Tech Review: OPTIMA’s Digital 1200 12-Volt Charger

Chances are if you have a battery charger in your garage that it bears a very strong resemblance to the one your dad or even your grandfather used. That’s due in large part to the fact that other than the addition of microprocessors (in some models), little has changed in the world of battery chargers in the last twenty to thirty years.

With this being the case, many chargers on the market today simply aren’t up to the task of charging all batteries properly. Others may charge the battery, but lack safety features to prevent overcharging or proper battery maintenance.

The result of three years of development and numerous years of customer input, the OPTIMA Chargers Digital 1200 12volt Battery Charger went on sale this spring following its debut at the 2011 SEMA Show.

After years of customer feedback and with its parent company, Johnson Controls — a worldwide leader in battery manufacturing — OPTIMA Batteries developed a revolutionary new charger that’s targeted both at customers who already own an Optima battery and those who still own a basic flooded automotive or motorcycle battery. “The project team included not just OPTIMA personnel, but some of the best minds from Johnson Controls Power Solutions organization,” says Daryl Brockman, engineer and product developer at OPTIMA .

The OPTIMA Chargers Digital 1200 12-volt Performance Battery Charger made its world debut at the 2011 SEMA Show in Las Vegas, NV and went on sale this spring nationwide. “It was decided that the best course of action was to develop a charger of our own,” Brockman says.


The rear storage compartment has room for all the needed cables.

Advanced electronics and algorithms developed by the design team have given this charger a high level of safety, along with making it very easy to use. The design team incorporated many features that make the Digital 1200 stand out in a crowded marketplace, just like the company’s batteries.

Modeled to look similar to the company’s famous batteries, the charger almost appears to look like a new high tech version of one — just one of the many features that make it different from the competition. On the top there is a ratcheting carrying handle making moving the unit around the shop much easier.

In the rear there’s a tidy compartment that carries the charging cables, and also provides room for several hard wire connectors for battery maintainer connections. This compartment closes securely and easily and even has slots on the ends so the door can be closed while the cables are extended to a battery.  No winding up or tangling cords when you’re not using your charger.

Optima 1200 Specifications

  • Microprocessor controlled
  • Claimed to enhance the performance of OPTIMA and other AGM batteries
  • Charges, conditions and maintains 12V AGM and flooded batteries
  • Recovers deeply discharged batteries
  • LCD battery charging gauge & quick set selections for easy operation
  • Integrated (+) charging clamp LED work light with non-slip grips
  • USB charging port compatible with iPad, iPhone, cell phones and cameras
  • Battery maintainer port and cable for stored vehicles


What catches your eye first is the central information gauge centered on top of the unit that will display the battery charge level, DC volts, amperage and error messages. All messages are displayed in full text, so no mysterious codes to unscramble by running to the manual or the internet. Users of the Digital 1200 will always know what’s going on with the charger and the battery it’s connected to simply by looking at the screen.

All controls are also present on top of the charger. These controls include the quick set profile controls for selecting the type of battery you are charging, located to the left of the information display. On the right of the information display you will see the battery maintainer quick set controls as well as the pre-charge status indicator and the LED backlight button.

Controls on the Digital 1200 are all located on the top and are easy to read, identify and understand.

Safety for both the customer and the battery were paramount to OPTIMA in the development of this product and as such, this best-in-class charger has numerous ways to protect both. The power-on indicator light, fault indicator light, temperature compensation light and the battery connected light are all located on top of the charger.

A pre-charge status check and analysis ensure everything is setup properly and the battery is okay to charge before charging occurs.


Charging with the Digital 1200 is a simple and straightforward process. You must first know what type of battery you’re charging. If you’re unsure, then you should look for an identifying label on the battery or contact either the retailer you purchased it from, or the manufacturer directly.

After connecting either the charging cables or the battery maintainer connections to the battery as outlined in the owner’s manual, you should then plug the charger in to power it up. Once powered up, the Digital 1200 will run through a quick self test to make sure everything is okay with the unit. From here, you can begin selecting how you want or need to use the charger.

Charging a Battery

If you want to skip the Pre-Charge status check and go right to charging your battery you can do so as well. Using the buttons on the Charging Quick Set Selector panel located to the left of the display screen, select the type of battery you’re charging. It’s important to select the correct type of battery here so that it’s charged correctly and to avoid damaging the charger itself.

 No Guessing When Charging

An industry first for battery chargers is the centrally located information display that offers status and error messages in full text, no codes to decipher, and no guessing about your battery’s condition or state of charge.


After you’ve selected the correct type of battery the Digital 1200 will then begin a status check. This check determines if the battery cables were connected properly (eliminating the risk of reverse polarity). This also looks for faults in the battery and checks the current charge status. Upon completing the analysis, the multi-stage charging function will begin charging your battery to its correct specifications.

The Digital 1200 uses a concept that’s not new to battery charging: multi-stage charging. While some manufacturers will push in their advertising that they have the “most stages”, it’s not the number of stages that matters but what happens during each stage that’s important. The Digital 1200 utilizes six stages in this process.

They include:

  • Stage 1 Analysis — determining that the connection was made properly, state of battery charge, and battery condition
  • Stage 2 — Soft ramp charging if the battery is deeply discharged
  • Stage 3 — Normal or Fast charging for moderately discharged batteries
  • Stage 4 — conditioning mode gives the battery a finished or complete charge
  • Stage 5 — Maintain or float mode keeps the battery fully charged
  • Stage 6 — Storage and reconditioning, de-sulfates the battery when it’s being maintained and stored over long periods.

It’s a common misconception that just a couple of hours on a battery charger can restore any battery to a properly charged state. In reality, it can take up to 12 hours in some cases to completely recharge and condition a battery that’s been severely discharged. This is where the microprocessor controls come into play. By analyzing the battery pre-charge as well as monitoring it constantly throughout the charging process, users of the Digital 1200 can rest assured that when the charger says their battery is fully charged, it is in fact ready to go.

Using The Maintainer

We have a lot of project cars here at Power Automedia, and as such, they don’t get driven all the time. In fact, some projects can sit for months at a time without being started. Batteries, like the price of fuel, are not getting any cheaper these days, so we’re glad to see that the Digital 1200 has a slick battery maintainer feature as well.

Setting the Digital 1200 up for battery maintaining is just as easy as setting it up for standard charging. Simply use the maintainer quick set selector control panel on the right side of the charger to select your type of maintainer connection. You have three choices here: charging with clamps out of vehicle, charging with clamps in vehicle, and charging with the auxiliary side port connection either in or out of the vehicle.

Once you’ve made your selection, the Digital 1200 will begin the battery maintenance process. Several cool features of this maintaining process that aren’t available with most other chargers are your ability to view the battery’s state of charge at any time via the LCD information screen. You can also rest assured that if left connected to the charger, your battery will undergo a three hour reconditioning period every thirty days to help you get the most life out of your battery. This removes sulfates that can build up on the battery plates and significantly shorten the life of your battery and have a negative affect on it’s performance.

Battery conditioning is part of the maintainer function of the Digital 1200.


In our world of modern conveniences we’ve become accustomed to machines that can diagnose themselves. These days car diagnostic procedures are more simplified than ever, thanks to the use of computer control systems and the amount of information that can be retrieved from a cars’ onboard computer when a problem is present. The Digital 1200 builds on the idea that the more information you have when there’s a problem the easier the problem will be to resolve.

The cable leads are a spark-less design and the positive lead has a useful LED work light built in.

Whenever there’s a problem, the Digital 1200 will illuminate the Check Battery (battery fault) light in red. The unit will also sound an audible tone and display a warning message. Brockman explainss, “The team viewed charging safety not just from the perspective of electrical safety, but also the safe interaction of the charger and the battery.” The Digital 1200 will display a message if a problem arises during the Pre-Charge Status check or during the charging or maintaining process.

Reverse Polarity Wiring Fault

The first possible error message that might display is “Reverse Polarity Wiring Fault.” This might sound like a no-brainer, but occasionally we see a battery where the terminals are opposite of what we’re accustomed to. The Digital 1200 easily detects this condition so you can correct it before charging begins and causing you much bigger problems.

Check Connection or Battery <1.25V

“Check Connection or Battery <1.25V”. This message indicates either the connections were not made properly to the battery or the battery is at a state where it’s too low to accept a charge. If the battery is too low to accept a charge it must either be charged in parallel with another battery until it’s voltage rises above 1.25vDC or, if it’s new, it should be returned and exchanged for another.

Charger Hi Temp

This fault condition will pause charging for anywhere from three to 15 minutes to protect both the battery and the charger. It’s not uncommon to receive this fault if you are recharging a deeply discharged battery.

We tested the Digital 1200 on a few old OPTIMA batteries and the charger had no trouble at all analyzing and reviving these batteries, bringing them back after we thought they'd outlived their usefulness.

Other Faults

…it was decided that the best course of action was to develop a charger of our own.

The remaining two faults have to do with overcharge conditions. If battery voltage is above 12 volts during the Pr-Charge Status check the following message will be displayed: “Unable to charge check battery”. If the battery is greatly overcharged or there is another charger connected to the system or the engine is running, you will get the message “Out of range  battery>17V”. Both of these messages warrant further checks of your battery and possibly your vehicle’s charging system if you are charging in the car.

Other Unique Features

Unique Cables

We found the LED light located in the positive cable clamp very cool. This can come in handy under dark conditions. For example, say it’s a late evening and your car is parked outside in a dark area such as the pits at the track. The LED light can be a great tool in making sure you hook the cables up properly before charging (although the Digital 1200 will detect if you haven’t).  It can also help you identify the difference between the positive and negative battery cables under extremely low light conditions since the positive clamp is the only one with the LED light.

It’s important to mention as well that the clamps are a spark-free design and will help prevent sparks when making a connection even with difficult hookups. This greatly reduces the risk of fire or ignition of leaked gasses and is an important safety feature when dealing with any battery.

The USB and Maintainer charging ports are located behind this protective cover on the rear of the unit.

USB Charging

Also handy is the USB charging port located on the side of the battery. Again, we’re thinking for at the track or on-the-go when you need to recharge your phone, tablet, camera or other electronic device, this can really come in handy. You won’t have to drain your tow rig’s battery trying to recharge your smart phone or find a compatible charging source.

Separate Maintainer Connection

There’s also an auxiliary port for maintainer charging connections located directly below the USB port. This auxiliary port allows you to plug in the more permanent eyelet-style connectors in case you want to hard wire those into your car or motorcycle.

Outstanding Warranty

OPTIMA also provides an outstanding three year warranty on the charger against defects. In the unlikely event that the Digital 1200 charger fails, simply call OPTIMA’s nationwide toll free number and get an RMA for return. Dealing directly with them will ensure your product gets repaired or replaced during the warranty period.

Indeed, this isn’t your father’s battery charger that you’ve been using for more decades than you can remember. With modern technology transformingvirtually everything that we come in contact with, the OPTIMA Digital 1200 charger brings all of the modern conveniences that you could imagine in a battery charger to the table and then some. If you were looking for a great time to replace that worn out old charger in your shop with the latest and greatest, now is that time.

About the author

Don Creason

Don Creason is an automotive journalist with passions that lie from everything classic, all the way to modern muscle. Experienced tech writer, and all around car aficionado, Don's love for both cars and writing makes him the perfect addition to the Power Automedia team of experts.
Read My Articles

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