via the apps.

Yes you read that right.  The unit may be in Dummy UI, and will still allow very granular control (well past the “Dummy” level) with the apps.  This is the best of both worlds.  Friendly for use with the buttons, but granular control with the apps (PC and phone).

One more cool thing about those four slot buttons:

Each slot number button can serve as memory button to quickly restore a most often used program.

Dummy

This UI is only for charging Li-ion and NiMH cells.  To charge a cell, just put it in any bay.  The chemistry will be selected automatically, and default charging conditions will be displayed.  Current may be changed – just select the desired bay (by pushing the corresponding bay button).  Then modify the current with the up/down select buttons (the middle two on the bottom).  When settings are correct, hold the Return button for the actions to start.

A problem I had initially with this charger was … making it do anything.  It’s a matter of learning the buttons.  If the bay indicating switches are flashing red/green, then the bay is not actively doing anything.  One must hold the Return key for activity to start.

The charger will BEEP (and I mean BEEP) when the cycle is complete.  This can be turned off in the settings.  And I recommend doing so.  Especially if you plan to use the charger in your bedroom.  And the first time you plant to use it is at night when your wife is asleep.  Go ahead and turn those beeps off.  I’m just saying.

Simple

Here’s basically everything the manual says about Simple mode:

Simple menu mode assumes reasonable fixed parameters for the options which are available in Advanced mode yet hidden in Simple mode.

I do hate to not elaborate on that more, but it is what it is.  Most users will probably find either Dummy or Advanced mode more appealing, or more likely, PC or App control.

Advanced

In Advanced mode, everything that one would normally use the App or PC connection for, maybe be controlled with the buttons on the unit itself.  Does it work? Yes.  Is it inconvenient to do things this way?  Very.

There are a few menu type things that must be changed through the MC3000 itself (and not the app).  The BEEP for example.  Which I’d advise to turn off.

Here’s a short video of how the buttons work and sound and so forth.  Just to give you some idea about the screen, and use of the buttons.

 

Connectivity

Before I go into the specifics, I’ll say that I had some trouble getting the MC3000 connected.  But I got it mostly sorted, and fortunately for you I can tell you how to prevent problems.  First and foremost, be aware that the MC3000 can’t have an active Bluetooth connection and PC connection simultaneously.  It won’t tell you that’s the problem, it’ll just throw some confusing annoying error (something something object not defined).  If turning off bluetooth (through the MC3000 menu) doesn’t fix the issue, connect a higher quality micro USB cable.

Another issue with the apps and PC link is that…. these programs are not just fully intuitive.  You’ll very likely need to play around with them some before they click for you.

On to the specifics.

Bluetooth

One great feature of the MC3000 is the bluetooth connection.  SkyRC has an app which allow phone (both Android and iOS) connection to the MC3000.  Here’s the Android App, and here’s the iOS app.  The MC3000 broadcasts it’s Bluetooth when the unit is powered, but the Bluetooth maybe turned off in the settings.  (Remember, “every single technical parameter”!!!)

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I forgot when I was photo-shooting but as you can see above, I’ve covered the blue Bluetooth indicator switch with some electrical tape.  The indicator is as bright as the BEEP is loud.  (I didn’t find a setting where by I could turn off the indicator light for the Bluetooth, when Bluetooth is enabled.  “Ever setting” indeed! 😛 ).

I used the Bluetooth app on both iOS and Android, and I found it to be useful, but probably not as useful as I wanted it to be.  I will say that connection was automatic, with nothing special to do.  When the unit is on with Bluetooth enabled, the app picks the charger up right away (this presumes of course that there are no security concerns, aka someone hijacking your charger).

The app allows one to view the settings of each bay individually, shows the progress of each bay individually, and to change the settings of any and all bays.  At first the app wasn’t clear to me.  Then when it was clear it was frustrating.  Then when I really understood it, it’s a fine app that does seem to do the needful things to use the charger.  Could it be improved? Sure.  But it does work.  Below are some screenshots of how the app looks on iOS, and general usage.

With one cell, in bay 2:

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Here’s where the list of programs can be.  There can be a total of 30 programs (both on the unit’s internal memory, and on the app itself.)  Programs can be just about anything you’d like and are bay specific.  You may set any program to any or all bays.  And they may be easily edited to change the bays (etc).

IMG_7540.PNG

It’s also possible to set up specific bays to default to certain programs and chemistries.  So slot 1 and 2 might be LiIon (always, with certain default settings) and 3 and 4 might be NiMH (with certain default settings), for example.

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Changing those settings above can be tedious, since there’s no scrolling (for the numbers) and many are single digit changes (some aren’t, and change in increments of 5 or 10 or something sensible).  The chemistry and mode are scrolls, however:

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When a program is clicked, there’s the option to Start, Edit, or Cancel.  “Start” sends the program to the device.  “Edit” will move to the program editing screen.

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Editing, as seen earlier, but now with all 4 bays selected:

IMG_7544.PNG

 

 

And finally the details page after a little time, with an actual graph of the activity.  Not the best, since it was a small cell and almost immediately went to full charge.  These graphs were neat, but I really didn’t find them useful at all.  The graphs we’ll see later on the PC Link, on the other hand, were great.

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PC Link

Another connectivity option is connecting directly to a PC.  There’s a micro-USB port on the side of the device, which can be connected to a PC.  There is software available to load on the PC, which allows a whole separate set of options for data collection from the device.  You may find the software here on SkyRC’s page.

I say specifically more options for “data collection” because a user can still have full control of the device without the need for a PC connection.  But the PC connection allows [easier logging of, and] charting of charging histories, and things like that.

The charger may also be controlled via the PC software.  Unfortunately this software is PC only, and I was not able to get it working in VM on a Mac, and my only at-home PC has such old software that it had the wrong Net framework…..

Once I figured out the trick of turning the Bluetooth off completely, I had little trouble connecting.

The MC3000 Monitor V1.03 Software has two main screens, seen below:

 

 

At left is the main (landing) screen.  At right is the bay programming screen.  These are selected by tabs at the top.

The software has many pre-programmed options.  Below are the programmed options for Li-ion, for example:

 

 

There are a bunch of pre-programmed NiMH options too:

 

 

If a certain Operation Mode isn’t available for a certain chemistry, the option will simply not be selectable.

Note that there’s a completely different category for Eneloop cells specifically.  These settings are the same as for NiMH, but I believe the presumption is that Eneloops are going to necessarily be higher quality than generic NiMH cells, and so the End Voltage for Eneloops is 0.9V instead of 1.0V as with NiMH.  Otherwise the modes seem to be the same.

This is just a sampling of the options with the PC Link.  Basically everything applicable in any of those modes may be changed.

Once the parameters have been set as desired, one clicks “ok” and is presented with the following screen:

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In that photo my charger isn’t connected.  If it was, I’d have the option to “Send to device”, and a popover that says “are you sure?” or something like that.  Affirm your choice, and you’ll go back to the main screen.  Activity has not begun, however.  Thus far all we’ve done is tell the MC3000 what we want to do.  Back on the main screen, we must click the “Start” button (top right area).  And at this point the indicating LEDs on the bays are still flashing red/green.

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This will start the activity.

Til now the graphs seen above have done nothing.  Once we click start, the graphing starts immediately.

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The graph will autoscale.  When complete (or at any time, I suppose) the “Save” button may be clicked.  A .bmp will be saved like the screen shot above, and also a .csv file will be saved to the directory of the software installation.

You’ll note there are four data options for each bay:  Voltage, Current, Capacity, and Temperature.  You don’t need to check every option from the start; all the data is always collected (for an active bay).  So you may feel free to check and uncheck these at will, and know that the full data will be there if and when you decide to include one of the data fields.  Same with data export (to .csv).  All the data for all the possible fields are included in the .csv, for any bay that was active during that time.

More on PC Link

There’s one more option for connecting to this charger.  That’s Data Explorer (aka “DEX”).  This software is somewhat renown, and very robust.  It’ll graph anything the MC3000 monitors (as far as I can tell).  Much more than the SkyRC software, indeed.  As far as I can tell, however, the MC3000 may not be controlled with this software.  That’s fine, it’s no problem. Just set your programs and start DEX, then start the charger manually to capture all the data.  A sampling of its capabilities may be seen by these screenshots.

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Both softwares are free; try them both!  The ability to customize the graphs with DEX will be great for anyone wanting to use the output from this charger for blog posts or whatever.

Size

Officially the MC3000 is 200mm x 124mm x 69mm.  Make no mistake, this charger is large for a 4 bay charger.  I feel like it wears its size well though – it seems big, yes, but not too big.  The space it takes on a desk is not too much more than regular (or “smaller”) 4 bay chargers.

 

 

Conclusion

What I like

  • Multi-chemistry support
  • 50W – that’s pretty fantastic!
  • Dummy mode is friendly and useful, but still better than most “regular” chargers
  • Bluetooth connected app is good
  • PC software makes this charger easy to use!
  • PC software is very robust (and continually improving)
  • Very nice power adapter (15V 4A)
  • Large userbase of very dedicated users who both improve the software, and help users with it.

What I don’t like

  • Learning curve is fairly steep
  • Fan is not variable speed, and moderately loud when on. (But the temperature at which it comes on may be controlled!)

Improvements I’d love

  • An actual powerbank feature wouldn’t hurt anything in my opinion
  • 2S-6S balance charging would be a nice addition.
  • I’d love to see an updated screen on this unit (Like what’s on the Nitecore SC4).

Up Next

Probably going to have an item or two that are ‘blog-only’ (a backpack, a rc car, etc…) just not sure yet when they’ll wrap up.  I have some Olights too, and a completely new-to-me brand that I’m working on.  Look forward to those!

Notes:

  • This item was provided by GearBest for review.  I was not paid to write this review.
  • This content originally appeared at zeroair.wordpress.com. Have a look there for the best experience!
  • Whether or not I have a coupon for this charger, I do have a bunch of coupons!!  Have a look at my spreadsheet for those coupons.  Note I’ve upgraded that sheet so that now, you may subscribe and get notifications when the sheet is edited!!

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