If you’re like me, you probably just like good ‘ole flashlights: cheap, easy to hold and use, and durable. But if you’re a fan of “tactical lights” (read: mean-looking all-metal lights powered by the latest unobtainum emitters and bright enough to scare vampires), you’ll get a kick out of this one. It’s lithium-ion powered, chargeable via a micro-USB jack hidden inside the O-ring-sealed tailpiece, and “programmable.” (No, really.) That’s right: We’ve got ourselves a flashlight nerd extravaganza.
So like a Maglite, the makers intend to machine this tool’s body from a single hex-shaped chunk of aluminum. The funky shape provides better grip and keeps the light from rolling away from you when you put it down or drop it. But the real magic is in the LED. They selected the Cree XLamp XM-L, which gets a lot of discussion in forums as a badass little emitter, delivering a ton of light for its tiny dimensions. Indeed, the XM-L seems to be the emitter of choice for high-end “tactical” gear, and some quick Googling turned up quite a list of similar products.
Unlike the makers’ claims, though, we found a number of options of similar size, weight, and claimed performance, like the OLight M3X Triton, for example. It’s about an inch longer and delivers 700 lumens to the Flex’s 500. Or the Fenix TK35, which is about the same size (lacking the OLight’s huge reflector head) and delivers 820 lumens. And you can buy them right now with no waiting and no possibility of getting your money back sans flashlight if the user doesn’t make good. Oh yeah, did we mention that the Hexbright lights are a Kickstarter project? You pays your money, you takes your chances.
But the Fenix will set you back around $104, and the OLight clocks in at around $140. That’s twice the Flex’s $60, and if you’re willing to give up 150 lumens (but get back a little space in your backpack or on your tac belt), you have have the Prime for just $35. The Flex and Prime are more conveniently shaped, too, and you won’t have to lug around a special cable or wall-wart to charge the Prime’s li-ion battery; just jack it into a USB port via the standard micro-USB cable you’re probably already carrying for your cell phone.
Even if you’re not interested in the flashlights, you might want to take a look at the datasheet on the Cree XM-L (warning, PDF). With a maximum drive current of 3000 mA, you can get an idea of how long it might run in given applications. If I’m reading this right, the Flex pumps in 1.6A while the Prime delivers just 1A to the XM-L, which would seem to explain why they (and other XM-L-based flashlights) deliver slightly different light output. If you’re choosing a light, you might want to take a look at the battery specs and do the math yourself, rather than trust manufacturer runtime “estimates.” This is also why many expensive-ass tac lights offer multiple light level selections — to keep you from burning the battery down in minutes on the highest “bragging rights” setting. The Flex, for example, offers high/medium/low settings at 500, 350, and 200 lumens respectively.
Interestingly, the site is missing a few key bits of info, which I’m guessing is because they haven’t selected a vendor for all the flashlights’ parts yet. Specifically, we don’t know what model battery these will include, so we’re not sure about runtime. I also couldn’t find any information on what kind of “programming” you can do to the Flex via the USB port. The Kickstarter page’s title touts the Hexbright line as “an open-source light,” but I’m stumped as to what that means. Does it mean they’ll provide CAD drawings to it? Or will they post the microcontroller code and interface specs for the Flex to allow you to modify it for your own usage?
Regardless, this project stood out a bit from the pile of 10 or more Kickstarter links that land in the TM inbox every day. As of this moment the project has drawn in over $200,000 in pledges — more than enough to meet its $31,000 goal — so it seems likely that you’ll eventually receive a light if you pledge. At the $35 level you receive a Prime, which will retail for a not-so-game-changing $55, the makers claim. (Add $10 for shipping to Canada or $15 elsewhere outside the U.S.) For $50 you get a Prime engraved with your name and you get to choose the color. At the $60 level you get the Flex ($90 retail), and for another $15 you get the engraving.