Saturday 16 March 2013

Vortex wind-up torch review

I've been sent a sample of the Vortex wind-up torch from Applied Innotech, to see if I want to import a box of them to resell alongside their SL1 and NSJP torches that I already have. So I thought I'd write a review and see what people think of it - please leave a comment or send me an email if you think you'd consider buying one, no obligation to do so of course! I think that after my import costs I'd be able to resell them for between £25 and £30 including UK postage.

Unlike the other AIT torches I'm selling, the Vortex doesn't use an ultracapacitor, it uses a NiMH rechargeable battery. These are not as durable as ultracapacitors, but on the other hand they do hold more charge, and maintain a steadier voltage during discharge, so the light stays brighter for longer.

The package includes the torch, with wrist strap attached, and a micro-USB charging lead that can be used with most mobile phones:

The torch itself is pretty chunky compared to other wind-up torches I've had in the past, and seems to be solidly built. Interestingly for a wind-up torch it's actually waterproof to 10 metres (33 feet). This has been achieved by using rubber seals around the axle of the crank handle and a locking cap with a rubber seal over the phone charger socket:

As well as the phone charging socket, there's also a small LED under the cap, which lights up green when you are winding. The rubber seal around the crank axle means it's a little bit stiffer to wind than other torches I've tried, but it is also quieter, and because the axle is fairly central in the torch body, it's more comfortable to hold while winding than shorter torches, which have the axle off-centre.

Here's a picture of me holding the torch, to give you an idea of size:

The torch has three LEDs: the main one rated at 1W, and the side ones rated at 0.25W each.

When you press the power button, the two side LEDs come on first, providing a wide beam. Note that although the manufacturer's website and the packaging say the brightness of these LEDs combined is 4 lumens, this is a misprint - I've been talking to them, and we've come to the conclusion that it's actually about 35 lumens.

Pressing the power button again switches to the main LED. Again, there is a misprint on the website and packaging, where it says the output is 20 lumens - it's actually about 90 lumens, which I've tested by comparing to another torch I have which I know for sure is 90 lumens output. This LED gives a more focused beam, which the manufacturer says will reach about 37m, or 12m underwater.

A third press of the power button puts the main LED into a flashing mode, for use as a signalling beacon, and a fourth press turns it off.

To use the torch in phone charging mode, you simply plug in the cable, add the micro-USB adapator, and plug it into your phone:

The phone is not charged from the torch battery - you have to wind the crank, and the phone is charged directly by your effort. Obviously you're not going to sit there for ages to give your phone a full charge, but if it was empty and you needed to make an urgent call, I imagine that a few minutes winding would be enough to get the job done.

I did a test to see how long the torch would last on a full charge. Using the main LED, the brightness was pretty constant for about 60 minutes, and after 90 minutes it was quite a lot dimmer, perhaps 1/4 of original brightness, but still usable. I imagine the duration on the other modes would be longer, but I've not tested them. This is a lot longer than the manufacturer's time of 20 minutes for the main LED, but perhaps they are being cautious so people aren't disappointed, or allowing for some variability in battery life.

AIT's other torches come with a 5 year warranty, but this one just has 1 year, as the rechargeable battery battery is not as durable as an ultracapacitor. However, I gather that the battery is rated for 3 years' use, and I have a 5-year-old low quality wind up torch with a NiMH battery that's still working fine (although the crank handle axle broke on it, which I can't see happening with the Vortex torch!), so it could well last much longer. The key for keeping the battery in good shape is to make sure you wind it every few months, so it's better for a torch that's in regular use. If you want a torch to put away and forget about for years until an emergency arises, look at the NSJP instead.

Overall, I think it looks like a great torch, and I'm delighted to have been sent one to try out. The question I need answered is whether people in the UK will pay £25-£30 including postage to have one?

Here's a few specifications from the manufacturer:
  • Spotlight illumination range (in air): 120-ft. (37m) / Beam size: 14-ft. (4.3m)
  • Spotlight illumination range (in water): 40-ft. (12m) / Beam size: 7-ft. (3m)
  • Crank charging time: 120 seconds
  • Spotlight duration: 20 minutes
  • Floodlight duration: 45 minutes
  • Flashing spotlight duration: 30 minutes
  • Waterproof: 33-ft.(10m)
  • Impact strength: Withstands 5-ft drop (1.5m)
  • Operational temperature: 5ºF (-8ºC) to +110ºF (70ºC)
  • Storage temperature: 0ºF (-17ºC) to +120ºF (49ºC)
  • LED life: Spotlight 1,000 hours Floodlight 80,000 hours
  • Charge port: 6 volt – 200 mA output
  • Size: Length: 7″(17.3cm) x 2.7″ (6.9cm) x 2.2″ (5.7cm)
  • Weight: 15 oz (426 gr)

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