I wanted to do an end of the year award post, but I didn't feel like I had enough experience with all of the products out there. Instead, think of this as a list of things that I really liked or want to get. If I reviewed a product, I can speak to how nice it is and why it should be on this list. If I didn't I am going based on specs and feedback from around the 'net.
Second I don't want to simply rehash a list of the best things out there. I am only interested in new stuff here. And by "new" I mean that in the broadest sense. If there is a new emitter or blade steel, I'll count it as new. If there is a new color or anondizing, well, maybe not. I'll play it by ear.
Finally, I am going to give out two awards: 1) most interesting overall; and 2) best value.
So without further ado, the most interesting EDC products of 2011:
The new Eagletac series hits a sweet spot in the flashlight market--they are small, affordable, and bright. They tailstand. They have bolt on clips. They are twisties. They have a nice three mode UI with a bunch of hidden modes. They also come in titanium special editions. But the real winning feature is the high and very honest lumens ratings. No AA light is brighter (with reliable ratings) than the D25a. All of this for under $70 for the Ti version and under $40 for the Aluminium version means that 4sevens, Fenix, JetBeam, and Lumapower have real competition going forward. The flashlight wars and the lumens arms race is just heating up and we are all the beneficiaries.
Cold Steel Mini Tuff Lite
I actually reviewed this product, that can be found here. It is a really great knife. It is also eminently pocketable and cheap, cheap, cheap. There is really no excuse not to pick one up. Even the normally mediocre AUS8 steel has held up well for me. You'd be really hard pressed to find a better knife for under $20 anywhere.
From super cheap to moderately expensive. The Emissary seems to be a knife poised to hit all of the right marks. Its size is just right, the S30V blade steel is good, the pocket clip is of the deep carry variety, and it has an assisted open. It is a bit pricey at around $170, but Benchmade's fit and finish is always superb. My main criticisms are twofold: first, I don't like the blade grind--simple is best; and second, I can't see any reason to buy this knife when the ergonomically superior Sage 2 sells for less with the same or better materials (titanium handle scales instead of aluminum).
Emerson Micro Commander
What do you get when you combine a vicious blade shape, a heritage of hard use unmatched by any other brand, and a sub 3" inch balde? One hell of an EDC knife. The Micro Commander will almost certainly be my first Emerson and it just looks like a home run. There are very few other baby sized blades that you can beat on like this knife. And none have the wave opener.
Tom Bihn Cadet
Tom Bihn is a small manufacturer based in Seattle Washington and they make some of the best bags in the world. They have incredible designs and great materials and attention to detail. So when they release a minimalist briefcase, people notice. The Cadet seems to synch up to what I experience everyday--as smartphones become more and more capable there is less of a need to haul tons of stuff around. Instead, you'd rather have one or two things that work really well and are protected and accessible. Though I love my Tumi bag, it is just too big for what I carry now--a pen or two, a highlighter, my iPhone, a few client files, a folder of commonly used forms, and one reference book. If you add a laptop sleeve (Bihn's Cadet Cache) you have a nice laptop briefcase. The price is high ($170), but you get some of the best materials, best designs, and the conscience assuaging "Made in the USA" label. They bag even comes in two sizes: 15" and 11". The 11" almost dares to shed even more unnecessary stuff--the briefcase equivalent of the limbo: how low can you go?
TT PockeTTool Chopper
I just posted a review of this. It can be found here. This is one of the finest OPMTs I have ever used, Atwoods included. An excellent, curvy design allows you easy access to all of the features and yet the tool stays small enough to inhabit your keychain and play nice with others there. This is all well and good, but in a market where $100 is not that expensive for a single piece of metal, its the price that makes this so interesting. I am not sure you can spend $26 better when looking for a OPMT.
JetBeam Raptor RTT-0 XML
If you were to generate a checklist of features on a bespoke flashlight it would look like the features on the RTT-0.
- CR123A and AA compatible: check
- Bleeding edge emitter: check
- Tailstanding: check
- Output selector ring: check
The Cult of HDS had something quite significant to crow about this year--the release of a substantially new light. HDS makes some of the best lights out there--well-designed and built like a bomb shelter, but they were largely emitter upgrades to the venerable Arc4 body. Well, the Rotary changed all of that. It still looks something like the Arc4 body, but this is an entirely different beast--like the original VW Bug to the new one. The 200 lumen emitter is controlled through both a clicky and a selector ring making this one of the highest end light with a selector ring (the Spy series has something like a selector ring, but it works differently) and probably the most expensive light you can actually justify owning. Rejoice Cult of HDS you have a new super EDC light. Oh wait, I think you rejoiced too much. They are sold out everywhere and not predicted to be back in stock until the first quarter of 2012.
It sounded perfect on paper--a 2.5" Spyderco with S30V steel, carbon fiber handles, and super delicious ergos, but alas the fit and finish on the Spyderco Cat and the even smaller Chicago were horrendous. They were so bad that they were quickly phased out by Spyderco. About a year later, Sal announced the Chaparral--a knife almost identical to the Cat, with a lockback subbing in for the liner lock. Otherwise the knife is virtually a clone, but with significantly better fit and finish. The end result is a slim beauty perfect for EDC.
4sevens Ti Whistle
I am not a fan of whistles. I don't think they justify their presence on your keychain. That said, even I was tempted by these Ti gems. Atwood whistles for the keychain regularly sell for more than $100, so when these came out at half that price or less, it created a stir. They are loud, light, and tiny--great for keychain carry. Not quite great enough for me to add one to my keychain, but if you were even close to sitting on the fence, this had to persuade you.
Apple iPhone 4S
It is likely to spark massive arguments but from where I sit, the iPhone is the best smartphone out there. There are tons of apps, many affordably priced, lots of accessories, and the device is just dead simple to use. But there has been nothing like Siri. As a person that lives out of their car and works on their phone, the addition of voice search through Siri is a huge plus. It is things like Siri that make up for the lack of true 4G performance. In fact, if I had the choice I would take Siri everytime.
Samsung Galaxy S2
I am an iPhone fanboy, for sure, but even I was tempted by the huge beautiful screen and the thin form factor of the Galaxy S2. If there was some way to convert all of my iTunes stuff instantly and it was as idiot proof as the iPhone I might consider switching. If you don't like iPhones, this seems to be the overwhelming choice for Android phones. It also is interesting for what it presages for 2012--an all out war between Samsung and Apple that hasn't been seen since Coke and Pepsi slugged it out at the Super Bowl during the ads and Michael Jackson's hair caught on fire. The Galaxy Nexus also looks nice, but is a little to big for me.
Noodler's AHAB Fountain Pen
Fountain pens are really excellent writing instruments, allowing you to vary the thickness of your stroke and giving your handwritten notes an air of class. They are, generally speaking, however, expensive and hard to maintain. The AHAB pen is neither of those things. It clocks in around $20 and has a removeable, flexible nib that allows for easy switching and cleaning. It does all of this within the clear confines of a "demonstrator" body (a clear acrylic body designed to highlight the mechanisms inside the pen).
Prometheus MC-18 B by Dark Sucks
I reviewed this light, here. It was a revelation. I have owned more than my fair share of custom lights and this beautiful torch ranks right up there in terms of fit and finish. The XML is incredibly bright, the 18650 battery lasts forever, and the beam profile is amazing. People throw the phrase "wall of light" around a lot, but thus far the MC-18 B is the only light I have used that really does make a wall of light. And this isn't some half wall that gracefully divides your kitchen from the dining room. this is a Great Wall of China wall of light.
Most Interesting: HDS Rotary
This was a tough choice. There were lots of great products out there. The MC-18 B is really amazing. The decision by Emerson to make a truly EDC sized knife was a welcome departure from their normally colossal sized knives, but it is the Rotary from HDS that I think deserves all of the attention that it has received. It seems like it is just about the perfect EDC light, once a clip is made for it. It has amazing controls and a very nice form factor all with 200 lumens from a standard single CR123a battery. In the hunt for one light to rule them all, the HDS Rotary is pretty darn close to perfect.
Best Value: TIE Cold Steel Mini Tuff Lite and TT PockeTTool Chopper
Cold Steel has something of a weird reputation. Mall Ninjas, of course, love the over the top sized blades and ridiculous selection of swords. Many knife knuts detest their less than useful design principles and obnoxious advertising. But then some folks really like their price to performance ratio. The Mini Tuff Lite announced a new Cold Steel, one that makes good knives regardless of size. And for that, they should be commended. But the MTL is more than just a milestone on the way to a new Cold Steel, it also happens to be a stellar little blade. And it squeaks in under $20. It is hard to say this ISN'T the best value.
But then there is the TT PockeTTool Chopper. Its market niche is flooded with insanely high priced trinkets, all of which are marked with a certain beautility (beautiful and utility combined, right?). There are Stellite Mini Sons of Pry Things that sell for $500. There are Ti bars that sell for $175. But the Chopper is both innovative, full of beautility, and it is $26. Finally, it is made not by some mega corp (few OPMT are) but a machinist making a name for himself with good, well made products. How crazy is that?
What products do you think will have an impact going forward? Anything I missed? Anything I shouldn't have bothered mentioning?