The Inova X1 3rd Gen Flashlight: Did they ruin it?

I noticed one of my favorite flashlight review sites a mouthful to say about Inova’s recently updated X1 flashlight. You’ve probably seen these flashlights at Target. They are sold in unique looking packages that allow you to try em out and go “oooh shiny!” Ok, let’s take a break from words and do picture time:

Ok, back to words. The X1 is a small-sized (4 inches long, like half an inch in diameter) LED flashlight that runs off a single AA battery. You can find them at your Target store for $19.99, though sometimes it’s cheaper online. It is, in my opinion, the best bang for the buck when it comes to a general-purpose flashlight you’d carry around in a backpack, purse, or car glovebox. It is one of the only lights in its price range that includes voltage-regulation circuitry that maintains a bright glow throughout the life of the battery — not a steady decay from the moment you put the batteries in.

Now, what’s up with the negativity? Well, in May 2007, Inova released an update to this light, that boasted “2.0 Watt LED“. Now, we won’t go into the marketing inaccuracies of “2W” , but let’s just call it a more powerful bulb. This more powerful bulb is supposed to be twice as bright, but eat battery life 4 times as fast. The battery life has been whittled from the previous 8 hours to a mere 2 hours, according to the manufacturer. Many people in the.. err… flashlight community… are quite upset at Inova’s decision, and so was I at first. But I decided to take a look for myself. I eyed a $15.00 deal at an online retailer, then took advantage of a $10 off Google Checkout coupon. So, at the end of the day, $10 left my pocket and here I have this cute little flashlight sitting on my desk. So, here we go.. I’m gonna review a flashlight. Pardon the lack of pictures, my camera’s battery is discharged and I’m not waiting for it to charge up šŸ™‚

Initial Impressions, Look and Feel

Well, first: opening the box. Laugh at me all you want, but nothing sucks more than injuries sustained trying to open up packaging. I am glad to report that Inova gets my packaging seal of approval! Opening the box was effortless and did not involve any scissors or horribly mutilated plastic.

The light looks REALLY neat and is really easy to hold. I got the black version which looks very nice and sleek. Some simple bash-and-drop tests show that the light stands up superbly to impacts and scratching — so far it’s still unmarred. The light is really lightweight too — it is roughly the weight of a AA battery and a pen.

I loved Inova’s tactical tailcap switch. It’s a twist tailcap with… a twist (Ok, no puns, starting from now) . Twist the tailcap to the tightest position. The light remains constantly on. From there, twist it back around half a turn, until the light shuts off. This is the “instant-on” position. Pushing in the tailcap rubber piece activates the light for as long as you keep pressing. Twist the tailcap another turn out. This is the permanent-off position — perfect for packing in a tight bag. I found the tailcap to be very easy to use overall, though using the instant-on for extended periods of time will result in sore fingers. (You should really just lock it on if you’re using it for that long)

I’d rate a 10/10 for first impressions. Inova truly creates a visually stunning product that looks as good as it feels.

Performance

Note: This should go without saying, but DO NOT LOOK DIRECTLY INTO THE BEAM. It looks like a small scrawny light with a tiny little LED, but I guarantee you a direct look will blind you for a good minute, leaving you feeling very very silly.

Ok, let’s talk lighting. I went on a jog with the light at 10PM, when it was completely dark. On my usual jogging trail, there’s a few areas with extremely bumpy terrain and sudden stair steps. (On my very first run, I nearly tripped down some stairs! That taught me to bring a flashlight.)

So, how was it for navigating in the dark? I’d say “impressively good for its class”. Totally ignoring that this is a AA powered mini-light (I’ll refer to this as “blind” evaluation from now on), this flashlight provided excellent illumination that should be more than adequate for personal use. It was able to illuminate far enough to anticipate tree roots and broken sidewalk tiles even in pitch blackness at running speeds. It will definitely put your big C-battery dollar store flashlights to shame. It certainly isn’t the brightest light I’ve used — my previous, bulkier 3xAAA LED light was noticeably brighter and was able to illuminate further. Putting this flashlight’s size into perspective, I am extremely, extremely impressed. I never expected this much illumination out of a AA light, or even a 2xAA light. And I’ve owned plenty of little lights like these before.

As far as the physical light beam, it has a bright spot in the center, though has a well-illuminated circle that’s roughly 1 meter in diameter at a distance of 0.75 meters. The reflector has a matte/textured finish which helps disperse light more evenly. Even compared to a much more powerful/brighter LED light that I own, this inova was able to effectively illuminate a larger radius. Due to its somewhat lower powered LED, it’s not prone to the blinding reflections off closeby objects like a more powerful flashlight. These properties make this light also very useful for reading in the dark or working on something at night.

For lighting performance, I give it a 8/10 “blind”, a 10+/10 all things considered. I would not expect this level of performance out of a $20 light running on single alkaline AA’s.

For reference, the old one I would rate as a 6/10 “blind”, a 10+/10 all things considered, particularly considering the astounding battery life.

Battery Life

Ok, the dreaded topic… how’s the battery life? Well, I’ve ran two full drains today with the included alkaline battery and also another brand-new name-brand standard alkaline AA. Both consistently lasted roughly 3 hours till most people would call the battery dead for sure, 2:30 until I called it unacceptable.

How’s the discharge curve? Unscientifically, I did not start perceiving “Uh oh, the light’s dimming” until about 2 hours, at which point I could tell that the light was definitely brighter when the batteries were new. At 2:30, it was getting to the point that I had difficulty navigating with that level of brightness. At 3 hours it was basically poof. However, for the first two hours, I’d say the claim of “constant” brightness is pretty much accurate. I’m sure an intensity meter will prove me wrong, but I really don’t care. After all, it’s how I perceive it that ultimately matters to me, not what an Excel graph tells me.

So… what’s up with the 2:30 runtime? This is surely a disappointment from the 10 hour runtime before, right? I wouldn’t say so at all. In my opinion, the new bulb does add significantly noticeable brightness, particularly when illuminating things at a distance. In addition, 2:30 is not that bad at all. Every two hours, you have to pop in a cheap, commonly-available AA alkaline battery. I don’t see the big deal in that. If it were a CR-123A based light where a battery replacement at the local convenience store would cost me $10, then I’d expect the damned thing to run for 25 hours!

Final Verdict?

Did Inova ruin their wonderful entry-level flashlight? No, not at all. With regards to the new bulb, they simply made a trade-off of battery runtime for brighter light. Overall, I like the new reflector’s ability to spread light out more evenly. If someone were to ask me for a recommendation on a general-purpose flashlight, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Inova X1.

Overall Rating: 9/10.

For what you pay for? 10/10 hands down.

Pros: Reasonable price, small and portable, attractive apperance, durable, waterproof, satisfactory lighting, innovative switch, and lifetime warranty.

Cons: Some will say it’s dim: this is not a uber-bright sun replacement. It’s a personal flashlight that is inexpensive and runs off a single AA battery! Shortened Runtime: True, the runtime is drastically shorter than before, but I think the tradeoff was worth it, not to mention replacement/spare AA’s shouldn’t be hard to come by!

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8 Comments »

  1. elcasey said

    I’m thinking I need to find a way to strap this to the front of my bike instead of shelling out some exorbitant amount for a light with a bike clamp that isn’t also a flashlight. šŸ˜€

  2. jdong said

    Yeah, I think this would work well as a bike light. Most likely the best method of clamping it would be some sort of PVC tube job. (that’s what she said)

  3. elcasey said

    I have a feeling it’ll be duct tape for the forseeable future.

  4. Bryan said

    This would be GREAT for my ninja missions.

  5. jdong said

    Err… because others have commented on the wording of my previous reply, I’d like to clarify that “PVC tube job” means to use a segment of a PVC pipe as a canal and inserting the shaft of the flashlight down the tight….. you know what just forget it. Take it however you want.

  6. spr0k3t said

    Excellent review of a mini-light. I have a couple of these in the cars we drive. It’s not a replacement for the handy maglight, but then who wants to carry around a 6-DCell torch?

  7. I think that the battery life is much longer than they say.

    I have been sitting here for five hours or so doing a stupid research paper for my AP Language class (ugh), and it occurred to me that I could test the life of a battery myself. I turned it on at 8:04, and right now it is 12:40, and the light has not dimmed significantly yet.

    I will soon be doing an AP Statistics project on whether Rayovac batteries are as good as Energizer batteries, and I will use this light to determine if there is a difference. I was actually hoping for a 2 hour life (makes my data collection shorter), but I am happily disappointed.

  8. Almost five and a half hours and still decently bright (painful to look at as ever) It’s still as bright as my micro led light from inova, but I would say it has lost half or so of its brighness.

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