Keychain Flashlights - 3 Top Models Evaluated
When you find yourself in the dark unexpectedly a flashlight becomes a pretty valuable tool; however, not everyone wants to pack around a flashlight. Fortunately, improved technology has transformed the micro keychain flashlight into a real piece of gear instead of the unreliable novelty item it once was.
While there are numerous flashlights capable of being attached to a keyring; I value my keychain as an important part of my everyday carry setup, and wanted a truly compact yet effective light. My search quickly narrowed to three models all of which I would call micro size, and better yet all three models were under $10. Keychain flashlights included in this test were the Streamlight Nano, Energizer Hi Tech, and LRI Photon II. Despite being in what I would consider the same class of micro sized keychain flashlights and being very similarly priced; these were a mixed bunch of flashlights in terms of operation, design, output, and runtime.
The Streamlight Nano
The Nano quickly made a good impression on me; this light was crazy small and had a real feeling of quality about it. This Streamlight's housing is made from aircraft grade aluminium and has a black anodized coating, neither things you would expect to get on a sub $10 light. The light is simple to operate, you just rotate the head one way to turn it on and then the opposite way to turn it back off. The little Nano produces 10 lumens of light and has an up to 8 hour runtime, albeit with declining light output. Finally, this unit is powered by four LR-41 button style watch batteries which are easily replaced by simply unscrewing the head from the body of the flashlight and removing and replacing the batteries.
The Energizer Hi Tech
Energizer actually makes three models of keychain lights, but the Hi Tech was the most unique compared to the other models I was testing. The Hi Tech was also a pleasant surprise as the housing was made of a durable cast metal and had a nicely polished look to it. Despite appearing flat the housing has a slight curve to it and all the edges are smooth and rounded so as not to snag or poke while being carried. This Energizer has a large rubber button on top that toggles through three different light modes: high, low, and strobe. The highest setting is rated at 13 lumens and has a listed runtime of 2 hours; and this unit is powered by two CR2016 batteries that can replaced by removing 4 screws from the cover.
The LRI Photon II
When I pulled the Photon II from its packing my first thought was, yep this is what I was expecting for a sub $10 keychain flashlight; this light had a cheap plastic feel and obvious rough seam where the two halves of the housing met. The light is technically made from a glass filled polyurethane which is supposed to be very strong; and is incredibly light weight at only 7 grams. The Photon II is listed as outputting 4.5 lumens and having 12 hours of runtime; the light itself is operated by either a small on/off switch at the top front of the light or by a large pressure pad on top. Like the Energizer, this model runs off two CR2016 batteries that can be removed by taking out 4 screws from the housing.
The first thing I did once all the lights had arrived was go into a dark room and see what kind of light output and pattern they produced. While the Photon II had a listed output of 4.5 lumens and the Energizer Hi Tech was rated at 13 lumens on its high setting, they all patterned similarly and I couldn't really tell much if any difference in output. It is important to note that 3x more lumens doesn't equate to 3x more "perceived" light. My eyes found the Photon II's light to have a noticeable yellow tinge; while both the Nano and Hi Tech had no definite tinge to their light. All three flashlights were more than adequate for lighting the way while walking in the dark, but I would give the Hi Tech the advantage for outdoor use as it seemed to have a slightly longer range than the other two.
The Nano is very small and probably made the best first impression of the three lights. However, I quickly found out that is was difficult to operate one handed, the problem being the twist head used to activate the light actually comes back more than half of the total length of the flashlight making it hard to rotate just the head while holding the small base of the body still. This is not difficult with two hands but when on a keychain I often only had one hand available to operate the light. I did eventually learn a one handed technique but found another issue I wasn't crazy about; the round design did not want to stay put when laid down and made it difficult to prop up for hands free use.
Hi Tech Test
The Hi Tech quickly found favor with me as its large button was easy to find and simple to operate one handed. Once I found the sweet spot on my keyring for it to ride, I quickly forget it was there. I found that its flat design could easily be propped up so I could set the light down and use both hands to work. I also liked the fact the Hi Tech had three different light modes: high, low, and strobe. Although I used the high setting almost all the time, it was nice to have the option of a lower power setting to conserve batteries, and to have the strobe function available to signal for help or get someone's attention if need be.
Photon II Test
The Photon II is both extremely small and lightweight; however, I never really got on board with this little light. I found the on/off switch to be both tiny and difficult to operate. The pressure switch on top worked well but had to be held down to keep the light on, which is sometimes all I needed; but I would have much preferred the ability of using this bigger button to turn the light on with a press and off with another press like the Energizer. This lights flat design did work well for positioning it for hands free use, but the lack of an easy to use on/off switch made it hard for me to like. Finally, I felt the quality, and finish of this light wasn't on par with the other two lights tested.
The Nano, Hi-Tech, and Photon II could all serve well as a keychain light; however, from my informal testing the Energizer Hi-Tech was the clear winner for what I was looking for in a keychain flashlight. The Hi-Tech proved to be well made, simple to operate one handed, and its flat design stayed put when I need to prop the light up to see while working with both hands. Again, the other two are also fine lights, and because of its small size the Nano has found its way into my Altoids survival tin, and the Photon II provides back up light for my EDC kit; but the Hi Tech now rides on my keyring and sees the most use. In fact I liked the Hi Tech so much I had to get another one for my other set of keys. While your needs may vary, I would recommend considering adding a little flashlight of any type to your everyday pocket carry.