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Lithium vs Supercapacitors vs. Dedicated Batteries

In our decade-long experience of carrying dash cams, we have witnessed how dash cam technology has advanced at such a rapid pace. From VGA to 4K, built-in memory to Cloud storage and more, the level of resolution and features has skyrocketed.

Many of us are eager to upgrade in order to gain access to these features, but looking at the hardware of the dash cam, there's a major factor here that’s worth considering: should you get a dash cam with a lithium ion battery, or a supercapacitor?

Here at BlackboxMyCar, nearly all our dash cams - from VIOFO, BlackVue, Thinkware, and FineVu - are powered by supercapacitors. We think having one instead of a lithium-ion battery is a non-negotiable used in other brands such as Nextbase, Nexar, and Garmin.

In this article, we will take a look at the differences between a lithium battery and a supercapacitor - the pros and cons of each battery, how it affects the performance of the dash cam, and why we at BlackboxMyCar stand by Super Capacitor dash cams as the way forward.

General Overview:

Pros and Cons of a Lithium Ion Battery

✅ If you forget to switch off your dash cam, you won't have to worry about your car battery being drained

✅ Less expensive than supercapacitors

❌ Takes longer to begin recording since the battery must be charged first

❌ Will eventually fail and will need to be recharged or replaced

❌ Not safe for cold and hotter climates, sometimes overheating and exploding

❌Slower charging and discharging rates, especially when power is cut

Pros and Cons of a Supercapacitor

✅ Can assist your dash cam maintain a more consistent voltage

✅ Safe for regions where temperatures are high, keeps it from overheating or freezing

✅ Longevity, providing a more stable power source over a longer life-span

✅ No chance of the battery dying and missing a crucial event because it can record for extended periods of time without running out of power

✅Rapid charging and higher safety when power is cut

❌ To power when the vehicle is off, must be hardwired into the vehicle's electrical system, which adds time and effort to the installation process.

❌ Pricier than battery-powered dash cams

Pros and Cons of a dedicated Battery Pack

✅ Avoids any Wear & Tear on your vehicle battery
✅ Offers much longer parking mode than off a vehicle battery
✅ Precise parking mode length information through dedicated bluetooth app.
❌ Large physical size that must be hidden, normally under the seat
❌ Expensive

What’s the point of having a lithium ion battery and a supercapacitor on your dash cam?

Before we dive deep on this debate, let's set the bar for dash cam batteries straight.

Primarily, a dash cam battery is not intended to power the device like a smartphone, digital camera, or other electronic device. Most batteries are designed to deliver just enough power to the device when the car is shut off and ceases powering the dash cam. But to get full potential, a dash cam needs that extra bit of electricity to effectively shut down and complete functions such as saving your video footage.

Now, dash cams are utilized with the car's electric port (also known as the cigarette lighter socket) since they require a constant supply of electricity. However, when you turn off the ignition, the power source is disconnected and the camera turns down. So what do we do?

Based on our experience, lithium-ion batteries are ubiquitous and can last 5 to 10 minutes on a full charge, which is sufficient to wake up and record an occurrence while your car is parked. A capacitor, on the other hand, does not store a charge and must be powered continuously. However, it does more wonders to your dash cam’s battery life.

While both have advantages and disadvantages, knowing which best meets your needs might improve your overall experience.

Lithium Batteries - How do they work?

Upon testing and knowing how these devices work, batteries and capacitors both create electricity, but in different ways, which limits their applicability to diverse applications.

A battery uses a positive terminal (cathode), a negative terminal (anode), and an electricity conducting material (electrolyte) to convert chemical energy into electrical energy. Rechargeable batteries can be recharged by using external electrical energy.

For dash cams, lithium-ion batteries work by electrochemically storing energy. When the lithium-ion battery is charged, power flows to a substance known as the high-energy anode compound. During this time, the energy-filled lithium ions flow from the high-energy anode to the low-energy cathode material via a separator. This process liberates energy, which is subsequently transferred to a circuit.  

This cycle of charging and discharging causes the chemical components in the battery to steadily degrade over time. As a result, lithium-ion batteries will eventually lose their ability to store energy and will have a reduced power density naturally over time. This results in shorter powering periods, in the exact same way that your iPhone’s battery doesn’t last as long after 2 years or so of use.

Why is a Lithium Ion battery Good?

If you’re going to ask us about why we would choose a lithium ion battery, the first thing we would say is the cost. Lithium ion batteries are well-known for being reasonably priced, making them popular among those who would not spend more money on dash cams.

In addition, dash cams with lithium ion batteries like Nextbase don't require many additional components to be securely incorporated into the gadget. In fact, when the battery dies, it can be replaced by opening up the unit and accessing the circuit board.

While the lithium ion can be a factor in the price, there are plenty of other factors that can lead to an increased price, as Nextbase cameras are overall still rather pricey. Generally using a Lithium Ion Battery is indicative of some corners being cut, and the life-span of the camera suffering because of it.

Why is a Lithium Ion battery Bad?

We have tested hundreds of dash cams in the market. In our opinion, there is no doubt that lithium-ion batteries deliver poor results when it comes to charging and discharging speeds. Even though the charge can last longer, it generally takes 10-60 minutes to charge it once – too time consuming! Lithium Ion batteries do not need to be fully charged as is the case with lead acid, nor is it desirable to do so. From dead, it will normally take a minute or 2 for the camera to boot up and begin operations. In fact, it is better not to fully charge because a high voltage stresses the battery. Lithium Ion batteries for consumer products go for maximum capacity and cannot be adjusted; extended service life is perceived less important.

Even when a Dash Cam with a Lithium Ion battery can operate in parking mode when the vehicle is turned off, without having a constant power source to feed off of, the effective coverage of that parking mode is severely reduced. The camera will either compromise the parameters of recording, such as only waking up and recording when the vehicle is impacted, or running for a drastically shorter period of time than would be provided off of a car battery, or other power source.

We also take durability in mind, and we have proven that because of charging and discharging, batteries are more prone to wear out. As a result, the battery life gets quickly depleted. Since batteries are substantially less expensive, they are more likely to create issues and may even harm your dash cam recorder.

More importantly, safety. Lithium batteries are unsafe for warmer temperatures and can also cause overheating, leakage, and possibly explosions of your dash cam. Moreover, when your dash cam’s battery is exposed to hot temperatures, its life-span will quickly be reduced.

If this happens, you don’t just lose your footage, but you also harm your car, and even yourself. You will also add cost as you might have to get another dash cam as a replacement - which defeats the essence of lithium batteries being cheaper.

Source: VAVA Community

Beyond that, in the event of a truly rough accident, it’s not unheard of for power to the dash cam to be cut . While Supercapacitors do jump to action in such an event, supplying their full charge cycle to retain and ensure that the most recent footage finishes writing to the SD card, the same is more difficult with supercapacitors. While they take longer to charge, they also take longer to begin discharging as well, with a delayed response in such an event. We’ve heard plenty of stories of footage being recorded before and after an accident from a Lithium Ion camera, but the accident itself is corrupted and no longer accessible.

Your dash cam is there to protect you, not to cause you more headaches.

Supercapacitors - How do they work?

Now, let’s move on to the more innovative solution - supercapacitors!

Supercapacitors boast a newer technology with several distinct advantages over regular lithium-ion batteries. In contrast to lithium-ion batteries, which store energy via chemical reactions, supercapacitors store energy as an electric charge.

Diving deeper, a supercapacitor is made up of conductive plates separated by an insulating barrier (dielectric). The dielectric prevents electrical current from exiting the capacitor, accumulating a charge that is stored between the plates. The quantity of charge that a capacitor can store is determined by its charge storage capacity. One more thing is they also charge faster than batteries!

When we compare supercapacitor dash cams like BlackVue, Thinkware, and VIOFO to lithium-ion batteries, capacitor batteries are built to resist severe temperatures. Because of the unique environment and extreme weather fluctuations that a dash cam is subjected to, these supercapacitor dash cams outperform lithium batteries.

We have also proven that supercapacitors are extremely safer to use. They do not contain highly flammable liquid combinations and so cannot explode. It also is more dependable, as they can cycle hundreds of thousands of times, whereas batteries fail after a few hundred of charging and discharging cycles.

Why is a Supercapacitor Good?

Aside from the safety, temperature and weather resistance of supercapacitors, they are also reliable in terms of usage. As we know, batteries are only useful if they are charged; some larger batteries might take up to an hour to fully charge. Capacitors, on the other hand, charge in seconds and are constantly ready especially when connected to the power supply.

Capacitors can be used effectively for dash cams in such a way that they can charge within seconds of being discharged. Again, it simply takes around 10 seconds to charge up for another cycle. Even though it discharges quickly, the great power density makes it a long-term winner.

Super capacitors are very quick to charge and discharge, so if power is suddenly lost to the dash cam, they are your best bet for ensuring that the camera takes its time to properly finish writing the footage of the accident to the camera. With other batteries, those couple seconds that it takes to activate and begin discharging can result in vital footage becoming corrupted.

Source: Dashcam Deal