Monday, December 12, 2011

Do You Still Need a Flashlight?

We all browse Bernard's great site and take a gander at what other people are carrying.  One trend I have noticed is the number of people that use their smartphone as their flashlight.  So, in this day and age, where the smartphone can take the place of your credit card and buy you a cup of coffee, is it necessary to carry a separate flashlight at all?

There are lots of quippy answers to this question.  There is a 100% chance of darkness everyday, after all.  But really, do you need a flashlight?  How about an even more pointed question: with very good flashlight apps (I recommend the easy to use: Flashlight.) on smartphones do you still need a standalone flashlight?

Before I throw out my opinion let me say this:  I am not sure there is any reason to EDC a multi-cell light anymore.  Lots and lots of makers, custom and production, have ratcheted up performance on single cell lights that the bulk and extra output/runtime on multi-cell lights does not make up for the increased size and weight.  In an EDC role, peeking under tables for dropped keys in a restaurant, or carrying the trash to the corner, there is no real practical reason for something that puts out more than 200 lumens.  And now we have a range of single cell lights that can do that: the Incendio and the MiNi Quark 123 to name a few I have looked at here.  More than 200 lumens in close quarters is more likely to blind you than help you.  Also, some of the lights out there have insanely long runtimes (I just switched over to battery #4 for my 18 month Muyshondt Aeon).  So I think a good case can be made that you don't really need a multi-cell light for your average, run of the mill EDC use.

But this still doesn't answer the question about whether you need a light in general.  I think the answer, even with the advent of the great smartphone flashlight apps, is still yes. The flashlight app functions sort of like a Photon keychain light.  Most use the smartphone's built in flash as a flashlight.  Some of the older, less powerful versions, use the smartphone's screen backlight as the light source.  I prefer the flash versions.  It works well illuminating hallways on the way to a bathroom in the middle of the night and it does a great job of finding the door knob on dark evenings.  But really, that is it.  If you have to go see what is outside in the middle of the night or you want to light up an entire room with a ceiling bounce, the flashlight app is not going to help you.  Additionally they are battery guzzlers.  In situations where you need your light, say in a power outage, for example, it is probably not that good to drain your cellphone's battery by using it as a flashlight. 

At this point, I cannot see why you'd opt for only a smartphone flashlight app over, say, an Aeon or the MiNi Quark 123.  The size and weight of the light are negligible.  Check out how tiny the Aeon really is, next to a AA cell and a CR2 cell:


The performance of either of these lights is quite impressive.  And the cost, well, for the MiNi, its is a few stops at Subway more than the flashlight app.  But it can meet 90-95% of your daily illumination needs.  A flashlight app can't do that.  It is better than nothing, but as LED tech becomes better and lights get smaller, I can't see a reason to consolidate yet another gadget into your smartphone.

I have one of these flashlight apps, and it works well, but it functions only as a back up, only in a pinch.  And if you can afford a smartphone, I can't see how $40 for a MiNi Quark is going to break you.


  1. On my Droid I do have a light, a compass and a GPS but consider them all to be a backup to my EDC. My Droid is battery hog. It is more important to be able to make calls then to see in the dark.

  2. Interesting. If your flashlight is partly a self-defense tool (to disorient with directed bright light / strobe) then it is less likely to be replaceable by a smartphone app.

  3. Dang. I saw the pic of the Aeon, and was hoping the last sentence was going to be "and here is a 40% off coupon....

    I would be on that like stink on a hobo.

  4. I'm with Anon. My AA2 fills a couple different roles. I don't see it getting replaced by my cell phone although I used to use it as a makeshift light in the past - it pretty much sucked.

  5. Slightly off the directed topic, but this is a question for Tony or any other users with Muyshondt experience. Why does Muyshondt insist on continuing to use the older and less advanced Cree R2 BIN vs the more powerful and efficient R5 BIN? I want to pick an Aeon up, but haven't pulled the trigger because of the outdated LED? Any input?

  6. The LED is modified to get longer runtimes. It is still plenty bright too, 115 lumens. I'd trade brightness for runtimes especially when they are this long.

  7. I do know some people who use their smartphones as make-shift flashlights - honestly, drives me a little nuts heheh. :) Sure it'll work in a pinch... but it's far from ideal. I'll EDC a small modern pocket-flashlight ANY day (and night) vs relying solely on my smartphone. For general EDC tasks as well as emergency/self defence applications, are why I prefer a well-designed flashlight to begin with...

    I'm still used to carrying 2x123 lights (ie. 4Sevens Quark, Fenix, SF, etc) but after reading your writeup, I am keeping an open mind re: 1xcell lights :) Those titanium ones look very promising... *sigh*

  8. I find the cellphone light has a very floody beam. Only useful for seeing things close by, but I guess it's handy if you don't have anything else. I would much prefer a dedicated flashlight, even a photon freedom would be better IMO.

  9. I'm still looking for my first EDC light... My phone doesn't really cut it and it a battery hog anyway.

    What I've found, though, is that many of the EDC lights are too small for me... I'm 6'10" 340 lbs... I don't have small hands... and I don't want to feel like Will Smith with the Noisy Cricket from the original Men in Black (I'm gonna break this thing!).

    So the search is still on... I'll probably end up with a 2xaaa or 2xaa light simply because it'll fit in my hand better.

  10. Yo! Those are some serious numbers.

    Hmmm...this is quite a challenge.

    I think if I were you, I'd save my pennies and get a MC-18 from Dark Sucks. I reviewed that light and it was all but perfect. My one reservation was it was little too big, but something tells me that won't be a problem for you.

    Plus 500 lumens is pretty nice. It tailstands, has a nice clip, as a good UI, and has a very nice battery (18650, essentially the size of 2xCR123a batteries).