Today’s my birthday (None of your business, you young whippersnapper!) and Michele, following our tradition of “useful” gifts and her experience with my well-known love of gadgets that go “blink” in the night, gave me a flashlight. She knew I’d been mourning the ARC AAA “keychain” light I’d given to my daughter a couple of years ago, and so she let me choose its replacement. It came a few days ago, and at my age you don’t wait to open your presents. 😉

I chose the Fenix E1. It’s teeny. It weighs 0.9 oz (25.5 g) with its AAA alkaline battery installed, and with a lithium cell it would weigh even less. The whole thing is about 2.8 inches (7.1 cm) long and 0.5 inches (1.3 cm) in diameter, roughly 60% of which is taken up by the AAA cell. The (nominal) 1.5 volts of the AAA is regulated to the 3+ volts needed to drive the 1/2-watt Nichia Power LED by circuits just to the rear of the reflector and low-reflective glass lens. You twist the head assembly counter-clockwise to the “on” position, and clockwise to turn the light off, as seen from the rear.

Construction is of “aircraft aluminum,” whatever that is, and while it’s not as thick and toughFenix E1 LED flashlight as some I’ve seen, it should prove to be adequately durable. I would expect the glass lens to be the most vulnerable part. Mine is a pleasant “aluminum” color with a type III anodized finish (the hardest). They are also available in black type III. The back end is flat to permit use as a “candle,” and there is a clever arrangement that allows you to do so even with the supplied split ring and snap fastener attached. It ships with the aforementioned, and a spare o-ring. A pocket clip is available as an add-on, and it isn’t a bad idea because the E1 is essentially round, and prone to rolling.

This is the smallest of a line of high-performance LED flashlights imported from China by Fenix and sold by a variety of distributors. Performance, as with all Fenix lights, is phenomenal. It is the first single-AAA light I’ve used that I’d consider an “all around” flashlight. For the geeks, output exceeds 130 lux (1 meter at beam center) and the regulated circuit will keep it at that level for about 90 minutes on a Duracell alkaline, after which the output drops rapidly to a much lower level where it stays for another couple of hours. I would expect noticeably better life from a NiMH rechargeable or lithium cell. The beam pattern is typical flashlight, with a fixed central spot and surrounding spill beam that lights the immediate area well.

Unscrewing the head assembly several turns gives access to the cell for replacement. The E1 will accept AAA alkalines, lithiums and rechargeables, but can not use the 3-volt AAA-sized cells that power some small appliances, as the regulator’s input limit is 1.6 volts. It’s also important to remember that, unlike flashlight bulbs which will simply refuse to light up, reversed polarity will damage LED circuits. Care must be taken to place the battery with the flat (-) end to the rear of the light. The good news is, if you feed LED’s properly they’ll last for thousands of hours, and they’re essentially shockproof.

For your own comfort, please believe me that you have most likely never seen a flashlight the size of an E1 that is nearly as bright. Looking at the “bulb” when it’s lit is like looking at a welding torch — I do not exaggerate — and there is no doubt in my mind that doing so for very long could damage your eyes. There is a big difference between a 100-watt bulb that radiates yellowish, mostly infrared light in all directions and an LED pushing 1/2-watt of pure blue-white light out of a small cylindrical reflector. You’ve been warned. This is one of the brightest little mothers I’ve ever seen for its size, and I collect flashlights.

What all this translates to is a little torch that will easily light a path outdoors to a distance of 10 or 15 meters on a dark night, illuminate the average room sufficiently for navigation while sitting on its end with the beam bouncing off a light-colored ceiling, get you across a dark hanger without catching an aileron in the face, or replace your bike headlight in an emergency — all in a “waterproof” package much smaller than a fountain pen. It is an excellent backup light for a cop or someone in the military.

I took a shower with mine a couple of days ago and had no problems, but I’m not taking it scuba diving. There was plenty of light in the bathroom for everything but shaving. This may seem like an odd way to test a light, but I have gone through three power outages from hurricanes in the past five years, each of which lasted for several days, and I believe in determining a light’s practical limits. Bench testing is well and good for comparisons, but nothing beats using a tool in the real world for finding out what it’s really good for.

Another important detail: the E1 is small and light enough to hold in your mouth for prolonged periods. If you don’t get the point of this, you’ve never had a real lighting emergency. I once landed an airplane with a flashlight in my mouth after flying it that way for over an hour. You never know.

The little Fenix is the light that now rides in my right-hand pocket with my Fisher Space Pen, my Benchmade folding knife and my medication tin. It replaced a venerable CMG Ultra that was, when I got it, the best single-cell LED light you could buy at just about any price. If the E1 has a flaw, it’s that the cell life isn’t sufficient for long-term emergencies like spending the night in strange, dark places. (I may add a lithium AAA to the med tin — there’s room.) All in all, though, it’s a lot of bang for the buck, in a convenient package. If you’re thinking about getting one to give as a gift, you may as well order two.

[tags]LED, Fenix, flashlight, gadgets[/tags]