Friday, November 6, 2015

Nitecore MH10 Real Life Review

Scratched, used, abused, recharged, still going strong
Of course, the ads are supposed to present a product in a great, sleek way.  I mean, you look at the Nitecore MH10 on the website or a catalog and you can almost feel the HAII military-grade knurling.  Looks every inch solid, too, like you can bonk it against an intruder and it would not likely sustain even a scratch.  Heck, there are also a lot of reviews online on new models but not much on a half-year or year-old one.  Sure, a torch can look good now but in an age of planned obsolescence, will it last?  This is crucial as a torch that comes undone during emergencies is a useless piece of junk.

While I find flashlights fascinating, I try not to be a flashaholic.  I only started out upgrading my sets last year when a neighborhood fire sadly revealed the inadequacy of my incandescent torches.  I do miss the durability of my old and trusted Maglites (two lasted like 15-17 years) but while Maglites have also moved into LED territory, I feel the tech is not as advanced as other brands (case in point, they have CR123-fueled torches but apparently refuse to carry 18650/IMR-powered ones).  I tried Fenix but had two bad experiences with their AAA lights (one leaked, another conked out after just three or so months) so I had to consider another brand when I began looking for an adequate search light that can double as my EDC.

I was a bit wary about China-made flashlights at first so I tested the waters on a Nitecore single AA flashlight, the SENS AA.  It is solid and still going on strong after more than a year and a half, mingling happily with my keys (the hard knurling is scratched but then again, no knurling can probably last being in a pocket full of keys day in and day out).   The SENS is a more than adequate replacement for my Maglite Mini Solitaire (2 lumens vs. 120 is a no-brainer) but I know I needed something to replace my big Coleman flashlight that runs on D cells (archaic, I know).  I looked around and toyed with another Nitecore, either a P12, EC20 or this, the MH10.

RECHARGEABLE HYBRID.  The three aforementioned flashlights share common specs, hovering around the 1000 lumen territory (only the EC20 is sub-1000lm) with nearly identical output and runtimes, running on an 18650 or CR123 batteries.  The P12 and MH10 are priced almost identically, give or take a few hundred pesos at Tactical Asia while the EC20 is a thousand pesos cheaper.  
Pros, cons, useful features at a glance
So, why did I chose the MH10?  The built-in charger was the deciding point.  Not only was it cheaper overall not having to buy a separate special charger for the 18650 battery, it also saves on luggage space when traveling.  I just bring my 5w smartphone charger and an ordinary mini-USB cable.  While this also runs on two CR123 batteries, these are expensive in the long run (bad for the environment, too) and also hard to source especially during out of town trips.  Heck, not even TruValue carries 18650 batteries though Vape/eCigarette shops carry them.

PERFORMANCE.  In nearly eight months, my MH10 has gone from a safari assignment on a liveaboard boat, over a reef station, all the way to the boondocks where I have used it as a replacement headlamp tethered to a Nitecore headband (I thought at first it may be too heavy but it actually works great).   The range and brightness are incredibly useful.  Guards stationed on a reef station were amazed it was so much brighter than their old-fashioned searchlight about 4-6 times the size.  Hiking the terraces up north, I can see fellow hikers like over 600 feet away on another hill (overheard during a terraces walk: "Parang pampulis lang" (translated: "it's like a police searchlight")) which is, pun intended, a glowing remark.

CHARGING AND RUNTIMES.  Spending overnight on a reef station down south, I've managed to recharge my MH10 using a solar panel-fed power inverter.  Observation: it charged when the same inverter wouldn't charge my companions' smartphones probably owing to the smaller power draw.  While I use the turbo setting sparingly, I'm not averse to using it when I need to, say, to look at a burning kaingin area up on a distant hill.  I seldom recharge during a 3-4 day trip and to think, I only use a 2300mAh battery at that.

USABILITY.  I use this everyday and from day 1, there's practically no learning curve - cycle through 4 brightness levels by clicking the button.  Double click for the special modes of quick flashing, strobe and locator beacon.  I know that some flashlight fanatics pooh-pooh at the 1 lumen moonlight mode but personally, I find this useful.  In a prolonged power outage situation of which this country has quite a few of, 520 hours or 21 days of 1 lumen illumination can mean a big difference.  The built-in power meter (control button puts out a series of flashes to indicate remaining voltage) is very, very useful, eliminating needless recharging and prolonging battery lifespan.

KNURLING.  I always carry my MH10 around clipped to my pocket but also tethered to the lanyard attached to my belt using a lockable Niteize S-biner.  In over six months, my keys have scratched the hard anodized finish alright but that's okay; it looks very much used because it is used daily.  I know that the nylon sheath that comes with it is supposed to protect against that but it adds bulk and I don't want to walk around looking like Batman with a full utility belt.

NITPICKS.  For their 2015 line, Nitecore has abandoned the twist a screw/twist metal cover for their rechargeable flashlights' USB ports and while I'm pretty confident the rubber port cover can hold its own during brief splashes or immersion, I'm not going to take chances on really submerging this flashlight in a flood.  The port cover is also a weak link in what is otherwise a durable all-aluminum flashlight, which is perhaps the reason why a spare cover is provided along with a spare O ring.  Another quibble: the port cover is also on the same plane of the switch; in the dark, it is easy to mistake one for the other.  A practical solution: I put the titanium clip in the direction of the port cover so I know just by feel where the control button is.

CAVEAT.  I guess any manufacturer will tell you there will always be a lemon in a batch.  The first unit I got was one.  It did light up and all but the indicator light was faulty.  I simply have no way of knowing whether it was charging and if it did, how much power was left in the battery.  Buying from a local distributor (Tactical Asia) gave me the convenience of returning the defective unit and getting a replacement in less than three days.  Whew!  To think, I was thinking of ordering one from overseas.  This is an independent review but I highly recommend Tactical Asia if you so decide to locally source this or other Nitecore flashlights.  Quick delivery to boot.

LEARNING CURVE. Transitioning from traditional D and AA/AAA cells, I had a learning curve to follow.  These new-generation flashlights generate so much light because the new Li-on/lithium/IMR batteries pack so much juice, they generate 3-4 times the charge of conventional batteries.  That said, I've learned to treat these with care and respect.  

For one, I've learned not to drain them to like below 10%, and certainly not 0% -- that's the easiest way to shorten their over 500 recharges lifespan.  Also, take note that the Nitecore 18650 batteries are slightly longer than their unprotected counterparts.  Protected means that they carry an IC that protects against overcharging among other things, hence the extra millimeter.  Lastly, some couriers like LBC, may refuse to handle the battery for airfreight as there are cases of unprotected batteries exploding in mid-air (some education is in order as to differentiate unprotected vs. protected batteries).  I have yet to hear about airlines refusing to take these in, though.  So far, I have passed through domestic airports' X-rays and have encountered no problem.

SPECS IN A FLASH:  4 brightness levels (1000, 240, 70, 1) • 3 special modes (strobe, strobe, locator beacon)  • Min/max runtimes (1 hr 15/520 hours or 21 days) • Power source (1 rechargeable 18650 or 2 disposable CR123 batteries) • Throw: 232 meters (over 700 ft) • Brightness: 13,500 candlepower • Size: (1 inch diameter, 5.12 inches length) • Weight: 2.65 oz/75 grams • Charging Time: approx. 6 hours for drained battery (built-in charger only charges 18650 batteries, not RCR123s) • Alternative Charging: solar panel; inverter; power bank
 

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