Quick Shot review 10:
Review date: 13 November 2003.
X-Light key-ring flashlights
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.
In the last couple of years, decent LED lights have made it into the supermarket price bracket.
Discount stores and auction site opportunists have been selling nasty little key-ring LED lights for some time, but they run from tiny LR44/SR44 button cells that give them bad battery life even by the low standards of other key-ring lights, and they generally have quite low quality LEDs that may or may not point more or less forward, and they often also have highly questionable switches.
These cheapies are generally built into the same "bullet" casings as dirt cheap laser pointers, and most of them are no better than the one I reviewed a couple of years ago now.
Then, however, there are the Photon Clones. They're likely to cost you more than a bullet-light, but they're also likely to have better LEDs and more reliable switches. And they'll be smaller, too.
Genuine Photon Micro-Lights are made from ultra-tough plastic, and have gold plated contacts and a lifetime guarantee against manufacturing defects. If you suspect that your life may at some point depend on a tiny Flashlight Of Last Resort, it's plain dumb to save a few bucks by buying a knock-off.
For most people's purposes, though, the clones are fine, especially if a local store sells them but you'd have to go further afield to find a Photon.
These are not Photon Micro-Lights. They are also, however, not knock-offs. They're X-Lights, and they're the Photon manufacturers' response to the flood of clones.
Like pretty much all of the clones, X-Lights are made in China and are not up to the standards of the "proper" Photons. But they cost only $US7.95 (or a couple of bucks more for a special model that I'll get to in a moment...), and the price includes delivery within the USA (outside the States you'll only pay a few bucks more for air mail), and they work perfectly well, and they've got a one year warranty.
I got a white, a blue, and a... special... X-light for review. They don't come in as many colours as the regular Photons; just red, white, blue, green, and the weirdo that I'll deal with shortly.
The regular X-Lights have the beam characteristics you expect from decent Photon clones. Not quite as bright from full batteries as the highest intensity Photons, and the white model has a stronger and less even blue component than a top-grade white LED will gives you (you can see the blue in the beam picture above), but perfectly adequate.
The white X-Light has an unusually broad beam, useful for seeing where you're walking at night.
I've given up doing beam-shot pictures for key-ring lights, because their brightness from fresh batteries is highly misleading. Key-ring light luminous intensity quite obviously drops almost by the second in the first few minutes of operation; for most of these lights' lives they'll be running from pretty clapped-out cells.
This is because lithium coin cells are designed for microamp draws, not the tens of milliamps that an LED will suck out of them. They've got ten year shelf life, but poor operating life.
Fortunately, beaten-up cells in key-ring lights are still useful. Many people are perfectly happy with Photons that're outputting 10% or less of their original brightness, and a lot of users don't change batteries for years on end. But the startling original brightness is still not particularly indicative of anything.
You can see the giblets of an X-Light through its nigh-unsmashable polycarbonate case. The case colour indicates the beam colour.
These lights have an electronic push-on, push-off switch that's actuated by a simple metal membrane under the button. The switch is big enough to use easily even with gloves or very large fingers, and stiff enough that it shouldn't trigger accidentally in your pocket.
Electronic switching is quite remarkable in a light this cheap. Every other Photon clone I've seen is either a Photon I-style momentary "squeeze light", or a Photon II-style squeeze light with a latch to lock it on. The other electronically switched Micro-Light is the Photon 3, prices for which start at $US20.95.
The Photon 3 has multiple brightness and flash modes; lower brightness modes are particularly handy to preserve the life of the tiny batteries. The X-Light just turns on and off.
But still - electronic switching in a $US8 light. Nice.
Insert a small screwdriver-y thing in a slot at the tail end of the X-Light casing and you can easily pop it apart. There's no fancy O-ring seal; these lights are splashproof enough, but not waterproof to any depth. On the plus side, the pop-open casing is well designed, and means you don't have to deal with any tiny screws.
Inside the casing are the two CR2016 coin cells (20mm diameter, 1.6mm thickness) that're par for the course in Photon-type lights.
It's easy to remove and replace the batteries, but the top contact strap that retains the cells needs to be tight for the light to work properly. The switch went intermittent when I fiddled around with battery-swapping. To cure this problem, remove the batteries and press down on the middle of the strap with the object of your choice to bow it downwards a bit. That'll make it grip the cells properly again.
The show pony
The $US9.95 X-Light is the "X-Color", a clear-cased light that contains a single-lens, triple-die, colour-mixing LED.
Turn it on and it starts out fading in and out its three colours in various combinations, then flashes them in sequence, then restarts its colour cycle.
A long exposure captures all of the X-Color's output (the blue beam is angled upwards, so you can't see much of it on the paper). It doesn't look like this in action, though...
...but this ought to give you an idea. The X-Light product page also features a rather overexposed X-Color video clip that'll show you how fast the chaser action is.
I've seen this sort of thing before, in the Psycho-Bright Rainbow. The X-Color does its magic the same way.
All of the light show hardware is, amazingly enough, built right into the LED. Not just the three dies, but the controller as well. These extraordinary light-show LEDs can be used pretty much anywhere a normal LED can, including for the lighting of computer cases.
(If you'd like to get some of these LEDs to play with, they're available from many LED dealers. Hosfelt currently sells 'em for $US3.49 each, part number 25-500.)
Peer into the end of the LED with sufficient magnification and you can see the unusual amount of wiring it contains.
Like the Psycho-Bright Rainbow, the X-Color isn't a lot of use as an actual find-your-way flashlight. But it's a heck of a lot better than trying to light your way with a mobile phone or wristwatch backlight.
The X-Lights aren't Photons, and they don't feel like them. They're a little bit creaky, a little bit less reliable, and can be a pain to use after a battery replacement if you don't get the strap tension right.
But they're cheap, they look good, they work well enough, and the X-Color is great fun for the money.
If you're looking for the cheapest key-ring light out there, poke around eBay and you'll find basic Photon knockoffs for a couple of bucks US. If you wait for bulk lots to show up you can pay significantly less per unit.
The X-Lights aren't that much more expensive, though, and they've got a neat-o electronic switch, a proper warranty, and a polycarbonate casing. Dirt cheap lights are likely to use brittle polystyrene, or some other inferior plastic.
So I think the X-Lights are a good addition to the low end LED flashlight market. They've got "stocking stuffer" written all over 'em. Recommended.
You can buy X-Lights and Photon Micro-Lights direct from LRI, the manufacturers.