Monday, July 23, 2012

Review: Streamlight Microstream [AAA Flashlight]

Streamlight Microstream AAA Flashlight
Streamlight is a well established company who make a wide variety of different flashlights. The ones I am most familiar with are the Stinger, Microstream, Stylus and Nano. The Stylus and Microstream both use the AAA form factor with the Stylus using two AAA and the Microstream only using a single cell.

The AAA form factor is my favorite by far. The latest LED technology gives these type of lights a great balance between size, output and runtime. I also generally prefer single cell lights given that it's possible for multi-cell lights to reverse discharge and waste your batteries. This is why I chose the Microstream.

Streamlight Microstream

Price: $20

The Microstream is a single AAA light made in China, and is on its second product revision. With the first version, it was possible to break the loc-tite in the head, take the head off, and replace it with a Fenix L01 head, making it a multi-mode hybrid flashlight. The newer revision has a one piece body. The new version also has a more robust tail switch, and a two-way clip which allows the flashlight to be clipped either bezel up or bezel down. This new clip allows the light to be clipped to a ball cap and used as a head lamp.

My review sample was purchased from Amazon.com.

Official Specs


  • Single mode AAA flashlight 
  • 2 1/4 hours stated runtime
  • Momentary on "forward clicky" tail switch
  • 28 lumens stated output
  • Compact, waterproof construction withstands tough work environment
  • Proprietary Micro Optical System (MOS) for optimized output (super bright beam) and run time
  • Shock proof - drop test verified above the industry standard of 6 feet
  • Unbreakable pocket clip and ring for easy storage/attachment
  • Uses budget Cree XP-C emitter
  • Type II MIL-Spec black anodized finish
  • Reverse polarity protection (?)

Design


The design of this light is about as basic as it gets. The "momentary on" or "tactical" tail switch will be familiar to most users with any experience in using flashlights. The light comes on with the switch slightly depressed, and depressing it further engages the switch and make the light stay on until the switch is depressed again to make it turn off. As you can see by the pictures, the light does not "tail stand", which is where you use the light as a candle by putting it on a table or counter and having the "ceiling bounce" light up your room, usually in an emergency.

First Impressions


The Streamlight comes in a blister-pack, which definitely isn't my favorite type of packaging. Taking the light out of the package, it has a very solid look to it. There's no obvious defects, and the XP-C emitter is well centered. The dual clip is neat, and it clips right onto my ball cap. 

Unscrewing the tail so I can put a battery in, I notice the gritty feel and squeaking that other users have reported. Clearly it's rubbing the anodizing off the threads, and I can tell that eventually it's going to wear it all off. The purpose of putting anodizing on the threads is usually for something called "tail cap lockout", where you loosen the tail a quarter turn or so and it locks the switch out by breaking the connection to the battery. That way you can guarantee that the light won't turn on when it's in your pocket, or during travel. So, folks wanting to make use of this feature might want to think twice before purchasing this light.
Streamlight Microstream AAA Flashlight - Shown with Eneloop
Overall though it looks to be a rock solid light. People have continually reported that these lights can go through a washer/dryer cycle, get run over by trucks and generally withstand treatment that flashlights don't normally withstand. 

The small die size of the XP-C gives the light some pretty good throw for such a small light. The 28 lumen single output is very useful for day to day. I have lights that put out almost 10 times that with li-ion batteries (which this one is rumored to take) but I really think they hit the sweet spot with this. You get decent output and decent run time. 

As reported by many users, the tail switch is pretty stiff. It seems to be the main turnoff for people who don't like the light, but I actually like it this way. It's pretty much impossible for the light to accidentally come on in my pocket. The switch was supposedly made more robust as it was considered the Achilles' heel of the first version. I get the impression that the switch in mine was created to give no doubts as to its durability. There's a good workaround, which involves taking off the rubber boot covering the switch. This makes easier to engage the switch, but takes away its water resistance.

Fit and Finish


This is a well built flashlight, and the attention to detail is obvious. The anodizing is above average for a budget flashlight, and mine was flawless. The clip is sleek and well built, though I don't believe there is any way to take it off. 

The top boot cover has that same scratchy feel as the tail threads. The threads are my main gripe with this light.

The boot cover is thicker than it needs to be, which is the way I like it. It's also the reason the switch is so stiff. But I like that it's more durable, and again, I'm one of those people who like the switch just the way it is.

The light (surprisingly) has a smooth reflector, giving it more throw. And the poly carbonate lens looks higher quality than I thought it would. We'll see how easily it picks up scratches.

Lithium-Ion?


Supposedly you can put a 10440 3.7v Li-ion battery in the Microstream, turning it into a "pocket rocket". But alas, my grey Trustfires won't power the light up. I suspect this has to do with the reverse polarity protection. I don't think the bump on the positive side is making a connection with the head. But that's fine, because this light does just fine with a regular AAA or NiMH / Eneloop. 

Diffuser?


This light seems like a good candidate for a makeshift diffuser. But I have not been able to find the right one. It's just a hair too wide to fit a Chapstick or Blistex cap. Though I did set the light on an upside down funnel which made something resembling a table lamp! But at 28 lumens, this really needs a small diffuser.

Usability


The usability of this light is pretty good. It seems to sacrifice a little usability for durability, which I'm fine with. People seem to either love or hate the switch, and I'm one of the people who love it, though I will add that most of the time I use the momentary on. If you have to regularly engage the switch, it might not be so pleasant. But for momentary on, I think it's great.

I don't much like the threading on this light, but it's not a deal breaker because I'm not looking to use the tail cap lockout feature. 

The real surprise for this light is the amount of throw this thing has. I can't help but think this light is designed to be a thrower, though it's a little confusing to see that in a AAA light. At 28 lumens, it out throws some of my more powerful, floody lights. It would be nice to have a little more spill, but overall I like the beam.

Run Time Test


My own run time test with a second generation Eneloop gave me 3 hours, 50 minutes of light.  Very impressive.

Conclusions


This isn't my EDC. Normally I like a little more oomph from an AAA light. At least from one I'm using every day. Lights like my Thrunite Ti will do 60 lumens with a 3 lumen low, which gives me a little more utility. 

But I am a power user. Most flashlight owners will never need or care about multiple modes. So, this light is probably perfect for most people wanting a simple, durable flashlight. It's pretty much indestructible and completely idiot proof. 

I keep my Microstream clipped to my Maxpedition Rat Wallet (man purse). As a backup light, I know it will work when I need it to work. It's also my go to headlamp, since I'm not a big fan of dedicated headlamps. I've done a few auto / plumbing repairs with it so far. And at $20, I'm not afraid to sacrifice it to my plumbing. I discovered something with the Rat Wallet that I'm not sure anyone has ever noticed before. With the light clipped to the wallet, it shines right through to the other side. So, you can use the wallet as a light without ever un-clipping the flashlight!

For its few failings and annoyances, this thing is solid.

Comparison To Pelican 1910


These two flashlights are very similar. They have the same basic design and construction. They both have the same emitter: Cree XP-C.

Because they are so similar, I am going to focus on their differences:

  1. The 1910 has a softer switch. It's easier to engage, but the downside is that it would turn the light on while in your pocket much easier. Personally, I like the softer switch a little better. 
  2. The 1910 has a much wider hot spot. It definitely doesn't throw as far as the Microstream. So if you want more flood than the Microstream, then the 1910 is a good choice.
  3. The 1910 has a slightly wider reflector. Which is strange because usually a manufacturer will make the reflector wider to give the light more throw, which this one doesn't do.
  4. Unlike the Microstream, the clip on the 1910 is not a two way clip. Which is unfortunate because I use the Microstream as a headlamp. And unlike the Microstream, the clip on the 1910 is removable. Other than that, it's a good clip.
  5. The 1910 has a little better grip to it than the Microstream. Neither are knurled. 
  6. The Microstream has a removable switch boot, where the 1910 doesn't. The Microstream even comes with a spare.
  7. The 1910 has an anti-roll bezel. It has some thick grooves which prevent the light from rolling, even without the clip.
  8. The Microstream gave me over 3 hours more run time than the slightly brighter 1910.


Gallery

Streamlight Microstream AAA Flashlight, shown with some other AAA flashlights like the Thrunite Ti, Fenix E01 and Olight I3
Microstream and friends

Streamlight Microstream AAA Flashlight
Streamlight Microstream Tail Parts

Streamlight Microstream AAA Flashlight opened up

Tail Of Streamlight Microstream AAA Flashlight

Streamlight Microstream AAA Flashlight, showing worn threads
Here you can see the worn off anodizing on the threads

Streamlight Microstream AAA Flashlight shown clipped to a Maxpedition Rat Wallet
Shown clipped to my Rat Wallet

Streamlight Microstream AAA Flashlight shown with Thrunite Ti
Shown with a Thrunite Ti

Streamlight Microstream AAA Flashlight showing smooth reflector
Here you can see the smooth reflector

Streamlight Microstream AAA Flashlight

Streamlight Microstream AAA Flashlight shown with Leatherman Squirt PS4
Shown with Leatherman Squirt PS4

Streamlight Microstream AAA Flashlight shown with quarter for comparison
Streamlight Microstream AAA Flashlight showing a neat trick with the Maxpedition Rat Wallet
The light is usable without un-clipping it from the wallet!
Streamlight Microstream, shown with Pelican 1910 and Thrunite Ti
Shown with Pelican 1910 and Thrunite Ti
Notice the Microstream has a removable switch boot, unlike the 1910

Streamlight Microstream AAA Flashlight shown with Case 155 Lockback pocket knife
Shown with Case lockback pocket knife #156









2 comments: