Thursday, September 21, 2017

Review: SANSI 13 Watt LED Bulb (100W Equivalent)

The history of LED lighting is pretty much the opposite of incandescent lighting. The light bulb was invented, and it had good output but required a lot of power. The LED was invented, and it had virtually no output but required very little power. Because of this, LED technology started with digital displays, before evolving into flashlights, and now, finally into home lighting.



These bulbs were sent in for review by SANSI. The first bulb they sent me about a year ago I used to replace a Philips bulb that crapped out, and it's been used every day since. This review is for their newest model 13 watt LED light bulb.

Product Description

Price: About $11 each in a two pack

These are multi-emitter LED bulbs which take 13 watts and put out the equivalent of 100 watt incandescent bulbs that I grew up using. Since the day I picked up my first LED flashlight, I've been waiting for the day where my home is filled with super efficient light bulbs that last 20 years. But my generation was also promised flying cars and hoverboards, so I've always had managed expectations.



Official Specs (From Amazon)


  • 【Industrial Quality】Rugged housing, hollow-design, excellent ceramic sealed lens technology ensures excellent heat dissipation and long-lasting performance.
  • 【Energy Efficient】Only 13W power consumption with 1600 Lumens output, energy efficient and easy installation with medium screw base (E26). Installs into all medium screw base fixtures directly.
  • 【Higher Performance】13W(100W Equivalent) LED Bulb produce ultra-bright even and well-balance lighting output without glare, 13W with 1600 lumens, perfect replacement to save 87% on your energy bill and environment friendly for your best choice.
  • 【Incredible Lifespan】With an estimated lifespan of 25,000 hours (about 22 years with 3 hours/day of use). Ideal for use in kitchens, living rooms, bedrooms and hallways in your table and floor lamps, pendant fixtures or ceiling fixtures.
  • 【 Premium Customer Service】5-Year Unlimited Warranty means you are covered for easy and fast replacement. Have LED technical questions or need design advise? Please feel free to contact us at any time.

Initial Impressions


Overall, good. I've been using a couple of SANSI's bulbs for a while now, and I like them, based on using them every day to replace other LED and CFL bulbs that failed. CFL was a good technology, but I've been waiting for LED home lighting to get to the point where LED flashlights have been for years. I think we're almost at that point!

I didn't weigh it, but these bulbs feel like about 3-4 times the weight of a single LED consumer bulb. I use one of them in a clip-on lamp, and I have to position the lamp in such a way that the weight of the bulb doesn't make it fall off where it's clipped to.




As an engineer, I've always been a minimalist. I shied away from multi-LED bulb designs for a while because at least on paper, more components equals more points of failure. But LED emitters put off a lot of heat. The first single LED bulbs melted the electronics, and melted the glue that holds the diffuser on. They've gotten better since then, but that's still an awful lot of heat to concentrate in a tiny ares.

So, I like the design, and had a good impression un-boxing them and putting them through some tests. The extra weight and multiple design goes against my engineering instincts, but it's well worth the benefits. These bulbs look industrial strength.

Build Quality


I remember when the biggest pack of incandescent light bulbs at Home Depot costed less than a two pack of these LED bulbs. CFL bulbs are dirt cheap and still a good value. The cheap Philips LED bulbs about half the cost of this product.

So, what I'm getting at is that an 11 dollar light bulb better be worth the price premium over other products. It better be well built. It better be reliable.

The product looks to have a build quality worthy of its price point. It's ironic that I think these bulbs are way better made than their cheaper, USA-made counterparts.

Good design, good implementation--there's not really much to pick on here. With a consumer LED light bulb I look at how much heat it produces and how well it sheds that heat, and these bulbs do well in both categories: lower-than-average heat output with better-than-average heat dissipation.

The LEDs are Chinese made. It'd be great to see them use Cree LEDs, though, even if that would increase the cost.

Usability


These bulbs are HEAVY. One of my clip-on lamps sags from the weight, and I have to keep the other lamp positioned in such a way that it doesn't fall on the floor and scare the dogs.

So, I think the ideal use for these bulbs would be in table lamps, rugged light fixtures or possibly commercial/industrial use.

For my own use, the weight is well worth it for the extra reliability. I've had lousy luck with light bulbs pretty much my whole life. Once I had a CFL burst into flames in my office during a conference call. "Excuse me for a second--something is on fire" is not how I like to start off a business call. I won't devolve this review into a rant about always having a fire extinguisher, but let's just say that design and build quality don't mean anything if it fails or catches fire, and the only way to know for 100% sure how something will perform is to plug it in and see how it performs over time.

OK, so I'm over my misgivings about having a bajillion LEDs individually glued to a heavy slab of ceramic material. Over time my SANSI products have performed well day-to-day. High output, low heat, and good reliability, at a cost of extra complexity and weight. I think it's a fair trade-off.

It puts out light, it doesn't run too hot, and it hasn't burned out or caught fire. And these are the newest generation of the product, so I think the usability is excellent if you can look past the weight.

Testing


The first couple products they sent me are still in use. Usually the more I like a product, the more I scrutinize it. I don't have a lot of time, and the blog is a hobby, so as my interest level increases, so does my desire to test something I like.

All the technical specs don't mean much if a product isn't reliable, and I think I've already established that to myself. That's the first real test, and so far, so good.

The two most important data points to me for a household light bulb are heat output and efficiency. They are also really easy to test. I don't use an integrated light sphere to measure light output like some of the hard core tech reviewers--I look at products more from a usability standpoint. Having said that, I've used probably thousands of 100 watt incandescent bulbs in my life, and these bulbs seem to put out the same amount of light. Just from my eyeballs, the output seems to spec.

Heat output: Overall, good. After 15 minutes in a well ventilated space, I measured 115 F with my handy dandy laser thermometer. After 2 hours in a confined space (clipped near the ceiling) it measures about 136 F. Hello, physics. These readings are definitely acceptable, even if you probably need to wait a couple minutes before touching the bulb with your fingers.I did notice that the top area of the bulb was cool to the touch, even if the ceramic base was hot to the touch.



Efficiency: It's hard to hide from another gadget: the "killowatt" tool, which sits between a device and an electrical outlet, measuring how much current your device draws. A few times living in a cabin in the woods, I had to run a couple lamps and my laptop from an extension cord hooked to an inverter, plugged into my truck. My truck has a pretty good battery, but sometimes every single watt counts, and 13 watts is pretty good for what 100 watts used to be. This device has been invaluable for counting watts.

During my test, the bulb fluctuated between 13.6 and 14.2 watts on my tester--close enough for me.



Conclusions


It feels weird recommending a consumer LED bulb with a bank of LEDs as opposed to a much simpler, single-LED design, and that's exactly what I'm doing. I've thought about the design a good deal--even discussed it with my nerdy, science friends, and I think that the 5 dollar, single-LED bulbs aren't quite there yet. In the meantime, I think companies like SANSI are picking up the slack, and doing a pretty good job at building something practical and reliable.

I've only known SANSI, for about a year, but so far I'm impressed. They are making rugged, durable products while it seems like every other company is cutting corners by building LED light bulbs with a theoretical life span of 20 years into a cheap, disposable product. Hopefully LED technology and manufacturing technology is to the point where people can buy an efficient light bulb that lasts 10 or 20 years. A year of solid use is unheard of for an incandescent bulb, and terrific for a CFL type bulb. I usually get 6 months to a year from a CFL, and I've had LED bulbs fail within 6 months. So a year of solid use from a company I had never heard of is fantastic, and hopefully just a good start.

The only thing the jury is still out on in my mind is the Chinese made emitters. Cree has been around a long time, and it's hard to imagine an LED not made by them standing the test of time. I really would like to see a high end bulb with high end emitters in it, at a non-ridiculous price. But the low end emitters have made pretty good strides in quality recently, so I'm keeping an open mind. I've never had any bulb of any kind make it past 2 years, so I'm interested to see if they keep on chugging. Someone gave me a few cheap Costco bulbs which I keep as a last ditch backup.

From the little bit of my own research I've done on SANSI, it looks like they started with industrial LED lighting and are now branching out into consumer products. Their products certainly have an industrial feel to them.


Thursday, August 31, 2017

Review: LOFTEK 15W LED Work Light And USB Power Pack

LOFTEK makes some interesting products. The outdoor light they sent me is still attached the the roof of my brother's brewery. They use to to show a red light when the bar is closed and a green light when it's open. They recently sent me this one for review, which looks very similar to the one my brother is using ... but it's also a USB power pack.This is the review for the LOFTEK 15W LED Work Light & USB Power Pack.




Product Description


This is touted by LOFTEK as a portable LED work light, which is charged from any standard USB port. It's also a power pack, so it can charge other devices with its claimed 6600 mAh capacity. It features two output modes from the larger white LED, but it also has two smaller LEDs in blue and red, to give a special mode, which I call the "cop mode" where it flashes red and blue.

Official Specs (From Amazon)


  • Two in One: Portable, cordless floodlight which doubles as a battery-charging power bank. Two light modes—white floodlight and flashing red/blue SOS mode.
  • Portable Power: 15 watt, equal to 60-Watt Incandescent in an ultra-compact body; 6,600mAh battery capacity with 5V/2A charging for mobile devices.
  • Designed by LOFTEK: Durable aluminum and steel housing with adjustable stand/handle. Energy-efficient and IP65 dust/waterproof rating.
  • What You Get: LOFTEK Pioneer LED Cordless Floodlight, USB charging cable, user guide, warranty card.
  • LOFTEK’s Guarantee: All products include a 12-month, unlimited warranty against manufacturing defects when purchased from LOFTEK

Initial Impressions





Taking this thing out of the box, I couldn't decide what to make of it at first. It's heavy! But it's solid, and it seems to be built just like the one mounted to my brother's bar, which has lived outside in the elements for a year. It almost looked like something that I would pack in my electronics bag from looking at it online. From actually holding it in my hands, this is something more suited for a job site or a glove box.

Good output! But only two modes on the main LED. I was surprised at the red-and-blue flashing cop mode. Good output on this mode, too, but not really useful to people who aren't in law enforcement.

I like the solid build. It has the same metal body and metal handle of the other work light. I like the attached belt clip--nice touch! The unit seems a bit heavy to carry on a belt, but the clip looks sturdy, so I guess that's an option.

The first unit I got for review had a faulty charging circuit. It happens.

Build Quality


Overall, good. The body is solid aluminum and the handle is rolled steel. This thing is built like a tank, but I do have one gripe: The lens is made of plastic which is fine, but it's a little thinner than I'd like to see for something this rugged. I get the impression that I could throw this unit up in the air and it would laugh, but I'd be worried about cracking the lens. This is definitely an area for improvement.

The LEDs are low end, but the even the well-made low end ones have a similar lifespan to the good ones. It's still hard though not to picture what this product would be with a high impact lens and high end LEDs in it. So I guess it's more of a wish than a real gripe.

Fit & Finish


Overall, good. My only real gripe is that the metal handle always seems loose. The handle screws are kinda cheap looking, and the texturing on them isn't precise enough to make it easy to tighten the handle with my fingers. They should've just put plastic knobs on the hardware like the other light I have.

Everything else is right where it should be finish-wise, and in some cases above average. The baked enamel paint job is well done, and it's the same finish that's survived a year of being rained on on the other light. The rubber USB port covers fit well, and the switch panel is well done. The electronic switches have a good feel to them.

No scratches on the lens or body, tool marks, nicks, or anything else I scrutinize. The gaps in the case, switch panels and rubber seal are all uniform.

Modes / Operation


There's a small switch panel on top of the unit with two ruggedized, electronic switches. Holding one switch down turns on the main LED, and holding the other switch down puts the unit into "cop mode" where it flashes red and blue. Pressing the main switch will put the main LED into low, and then off. Pressing the other switch will turn the cop mode off.

The main LED has two brightness modes, high and low. I did some run time tests and they were pretty close to the official specs, which also means the built-in batter pack is also close to spec.

Charging / Power Pack


This model has a built in USB power pack. Like other power packs it charges itself with a micro USB port and other devices with a full size USB port. I didn't test the capacity scientifically like I sometimes do, but by my rough calculations it's pretty close to it's advertised capacity of 6600 mAh.

USB power packs are so common, it's not even funny. I have custom built 13200 mAh packs, super slim power packs that use li-po cells, lipstick shaped ones--I have them all.

So, power packs don't usually do much for me. But if you said "give me the power pack out of your collection you think would be most likely to survive being hit with a hammer" then I'd offer up this one. Either way, it's a nice feature to put on anything that has a large power reservoir, and a power pack this rugged is uncommon.

The photo below would show you the measured charge rate if I hadn't gotten the photos mixed up. The one below is from the defective unit, but the test is the same. So, I don't have the exact measurement but I tested it and it looked good, even if I don't remember it. The defective unit took 3 days to charge, and the replacement is within their stated specs.




Usability


As a work light, this is a rugged and functional unit. I wish the main LED had more modes. A low mode with the big battery pack in this thing would be able to go for days. The 2 output modes it does have are well suited for a work light. The run time is pretty good, too. If you need to run a work light for 8 hours a day, then you probably want a plug-in light. But for small, several-hour jobs, I like this model as a work light. Just be careful of the lens!

With a few small changes this model could go from being a good work light that's passable for emergencies to a superb emergency tool. This one will probably live in the glove box of my truck, and in an emergency I'm not going to put it into cop mode, which would probably get me arrested ... or worse. It would be a thousand times more useful to use yellow LEDs to flash the universal signal for caution, and a separate mode to flash just the red LED, for the universal signal of extreme caution.

If you're a cop, then the cop mode could actually be useful. The output is pretty good for this use, and the first thing the average person who see is this is going to think is "cop," which is what you probably want. But as a non-LEO, I'm a little worried that people could mis-use this feature. I think that LOFTEK should have it just as an option for first responders. The average person would get more use out of plain yellow and/or plain red flashing modes.

As a USB power pack to charge your devices, it's neat to have something that can charge my cell phone or tablet that is this rugged. I get the impression that if I ran this thing over with my truck, yeah, it would probably smash the plastic lens, but it probably still charge my phone.

As a USB power pack to carry around in your backpack or purse, it's probably too heavy. But I already have lots of those anyway. There's lots of good powerpacks out there with built in lighting, too, so I think this model is better suited to a being a work light that also has a power pack than something you'd carry around to charge your devices day-to-day.


Conclusions


This is an interesting device, with some fantastic but also with some odd design choices. For what it is and what it does, I like it. This one is going to live in my truck's glove box with the caveat that in case I need to use it to change a tire on the side of the road, I hope I don't press the "cop" button on accident and confuse anyone. But other than that, it's a rugged source of light and power, and that earns it a spot in my glove box. I also carry a high end headlamp, but this would be my first choice on the side of the road or doing a job in the dark.

It's really hard not to think about what a good emergency tool this would be with a few changes. LOFTEK has the rugged body almost down, and the switch panel is above average. Make the lens thicker and from high impact plastic, and make the special modes more useful, and this would go from being a good product to a superb product.

As a portable work light, I think this is a good value product for what it costs. It's heavy, but it's a tank.


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Review - Olight H2R Nova [LED Headlamp]

Olight has been around for a long time as far as LED flashlights go. They started out with high end military-type tactical flashlights, then they bought up a few companies like iTP and expanded their product lineup to include mostly consumer models. For a while it seemed like their build and design quality was all over the map, but I've seen their mainstream consumer products really mature in about the last year or so.

This review is for the Olight H2R Nova Headlamp, provided by Olight.

Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - Product Link


Product Description

Price: About 90 dollars

This H2R Nova model uses 18650 lithium-ion cells, which puts it in a very competitive field of 18650 based headlamps, all with very similar specs, and some with a cult following. This one seems to fit the mold of what I'd expect: Cree XHP50 LED emitter, TIR reflector, glass lens, top-mounted electronic switch. Where this model is unique is with its magnetic USB charging system. The included headband and pocket clip are pretty much standard, and the included 3000 mAh Olight branded cell is a nice touch.

Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - Product View

Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - EDC Friends
Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - Outdoors


Official Specs (From Olight)


(Sorry, Olight put their specs in a weird format)

Beam Distance (ft)501
Beam Distance (m)153
Max. Performance (lumens)2300
Charge typeMagnetic USB charge base
Compatible Batteriescustomised 18650
Light Intensity (candela)5850
Light FormWide/broad hotspot. Perfect for up close illumination.
Lens / Reflector TypeTIR bead lens (wide/broad beam)
Mode OperationFront Switch
Form/Size FactorMedium size (Permanent Marker)
SeriesSeries H (Headlamps, Multitasking)
Unique Characteristics


  • Huge beam spill (TIR with diffuser lens)Smaller than a pinky finger.
  • Optimal for packstrap/pocket/headlamp
  • Pocket light and headlamp in one with magnetic charging. Buy one light and get two!
  • Magnetic tail fix, 90degrees light illumination direction
  • LIGHTING LEVELS
    LEVEL 1 (lumens)2300
    Run-time LEVEL 1
    2300 lumens(~750lm) - Cool White
    2000 lumens(~750lm) - Neutral White



  • 1h50m (1m)
  • LEVEL 2 (lumens)600
    Run-time LEVEL 2
    600 lumens - Cool White
    550 lumens - Neutral White



  • 2h30m
  • LEVEL 3 (lumens)150
    Run-time LEVEL 3
    150 lumens - Cool White
    140 lumens - Neutral White



  • 10h
  • LEVEL 4 (lumens)30
    Run-time LEVEL 4
    30 lumens - Cool White
    27 lumens - Neutral White



  • 50h
  • LEVEL 5 (lumens)1
    Run-time LEVEL 5
    1 lumens - Cool White
    1 lumens - Neutral White



  • 45 days
  • StrobeNo
    SOS / BEACONYes
    TECHNICAL CHARACTERISTICS
    WaterproofIPX8
    Weight (g / oz)64 / 2.26
    Length (mm / in)110 / 4.33
    Head Diameter (mm / in)25 / 0.95
    Body Diameter (mm / in)23.2 / 0.91
    LedCree XHP50

    First Impressions


    The H2R comes with a semi-charged 18650 cell. There's a little tab you pull off, so it was just a few seconds before I double clicked the switch to see the output of the turbo mode. My first thought was "wow, this output is incredible for a light this size." My second thought was "wow, the circuitry is really generous holding the turbo on for so long before step-down." My third thought was "owww my hand really hurts because the light is so hot."

    It's pretty much a no-brainer figuring out not to keep the light in turbo mode for more than a a quick burst of light. You'll certainly cook your brain with it. But I actually like the super-duper-turbo mode because it's kind of like having having a fast car: you may not always drive it fast, but it's nice knowing you can if you need to. High mode is still generous output-wise, and the light only gets slightly warm.

    This looked a candidate to replace the headlamp in my survival bag, so I've set out from day one with this review sample to beat it up, and give the charging circuitry some extra scrutiny, too.

    The second thing I did out of the box was triple clicked the switch to see if it had any "disco" modes like strobe, and it seems to go into SOS mode ... which is more useful than a strobe in an emergency (like being lost in the woods) but still not as useful as a true beacon mode. But either way, thank you Olight for not putting a strobe mode on a headlamp.

    Other than the heat issue on turbo--which I was more surprised than disappointed with-- I had a very good first impression of this light.




    Build Quality


    I've seen a noticeable increase in build quality in the last few flashlights and headlamps from Olight. But this is a 90 dollar headlamp, which puts it into a class of headlamps with companies like Zebralight and Armytek who have great reputations in this 18650 based headlamp space.

    The build quality is good overall for a light in the category. It's not a tank like my go-to Nitecore headlamp I've carried for several years, but it's still built well. So I'm not sure I'd consider this a tactical flashlight (though it did pass the drop test,) I think the quality is good overall for the high end consumer product this is. Like most of their products, I wish the aluminum stock were a little thicker, and the anodizing a little thicker.

    But aside from a couple small gripes, this is a solid product. The machining is excellent. There's no tool marks, nicks, gaps, mis-cut threads, crappy o-rings, lens aberrations or anything rough about this light. The electronic switch is excellent. It's rubberized with a superb feel.

    This model uses a TIR style reflector with an old-school stippled glass lens. It's hard to see the reflector and LED through the textured lens, but everything I can see looks great. The build quality of the clip is even really good.

    The quality of the light itself, the clip, charger, and headband are all good. The Olight branded 18650 cells are good products in their own right, and the 3000 mAh included cell is pretty high end--most likely a re-wrapped Panasonic. Everything is where it should be quality-wise for this price point, down to the square cut threads.

    Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - Build Quality 1

    Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - Build Quality 2

    Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - Build Quality 3


    Fit & Finish


    Again, this is a 90 dollar light, so I'm holding it to a higher standard. And I think it holds up to the extra scrutiny. There's really nothing I can think of to pick on. I've always said their anodizing is too thin, but the only nick in mine is from tossing it in the air over a concrete driveway, and that didn't even dent the body.

    The finish is fantastic overall, even down to the small details like the the blue anodized accent rings around the switch and bezel. The rubberized electronic switch has a feel as good as I've seen on any light. The glass lens looks high end, the tail threads are smooth, lubed o-rings, and the two-way clip is nice and tight. Also, the magnetic charging base makes a good connection with the magnetic tail on the H2R.

    For a budget light, this level of finish would be impressive, but I would expect this level for a light at this price point. For what it costs, I would expect to see attention to detail, and I do.

    Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - Tail Cap 1

    Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - Tail Cap 2

    Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - Switch


    Included Battery


    The H2R Nova includes a high quality Olight branded 18650 lithium-ion cell with a stated capacity of 3000 mAh. Most of the big name brand cells use the same great quality re-wrapped Panasonic cells, but some of the really good re-wrappers like KeepPower, Olight, Nitecore, etc., use higher quality protection circuits in each cell. Even the best lithium-ion cell money can buy can catch fire from a catastrophic malfunction of the device it's in, so I appreciate that Olight throws in a good cell with a quality protection circuit with these models. And having a 20 dollar battery included makes this model a better value.

    I did a rough capacity test on the battery as part of my tests on the charger, and the capacity checks out by my rough calculations. Normally I'd put the cell on the analyzing charger for 15 hours, but the Olight cells have been really consistent, and I wanted to focus on the charger for this review.

    Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - Included 18650 Cell


    USB Charging


    Olight has switched most of their models to include a good quality battery and built-in charging via a standard USB interface. Which is a good feature because it means these models can be charged anywhere a smartphone or tablet can be charged, which is pretty much everywhere. I have several large USB power packs and it makes them more useful being able to charge more devices. And I even have a 40 watt solar charger that I could plug this light into. USB charging is great, even if most devices use a low charge rate.

    The current generation of the R model charges uses a neat design. Magnets in the tail cap of the headlap and in the charger base automatically make a charging connection on their own if you get them within an inch or so of each other.

    Functionality-wise, the charger itself is pretty simple, connect the charger to the headlamp, plug the other end of the cable into any 5v USB compliant power source, and wait until the little LED light in the charger base goes from red to green.

    Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - USB Charger


    Note that these R model chargers are picky about types of battery chemistries they will charge. For example, it won't charge lithium-ion hybrids, which is weird because most other chargers will. But all their models seem to use the same model charger, so it will charge at least a couple different chemistries that I know of.

    This charger seems to be the same one included with all of their R models.

    Magnetic Tail


    Most of Olight's EDC style flashlights and headlamps come with a permanent, rare-earth magnet in the tail cap, which allows their lights to clamp onto any ferrous metal, like steel. Even steel screws in the wall in some cases. As a long time computer engineer, for many years magnets played havoc with some types of electronics and any type of magnet storage, like hard drives, cassette tapes, etc. So I was hesitant about having something with a powerful magnet in my pocket, but for the most part, there's not much risk to the electronics most of us carry day-to-day.

    Now I'm a huge fan of these magnetic tail caps, and on a headlamp that's 3 separate ways to hold the light in place: the head band, the clip, and the magnetic tail. I still don't like magnets around the debit cards in my wallet, so I still won't carry one of these lights in the same pocket. But it's fine in the other pocket and a small price to pay for being able to clamp it onto something and use it as a portable source of light for hours or days at a time.

    The magnet in the tail cap has another benefit unique to Olight's class of "R" models: the little charger base also has a magnet, and the two also seem to find each other (sometimes on their own) and make a good connection for charging. I didn't like their models with the larger charging base, but I love this compact magnet-on-magnet USB charging design.

    Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - Magnetic Tail


    Modes / User Interface


    The H2R Nova has 6 modes. It has the standard low, medium and high modes, but it also has 3 special modes: turbo, moonlight, and SOS. A single click on the electronic button turns the headlamp on and off, and holding down on the button changes modes. Holding the button down when the headlamp is off will activate the moonlight mode. Some manufacturers use electronic switches being held down to turn their lights on and off, so it's possible for a new user to turn light on in moonlight mode during the day and not realize it. But I like this for the user interface because it makes moonlight mode more useful.

    Turbo is accessed any time double clicking the switch, and another double click takes it back to the last mode. SOS mode is accessed by triple clicking the switch.

    As someone who did user interface design for computer software most of my career, I can appreciate how far user interfaces have come with flashlights and headlamps.

    Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - Modes Animation


    Circuitry 


    Normally I like to see constant-current circuits on high end lights. It's no secret that I despise PWM circuitry for various reasons.

    I do all my PWM tests using a cell phone camera. What I would expect to see for a light in this price point would be constant current on the very low modes, which increases run time, and maybe PWM on some of the medium or higher modes where it helps the tint a little with some of the larger die LEDs. This sample seems to have it in every mode. It's low frequency enough for me to barely see with my eyeballs with moonlight mode. But most people aren't that sensitive to it, and I can only see it with my eyes on that one mode, and only in certain scenarios.

    Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - Cell Phone Test
    Interference patterns on the cell phone test on moonlight mode


    So, I don't know if it's just noise in the circuitry or they are indeed using PWM to play with the tint. With a stated run time of 45 days on moonlight mode, I guess it makes sense to sacrifice a small bit off efficiency for better tint since LEDs, circuitry, and reflector designs keep getting more efficient.

    Olight advertises a low battery warning with an extra LED embedded in the switch, but I haven't tested it, as I'm OCD about running lithium-ion cells all the way dead. I want to maximize the lifetime of the expensive cell it comes with.

    Output


    On turbo, the output is fantastic ... for a very short period of time. The output on high is about what I would expect a light this size could do without overheating. The output on moonlight is a little higher than what I normally like, but 1 lumen is certainly acceptable.

    The output mode spacing is very good overall, and the stated run times are what I would expect given the mode outputs. This thing is a beast.

    Tint


    The tint is good for a cool white headlamp. It's not a weird greenish or blueish color like on some flashlights and headlamps. It seems to sacrifice a little efficiency with the circuitry for the PWM voodoo it seems to use to make the tint more pleasing. However they accomplish it, my sample has about as pleasing of a tint as I've seen in a cool white model. I usually ask manufacturers for neutral white review samples, but most of them have really low stocks of those, since most consumers aren't "tint snobs" like me!

    Drop Test


    I hate to do it, but for something I'm considering for a survival bag, I need to know if it's going to let me down. So I stood on my concrete driveway at night with the light on, held it out in front of my head and flicked it up into the air. It bounced off the concrete and didn't do anything weird like power off or change modes. It's been over a month since then, and it's stayed attached to my range hood in the kitchen where it serves duty from everything from a night light for the girlfriend to lighting up the yard to see that a cat is fighting a squirrel. The test to me is not just that it survive a drop test; it has to keep working in normal use.

    Charge Test


    Just like the drop test, something destined for my survival bag needs to charge reliably and predictably. My 72 hour survival bag includes a solar USB charger and USB power packs, so this model seems like a really good fit for that.

    For the test, I hooked it up to a Samsung USB power outlet and my handy dandy USB analyzer widget. The results were a little better than I expected. I'm happy to see anything above 500 mA and this charger delivers.

    This test also roughly measured the capacity of the included 18650 lithium-ion cell. I didn't test the battery separately, but Olight cells always test well, and my rough calculations put the included cell right where it should be for what I'm guessing is a re-wrapped Panasonic 3000 mAh cell.

    Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - Charging Test
    5 volts and 770 mA -- right on the money

    Pocket Clip


    This model has an included, snap-on type, 2-way pocket clip. It's good that they included a clip for their headlamp, because I think these products are as good or better for EDC as they are for headlamps.

    Overall I really dislike snap-on type clips. Many of my previous flashlights were damaged or lost due to the clips falling off at the worst time. At best, I lose the clip, and at worst, I lose the light. This H2R, and the last few products of theirs I've gotten in for review have much tighter clips. It's still not as good in my opinion as a mounted clip, it's getting pretty close. At least I'm back to being confident about carrying this or the S1R Baton in my pocket for my EDC purposes.

    So, kudos to Olight for making the clip tighter on all your EDC models, but it would still be great to see a mountable clip, even for a headlamp.

    Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - Pocket Clip 1

    Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - Pocket Clip 2


    Usability


    This thing is a BEAST on turbo. I don't use a light sphere to test output, but I believe every lumen of their 2300 lumen claim. It's also as bright on turbo as my 3 LED Lumintop PS03 beast with the same stated output. But on turbo the light gets really hot, really fast. Not a big deal if it's attached to the side of your truck using the magnetic base, but it gets almost too hot to hold before the circuitry even kicks it down, so it can only be used sparingly.

    The included headband is good quality. Some people say that the 18650 headlamps are a little heavy, but those people have never used one for hours at a time, day to day. When I lived in a cabin in the woods for a year, having a headlamp was a necessity. It had an outdoor kitchen. And unloading a truck in the dark with a flashlight in your mouth gets old after a few times. And when I had to unload the truck and do the dishes on the same night, or do any amount of work in the dark, my smaller capacity lights would go dead, usually at the worst times. So for a casual user--maybe a weekend camper--the smaller, CR123A sized headlamps might be a better solution, but for serious use, this form factor is the only one I'd consider.

    So, having said all that, I haven't used this model much as a headlamp, because I don't live in a rural area and work in the dark nearly as much. But I certainly appreciate the fact that this is a very capable headlamp, even if I use it mostly for EDC. I keep the headband of this one nearby.

    Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - In Hand 1

    Olight H2R Nova LED Headlamp - In Hand 2



    And it's been good for EDC as well. I live in a big city now, and day to day I don't need the extended run time of a larger flashlight or headlamp, so I use the S1R most of the time. But the cool thing is that both are attached to the range hood in my kitchen with their magnetic base. Depending on the situation, I grab one or the other. I used to be a critic of lights with the magnetic tail, but I've been a believer for a while now. We've had a couple power failures where the H2R has served as the kitchen light, and it's also come in handy as a night light for guests. I haven't tested their 45 days on moonlight claim, but I've left it on for days at a time.

    Conclusions


    This is a very well designed and functional headlamp. Because it looked well suited for survival / emergency applications, I put it through more scrutiny than I usually give a product, and it did a great job. It's probably necessary that they make a solid product, because there are so many other respected manufacturers making great 18650 headlamps at this price point.

    When I first looked at the specs, I intended this one to live in my survival bag, upgrading a Crelant headlamp that I have in there now. But it's spent its whole life attached to the range hood in my kitchen next to its brother, the S1R, and I'm going to keep that arrangement.

    Saturday, June 17, 2017

    The Outdoor Nerd on Facebook

    I left Facebook for about a year when I got separated. It's pretty awkward having all your family and friends see your marriage fall apart, so it was a good choice at the time. But I'm back now, with a new page for the blog, too. I've got tens of thousands of photos, which I'm gradually uploading to the page.

    https://www.facebook.com/pg/OutdoorNerd


    Wednesday, June 7, 2017

    Review: ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight

    There used to be a saying in the flashlight community: "Never trust any brand with FIRE in its name." I've pretty much followed that advice with only a couple exceptions: I used to buy the TrustFire lithium ion batteries back before all the clones, and the ThorFire brand.

    I don't know why ThorFire muddied the waters with the name they chose, but they seem to be one of the more consistent budget flashlight brands. I've purchased and used a few of their products like the ThorFire PF04 and I've had a favorable opinion of them for a while now. This review is for the ThorFire TK4A, supplied by ThorFire.

    This 4xAA style of flashlight is one of my favorite form factors. I've done a few reviews for this type of flashlight, like the Sunwayman D40A and the Lumintop SD4A. You get the best of both worlds: the output of a lithium-ion powered light with common AA batteries you can find anywhere. Plus, AA batteries are safer to use and store than lithium-ion cells. I wouldn't give my elderly mom a lithium-ion based flashlight, but I would give her a multi-cell AA or AAA flashlight.

    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - Product View

    Product Description

    Price: About $40 online

    The ThorFire TK4A flashlight is a 4xAA "soda can" style flashlight, which have really gained popularity in the last few years, with good reason. Unlike most of its competitors, the TK4A has only a single electronic switch to operate the unit. It also features the battery cage built into the unit.

    Other than a couple differences, the TK4A is the typical 4xAA flashlight, with its Cree XP-L LED emitter, smooth reflector and constant-current, regulated circuitry, giving it the performance people would expect for a light in this format, and with this price tag.


    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - Product View 2



    Official Specs (From ThorFire)


    Specifications
    Modes: Low(30LM)-Mid(200LM)-High(600LM)-Turbo(1100LM), hidden Strobe(600LM) and Moonlight(1 LM)
    Lifetime: with a lifespan of 20 years
    Battery: Uses 4*AA Ni MH / Ni Cd/Alkaline(Not Included)
    Material: Made of Aircraft-grade aluminum
    Size:approx 115mm(Length) * 41mm(Body Diameter) 
    Weight: 178.5-gram weight (Excluding the battery)
    Water resistant: IPX-8, underwater 2m
    Impact resistant: 1m
    Intensity: 11600cd (Max)
    Distance: 460m (Max)

    Battery Capacity Display
    The switch button have a battery indicator light. The light will displaying “Green”, if the battery capacity is higher than 60%. If it is lower than 60%, it will turn to “Orange”. When it less than 15%, it will changed to “Red”.

    Initial Impressions


    After hunting down and charging 4 of my Panasonic Eneloops, I opened up the TK4A and was surprised to see no battery cage. The design reminds me of a couple Nitecore lights I've had. There's 2 pegs in the tail cap that line up with two holes in the built in battery cage. I kind of fumbled with the batteries and the cap, but it's not rocket science. I wonder why they did it this way. Doesn't seem to be any lighter without a separate battery cage. I guess it's one less point of failure though.

    ...and that's what struck me immediately about this design--it's very minimalist. No separate battery cage. No extra mode switch. As an engineer I can admire these kinds of austere designs.

    ...and that's the second thing that hit me with the TK4A: The design makes it a little clumsy putting the batteries in and operating the light with its single stage electronic switch.

    Either way my first impression was being kind of impressed with a few of the little design differences. ThorFire isn't scared to mix it up.

    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - Unboxing 1

    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - Unboxing 2


    The Cree XP-L is a large die LED, so a light in this format with this LED is never going to be a "thrower," meaning it's not an ideal light (or form factor in general) for seeing extreme distances. ThorFire still does what it can with the smooth reflector and lens, and just like its competitors, achieves some measure of success being a little "throwy" just by sheer brute force.

    Another thing that left me scratching my head with this light just out of the box is the single switch with the non-standard user interface. In fact, I didn't like the user interface out of the box, though now I like it a lot.

    So, overall this gave me a good but strange first impression. ThorFire doesn't seem to be copying anyone or following any set rules, which is kind of surprising given that this is a budget brand. Bravo!


    Build Quality


    Overall good. The material and machining are good. Nothing to see here. What surprises me is the overall design. There's no stainless steel bezel ring like other brands. Even the high end lights seem to get those wrong about half the time. The entire unit is basically just a big chunk of aluminum, with the battery cage itself machined into it. I like my Lumintop SD4A but the battery cage is a little cheap.

    So,  ThorFire seems to have sidestepped any big quality concerns just by leaving out the stuff their competitors get wrong. Note that probably makes it less mod-friendly for the people who like customizing their flashlights.

    The other things I look for quality wise are good. The electronic switch looks like it's good quality, though the action feels a little cheap. The stainless steel ring around the switch is well done. The reflector and lens look beautiful, definitely on par with higher end models. The lens has the standard anti-reflective coating I'd also expect.

    Everything else is there: The tail cap machining is good, the threads are well cut and lubed. Springs look good and so do those two weird alignment pins in the cap.

    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - With Lumintop SD4A

    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - Whitebox 1

    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - Whitebox 2

    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - Whitebox 3

    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - Whitebox 4

    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - Whitebox 5


    Fit & Finish


    Overall, good. The switch feels a little cheap. That doesn't mean I think it's cheap. It just feels a little cheap. The anodizing is passable but not spectacular. Same with the knurling.

    If the TK4A doesn't pop overall finish-wise, it's easy to forgive it when I look at the business end. The LED is machine-centered, and the reflector and lens are well above average for a budget light.

    The stainless steel ring around the switch is also a little above average. It really gives the single switch a high end feel, even if the switch itself has a weird feel to it.

    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - TailThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - Switch


    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - Battery Tube


    Battery Tube

    There's no separate battery cage for this model--it's built into the body. It's not very elegant but it gets the job done. It works even if it's something I fumbled through a couple times.
    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - Battery Tube 2ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - Tail Cap




    Circuitry


    Most flashlights of this type use efficient constant current circuits, and the TK4A is no exception. I could detect none of my pet peeve PWM with my cell phone camera. As far as I can tell, ThorFire didn't try to cut any corners on the circuity, which other budget makers like to do.

    LED


    This model uses a Cree XP-L larger die emitter, which seems well suited to this form factor.

    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - Emitter Closeup


    Modes


    The TK4A has 4 normal brightness modes: low/medium/high/turbo as well as a "moonlight" and "strobe" mode. Extra points for the low-low moonlight mode. I'm not a huge fan of strobe modes, but at least it's tucked out of the way with a double click needed to activate it.

    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - Moonlight

    User Interface


    Most of the single switch electronic lights I have owned use a long press to turn the light off and on, with short presses to change modes. The TK4A uses a quick press to turn the light on, which is great once I got used to it. On this light a long press from off puts the light into moonlight mode. This model has a nice, low, moonlight mode, which I love! But a low moonlight combined with a non-traditional user interface meant that I kept turning light on moonlight mode meaning to turn it into its normal modes.

    So, turn the light on with a short click and turn it off with a long press, and use short clicks to change modes with the light on. A short double click with the light on or off will put the light into strobe mode.

    Moonlight mode is kind of a special case because you press and hold from off to activate it, and then you have to turn the light off with a short click before you can do anything else with it.

    There appears to be a mode memory, which is nice.

    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - Mode Animation


    Tint


    The tint on mine is good, and leans toward being neutral white. In fact, I had to go back to the box to check to see if this is the neutral white version, and it doesn't seem to be. Close up there's the sickly colored rings you'd expect with this type of reflector and circuitry--a small price to pay for an efficient circuit.

    Beam


    Lights of this type have a unique beam on a good day, due to the foot print of putting 4 AA cells together. You get a much bigger reflector than on say a 1xAA flashlight, but still not the large reflector you'd need to see huge distances with a big die LED like this model has.

    So, this model has about a tight of a beam as you can get with an oversize LED and an undersized reflector, and like other competing brands, it gets a good amount of "throw" just from brute force. The size of the hot spot seems to be roughly double my D40A, and 4 times bigger than my SD4A with the small die LED in it. And it seems to have about the same throw as its medium die cousin but with more output, a nice little trade-off.

    Usability


    The TK4A is a beast with the large die Cree XP-L emitter. Flashlights with the 4xAA form factor tend to see a pretty good distance just through brute force. This light has less throw but more force, so the usability and performance seems consistent with lights in this category. In fact, the XP-L seems like a fine choice of emitter because of the "beast mode" factor.

    Out of the box I didn't like the user interface at all, but it's really grown on me over time. It's not immediately intuitive, but it's well thought out, and it works well from a usability standpoint now that I'm used to it.

    Outside in general use, it's pretty much a wall of light. The better-than-average smooth reflector and  lens do what they can for the throw, so this light pretty much owns anything within about 100 yards. It would be nice if they followed other manufacturers' lead and offered a smaller die LED version. Either way, this XP-L version is a beast.

    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - In Hand

    ThorFire TK4A 4xAA LED Flashlight - In Hand 2


    Conclusions


    I've been so busy lately that some of these reviews are taking me 2 months. Apologies to ThorFire, but at least in this case I'm glad that I got to spend so much time with the light before reviewing it.

    Because this light grew on me over time. I disliked the single switch user interface, but the more time I spent with it, the more I liked it. Same with the feel of the switch. After some time with the light, the switch has a tactile feel that felt kinda weird/cheap at first.

    So, all things considered, I like this light, and I think getting to know its peculiar user interface was worth the time spent. And I also admire its minimalist design.When you design something with less stuff, then there's less stuff to go wrong. They're not just copying Nitecore or Lumintop.

    Really the only thing I would change about this light would just be to make it a hair wider in diameter to give the reflector a little more help with the large die LED.