Friday, February 21, 2014

ArmyTek Viking Review

Ben was kind enough to help out with a review of the Armytek Partner and both Ben and I shared the same opinion--it was a decidedly outdated light.  But having handled more than my fair share of flashlights since I launched this site I could see that there were good bones.  Armytek was on to something with the light.  There were touches that demonstrated a concern for the right things and features that exhibited a much better than average build quality.  

In many ways Armytek is a brand that has developed almost independent of other brands.  They are design and built in Canada.  Their line is made up of light that are very different from the mainstream.  These aren't badge swaps or rebrands.  They have a different approach to anondizing, resulting in a thick, almost chalky feel that is truly impressively tough.  They have a focus on beam quality that seems absent from many brands.  They had a diffusing film on the lens of the Partner, a weird way to smooth out a beam, but the fact that it was there was an indication they were worried about the right parts of a flashlight.  The clickies feel different from other clickies.  Over and over again there were small things that made both the Viking and the Partner stand out from the crowd.  

The Viking is a much better light than the Partner, even when you compare them not to each other but to similar lights.  I have reviewed a few 18650 lights and the Viking does a few things better than any of them.  There are some small dings, but overall the Viking is a sweet, sweet light.  In particular I am blown away by the beam.  This light that cuts through the darkness like a sword through fog.  Its probably too big to be an EDC light, but there are other reasons to own a flashlight.  

Here is the product page. The ArmyTek Viking costs around $90. Here is a written review. Here is a video review. Here is a link to Amazon where you can find the Viking (sales benefit the site):



Finally, here is the review sample sent to me by Armytek (to be given away):

P1020294

Twitter Review Summary: Bleeding edge emitter and very good beam for an excellent 18650 light

Design: 2

This is a fat light.  The head is positively huge, especially for the overall size.  But it doesn't stray into the insane territory.  If the beam weren't so good it wouldn't be worth the trade off, but here, it is good enough to make up for the bulk.  The grip ring, a first for lights I have reviewed, is helpful.  More on that later.

The light can run on an 18650 OR 2xCR123as and that flexibility is greatly appreciated.  Its a touch that shows that Armytek has planned things out and that this not another me too design.  So often with 18650 lights, the manufacturer assumes a degree of flashlight nerdiness, such that the end line user is expected to have an 18650 cell, a charger, and no need for emergency power from readily available primary cells.  Not here.  The light doesn't come with an 18650 cell, which is kind of a bummer, but the fact that it can use primaries makes up for it.  And really, if you are buying a light this expensive, just spring for the 18650 as well.  Note this is different from the FourSevens MMX-U review in that that light REQUIRED a specific cell that was both not readily available and not supplied with the light.  

Here is a shot compared to the ubiquitous Mini Mag.

P1020305

The stats are good, this is a screamer when it comes to lumens.  The total lumens output is found on high at 161,600 (the specs have the light running at 1010 lumens for 160 minutes).  The lumens:weight is 136.49.  The total lumens output is by far the best number I have ever seen.  I am not sure if that is because how bright the light is or how the lumens are calculated.

Fit and Finish: 2 

The Partner was not a poorly made light, it was just boring and out of date.  The Viking is neither of those.  This is a very, very well made torch, sitting in the same league as the nicer Surefires.  That is a huge compliment, but it is well-deserved.  It is a stoutly build--the chalky anodizing is good, the threads are smooth and tight.  The clicky is quite nice.  The reflector is a great smooth reflector (resulting in a superlative beam).  The emitter is well centered.  There is absolutely nothing to complain about here.

Grip: 2

The grip ring is the first I have used and it is quite excellent.  It really locks the hand in place and gives you a great deal of control.  I don't like the spongy rubber it is made of and the grip ring can move around a bit, but overall it is nice.  

P1020306

Even without the grip ring the Viking is a very good like in the hand, thanks to a just-the-right-size body tube.  I like the whole set up a great deal.  But all of this grippiness comes at a cost...

Carry: 0

Either in the sheath that it comes with or the pocket clip that it comes with, the Viking is a nightmare to carry.  The rubber grip ring is unmanageable and the the head it just enormous.  The end result is there is no real way to carry this light without a pack or bag.  The sheath, as most free sheathes are, is pretty atrocious.  This makes me wonder just how Leatherman is able to make not just good, but truly spectacular sheathes, when no one else has--from high end production knife companies to high end flashlight companies like Armytek.  I'd be more upset about the Viking's poor carry if it weren't for the fact that this is not REALLY anyone's idea of an EDC light.  Even though it is about medium sized form an 18650 light, this is really a thrower for pack or bag carry.  

Output: 2

There are four output modes, from the full 1010 lumens down to a twinkly 8 lumens and two other levels in between.  The spacing is good and the high is plenty bright, but, as is usual, it is the low that makes the light so appealing.  A good low can do a lot of things and make a light significantly more useful than it otherwise would be.  For all of the flexibility with the outputs, their utility is hampered by a convoluted UI. 

Runtime: 2

As with most lights that have an 18650 cell and a single digit low, the runtimes here are more than acceptable.  If you dig a little though you might notice that the Viking's runtimes are really incredible on high.  In fact, the Armytek Viking has the best runtimes for a high over 800 lumens I have ever seen.  According to the specs, the Viking can run at FULL max for 160 minutes.  Most lights, like the TX25C2 or the SC600 Mk. II drop down after a few minutes of "max burst" to their true max level.  According to the specs for the Viking, this doesn't happen.  I have run it on high for about twenty minutes with no noticeable loss of output so it just might be true.  If so, this is so much better than other lights in the class, that the Viking, on paper, is a huge standout.  If someone out there with an integrating sphere and computer programs tells me that the light drops down after a while I wouldn't be surprised, but based on the specs and my own eyes, Armytek's claims just might be right.  

Beam Type: 2

And now we get to the heart of what makes this light so unique.  There are dedicated throwers out there and there are lights that try to do throw by constricting the beam pattern (Surefire), but the Viking is a light that does not resort to bulbous mushroom heads but still has real and legitimate distance in the beam.  The Viking easily hit the far end of the football field around my house, with more than a few feet to spare.  But suffice to say, this is a true thrower and in that role it is very good.  The head is big and makes the light somewhat awkward to carry, but it is nothing like the specialized heads on other lights.  Because the Viking can strike that balance, its awarded a 2.  

Beam Quality: 2

Like the decision to go for a thrower, despite the relatively small head, the quality of the beam on the Viking is superb.  There are no artifacts, rings, or spots.  While not a Hi CRI light, the review sample had a pleasant tint.  Finally there a smooth and useful transition from the hotspot to the spill.  Its easy to look at the light, what it can do in the dark, and see this is a well above average beam.  Excellent job. 

UI: 1

For all of the wonderful outputs and the great spacing between them, the UI on the Viking is a bit convoluted.  It uses both a twist of the head and a click.  Its not bad, it is just requires a bit of forethought and precision, something you would prefer not to have in a flashlight UI.  The problem comes with getting to the low lumens modes.  With the head tightened all the way, the light is "locked" into a "tactical" mode where the press of the clicky produces the max output.  A second press will do nothing.  But if you loosen the head "1/8" of a turn (yes, the instructions specify 1/8 of a turn) the light drops into a more user friendly mode where clicky presses will get you lower lumens counts.  The idea that the light is locked in to a tactical mode is somewhat misleading because you have to check the head tightness to make sure its locked in, the very definition of something not being locked it.  Second, the need for both a twist and a press to get into the more useful modes is unnecessary.  The UI on the EagleTac TX25C2 is just better.  In fact a straight clicky or twisty UI would be better.  Combining the two in this bifurcated UI kind of way is not ideal.  It works, but it is not ideal.  

Hands Free: 1

The Viking doesn't roll, but it can't tailstand.  Also, given the size and weight of the head there's no way you put this thing in your teeth. 

Overall Score: 16 out of 20

While it "only" scores a 16, that is in part because of the limitations of this scoring system (or any scoring system for that matter).  The runtime on high, the output on high, the beam quality and its ability to light up targets far away is really remarkable.  The runtime, the beam type and beam quality could have earned a 3, but doing so would break the scoring system.  Since the review is really a combination of text and score I can explain that easily.  But keep that in mind when comparing 18650 lights to each other.  Again, this isn't the most EDC friendly light in the world, with its bulbous head, chalky anondizing, and rubber grip ring, but for a thrower, you'd be hard pressed to find anything better of equivalent size.

The Competition

Against the FourSevens MMR-X, the Viking is better on runtime on high by a large margin, but the UI on the MMR-X is better.  The Viking is not really in the same class as the TX25C2 and the SC 600 Mk. II as they are basically EDC lights that squeeze in a bigger battery and the Viking is a true mid sized light.  I'd probably take the MMR-X over the Viking for general use, but if you need throw, the Viking is the way to go.  Compared to the Fenix, well there is no real comparison.  The lights are just too different.  This is an interesting entry in the flashlight market and definitely a sign that Armytek knows what they are doing.

Correction and Update:

Some of the comments below indicated that Armytek is not made in Canada, despite their website being festooned with the Canadian flag.  I reached out to my contact at Armytek and here is the conversation:

Dear Armytek,

Some of my readers have questioned the origins of the Armytek lights.  They claim that the lights are made and designed overseas, but I have nothing to confirm this.  Any insights?

Thanks.
 

Tony

And Armytek's response:

Dear Tony,

The flashlights are designed by a team of Canadian and European engineers in Canada. But they are assembled in China - it's true. We have our own manufacture in China where the lights are ONLY assembled from the components imported from the USA and Japan. The reason for a such location choice is simple - we want to make compatible prices for our products so that our customers pay for the technology and parameters not for the "made in Canada" label. I think you understand that it's cheaper to assemble the products there (such company as Apple even has factories in China =))
So to make it clear - the lights are not designed overseas. And it can't be told that they are made in China because all the electronic and light components are imported there. But it's true that the flashlights are assembled in China - we have our own 6-floor factory there =)

I hope I've answered your question =)    


I hope this clarifies the point.  The lights are not made in Canada, but designed there.  The parts aren't made in China, but are assembled there.  I think if you did digging you'd find that a lot of companies in and out of the gear world do something like this.  I am not condoning or condemning it, just pointing out the reality of the situation.  Regardless of country of origin, I liked the Armytek Viking quite a bit.    

13 comments:

  1. Great review Tony! Honest and very thorough. I'd love to test this light's throw against my TX25C2. Put me in the list for its giveaway please!

    One point: last time I checked the Armytek website, its products were only designed in Canada and all orders were shipped from their warehouse in China. Has this changed?

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    1. In fact, it was between the TX25C2 and an ArmyTek in choosing my thrower light and it came down to delivery time and import duties of the ArmyTek that threw my decision in favor of the TX25C2.

      Only later did I come to appreciate the TX25C2's supreme flexibility in fulfilling an EDC role too.

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  2. Also, now that you're expanding the scope of your site into reviewing non-EDC lights, perhaps you can make a different scoring system/criteria for these like you did for your fixed blade knife reviews? This way your scoring would better reflect your view of the lights.

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  3. Adam has a point. The original scale is really based on pocketable items.

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  5. Thanks for the update Tony. It is good to know more about these lights origins of manufacture, however one point worth noting in your addendum that may be of even greater interest to your readers is their origin of shipping, as this impacts both their cost (due to customs) and their availability (in terms of shipping time).

    From their website it appears their lights ship from China (not north america, like say Apple products do, despite being made in China) and delivery times being up to 8 weeks, with import duties to be paid by the customer.

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  6. I love my Armytek Predator. I picked up the first gen model from a sportsman show. It has been my go-to outdoor light for walking the dog. I'm very happy with most of their products and the Viking looks espcially nice.

    I do have to say I'm not that impressed with the company. On average it takes about 5 business days or longer to respond to any emails. And they can go months before responding on their down dedicated forum pages (which considering was set up for them to answer questions should be better maintained). Then at another sportsman show, I wanted to purchase a Baracuda from them and they jacked the price ridiculously high for the show. I mentioned that I could find it on going gear and other online retailers for a lot cheaper and they wouldnt acknowlege that. Yes their pricing is up to them, but they were so rude when I mentioned that its a show and other retaiers (Fenix, 4Sevens, Klaurus) were all present and offering better than their online pricing.

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  7. I just saw the Amazon link you put up for the Viking. It's good to know there are other ways to get ArmyTek lights.

    I noticed in the pictures of the Viking on Amazon that they show it tailstanding with the assistance of the grip ring, but you say in your review that tailstanding is impossible.

    Is this just more misleading advertising like their Canadian flag-festooned website or was this an oversight on your part?

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    1. No miss on my part. The ring provides so little stability that its not really tailstanding. It looks like it would work and I tried it a few times, but alas, its basically leaning in the ring. Note that the Armytek website does NOT claim it can tailstand. It will work in a pinch, but nothing worth commenting on or claiming as a feature.

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  9. Great review Tony. The Viking has an additional feature that may not matter to most users, but was part of why I chose it for night search and rescue duty. If you look at the exterior bezel you will find something that I have never seen on any other flashlight: the angle of the spot and the flood beams. The spot beam is 10°. This matters to searchers because the area of the human visual field that is sharpest is 10°, so we are trained to scan the search area in 10° segments, making the Viking an excellent choice for this specialized use.

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