Alongside their recent intelligent output SENS series releases, NiteCore has created offerings that cater to those who would rather have direct control over light output. The Explorer series separates power and mode to foster that greater control.
Meat and Potatoes
Looking very much the traditional 2 cell AA powered torch, The NiteCore EA2 packs a rather surprising number of individual traits not found elsewhere. Locater beacon, secondary red LED, dual button control. All of these are, though not groundbreaking, at least unusual in today’s market.
Let’s start with the basics. Fit and finish of the EA2 are what we have come to expect from NiteCore. They have consistently put out quality, well-finished lights for so long that it would be a notable exception to have something slide through with rough edges or poor anodizing. This light is no exception. It is even somewhat of a showcase for some small intricate levels of machine work that haven’t been seen before on their products. The flashlight head has very fine grooving that serves as an adequate heat sink without becoming fragile. The body especially is worthy of attention. It has an unique spiral knurling that I haven’t yet seen on anything, much less a flashlight. Knurling is something that has become so ubiquitous with flashlights that it is very unusual for anyone to yet develop an individual approach. I was concerned at first that the seemingly thin walls and fine details would make for a relatively fragile light, however thus far this has not proven to be the case. My EA2 has been dropped a number of times during testing with no apparent ill effect.
Using the old standby Cree XP-G LED housed behind a relatively larger smooth polished reflector lends itself to a much more throwy beam that I have seen lately with the abundance of XM-L lights. There is a much more pronounced hotspot with a dimmer spill beam from this light than what is produced with a larger die. This does come at the cost of a few minor beam artifacts thanks to the smooth reflector, but in practice they aren’t something that manifests heavily during real-world use. I am actually a little surprised how well such a little 2xAA light throws. I can’t speak for the other battery types directly, but I suspect they are tuned similarly.
The NiteCore EA2 claims to have 8 modes, but in reality there are only 5 you will actually find yourself using. The SOS isn’t likely to be used often (though I suspect the one time someone does, it will be a literal lifesaver). The strobe mode on the Explorer series is an interesting variable power/frequency strobe that doesn’t do much more than annoy. It doesn’t even really grab someone’s attention from across a factory floor all that well. The most used modes will be the primary 5 constant on levels, excluding turbo. I leave that one out of the mix because of a few reasons. First and foremost is that it is nearly indistinguishable from High. Even switching directly to it, trying to see the difference, I can barely detect one unless the batteries are completely fresh. Secondly, turbo mode has been time limited to a 3 minute run. This is to protect the sensitive electronics from heat I assume. This in and of itself wouldn’t be a problem, except the light always returns to your last used mode, even if that is low. It would be far better to always step down to high instead. Otherwise after 3 minutes on the brightest light you can elicit from the torch, you might find yourself fumbling around until your eyes adjust to 15 lumens.
The small electronic 2-button operation may look difficult to manage by feel alone, but in practice, it hasn’t given me too much trouble. The buttons are raised just enough to be able to feel your way around in the dark, plus the blinking red locator beacon is enough to help you easily keep tabs on their basic location, in case you can’t tell the head of the light from the much narrower tail. The 3M branded “sticker” covering the buttons is really a rather durable matte plastic covering that is similar to what is found on many other consumer electronics. In the unlikely event that this gets destroyed during use, NiteCore has included an extra sticker in the packaging as well. Plus, it still remains completely usable, though I suspect slightly less weather resistant, without the sticker. I wouldn’t count much on this light being useful in a tactical scenario, but for basic everyday use it holds its own.
I am most impressed though with NiteCore’s inclusion of the secondary red LED as a full flood night-vision preserving low power output. I first looked at the battery indicator that has been repurposed in as constant output as merely an afterthought, rather than an intentional design decision. I don’t know if this is the case or not, but the end result is very useful and practical. It really made me question why more lights haven’t done something similar.
Though the fit and finish is really quite superb for the entire light, I do have one particular complaint about an engineering choice. The tailcap on the Explorer series is more coarsely threaded than anything I have seen to date. It only requires 2 ½ full rotations to completely remove the cap. This is useful during battery changes, but it is decidedly less so the remainder of the time. On more than one occasion the tailcap would come slightly loose in my pocket, allowing the anodized threads to lock the light out forcing me to re-tighten them before I could use the light. Once I managed to accidentally loosen this tailcap during use, convincing me that the battery had died far earlier than what I had thought it should. This was confusing why I hadn’t seen any low power indications from the red LED letting me know ahead of time that darkness was imminent. I think I would have preferred a more standard threading which would result in a firmer hold on the tailcap.
The small red locator beacon is both a benefit and a frustration. It is very useful for its intended purpose, locating the light in the dark. It is definitely bright enough to be able to easily and quickly find anywhere at night, but this has a downside. Keeping the light by the side of your bed at night is really not recommended. The incessant blinking can actually be a distraction during sleep Even across the room, the blinking red LED is enough to suggest that you might want to place the light with its control face down over night. While I doubt it is enough to actually wake anyone up, it was enough to distract me while I was trying to fall asleep.
While I was skeptical about the light originally, both about its slightly oddball shape and more importantly its functionality, the NiteCore EA2 has grown on me quite a bit. It’s not tactically suited, nor even my favorite light, but that really has more to do with my personal preference for CR123A cells and tailcap switching than it does any shortcoming of this particular model. Its most redeeming quality is definitely the low power red secondary beam. Not many lights boast such a useful feature, and the EA2 does it well.
Provided for review by the kind folks at NiteCore.