Battery chargers have been around since the first automotive batteries. This ubiquitous garage appliance doesnt get a lot of thought, and most purchases of battery chargers happen in the sordid aftermath of neglect that often leads to the selection of a dubious charger based on price alone. If the end result is the sound of an engine coming to life, who cares, right? Related story: Charging System Tools for Your Ride It could be just that simple for some folks, but for those who love their cars a bit more, some added granularity in the selection process may be in order. To that end, the Digital 1200 12V Performance Charger by Optima (street price, $199.99) takes the art of battery charging into a whole nuther universe. Weve reviewed some nice performance battery chargersincluding the Autometer BEX-5000, $74.99; and Harbor Freight Viking No. 1689, $36.99 (you can see those reviews here )but the Optima Digital 1200s features (and its price) are in a different league. Is it worth the extra cash? Lets take a look. First, we need to clear up a common misconception that Optima batteries need a special charger. For reasons well get into later, absorbed glass mat batteries like the Optima do not need a special chargerany charger will dobut their charging time will be optimized by a special unit like the one seen here. Do You Really Need a $200 Charger? Maybe. --> While other battery manufacturers also offer charging devices for their flooded and non-flooded batteries, these are often rebranded units that serve more of a PR function or play more of an add-on sales role than anything else. In spite of the Optima Digital 1200s movie-star good looks and strong resemblance to the companys red-top spiral-cell batteries, this unit goes far beyond basic functioning as a charger and can work on any type of automotive or deep-cycle battery. To understand why the Digital 1200 is better equipped for AGM types, we have to look at the design of the Optima battery itself. As a spiral-wound absorbed glass mat battery, the Optima cell uses a solid electrolyte rather than the normal flooded cell. Among the advantages of an absorbed glass mat (AGM) cell is its ability to be charged at a faster rate relative to flooded batteries, which suffer from sulfation when charged at the same higher rate. This is a fancy way of saying Optima batteries (and other AGMs) can take a faster charge without suffering damage, but only from a charger that can manage and administer it. So while your ordinary charger can charge an AGM battery just fine, you could still be wasting time. What Optima customers needed was a charger with more oomph when time matters, and the Digital 1200 delivers that. The Gold Standard of Chargers Positioning yourself as a top brand in a highly contested market has its own set of challenges, so the decision to design and build a battery charger wasnt taken lightly. To that end, the Optima Digital 1200 has a comprehensive battery pre-check function. With the unit attached to the battery and plugged into an AC outlet, the Digital 1200 automatically goes through a test sequence to check the batterys health. If your battery cant take much of a charge and is near its end, youll know itversus having to guess if theres a problem with your charging system, or even worse, pulling your battery out and dragging it to the auto parts store to be tested. While the chargers diagnostic buttons are on the right side of the unit, the charging buttons are on the left side and include different settings for flooded batteries, AGM batteries, and even smaller batteries for your toys like quad runners and motorcycles. Even deep cycle batterieswhich have a much different charging profileare supported. Connect the clamps and select the proper battery, and the Digital 1200 does the rest. One of my biggest peeves with battery chargers is the lack of a charge indicator. Most folks will immediately recognize the fuel tank gauge in the center of the Digital 1200, even though no other charger weve seen has it. Big kudos to Optima for adding something that should be obvious. Just below the charge status are smaller windows for battery voltage and charging current that are commonly found on other units. Built into the back of the unit is a clamshell hatch that stores the clamp cables, and another set of pigtails that can be permanently attached to your battery. If you choose, you may use the Digital 1200 as a full-time maintenance charger, leaving it plugged in all the time. This is especially nice for seldom-used vintage cars that frequently suffer from rundown batteries. The Digital 1200 can monitor, maintain, and to some degree restore a battery indefinitely, keeping it ready for the moment an owner wants his classic to stand at attention. Unlike other chargers, the Optima will not overcharge or damage your battery, no matter what kind it is, just as long as youve selected the right type of battery on the control panel. The Digital 1200s features are designed for the discriminating user or the vintage collector, and its nearly $200 price tag will likely be worth the price of admission. On the side of the Digital 1200 is a pair of charging ports, one for the previously mentioned low-amperage maintenance cables and one for USB charging. We did a bit of a double-take on this, as there is no actual battery inside the Digital 1200 (it must be plugged into 120V AC), but should you need an auxiliary USB charging source for some reason (youll already be plugged into an AC outlet), its there if you need one. The Digital 1200 has a robust housing with a solid heft. Our overall impression is one of high quality, with a carrying handle so tough, itll survive the apocalypse. We really dig the Apple-like high-minded design flavor and beefcake construction; a built-in backlight for the display panel even keeps you informed when theres no available light. Our only gripes with the Digital 1200 is the lack of a 6V or 16V settingmany vintage cars and modern race cars have charging systems that operate at those voltages. Also, it wouldnt hurt at this price to have an internal lithium jumper battery in the 20,000mAh range for remote boosts (when no AC outlet is available) or for powering the plethora of modern devices in the pit area. The post Do Optima Batteries Need a Special Charger? No, But You Might Want This One! appeared first on Hot Rod Network .