Every once in a while, a product comes along that makes you say “why did this take so long”. For me, USB rechargeable flashlights definitely fall into that category.
Meat and Potatoes
We here at Layman’s Flashlight Reviews have long used and preferred rechargeable Li-ion cells in our portable torches (and by we, I mean me, singular). I use enough lights, often enough that the cost of keeping them adequately fed is a legitimate concern. Thankfully I have begun to amass a handful of rechargeable cells allowing more comfortable continuous use, and guilt-free lumens. Thus far though, despite the myriad of highly computerized and often programmable lights, I have only reviewed one with USB rechargeability. USB has become the ubiquitous power source in portable electronics as of late. In fact, according to my stats, nearly 20% of you are probably reading this right now on a mobile device that likely sources that tiny rectangular port for its energy. This sparsely populated segment is a surprise to be sure, especially given how agile and adaptable the flashlight market has grown in the last couple of years.
Enter the new P25 by our old friend NiteCore. While admittedly, not a programmable light like I have seen before, the standard USB micro port worn by this powerhouse is a welcome sight indeed. The ability to simply stop and plug your light in, keeping it topped off and fresh for whenever you need it just simply makes sense to anyone carrying one in an EDC role.
The light it comes attached to is no slouch either. 860 retina searing lumens can be loosed from the business end of this flashlight, despite still being roughly the size of your average duty carry, holstered light. The P25 has a beautifully designed smooth reflector that takes a Cree XM-L and focuses it into a fairly throwy light for such a large LED. The hotspot is rather well defined and though the spill is plenty bright enough to avoid tunnel-vision, you can see that the majority of light is focused centerward.
Operation of this torch is really quite simple, despite the duality of switches. The tailcap switch is a pure mechanical circuit completion. It is a nice feeling forward clicky, which gives you momentary access if you so choose. There are no mode changes that happen with this switch, which is a feature I like. I simply leave this switch alone personally and operate the light solely with the secondary button. This electronic activation switch near the head of the light is very reminiscent of a modern camera shutter button. It is a two stage electronic switch that allows for a half press as well as a full click. Clicking this button will toggle the light between on and a low power sleep mode that is effectively off (though it still maintains a slight parasitic drain to power the electronics and run a blue locater beacon surrounding the switch). Half presses though cycle the light through 5 available modes with mode memory. Thankfully there is no oddball wait period that you have to suffer through either after switching or once you turn the light off in order to prevent the light from advancing modes again (don’t laugh, I’ve seen it before). Once you select a mode, that is it. There are also a trio of blinky modes (strobe, SOS and beacon) that are tactfully hidden away from accidental activation.
Powered by a single 18650 cell, this a light differentiates itself from the last USB chargeable torch I wrote up by its ability to use any standard protected 18650 cell, rather than one specifically designed with extra charging contacts. Its mechanical reverse polarity protection does prohibit the use of the flat-topped high capacity cells, but the dual spring contacts do allow for some leeway with cell length. The P25 can also be powered by a pair of CR123A cells or even 16340 rechargeables, but please don’t attempt to charge it with that configuration. The USB charging is simply designed for 18650 only. The other options are merely concessions for the sake of convenience.
The fit and finish of the P25 Smilodon (what is a Smilodon anyway?) is everything I have come to expect from NiteCore. Every surface is well covered with thick uniform steel grey anodizing, and special attention was obviously paid to corners and edges because it’s difficult to find a spot on this light without a beautiful chamfer or bevel. It’s a heavy duty light too. The battery tube is very thick walled and the head is extremely solid. Most unusual are the heat sink fins that take the form of Picatinny rail mounts. I’m not entirely sure how these are particularly useful, though. It seems to me like the flashlight is something that you would mount onto some other device, rather than need to mount an accessory to it, but maybe there are mounting adapters available that would make use of this setup.
Given the potential connectivity of this light, with it’s available USB connection, I am actually quite surprised that there is no programmability at all. It seems only natural to me to allow at least some user set variability. I know I am speaking about things out of my league, and this is a feature that is likely much harder to implement than I am envisioning, but it just strikes me as a little bit of a disappointment to not have ANY access to this light’s inner workings at all. Perhaps that is a feature for the future of this line.
Since the side mounted electronic switch preforms the lions share of operation for this torch, it would seem natural for it to be something rather easy to find strictly by feel, like in the dark or something. Unfortunately this is not the case. When initially picking this light up, the rubber USB port cover ends up feeling much more like an activation button than the actual switch. In practice, I found myself most often groping around blindly for a second until I located the spot that felt most like a button and then rotating it 180° to place my thumb on the switch’s actual location. Something a little more tactile would be a real benefit here.
NiteCore once again reminds us why they are one of the leaders in the Flashlight industry. The P25 Smilodon is a very solid light sporting some incredible output and beam quality. Best of all it includes USB charging capability, which though not revolutionary, is still very underrepresented. My complaints are minor, and I quite honestly thoroughly enjoy the rest of this lights features. This one feels like a win to me.
Provided for review by the kind folks at NiteCore.
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