The MagLite XL100 is MagLite’s newest entry into LED flashlights, and is certainly an impressive one. Wider but shorter than a regular Mini MagLite, the MagLite XL100 boasts an impressive 83 lumens as measured per the new ANSI FL1 standard. Runtime is listed at 5 hours, 15 minutes on high, but it is reasonable to assume that the light output will be significantly dimmer as the batteries are run down.
MagLite is one of the largest manufacturers of flashlights so the retail release of the XL100 is big news. For a long time, MagLite has sat on the side lines watching other smaller, newer manufacturers eat their lunch, and with the XL100 they hope to regain some of that lost market.
The XL100 is typical of MagLite build quality, with rubber gaskets for water resistance and made out of aluminum. The coating is type 2 anodize, which looks nice when new but will not last long in daily usage. The lens and reflector assembly are plastic, just like every other MagLite. My only concern with a plastic lens is that plastic is easily scratched and on the XL100 is not user-replaceable. The red tailcap button is some kind of silicone rubber and seems like it will last a long time. It offers good tactile feedback.
It feels pretty much exactly like a giant MagLite Solitaire and seems like it could handle the daily rigors of abuse that tools generally see. However, it seems flimsy compared to many of its competitors, which you could argue are overbuilt, as the competition have thicker walls and seem far tougher.
The XL100 can be focused by twisting the bezel, but any focus setting aside from the default with the bezel screwed all the way down is ugly with artifacts and rings. Additionally, there is a good bit of thread play on the bezel when it is not screwed down all the way but probably nothing to be concerned about as far as functionality or robustness. The smooth deep reflector used by MagLite, is, as usual, king of the throw, out throwing nearly all the flashlights I own that are similarly sized. In its price and size range there is nothing that can throw better.
The XL100 uses a special battery carrier designed by MagLite to take 3 AAA batteries, and is far more robust than you see in cheaply designed overseas counterparts.
The big feature of the MagLite XL100 is that it offers five different modes and uses an accelerometer, much like those used in the Nintendo Wii remotes, to select them. This is an interesting user interface (UI) innovation that is exclusive to MagLite and has a bit of a learning curve.
To simply use the flashlight, just press the red button tailcap and the XL100 will light up. To turn it off, press the red button again. However, if you wish to access the five special modes available, a reasonably simple process is required
The five special modes available to the user are laser etched into the tailcap around the large red power button. To select one of the five modes, the user must hold the XL100 parallel to the ground, with the mode that they wish to select facing up. The red button needs to be pressed and held for 2 seconds, and then the desired mode will be selected. Note that the XL100 needs to be turned off first before selecting any of the five special modes.
Additionally, if the user presses and holds the button while simultaneously rotating the flashlight, variants of those modes are selected.
Dim: Rotating the flashlight will change the brightness of the light. The light is brightest at its initial position, and dims down as you turn it up to 90° in either direction. The light will memorize that level of output until you set it again, even after battery changes. MagLite does not specify how bright the lowest output setting is but I would venture a guess at 3 lumens, for which MagLite claims a runtime of 201 hours. The XL100 uses PWM for dimming and has barely noticeable PWM at maximum output. The PWM on lower modes is noticeable but not as annoying as on some other flashlights.
Strobe: Rotating the flashlight will change the strobe frequency from a very nauseating ”tactical” strobe down to a locator beacon that blinks once every two seconds. The light will strobe at whatever output it is set to in “Dim” mode.
Nite Lite: This is probably the most interesting use of the MagLite XL100′s accelerometer. “Nite Lite” mode is essentially the XL100′s power saving mode. If you are using a flashlight for long periods of time but intermittently, Nite Lite is perfect. Whenever the XL100 is set down for more than 3 seconds, it will smoothly dim down to low mode, to conserve energy yet allowing you to locate the flashlight in the dark. As soon as you pick up the XL100, it will instantly light up again at max output, so you can use the light. Any motion will cause the XL100 to stay lit, so it will not dim down while you are actively using it.
Signal: Since the XL100 is not capable of momentary output for Morse code signalling like a typical flashlight, it is implemented in one of the modes. When the text on the tailcap for “Signal” is facing up, the light is off. Rotating the flashlight slightly in either direction causes it to turn on. This allows the user to signal by simply rotating his wrist slightly, which is easy to do and works surprisingly well. One caveat, however, is that the flashlight must be held parallel to the ground, so forget trying to signal into the sky.
SOS: This mode does exactly as it says, making the XL100 signal “SOS” in Morse code until it is turned off. By rotating the flashlight while holding the button, the user can change the brightness of the SOS beacon, allowing for more runtime when necessary.
Lockout: This feature is not marked on the tailcap and is also fairly obscure. Start by aiming the light upwards, press and hold the button, aim the light downwards, and then let go of the button. This locks out the light from accidental activation and cannot be disabled in any way except by repeating the procedure again. While it is clever, I fear that some users who activate the lockout may forget how to unlock the light and end up with a “broken” flashlight that does not light up.
So, the UI of the XL100 seems pretty clever. But how does the XL100 stand up to daily usage? Unfortunately, not so well. The XL100 works perfectly as a flashlight, in fact it offers better throw and comparable output in a nice compact package than other flashlights in its price range (Inova X2, Icon Rogue 2, 4sevens Quark MiNi 123) but the accelerometer-based user interface is rather annoying.
Many times when attempting to dim the light, I accidentally activated strobe and SOS, which are to the right and left of the dim function, respectively. The rubber button has a small protrusion on it to help the user know which way “up” is for the dim function, but I found myself often slightly off to the right or left of it, triggering an alternate function instead. The user must also wait for a moment after holding down the button before rotating the flashlight, or else the light will select a different mode as well. Also, there is no way to dim the light when it is already turned on, creating an additional step for users.
All of my concerns with the UI could be addressed with a simple firmware update, which would allow the user to press and hold the button with the XL100 already activated in any orientation and simply rotate to dim. This would be both intuitive and remove the problem of inadvertently activating other modes.
Overall, MagLite deserves much praise praise for taking a gamble on making a very cleverly conceived flashlight with many features, and one that is fairly competitive in the market to others in its price range ($40). However, they deserve loads of criticism for a poorly implemented user interface that could have been just as easily fixed with a few hours of focus group testing.
Cautiously recommended. A good flashlight that may be frustrating at times to use.