Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Review: Maglite XL50

About a month or two ago, Nemesis and I were talking about EDC flashlights and candlepowers and such. The only flashlights I owned at the time were a 2-cell LED Maglite that sat in my truck's door pocket, a 3 or 4 of cheap-o LED lights that you find at parts stores on sale 2/$5, and a bright yellow Never-ready that came in a "severe cold weather vehicle kit" that I got as a door prize from a car show a few years back. I wasn't completely sure if any of these lights had good batteries in them, and the thought that I might need them in an emergency situation never really crossed my mind. I mean, I always checked to see if my Maglite was working, because it has come in handy a couple times in the past - but what if I needed a light, and my truck wasn't nearby? Also, what would I do if someone broke into the house at night? I had intended to purchase a weapon-mounted light for my M&P (review soon to come) just for that purpose, but what if the noises I heard were my grandparents? I most certainly wouldn't want to be pointing a loaded gun at either one of them just to get enough light to identify them.

These questions really made me start thinking about investing in an EDC light of some form, so I took to doing some research.

In my internet travels, I came to realize two things:

1. You get what you pay for
2. Flashlights are like sunglasses - the more you pay for them, the higher chance you have of breaking/losing them

So where was a happy medium? My budget sure as heck didn't allow me to buy a $120 SureFire, but at the same time I didn't want to cheap out and rely on those 2-for-$5 Autozone specials either. Then one day I was walking through the outdoors section of Walmart, intending to get some target practice ammo, and I came across where they stock flashlights. Nemesis had said something about getting a LED D-cell bulb upgrade, and I went to take a look. On the rack, I spotted something that had the Mag brand on it, but looked nothing like any of their lights I had seen. I typed down the model name - XL50 - and went back to what I was doing.

Later on, when I had time, I did some searching around on the interwebz for XL50 reviews. The general consensus was that it was a good light for the price, but better could be had for a little more scratch. What intrigued me was that it cost $30, had a bright 104 Lumen LED, and 3 modes: full-power, low-power, and full-power strobe. I thought those features decent enough, as I didn't need a full-on spotlight, but wanted something with some kick for the "just in case" scenario.

Maglite (and most people who review this light) advertise the strobe mode to either get someone's attention, or to disorient an intruder. I've had this light for about a month now, and have played around with all 3 settings... I can assure you that the only thing the strobe mode is good for is annoying people and making fun of techno music. It takes too long to activate in a panic, and isn't much more effective than a full-power blast to the face, especially when it's dark. That said, full-power mode takes one click of the button, and if you shine it in someone's face, they are blinded plenty long enough for you to make your next move.

The design is very simple, it's basically a skinny cylinder with one flat end and one beveled end. That's all there is to it, there is almost no imagination to the design. Oddly enough, being someone who enjoys design, I'm okay with the fact that this light is bland; it's not too showy, nothing shouting "look at me!!". The body is very sleek, with just a few spots machined for grip: one ring around the tail cap (for unscrewing to access the batteries), one ring around the reflector (to access the LED, and adjust the beam pattern), and a couple "lines" in the middle of the body for gripping the actual light. The machining is not very aggressive; it will not stop the light from rolling around, and if you have slippery hands you may have trouble holding this light firmly. The tail cap houses the power button, which works as follows:

1 click = Full-power
2 rapid clicks = 25% power
3 rapid clicks = Strobe
1 click after waiting a half-second = Off

The XL50 is made of aluminum, so it's very lightweight, and in my personal opinion, it's a pretty nice size. It's small enough and light enough that I forget I have it with me, yet it's big enough for me to comfortably hold for long periods of time. Battery life is also excellent; I've used this light extensively, and the 3 AAA batteries have yet to need replacement.

Now that I have the nice things out of the way, time to look at the bad.

This is a great little light for the money, but I feel like it's lacking in some ways. Most EDC style lights come with either a cheap nylon holster or a pocket clip. The XL50 has neither. I actually keep mine in a nylon pouch that came with a pocket knife I bought years ago, and never carry with me anymore. If I didn't have that pouch, then pocket carry would have been my only option out of the box. I also am not a fan of the "adjustable" beam pattern. Maglite sure likes to make sure you can adjust the beams of their lights, but on the LED models they always end up giving you a fat ring of light with a dark center. Fortunately, if you keep the lens screwed all the way in, you get a very nice pattern with no dark center. Last gripe I have is that the body is just too dang slick! It has a glossy finish that attracts fingerprints like crazy, and it makes for a difficult hold if your hands are slippery from being wet or greasy.

Despite those issues, I'm pretty happy with the overall product. I actually had the chance to give it a true emergency use 2 weeks ago when we had some severe storms come through and knock out the power where I work. The building I work in only has windows at the front, so if the power goes out, the back 3/4 of the place is black as can be. I happened to be in the very back room when the lights shut off, and I could not even see my hand in front of my face. I pulled my light and went full-blast at first, but then dimmed it to low-power both to conserve battery life, and because all 104 Lumens really just wasn't needed for what we were doing. Fortunately, the power button is recessed into the tail cap, so you can stand the light on it's tail; I did just that, and even at 25% power, the little Maglite gave off enough light to bounce off the ceiling and walls to light the room enough that people weren't running into tables or each other.

All in all, I'm pretty happy with my XL50. It does it's job nicely when required, and hasn't let me down yet.

Lots of features for the money
Compact and lightweight, great for EDC
Easy to use/change modes
Very bright, yet good on battery life
Uninspired styling (for people who don't like the "look at me!" factor)

Uninspired styling (for people who DO like the "look at me!" factor)
No carry options other than in-the-pocket
Body can be hard to grip if you have slippery hands
No flat surfaces to prevent rolling

Overall Rating:
4.5 (out of 5)

1 comment: