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Revolectrix Cellpro PowerLab 6 Multichemistry Charger Review

Join Napo Monasterio, a self-described battery-safety freak, as he puts this new charger from FMA Direct through its paces of electron-pumping fun.

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Introduction

Self-evident truth: If youíre reading this on the E-Zone, you canít make it long without one of these.

For us electric pilots, replenishing the electron pool is part of our routine. Fly, charge, fly, charge, fly, fly, crash, fix, charge, fly, charge, charge, charge. Thatís how we e-flyers roll. And, if you want to do more flying and less waiting, more chargers is what you need.

CELLPRO POWERLAB6

Type:Multichemistry, parallel-charging balancing charger
Chemistries supported:LiPo (1-6S), Li-Ion(1-6S), Li-Mn(1-6S), A123(1-6S), NiCd (1-19S), NiMH (1-19S), lead-acid batteries (6-24V)
Output current:10mAh-40A
Maximum watts:1000W (with +30V input voltage)
Input voltage:10-32V
Input current:1-40A
Maxuimum number of packs it will charge simultaneously:Unlimited same-chemistry, same-cell-count.
Input connectors:EC5 connector, with optional alligator clips (sold separately)
Output connectors:Stackable banana plugs (sold separately with no output connector).
Balancing taps:Several available (sold separately) to accommodate Polyquest/ThunderPower, Great Planes/Kokam or CellPro taps.
LCD/input:Two-line, backlit LCD, four buttons
PC connectivity:Available via USB/PC interface (sold separately) and accompanying software (free download)
Size:5.70" x 5.57" x 3.40"
Designed by:FMA Direct
Manufactured by:Leo Industries
Available from:Revolectrix

There are all sorts of flavors of chargers ó single-pack, multiple-pack, small-pack, big-pack, LiPo, NiMH, you name it ó but if your hangar thrives on diversity, you need a tool that can offer equal diversity.

And so along comes the Cellpro PowerLab 6, the latest offering from FMA Direct. Modeled after its bigger sibling, the Cellpro PowerLab 8, it is touted as a can-charge-it-all, will-do-it-safely-while-at-it charger.

I have been a long-time user of the FMA family of products ó my first charger, which still gets plenty of use, was a Cellpro 4S ó so letís see how this electron-shoving machine compares and perform. Because spring is already here, and these LiPo cells need to be up to 4.2V pronto.

Contents

There are different packages of the PowerLab 6 for you to choose. All of them will include (you guessed it) a PowerLab 6, but different combos will include anything from extra balancing adapters to PC-connection cables or a second set of banana plugs.

FMA Direct sent me the all-of-the-above package, which includes the following:

The charger

The Cellpro 6S is a relatively small piece of hardware, when you consider the fact that you can charge multiple packs with it. Since it is fully enclosed, it features a large fan on the back to keep it running cool along the way. And when it comes to the interface, it takes a less-is-more approach, only having four buttons to control the screen. There is only one connection for the discharge leads and another for the balance adapter ó but thatís where the parallel magic comes into play.

The charger does not include alligator clips by standard, but they can be purchased separately. Instead, the input is in the form of an EC5 connector (a female version is included in order to create your own adapter). The wire is nothing to be sneered at, either: a hefty 10AWG cable.

The adapters

Itís all in the details, they say. And details abound for the adapter configuration. While one could use a set of parallel discharge leads to charge multiple packs, FMA direct has created stackable adapters that connect on a male-female configuration. This allows for flexibility as well as scalability.

The balance taps operate on a similar fashion as well, and they are connected one next to the other. They include a nice safety feature as well ó†a thermal tape that goes over some self-resetting thermal fuses, which will heat up should they detect issues with the battery (a short, for example). If the tape doesn't change colors, this tells the user allís well. If it changes color, however, you need to pay attention to the screen, or a batteryís health may be less than stellar.

Creative. Creative, I tell you.

The USB adapter

Weíve all got a bit of engineer tucked in deep within us, and if youíre into looking at graphs and keeping track of your lithium-polymer possessions, this is a nifty tool. By plugging the charger into your PC and using the free software (sorry, fellow Mac users, thereís no native OSX version of it), you can run all sorts of nifty analytics on it. It is also used for firmware updates.

The manual (or lack thereof)

Where are the instructions, you might wonder? Not in this box. Rather, they are right here, available for download. And for good reason, they are only online, all 83 pages of them. It's an extremely detailed piece of documentation, from a quick start to modifying settings and exporting graphs.

The feature set

If versatility is what youíre after, this might be a match made in electron heaven. This Cellpro offering has plenty of features to go around, and then some. Letís review some of them.

  • Charge: You can pump up to 1000W through the PowerLab 6, in varying rates from 10mAh (can you say micro?) to 40A (can you say giant-scale?). The maximum output voltage is 25.2V, meaning you can change up to a six-cell balanced (or two-cell unbalanced) LiPo, Li-Ion, Lithium Manganese, a six-cell A123 pack (or eight-cell unbalanced), a 19-cell NiCd or NiMH pack ó and even a 24V lead-acid battery.
  • You can charge packs in parallel, up to 1000W. You must remember, however, that you can only charge them as long as they are the same cell count and chemistry. At first, I was under the impression that the maximum number of packs you could charge was nine, and that they had to be of the same capacity. However, it turns out that you can charge as many as you want (obviously, the output maximum will be 1000W), and the capacity doesnít matter ó as long as you keep it to the lowest one of the bunch for obvious safety reasons.
  • Discharge: The discharge rate is up to 8 amps. One of the nifty features of this charger is that it uses what is called ďregenerative energy,Ē meaning that the juice you extract from your packs goes back into the input source, such as your lead-acid battery, and recharges your source battery as you discharge your LiPo or A123. Nifty... and green.
  • Input: You can hook up to a 32V power source to the PowerLab. You would need a power source capable of providing at least 40 amps to take full advantage of the charger's capabilities (such amperage is not required for smaller charger, however).
  • Software connectivity: The free (and optional) software developed by Cellpro allows you to perform all sorts of battery testing, maintenance and monitoring, while at the same time allows you to update the firmware. You connect it via a JST plug connected to a small logic board, and in turn that connects to the USB port on your computer.

Assembly

Assembly, you say? Yes, assembly. Or, rather, the lack thereof. Thereís nothing to do here other than add some connectors to your output leads (I opted for my trusty PowerPoles) and do the same for your input leads (I connected the EC5 adapter to some banana plugs via some 16AWG wire, though you might need something beefier than that depending on your needs).

For good measure, I made sure I was running the latest firmware (and I was). Once that was checked, I was ready for some down-home electron transfer.

Getting started, the easy way

You can get lost in a sea of customization ó and you soon will learn all about it ó but if all youíre looking for is opening the mailbox, grabbing the Cellpro package, popping the car hood open and start pumping that voltage through your packs, thatís more than doable. Hereís how the process went down for me (and, for the sake of acting like a rookie, I did this all without looking at the documentation):

  • Plug into power source and select your power source.
  • Plug battery/batteries, along with balance taps if desired.
  • Select the first stored charge mode (1C charge).
  • Specify whether packs are connected in parallel (and, if so, how many).
  • Choose whether to balance the pack(s).
  • Confirm.
  • Enjoy the show.

(Note: FMA Direct recommends that, if your power source is smaller than 25A, you might want to set the current limit on your charger in order to protect your power source ó otherwise, the PowerLab 6 might damage it.)

Yes, itís that simple. In most cases, itís a simple ďyes/yes/yes/yesĒ kind of process when it comes to confirming choices. And just like that, within less than a minute, I was on my way to charging a 3S 1700mAh pack.

When charging at 1C, I noticed the charger was a bit on the conservative side ó it never quite got over 1.25A on my 1700mAh pack. If you want to be more precise you can set your own charge rate. You can get quite granular with it, too ó from 10mAh to 1A, the steps are 10mAh apart, and then it moves to .25A per step after that and eventually increases exponentially again.

The first default configuration, which is the one most people will use most, charges a LiPo pack at 1C. That is followed by higher C-rating charges, slower and/or longer-life charges (only getting up to 4.1V per cell), non-balanced packs, discharge options, a similar array of A123 settings, and finally NiCd/NiMH and gel packs.

I often specify the charge rate/pack capacity, however, as that allows for faster charging. Remember, though, that if youíre planning on charging, say, an 1,800mAh pack, a 1200mAh, a 3700mAh and a 850mAh one, you should charge them all at 850mAh (or the maximum allowed for the lowest-capacity one).

Also along those lines, it might seem like you can only charge up to nine packs, based on the screen settings, but Cellpro instead says that those settings are just for math-setting only. If you want to charge 50 200mAh packs in parallel (wowza!), you would be charging at 10A, so just change the charge rate to 10A and youíll be good to go.

Finally, just like you can charge, you can discharge. The protocol for it is virtually identical ó and yes, you can discharge in parallel.

Safety first

Iíll go ahead and admit it: Iím a bit paranoid. OK, Iím quite paranoid. Actually, let's make that extremely paranoid and then some.

I take things quite seriously when it comes to charging my LiPos. Maybe Iíve seen one too many YouTube videos or read one too many horror stories of battery fires. Thus, I triple-check the connections and settings before I charge a pack. I store all my packs in firesafes. I charge all my packs in LiPo-Sacks. And no, I donít trust just any charger.

Did I trust the PowerLab 6, though? Mostly ó not enough to charge indoors, but close. It has plenty of built-in safety and then some. Letís review some of these:

  • The safety starts at the voltage-input level. This FMA charger has a polarity-reverse features that wonít allow it to operate unless itís properly connected to its power source.
  • Packs wonít charge unless theyíre properly connected to their charge leads and/or balance leads.
  • Before the Cellpro starts its charge sequence, it will ask you to confirm that you are, indeed, charging the battery you said you would be charging at the rate you specified.
  • Based on the internal resistance of the pack, the starting voltage or any other factor, the charger may decide at its own discretion to start a safety-charge sequence to give some TLC to a pack that may very well be damaged.
  • Being the balancing charger that it is, it will monitor each cell along the way. Unlike its little brother Cellpro 4, it does not charge the cells exclusively through the balance taps. Rather, it ensures that each cell is balanced compared to its neighbor.

So yes, all in all, the PowerLab 6 gives me peace of mind. Not enough to hook four batteries to it and go for a walk, but enough to make me feel like it will take care of my packs.

Getting funky

We have seen how you can start charging right out of the box, and we have also seen how you can safely charge with this FMA offering. But thereís more than cookie-cutter business in here, and at the Monasterio Electric Aerospace Institute and Crash Test Facility© (motto: "Electrons Rule, Yet Gravity Always Laughs Last"©), we like to experiment a little bit. Thus, it was time for some benchmark testings on the computer.

The install (you can download the software from here) was quick and went without a hitch. Once you launch it and hook up the USB interface ó note: pay attention to polarity on the servo-lead end, or else nothing will happen ó the program will come alive and all sorts of meaningful information will take over your screen.

What sorts of meaningful information, you might ask?

  • If youíre interested in modifying the charge presets, as I was, you will be presented with all the different settings currently loaded (all 25 of them). You can modify those, but you can also keep 50 more stored in the programís library, and thus can swap at will. The beauty of this is that you donít need to delete any presets right off the bat. Iím not into A123s, so for now those will go into my library and will then be replaced with custom ones I prepared. If I ever get into aircraft that would benefit from A123 cells, I can bring those back. Itís as simple as that.
  • If youíre interested in monitoring the charges real-time, which the inner geek/electrical-engineer-wannabe in me gets a kick out of, the Revolectrix Charge Control Software offers displays all the data thatís available on the charger screen right on your computer screen. Individual-cell data, charge rate, charge time, current voltage, internal resistance, you name it. Itís all there, and you can browse through it by switching the tabs. Moreover, you can check out the progress in a visual way, by checking out real-time graphs.
  • If you want to keep with the latest (and check the past), you can check for firmware updates and upgrade your charger from there. You can also view a error log, which would display any kind of errors that might have arisen through the chargerís history (say, exceeding the safe max charge voltage for a particular chemistry). Errors are also sent automatically to FMA's engineers to evaluate user behaviors.

All in all, this software is a great tool to add to your workbench repertoire ó and best of all, itís a free download (the USB interface will still cost you, however). Information is knowledge, and thereís an awful lot of it that can be parsed through this.

And if you wanted to get truly, truly funky with this charger, hereís an idea: You can create a network of chargers with it and confabulate a true charger farm ó†FMA calls this the Expansion Channel Mode. The array of Cellpros can be linked, both physically through tabs on the sides and electronically via servo leads, and you can charge way in style. (And, of course, you could monitor the Cellpro array through the Revolectrix software.)

Demo video

The following video offers a short demonstration of how the charging/discharging/monitoring process comes along. (Sorry, I tried to perform an inverted harrier with the Cellpro, but itís apparently not very capable of 3D flight.)

Downloads

Conclusion

Iím a sucker for gadgets ó blinking lights often amuse me, too ó so I often get just as excited over a new 2.4GHz radio or a faster servo or the latest monitoring tool. The Cellpro fed my inner geek to its full extent.

A WORD OF GRATITUDE

I would like to thank Revolectrix for providing the charger and the ancillary connectors for this review.

This charger is full of features, make no mistake. Precise monitoring, scalability, a wide array of chemistry support. At the end of the day, it came to these simple points, however:

Pros:

  • Safety first: There are myriad safeguards built in, and it makes it LiPo charging a less stressful affair. Common sense should always prevail, but the thorough mechanisms put in place are most welcome.
  • No limit to packs you can charge: If you have 13 (or 130) 3S packs of different capacities and you want to hook them up in parallel, you can now do so safely. That is (despite the up-front costs of 13 leads) quite amazing ó and, at the end of the day, a lot cheaper and lighter than 13 (or 130) chargers.
  • A solid, easy-to-navigate user interface. On top of that, there are plenty of customizations available through the PC interface.

Cons:

  • Because itís a one-lead approach to voltage output, you can only charge packs with the same number of cells and chemistries. This is just the nature of the beast, but this means this charger may not be for those who fly a variety of aircraft and want to charge wildly different packs on the go. When connecting PowerLabs together, you can do so ó†but not with a single charger. (Cellpro, however, does offer dual-charging alternatives, however).
Last edited by Spackles94; May 13, 2012 at 09:10 PM..

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Old May 14, 2012, 04:34 PM
We shall serve the Lord
kingsflyer's Avatar
United States, TX, Kingsland
Joined Sep 2005
4,943 Posts
Very nice review. The Cellpro6 looks very versatile indeed.

With the various setpoints available through the programming, can you set a specific "Storage Voltage" (i.e. 3.75 volts vs 3.85 volts) and is a storage discharge program part of the initial programming that comes with the unit?

When I get a new Lipo pack, I like to give it a few easy charge/discharge cycles before I hit it with a full 40C discharge flight in my EDF planes. Can I program the Cellpro6 to perform multiple charge/discharge cycles?

McD
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Old May 14, 2012, 04:41 PM
President, FMA, Inc.
Tim Marks's Avatar
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kingsflyer View Post
Very nice review. The Cellpro6 looks very versatile indeed.

With the various setpoints available through the programming, can you set a specific "Storage Voltage" (i.e. 3.75 volts vs 3.85 volts) and is a storage discharge program part of the initial programming that comes with the unit?

When I get a new Lipo pack, I like to give it a few easy charge/discharge cycles before I hit it with a full 40C discharge flight in my EDF planes. Can I program the Cellpro6 to perform multiple charge/discharge cycles?

McD
Hello:

The answer to all of your questions is "yes". All of the basic tasks you describe can be done either at the PowerLab 6 user interface, or via the free Charge Control Software.

Tim Marks
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Old May 14, 2012, 06:08 PM
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United States, MO, Springfield
Joined Jul 2010
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this is my next upgrade with a nice 1200w 24v psu to drive it i can charge 6x 6S 3000mAh packs at just over 2C
or 2 packs at 4C
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Old May 14, 2012, 10:33 PM
We shall serve the Lord
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United States, TX, Kingsland
Joined Sep 2005
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tim Marks View Post
The answer to all of your questions is "yes". All of the basic tasks you describe can be done either at the PowerLab 6 user interface, or via the free Charge Control Software.
Tim Marks
Thanks Tim. The Cellpro6 is going to be my next new charger.
McD
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Old May 15, 2012, 02:58 AM
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id say this is the best charger on the market atm along with its big brother the power lab 8
if you have a HV set up 10 to 12 cells this is THE charger to have if your running a 14S setup or run 8S lipos get the powerlap 8 same charger just can charge up to 8S packs

iirc you can link up 4 of them up and run all 4 off the interface on the master as well you would have have crazy setup to need that many of these things but hey you can do it
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Old May 15, 2012, 07:16 AM
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Greenland
Joined Mar 2012
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You should mention the MPA board, the best parallel charging device/fitting on the market! And, using two or more PL-6 or PL-8 chargers, together, does allow concurrent charge of differing cell numbers: I use 2 PL-8's, configured as a primary and expansion, charging 6 3 cell and 6 2 cell batteries, with MPA boards. I'm ready to go flying for several hours in about 20 minutes!
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Old May 15, 2012, 07:50 AM
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Spackles94's Avatar
Birmingham, Alabama
Joined Feb 2007
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kingsflyer View Post
Very nice review. The Cellpro6 looks very versatile indeed.

With the various setpoints available through the programming, can you set a specific "Storage Voltage" (i.e. 3.75 volts vs 3.85 volts) and is a storage discharge program part of the initial programming that comes with the unit?

When I get a new Lipo pack, I like to give it a few easy charge/discharge cycles before I hit it with a full 40C discharge flight in my EDF planes. Can I program the Cellpro6 to perform multiple charge/discharge cycles?

McD
Thanks Mike!

Yes, the fact that discharge cycles are part of the initial configuration is nice. And you can also set up recurring cycles.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Elios000 View Post
this is my next upgrade with a nice 1200w 24v psu to drive it i can charge 6x 6S 3000mAh packs at just over 2C
or 2 packs at 4C
That'll be a mammoth setup for sure. I like! Post pictures!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Elios000 View Post
id say this is the best charger on the market atm along with its big brother the power lab 8
if you have a HV set up 10 to 12 cells this is THE charger to have if your running a 14S setup or run 8S lipos get the powerlap 8 same charger just can charge up to 8S packs

iirc you can link up 4 of them up and run all 4 off the interface on the master as well you would have have crazy setup to need that many of these things but hey you can do it
Yeah, the scalability is nice. Especially good for giant-scale folks.

Quote:
Originally Posted by JohnathanSwift View Post
You should mention the MPA board, the best parallel charging device/fitting on the market! And, using two or more PL-6 or PL-8 chargers, together, does allow concurrent charge of differing cell numbers: I use 2 PL-8's, configured as a primary and expansion, charging 6 3 cell and 6 2 cell batteries, with MPA boards. I'm ready to go flying for several hours in about 20 minutes!
Good point! Here's the link to it. I need to get me one of those. Certainly helps you charge everything safely ó and with as few wires as possible!

Time is money ó†so is looks like you're being a big saver!
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Old May 15, 2012, 10:59 AM
President, FMA, Inc.
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Joined Mar 2008
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Elios000 View Post
id say this is the best charger on the market atm along with its big brother the power lab 8
if you have a HV set up 10 to 12 cells this is THE charger to have if your running a 14S setup or run 8S lipos get the powerlap 8 same charger just can charge up to 8S packs

iirc you can link up 4 of them up and run all 4 off the interface on the master as well you would have have crazy setup to need that many of these things but hey you can do it
Hi:

Actually, you can link up to 16 total PL's in Expansion Channel Mode; 1 Primary, and up to 15 Expansion Channels. Now THAT would be a crazy setup!

Tim Marks
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Old May 15, 2012, 11:57 AM
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United States, NJ, Hillsborough Township
Joined Sep 2011
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Love my PL6 and my MPA!

Wish I had known about the polyfuses on the balance taps, they don't show on the website in the picture. Needed to buy a balance tap board like this last week to be able to properly feed a 6x parallel adapter to charge many Beast batteries at once.

May have to get one, the polyfuses (and the general level of fusing and protection overall) are awesome protection against brainfarts.
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Old May 15, 2012, 10:31 PM
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Great, readable review! Once more, though the Mac seems not to exist for model aircraft world. Is it a political thing... or do engineers only use the PC?
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Old May 16, 2012, 01:42 AM
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Windows offers more and easier programing tools
see .net and C#
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Old May 16, 2012, 08:23 PM
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Joined Feb 2007
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tim Marks View Post
Hi:

Actually, you can link up to 16 total PL's in Expansion Channel Mode; 1 Primary, and up to 15 Expansion Channels. Now THAT would be a crazy setup!

Tim Marks
Yes, it would!

I dare you, Tim! Post a photo!

Quote:
Originally Posted by gregory smith View Post
Great, readable review! Once more, though the Mac seems not to exist for model aircraft world. Is it a political thing... or do engineers only use the PC?
Thanks!

It's mostly a matter of market share as well development frameworks. Then again, the web has leveraged that field (webapps).

Quote:
Originally Posted by Elios000 View Post
Windows offers more and easier programing tools
see .net and C#
Yup. I'm a developer myself, and C# is my main arsenal for web and console applications. For all its shortcomings, Microsoft has made it quite advantageous and relatively bulletproof to develop in .NET with Visual Studio.

But that's another topic...
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Old May 16, 2012, 10:54 PM
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know what would be cool an Android and iOS ap for it hint hint FMA
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Old May 17, 2012, 09:11 PM
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Birmingham, Alabama
Joined Feb 2007
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Elios000 View Post
know what would be cool an Android and iOS ap for it hint hint FMA
Heh. Now someone's talking. Which also makes me wonder... who's going to be the first person to splice an iPhone cable so you can charge it in parallel? It's just a 1S after all...
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