Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Maglite XL200 LED

Last August, I was cruising the Internet and just happened on a sale from CHIEF regarding a new flashlight offering from Maglite. It was their new XL200 LED light. It boasts 172 lumen's, and was on sale for $30, so I took interest. Noticing they had free shipping for this unit, I decided to click add-to-cart, and the rest was history. After waiting for what seemed like a long while (hey, it was free shipping after all), my light showed up to my doorstep. It was packaged in that usual sort of plastic packaging that seems to take way too much effort to open... that is until you remember to use a pair of scissors. The instruction manual was part of the packaging, so I did manage to snip a section of that off as I got into the package; no worries since the part I removed was written in French.

I took a good look at what came. The light itself has a nice sturdy aluminum body with Maglite's famous anodized coating on it. There was a battery tray that holds 3 AAA batteries. At first I thought it was a joke. How do you get 172 lumen's from just 3 AAA batteries? Most of my other lights use expensive CR123a batteries and they just suck the life out of them in no time! But Maglite insists that their new competitor can hang with the other guys.

Now, this light is not marketed as a "tactical light" per se. But I do think offers some features that all good flashlights ought to have standard these days. Before I go any further, I must put out the disclaimer that I'm by no means an expert on lights, nor can I verify the claim that this light can put out 172 lumen's. All I know is that when I click the switch on the tail cap, the light is very bright... well for a while anyway. That being said, I'm not going to bore you with technical specifics and a bunch of jargon. I won't whip out the light meter or a voltmeter to check current draw or any of that crap. That shit is all fine and well in the lab, but in the real world, what matter's is: does it work?!

Okay, let's talk about some of the stuff I think any flashlight coming out today should have:

1. Sturdy Housing. I hate plastic flashlights. For my money, nothing screams quality like something crafted out of aluminum. Aluminum doesn't rust, so even if the anodizing chips away and breaks off, the metal exposed beneath won't corrode as easily as steel would. Of course, aluminum does oxidize, but I've never seen it rust.

2. Water Resistant/Proof. Not all flashlights need be completely waterproof unless you plan on taking it diving, but at the very least, it should be able to withstand a quick dunk in a puddle or stream unaffected. It should, however, be weather proof, and by that I mean that you should be able to use it in all kinds of sloppy wet or snowy weather without it being affected in any way. The seals should be sufficient enough to protect it.

3. Chemical Resistant. Contact with everyday chemicals should not affect the flashlight negatively. With exception to the lens (which may fog if it comes in contact with something like Brakeleen), the seals and power switches should not be adversely affected by contact with skin, sweat, salt, motor oil, coolant, cleaners, etc. In my business, any light that would be affected by this is junk.

4. Good Battery Life. This is hard for high energy, high output lights to accomplish these days. Even the most expensive lights can burn through a set of CR123a batteries in just a few hours - even less if the brightness is at full power. On that note, any light that can operate brightly on less expensive, common batteries, like AA and AAA is at an advantage, even if that means sacrificing some light output.

5. Bright light/good reflector/good throw. Of course, any light can be bright, but I've noticed that some lights have really bad bulbs, reflectors, and on some LED lights, the LED light gets washed out further away. I've seen it with standard bulbs, krypton bulbs, LED's, etc. If your incredibly bright light can't throw it out where it is useful, what good is it?

6. Tail Stand. This is often overlooked, but it is so important to me. The ability for a light to tail stand makes it very useful for use when you can use the reflection of the light to help illuminate an area. As a wilderness light, or utility light, it is very important that it can stand on its tail and provide enough light for you to work hands free.

7. Stays Put. Round bodies make a flashlight roll. If you can add knurling, or machine in flats, or even add a rubberized cap over the bezel to keep the flashlight from rolling away, then that is a very good thing. Flashlights that don't stay put can get very annoying.

8. Size. Depending on the application, this may vary. But a good wilderness or utility flashlight should be pretty small. If I can put it in my chest pocket and forget about it until I need it, then that is compact. a flashlight I can stick in my back pants pocket and pretty much forget about until I need it is also compact enough to be useful. Of course, larger applications may call for a larger light. While my 4Sevens Micro123 blasts out over 170 lumen's and is the size of a film canister, my dim (by comparison) 4D Maglite LED lasts a lot longer, and can be used for self defense. Size matters, but size necessity is determined by how it will be used.

9. Ruggedness. I know this sounds like it should belong under the sturdy housing part of this list, and you are probably right. But I've seen some lights that look tough, but fall flat when it comes to internals. How much shock the internals can take is important because I don't know about you, but I do drop my flashlights from time to time.

10. Value. Value is going to ultimately be determined by the customer who bought the light. Paying an excessive amount of money for a light just because of the brand is not value - it's dumb. Getting something that works that doesn't cost an arm and a leg is value.

Okay, we have our list: 10 things that I use to see how well a light will measure up. Of course, your list may vary, but I use a flashlight everyday for my job, and I depend on them a great deal out in the woods and around the house. I may not be up on technical jargon, but I know what works and what doesn't. I also know that if a light doesn't get the job done, it gets relegated to becoming a teething toy for my son, or a baton to be tossed and twirled around by my baby girl. Well, on that note, some of my testing is done that way. Give it to a toddler. They will find its weakness soon enough.

There is only one gripe I have about the XL200; it's a roller. Yes, it has some knurling, which provides some traction while holding and operating, but if you lay it on its side, you will find out if your floor is level or not. This really sucks when you want to orientate the light to point at something you are working on when you need two hands to do the work. What Maglite needs to either do to fix this problem, or at least mitigate it, is to either machine in some flats so it doesn't roll, or do what Streamlight did and that is to have an optional rubber cap to put over the bezel that has flats built in to it. It just needs a little something to keep it from rolling away from you. Heck, even a pocket clip would be a vast improvement over the current design!

The light itself is exceptionally bright.  For something that operates on 3 AAA batteries, this is truly something special.  Maglite claims 2 1/2 hours of continuous light at maximum brightness.  For my work, with a lot of momentary usage, mixed with times where I need the light for 10-15 minutes at a time at varying output levels, I was able to get the batteries to last to acceptable levels of output for about 3 1/2 weeks of real world use.  That's not bad when you consider that my older Snap-On LED, which ran on two CR123a batteries lasted only a few days!  That light has since been retired due to the fact it went through batteries like a rabid wolverine in a hen house.  However, the endurance of this little Maglite is indeed impressive for the kind of work I do.  I suspect that continuous night usage, while camping or fixing your car on the side of the road, may yield different results.  In that case, extra batteries should be on hand - just in case (note: You should always have spare batteries, duh!).  But let's be honest here.  AAA batteries aren't exactly rare, nor are they very expensive.  I recently bought one of those large 40ct packs of Duracell AAA batteries at Costco for only about a tenth of a cent more per battery than the AA batteries turned out to be.  Now, if AA battery prices are your benchmark, then you can easily say that the AAA batteries compete pretty well.  The downside is that this unit requires 3 AAA batteries whereas other mini Maglites may need only two AA batteries.  But the cost benefit tips in favor of the XL200 in my opinion due to the better light quality of this powerhouse.  It throws a nice solid and consistent beam of light.

To the right, you can see a picture that I took of the hotel room I'm staying in for the next few days.  I know, it's kind of a dive, but I can't do anything about the accommodations that my company is willing to pay for.  That beam of light, reflecting off the door is approximately 25 feet away, and even though the camera doesn't pic it up, the room was actually pretty well lit; well enough that I had no trouble reading the words on the clipboard attached to the door.  A Maglite that takes 2 AA batteries would not stand a chance against this light.  In the pic, I used fresh AAA batteries out of the package that are good if used by 2017.  For a small light that fits in palm of your hand, I'd say that is exceptional.  At $50, I'd say that is a ton of value for the money.  When you factor in the low cost of usage from the small, readily available, and relatively inexpensive AAA batteries it uses, I'd say you have more than enough value to justify the up front expensive of this unit.

It's gets better too.  The tailcap switch is recessed into the back of the body so that while you can click it on and off with your thumb, it can still tail stand, which I find extremely important.  If say, for instance, the power goes out for a few hours.  You can turn this unit on and set it up on the coffee table and it will do an exceptional job of illuminating the entire room enough so that you can see and get around, even perform tasks in the dark, all without having to ever pick up the flashlight.  I would demonstrate this in a photograph, but unfortunately, the camera in my Samsung Galaxy Tab isn't that great.  Needless to say, if you doubt me, buy one for yourself and see how well it works.  It works the best when you have a nice high ceiling that is painted white; it illuminates a room like that very well.  Additionally, I never set a flashlight down on its lens.  I've accidentally left flashlights on and didn't notice until the lens melted away or cracked; that really sucks.  So, for me, it's either stored with the lens up or lying down on its side.

As for sturdiness, I can say this light is pretty tough.  Though I haven't dropped it from a building, or from a bridge, I have dropped it several times - some by accident and some on purpose.  I did toss it across a room a few times and it has even taken a dunk in a toilet bowl (by accident of course), and it seems to work just fine.  I've kicked it around, and have subjected it to chemicals like oil, grease, coolant, cleaners, diesel fuel, and other gases that I probably shouldn't have inhaled.  The seals look great; no problems there.  The lens has a good little scratch from something, but it doesn't distort the light beam at all.  Aside from a few small nicks and chips around the bezel and the tail cap, this light looks to be in good shape, appearance-wise.  Besides, a few nicks here and there add character to the light and give it a story to tell; that is, if it could tell a story.

I've saved the functionality of this light for last.  By now, if you are still reading, you are probably intrigued enough to go on.  While all these nifty features aren't as important, they are still cool, if you are into that sort of thing.  The light employs 5 functions and a lockout.  The lockout renders the light inoperable so that there is no chance of a negligent light discharge until it is unlocked.  I will list the other 5 functions in order of how many clicks it takes to select them:

1 click: Full power on.  However, the tailcap has an accelerometer built in, so if you hold the switch down, and then rotate the flashlight body in your hand, you can vary the brightness level from high to low.  It also remembers this setting until you remove the batteries.

2 clicks: Strobe.  As with the full power on mode, if you click it twice and then hold it, you can vary strobe speed.  This may come in handy if you need it to signal, but don't need it to cause the recipient to have a seizure.  Or you can keep it fast to disorientate an attacker or whatever.

3 clicks: Nightlight mode.  This causes the light to come on full strength (or whatever output you set it to when you turned it on originally) and then dim to an extremely low output when the light senses it is no longer moving.  Then, if it is moved suddenly, it goes back to full or preset power.

4 clicks: Signalling.  Simply click the button 4 times.  You don't need to hold it down.  When you rotate the body 90 degrees, it will either turn the light on or off for silent signalling.  Need to let the rebels know how the British are coming?  Easy, two flashes if by sea and one flash if by land.  Well, at least that's how they would have signalled Paul Revere if they had this Maglite then!

5 clicks: S-O-S.  Ah the good ole distress signal.  Three short flashes, followed by three long flashes, finished off with three more short flashes.  The signal repeats itself until the batteries die.  Add the fact that this light can tail stand, and you have a viable means of throwing a bright signal into the air that would be hard to miss at night.  Any wilderness light should have this function.

Will you need all this functionality with your flashlight?  Perhaps not.  I find myself using the on/off feature 99.9% of the time.  The other .1% was just function testing and showing it off to coworkers and friends.  Then again, I'm not lost in the woods, nor have I found the need to signal anyone, or use the nightlight in my tent.  But I have used functions similar to these with other flashlights, so I guess my experience with others translates over to this.  The Maglite XL200 isn't your daddy's old flashlight; it's better.

For more information on this light, check out the Maglite website.

-James

2 comments:

  1. Great review, James, thank you for it. I'll be picking one up shortly.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The Partner 2AA flashlight is one of those extra things that I keep in my bag.
    It met all my needs and expectations: bright, small, light weigh and has easy operation.

    ReplyDelete