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.


Monday, May 8, 2017

Review: Olight S1R Baton EDC Flashlight

I'll admit, I've never been a big fan of Olight's S series LED flashlights. I've always loved the concept, but the first few generations of the S series came up short for me. I bought one of the first S1A models in Titanium and loved it, until I realized it turned on just from being in my pocket. My next was an S30 which had the opposite problem: The switch was inset too much and I'd have trouble finding the switch in the dark.

But Olight has been evolving the designs for the whole series: changing the reflectors, switches, and even adding a USB rechargeable tail. So I'm happy to take a look at this latest generation Olight S1R Baton they provided me for review. I noticed it also comes in copper and titanium, though they don't seem to come in the rechargeable R version.

Olight S1R Baton - Product Image


Product Description


The Olight S1R is a CR123 style flashlight which features a Cree XM-L2 LED emitter, and alectronic switch, and a built in charging base with included USB charging cable. It's extremely compact and sports 6 different modes. This is the cool white version.

Olight S1R Baton - EDC Friends

Olight S1R Baton - With H1R



Official Specs (From Olight)


Cree XM-L2 LED
-The flashlight can be charged through the magnetic contact charging port (other batteries may also be used in the S1R, but cannot be charged)
-New 750mA portable USB charging cable
-Six output modes: 900 Lumens ~ .5 Minutes, 600 Lumens ~ 55min 300 Lumens ~ 60 Minutes, 60 Lumens ~ 4.5 Hours, 12 Lumens ~ 33 Hours, .5 Lumens ~ 15 Days
-Flat magnetic tailcap that allows it to be secured to ferrous metal surfaces as a hands-free option
-Lockout mode can be activated on the side switch for accidental triggering protection, along with a low-voltage indicator underneath
-Reverse polarity protection circuits
-Timer Setting: Short (3 minutes) and long (9 minutes)
-The standby current is below 30uA

DIMENSIONS

Length: 2.6in / 64mm
Bezel Diameter: 0.83in / 21mm
Body Diameter: 0.78in / 20mm
Weight: 1.27oz / 36g (excluding batteries)
POWER SOURCE: 1 x 550mAh 3.7V 5C RCR123A (1 x CR123A Optional non rechargeable)

WARRANTY : 5 Year warranty

Included Accessories: 550mAh RCR123A rechargeable Li-ion battery, Lanyard, User Manual, MCC Magnetic Charging Cable , Sheath

First Impressions


Olight S1R Baton - Product View 1

Olight S1R Baton - Product View 2

Olight S1R Baton - Product View 3

Olight S1R Baton - Product View 4

Olight S1R Baton - Product View 5

Olight S1R Baton - Product View 6


It seems like they solved most of the issues that I've always had with the S series. My biggest issue with this series has always been the switch. I love electronic switches, but they are very hard to get right on a flashlight. Especially for a model that's designed to go in your pocket.

This latest generation has a slightly inset switch but with a little rubber boot covering it, so it's much easier to find by feel in the dark. It's still not perfect, but it's as close as I've seen on a side mounted electronic switch. Feeling around for the switch in the dark, my thumb kind of sticks to the rubber boot, making it easy to know I've found the switch. I've always mounted the clip on the opposite side of the switch, which makes it even easier to find it quickly in the dark.

Which leads me to the clip. I'm not a big fan of snap-on type clips. It's the main reason I stopped carrying the S30: the clip would pop off always at the worst time, and it was usually very annoying.

So, the clip on this sample seems much tighter, which is what I was expecting after reviewing a couple of their new headlamps, which is basically this same form factor. In a perfect world I would like this type of clip better, because it's reversible. From what I can tell so far, the clip looks like a huge improvement!

The evolution of the series is apparent in most other aspects of the light. It's got the rechargeable tail cap, which I like much better now that it's just a charging cable and not a base station. The anodized blue accents are nice, too. With earlier generations it looked like they were trying to make a cheap light look higher end, but taken with the other improvements, it finally gives me that impression.

One thing I noticed right out of the box is the odd reflector and lens. I'm not even sure what to call it. Maybe a "TIR hybrid"? Flashlights with this form factor aren't made for "throw," i.e. seeing objects at at large distances. The best I can tell, this odd design is meant to squeeze every last bit out output from the light, which it seems to.

Overall, I have a very good first impression of this review sample S1R.

Build Quality

Olight S1R Baton - ReflectorOlight S1R Baton - Tail



Overall, good. Earlier generations of their S series were decent flashlights, but they always seemed a little on the cheap side for me, even the high end titanium models. And it wasn't any one thing, either. The series had a bunch of little things that all took away from the overall impression of quality.

But now here we are in 2017, and they have been making this series for several years. And now, looking at an obviously improved product, it's not any one thing that gives me the impression of quality.

Other than their thin anodizing I always pick on, I can't find much to pick on about the build quality. The plating on the contacts of the tail cap looks a little thin. I plan on recharging it using the charging cable, so it's a non-issue for me since I'll never be taking off the cap. I guess if you use CR123A cells and change them every day, it might be an issue.

All the stuff I look for is there. The machining is spot-on, even down to the square threads for the tail cap. Cheap clips are a real pet peeve of mine, and I'm happy to report that this one seems much higher quality than previous generations.

The switch has a great, solid feel. The lens / reflector setup looks well built, though it is acrylic and not glass. One pet peeve of mine is low frequency PWM. This model uses high frequency PWM on most modes, though it does run constant current on moonlight mode.

From what I can tell, Olight listened to its customers and stepped up its game.


Fit and Finish


Overall, good. The anodizing on their S series (headlamps as well) has always seemed to be a little thin. At this price point it should really pop. Same with the blue anodized accents.

The knurling is well-machined, but a little too smooth on the tail cap. You could make the argument that sharper knurling wears your pocket out, and that the tail cap doesn't need to be taken off with a rechargeable base, but I still wish the knurling was a little sharper.

Other than that, the fit and finish is basically immaculate. The look, feel and finish of the switch seems like a big step up from earlier generations. The clip is as tight as I've ever seen on a snap-on clip.The stenciling and knurling are precise, and all the anodizing is nice and uniform.

The LED is machine centered, though the reflector does seem to have a small aberration which doesn't affect the beam or output.

User Interface / Modes


The S1R has 6 modes, 3 of which are "hidden" modes: moonlight, low, medium, high, turbo, and strobe.

Normal use: Single click the switch to turn the light on and off, and hold the switch down to cycle through low, medium and high, in that order.

Moonlight mode: With the light off, press and hold the button, and the light will come on in moonlight mode.

Turbo: Double click the switch at any time and the light will come on in turbo mode, whether the light is on or off when you start. The light will stay in turbo until the circuitry decides to kick it down to high mode, based on the voltage of the battery and heat.

Strobe: Triple click the switch at any time an the light will switch to strobe mode. I'm not a huge fan of these "disco modes" but it's tucked out of the way, and it's fun to impress your friends with.

The mode spacing is pretty good on this light. I especially look for moonlight and low modes to be as low as possible, since I usually either need a small amount of light or I just triple click to turbo.



Output


The output of this model on Turbo is fantastic. I don't use a light sphere to measure output, but I have lots of CRxxx sized lights to compare it to, and it's the reigning output champ of my collection. So, I have no reason to doubt any of the specs.

Beam



The beam on the S1R is almost pure flood, due to it's odd reflector setup. This is a light meant for closeup EDC style tasks. It has a nice, smooth beam pattern for having such a shallow reflector, due to what I can only think to call a "stippled hybrid TIR reflector" design. It's an odd design, but it works well.

Tint



Olight shipped me a cool white version because they were short on stock for the neutral white version I requested. For cool white models my pet peeve is lights that have an icky blue-ish or green-ish tinge. This sample has what I would call a true cool white tint, probably due to the high frequency PWM. It's pretty good for a cool white.

The photos below are a comparison between the cool white and neutral white versions of the H1R, but my S1R has the exact tint as the cool white H1R so these photos are a good comparison for tint.



Detachable Clip


This model uses a snap-on type clip. I seriously didn't like the clip designs on the older Olight models because the clip detached too easily when I'd carry them around in my pocket. I've noticed that the newer models have beefier clips which fit much tighter. It's still not my favorite style of clip, but it's performed well for me so far.

Electronic Switch


Anyone who knows my reviews knows that I'm a huge fan of electronic switches. I'm pretty hard on my gear, and while mechanical switches have a great feel, they just don't seem to last very long with heavy use. In fact, I think the only light I still have with a mechanical switch that I've used for any period of time and is still alive, is my trusty V11R.

The electronic switch on the S1R is well designed and well implemented. It's still not ideal finding the side switch like this by feel in the dark, but I keep the clip rotated to where the switch is on the opposite side, so I can pick it up in the dark and turn the light on without fumbling for the switch.

Circuitry


This model uses high frequency PWM on most of its modes except moonlight mode. While I don't really like PWM in general because it's less efficient, many manufacturers use it to improve the tint of the beam. I only use constant-current lights for survival bags, because I want every minute of run time in an emergency, but for EDC it's fine, because I can just hook it to the charger if it goes dead while looking inside a cupboard. Moonlight mode uses constant current which is good.

Built-In Charger



All the "R" series from Olight contain a built in charger in the base, with a USB connector that attaches to the flashlight with a magnet. I didn't get a chance to test the charging much with the H1R review, but I put this one through its paces, and it performs well.

For my test, I used the light until the battery was dead, then connected the charger through a USB meter, which measures the charge rate as well as the voltage. Both are where I'd expect them to be, and it actually is a little aggressive with the charge rate, which I like. Most USB chargers charge in the range of 500 mAh, so it's nice to see this one bump it up a little.

The charger cable has a little colored LED that shows red for charging and green for fully charged, which is also nice.

Olight S1R Baton - Charge Test 1
The numbers are right on

Olight S1R Baton - Charge Test 2
The included rechargeable battery is a nice touch

Usability

Olight S1R Baton - Magnetic Base
I keep mine on attached to the range hood above my stove

Olight S1R Baton - In Hand
This is a very compact flashlight


I've been super busy lately, but one of the benefits of taking so long to do a review is that I have spent lots of time with this flashlight. I keep the H1R and the S1R both connected to the range hood above my stove to make them easy to grab when I need them. It's a great setup but I knock one of them off almost every day and it bounces off the metal stove, sometimes when I'm cooking.

So, durability over time, check. My S1R has several nicks from being dropped repeatedly, but nothing concerning.

One thing I noticed with the S1R over the H1R is that the S1R stays in turbo mode much longer than its cousin before it steps down to high mode, though it does get a little warm.

This S1R has been my go-to EDC light for 2 months, I still can't decide whether I like the S1R or the H1R better. The H1R has a switch that's easier to find by feel because it's on the top of the light, but the S1R has better output and a longer lasting turbo mode.

Conclusions


This is about as close to perfection as I've seen for an EDC flashlight. When I lived in a very rural area, these types of CR123A lights didn't have quite the run time I needed. But in a city or the suburbs this is pretty much my favorite form factor for EDC, with the 2xAAA form factor a close second. But the power-to-weight ratio I think is a little better for CR123A. Sometimes I carry my 2xAAA Lumintop IY365 just because those pen light type lights are slimmer in my jeans pocket. If I'm wearing a jacket or cargo pants, this S1R is always in my pocket, and I'm happy to recommend it to others. It's taken a couple drops where I thought "there's no way it survived" and it's held up well.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Review: SANSI Warm White 15W Light Bulb & SANSI 30W Cool White LED Light Bulb

The early days of LED technology saw it mainly used only for advanced scientific applications and by garage-engineer hobbyists. When I was growing up in the 70s, my friend's dad was an engineer for Motorola, so my nerdy friends and I had access to drawers full of them. Most people saw them as toys back then. Back then, most of the light bulbs in any given house had GE or Philips logos on them.

Fast forward to 2017, and LED technology has fairly recently advanced to the point where it can replace traditional lighting. There's been an explosion of new LED companies, and LOFTEK is one of those companies. I had never heard of them before they sent me an outdoor multi-colored LED flood light, which still sits outside my brother's brewery, usually showing green if the bar is open, and red if it's not. LOFTEK supplied me with these two lights as well, the SANSI 15W warm white and the 30W cool white.

Modern LED light bulbs should be considered as basically just disposable flashlights, since there's nothing user-serviceable inside. They mostly use the same type of LED emitters that were perfected by flashlights, and similar circuitry as well. So it's all the same components of a flashlight.

Official Specs (30W Version)

  • Super Bright – 3000lm, E26 holder, 30W LED Bulb equivalents to 250W incandescent bulb. These gorgeous LED bulbs provide bright lighting for your dark garage, making the night as bright as day.
  • Energy Efficient – These 30-watt LED lights can help you save hundreds over the lifetime of the bulb. Comparing to traditional light bulb, under the same brightness you could save nearly 240 Kilowatts in one year with 3 hours of use each night.
  • Good Quality – SANSI LED Bulb adopts patented technology---the ceramic heat dissipation technology, by which lighting security and cooling efficiency are greatly improved.
  • Wide Applications –Great for garage, warehouse, barn, garden, office, shopping mall, supermarket, station, restaurant, hotel, workshop etc., indoor anywhere need bright light.
  • What You Get – SANSI 6500K LED Bulb, our fan-favorite 5 years warranty and friendly customer service.

Official Specs (15W Version)

  • Save up to 88% ($200) in energy savings compared to a 150W equivalent light bulb.
  • Compare our light! At 133 lumens per watt, we have the highest rated lumen/watt ratio versus all other LED light bulbs using our ceramic technology. Ceramic dissipates heat more efficiently versus older aluminum LED technology.
  • Energy Star Certified, UL Listed, Dimmable, No Flicker, Standard E26 Base, Traditional A19 sized bulb.
  • Ceramic vs. Aluminum: Our LED chips are mounted directly to the ceramic making each chip PC board and adhesive free. Aluminum requires a bigger bulb base than the A19 and produces less lumens per watt.
  • 30,000 Hours Lifetime, Omni-Directional 270° Beam Angle.


Initial Impressions


The 30W (cool white) bulb came with a built-in diffuser, just as I would expect. At that output level it could blind you in any clinical definition if you stare directly into the LED. The downside to a hermetically sealed diffuser is that I can't see the way the individual LED emitters are mounted to get a feel of its quality. But it looks pretty solid, and it's heavy like the 15W version.

The 15W (warm white) bulb really interested me, because it's something I plan on using every day, which is the best way I can test it. This is their warm white version that I specifically asked for. LED lights don't have to look like the sickly blue of decades of fluorescent lighting. The warm versions of the emitters cost a little more to produce, so most companies are pushing the cool white versions of their products, which is a shame. Taking it out of the box, it seems much heavier than I would normally expect in a light bulb. And that's actually a good sign, because LEDs put off heat, and the best way to keep something from getting too hot is to have lots of some type of insulating material. These use ceramic for their insulation.

As I said above, before the last review, I had never heard of this company. The product they linked me looked cool but a little cheap in the photos, so we were all surprised to see how solid it was, and how well it's held up to being outside for months. It rains a LOT here in Portland, Oregon, and it's held up even to a little snow.

So, I wasn't that surprised that both these bulbs give me a good initial impression. Holding them in my hands, looking at the construction, plugging them in, and turning them on: Just what I would expect from a decent quality light bulb, and it seems like it's just a little better constructed than a Philips warm white LED bulb. I had two, but one crapped out after about a year's worth of use, so I'm always happy to run competing products side by side.



Build Quality


15W Warm White Light Bulb

Good, overall. The LEDs on the 15W bulb look to be well mounted and of generic Chinese manufacture. These types of generic emitters aren't as good as Cree, but at a fraction of the price, they can be good values if you get decent ones. These days that's kind of roll of the dice.

Flashlights that put out a similar amount of light as these bulbs tend to be on the heavy side, just like these two bulbs. More weight means more ceramic in this case, which means more "thermal mass," which means more effective cooling. But excess heat is a bigger problem than with bulbs made from fewer emitters, so anything with this many emitters is going to need to be on the heavy side if it's decent quality.

I would have liked to see a diffuser on this model, but it's not a huge issue because of the way it's mounted now, and also because I can see the way the emitters are mounted.

30W Cool White Flood Light Bulb

It's overly heavy just like its cousins, as it should be for a 200+ watt equivalent bulb. I like that it has a plastic ring so you can unscrew the bulb when it's hot. Nice touch. It seems solid just like its 15W cousin.

Usability


I've tested both of these bulbs extensively and I like them. The 15W warm white bulb has a good tint (3000K), and it's probably turned on 8-12 hours a day. It's a tad heavy for the clip on lamp I have it in, so I had to re-position the clip a little, and it's been fine ever since.



Conclusions


These seem like good products, but for a light bulb it's hard to know the quality without having them turned on for long periods of time, which I've tried to do for this review. The LED floodlight they sent me has been powered on outside my brother's bar for about 6 months, so I feel pretty comfortable recommending their products.



Saturday, April 8, 2017

Review: MiBoxer C2-3000 2 Port Battery Charger

Back in the 1960s, my dad worked for Westinghouse, and they gave him a van load of rechargeable batteries. He put them in all of our devices, so I knew a childhood where everything was rechargeable decades before everyone else did.

But people still buy disposable batteries, which makes me sad, because the technology has been around for too long to waste your money on something you only get one use out of, instead of modern cells that can be recharged 1,000 times or more. Why buy 1,000 batteries when you can recharge just one?

Part of the problem now is that there's so many different types battery chemistry and formats to worry about. So I've been happy to see the slew of smart chargers that have popped up over the last few years. These types of chargers can pretty much charge anything rechargeable that fits in the charging slot. I can give a family member a mixture of lithium-ion and AA rechargeable flashlights without worrying about them burning their house down!

This 2 slot MiBoxer C2-3000 Smart Charger supplied by MiBoxer claims to be just that. I had never heard of MiBoxer so I did a little research and their chargers seem to get good reviews. I didn't see this model on Amazon, but I do see their 4 slot version.

MiBoxer C2-3000 Battery Charger - Product View


Product Description

Price: 20 bucks online?

The C2-3000 is a 2 slot, analyzing charger that uses a USB charging interface, with its included cable. It claims to charge pretty much any lithium-ion, NiMh or NiCd cell that fits in the charging slot. It's informational display tracks capacity, voltage, internal resistance, charge rate and estimated remaining time.

Official Specs (From MiBoxer)



Initial Impressions


Overall, good. Out of the box, it almost looks like a re-branded Nitecore charger or one from the big brands. The Chinese don't put the same focus on brand recognition as other countries, so it's always a good guessing game figuring out where something is made, and who made it.

MiBoxer chose an interesting power configuration. The unit comes with a DC plug on one end of the supplied cable, but the other end is a standard USB cable end. I would've preferred a standard mini or micro USB on the other end, but it's not a huge deal unless you lose the cable. Don't lose the cable!

The included 12 V car adapter is a nice touch. That's really the good thing about USB smart chargers: you can charge your batteries anywhere. I have a couple large USB power packs I built myself, which makes it handy to charge flashlight cells from a portable pack.

The informational display is impressive. Extra points for showing the internal resistance and estimated time remaining.

MiBoxer C2-3000 Battery Charger - Product 1

MiBoxer C2-3000 Battery Charger - Product 2

MiBoxer C2-3000 Battery Charger - Product 3

MiBoxer C2-3000 Battery Charger - Product 4

MiBoxer C2-3000 Battery Charger - Product 5


MiBoxer C2-3000 Battery Charger - Product 6


Build Quality


Overall, good. My review sample seems to be well built. The plastic housing is as thick as I think it should be and the spring loaded contacts look durable enough. The back lit display is a nice touch and well mounted. The charge cable is thicker than most of my USB cables and definitely appreciated, though it is a non-standard cable.

All things considered this unit seems well built for a budget charger, which I assume is selling in the 20 dollar range.

Fit & Finish


Overall, good. The single button on the unit looks a little cheap, but reasonable for a charger in this price range, and just like my other chargers. It'd be nice to see something more durable like the rubber coated switches with the anodized rings on some of my flashlights.

There's not really much to pick on: The information on the  backlit display is extremely crisp, though the back light seems a little on the bright side. The cells fit well into the charging slots. The sliding, spring-loaded contacts slide well.

The charging cable has a secure fit, which is good because it's a non-standard USB cable. As far as fit & finish goes, this could easily pass for one of the bigger brands.

Features



The C2-3000 is a two slot charger that can charge pretty much any rechargeable cell that fits in one of its slots. With a USB interface, it can charge cells from a wall charger, included car charger, laptop, desktop, or power pack--basically anything with a USB port that puts out 5 volts.

There's a button on the charger that switches the display between slot #1 and slot #2, and the display shows lots of information:

  • Estimated time remaining
  • Measured capacity
  • Internal Resistance
  • Current Voltage
  • Charge Rate

MiBoxer C2-3000 Battery Charger - Animation 1
Above I'm charging two Samsung 18650 (3,000 mAh) lithium-ion cells
There's no special test modes, which seem to be on their 4 slot model.


Charge Rate


The achilles' heel of any USB charger is that they tend to be really conservative on charge rate, which makes sense because the charger doesn't know the quality of the USB power source it's being plugged into.

Because of the lower charge rate, it can take 8 (or more) hours to charge some of the higher capacity lithium-ion cells like the 18650 or 25650. So anyone looking at a USB charger to charge lithium-ion cells should take this knowledge into account.

When I first plugged this charger in and put in a Panasonic 18650 3400 mAh cell, it started out at 100 mAh, which is extremely low.

But luckily the charger is just really cautious and will gradually bump the charge rate up. I did a little video and it was still at 200 mAh, but I checked an hour later and it was up to 550 mAh, which is about as high as most USB chargers go.

Usability


This is a fun charger, and the only one I have which measures internal resistance. It seems to charge a little faster than other USB chargers I've owned. Maybe even given its 550 mAh charge output, which leads me to suspect it might be charging a little higher than its reported output.

The estimated time remaining is also nice. I'm a busy guy, and we're all used to our other devices giving us an estimate, even if we know it's just an estimate.

MiBoxer C2-3000 Battery Charger - Charging 2 Panasonic 18650 Cells
Wait, 9 hours?
MiBoxer C2-3000 Battery Charger - Animation 2
Doesn't seem to have any problems mixing battery chemistries on the same charge


Conclusions


If you use high capacity lithium-ion cells on a daily basis, you probably want a 2 amp wall charger. But if you use these cells every day, you probably already know this.

If you use lots of different cells once in a while like most people, then USB chargers like this are nice because they give you lots of options for charging, with a sacrifice in charging rate. And this seems like a good USB charger, even if I've never heard of the brand. This one shows how smart these budget chargers are getting, and I really like the internal resistance display, which gives you an idea of how much life the cell has left in it.

It's still a good option for me as a 2nd charger, because I like to build my own USB power packs, and it's very appealing being able to charge all my cells from a power pack or my truck in a pinch. I always throw a USB charger like this one in the truck for camping and long road trips.

For this reason, I think these types of chargers are good for survival bags and living off the grid. Combined with a power pack and USB solar panel like the one I have, I can charge AA and AAA cells indefinitely in an emergency, as well as all my lithium-ion cells. Chargers like this one plug straight into the solar panel!