Friday, July 18, 2014

Xtar B20 Pilot Review

The flashlights on the market right now, especially from reputable makers, are really incredible.  Flashlights have basically adapted Moore's Law to output and performance.  Lumens counts double every 18 months or so.  Runtimes do the same.  Stuff that was esoteric a couple of years ago, like color rendering, is now front and center in product literature for many lights.  Exotic, high powered rechargeables are in the same boat.  We have been treated to lights the size of your thumb nail with itty bitty batteries and we have been treated to photon cannnons with positively massive batteries.

All of this change though, is tough to keep pace with and sometimes, when markets change so fast, people might decide to wait things out.  After all, if you are looking for a cutting edge light you can wait a week and something new will come around.  This is even more true when the price of products increases at a rate proportional to their performance.  It used to be unheard of to spend $150 on a production light.  Now there are dozens if not hundreds of lights that cost more than that.  The pressure these two trends create may make some folks just sit on the sidelines and watch.

But the Xtar B20 Pilot just might change your mind. 

The B20 is a great entry point for a person looking to get their first 18650 powered light, especially if you buy the kit option which includes the battery and a charger.  The non-kit version is cheap for what you get.  The kit version is a little more, but still inexpensive.  It has cutting edge performance, very good build quality, and all of the accessories you need to really get an 18650 light up and running. 

Here is the product page. Here is an amazing review of the night on Candlepower Forum.  The Xtar B20 costs $46.  The kit, which I got for review, costs $76, but is definitely worth the extra money (more on that later). Here is a written review. Here is a video review. You can purchase the Xtar B20 from E2 Field Gear and get a discount of 8% using the coupon code "Commentary" and the sales benefit the site and its giveaways.  The review sample was provided by E2 Field Gear and it was already returned. 

Twitter Review Summary: An excellent choice to be your first 18650 light

Design: 2

Aside from some crazy, out of the box designs like the SPY 007, there are very few ways to make a light look different.  The Xtar B20 looks like a lot of other lights, but a good deal of the details are better than average.  The tail cap is nice.  The knurling is well-balanced--not too grippy, not too smooth.  The heat sinking is pleasing to the eye and functional.  The appearance is very standardized, but the details are good.

This is an average sized light for an 18650.  Its bigger than the Zebralight SC600 Mk. II and the TX25C2, but thoughts are both designed to be ultrapocketable.  Compared to the 47s 18650 lights and the ArmyTek lights I have reviewed, its right down the middle in terms of size.  


Fit and Finish: 2

In budget lights there are some flaws that you come to expect.  Generally cheap lights have crappy threads that are rough.  They either cross thread or stick.  And when they don't the parts don't synch together well with a lot of slop.  But that's not a problem here, despite the very modest price.  Another common flaw is poor centering on the emitter, but again, the B20 doesn't have that flaw.  The flaw here is simple: a squishy tails switch.  Its not worth a full point, but it is noteworthy.  Also, while it didn't impact performance during the review period, it seems like it might with more wear.  I am not able to say that for sure, so I am going to keep this as a 2.  If reports come in over time that report problems, I'll update the score.    


Grip: 2

The B20 offers very good grip.  The diameter of the light is just right, the placement of the clip is good, the knurling is good, and the tailcap is excellent.  As with many other things on the light, it is not flashy, but it just works.  Here is the B20 in hand. 


Carry: 0

While the placement of the clip is good on the body of the light and the clip itself works with many grips.  The clip, as a clip is, well, blah.


I hate friction fit clips, but some are worse than others and this one stinks.  As can see from the photo above, the milled out portion is quite large and the clip is loose in there.  A tighter groove and the clip might have been better, but here it is dreadful.

A few people have asked for a non-EDC flashlight Scoring System and I have thought about it, but for now I am going to continue to use this system, but I would note that given the intended use of this light, pocket carry being bad and the clip being terrible aren't deal breakers.  If there were a non-EDC system, neither of these issues would matter much at all.  Keep that in mind. 

Output: 2

BAM.  1000 lumen high (a real 1000 lumens) and a low of 30 lumens.  I'd like to see a true moonlight low on an 18650 light, but absent one of the weirdo modes on the SC 600 Mk. II, there isn't an 18650 light that can do that.  30 lumens is fine.   

Runtime: 2

Its an 18650 light.  Runtimes are insane.  70 hours on low isn't great, but it is more than you will probably ever need.  One thing to note is that the runtimes and the outputs are very good for the price.  There are a few 18650 lights out there even from major companies that don't have such good highs and consistent good runtimes.  Both are still well above average and for a very affordable light, that's impressive. 

Beam Type: 2

With a smooth reflector and a large head, the beam type is all about throw and given the intended use of the light, that's perfect.  Even on lower lumens modes the brightness is SO intensely focused that it can mess with your night vision.  But you don't buy an 18650 light to work on your desktop's hard drive.  You buy it to blind your neighbor, if you live in Alaska and your nearest neighbor is across a lake three miles away.  

Beam Quality: 2

The beam is quite pleasant with a strong concentrated hotspot and a lot of spill.  The tint was fine, nicely neutral.  It is without artifacts and is perfectly rounded.  The corona of spill is even, without much in the way of diminishing brightness towards the edge.  The transition is smooth, but quick.  All in all, an amazing beam for the price.  

UI: 1

You can use the head or the tailcap to switch modes and you do so by doing a half press.  Its a clicky but the UI works.  I'd like something more and I think nowadays a clicky is average.  With all of the selector ring lights and QTC lights we are a little spoiled and I know that, but better is out there.  Still, this is perfectly serviceable.    

Hands Free: 2

The clip and the head prevent rolling and the clicky stays out of the way.  The light is a bit big to use in your mouth, but it does everything else well.  

Overall Score: 17 out of 20

You don't NEED an 18650 light, but if you want one and don't want to drop an arm and a leg, get the XTar B20 Pilot.  It is a great light and the kit is useful even if you decide to upgrade later.  I was really surprised at how well it was made and how nice the beam was.  The lumens are cutting edge anymore, but they are just behind the cutting edge.  Excellent offering and a fun light.

The Competition

This isn't really in the same product category as the Fenix, so I am going to compare it to its true competitors.  The B20 is significantly cheaper than other 18650 lights from reputable makers.  You can, of course, go find a Fandy Fire that is less money, but the quality and customer service is suspect.  With the Xtar you have a real company with connections to the US and a real distribution chain.  Other light companies in a similar position charge a lot more for their 18650 lights.  The TX25C2 costs around $100.  The SC600 Mk. II is similarly expensive.  If you look at lumens, battery, and price, there is nothing really competitive with the non-kit version of the B20.  This is, in large part, why I want to recommend this light to folks looking to upgrade to a photon cannon powered by an 18650 battery.  


  1. You said: " I'd like to see a true moonlight low on an 18650 light, but absent one of the weirdo modes on the SC 600 Mk. II, there isn't an 18650 light that can do that." The MMR-X has a moonlight mode of 1 lumen. By the way, thanks for reviewing that light, I grabbed one and love it.

  2. As for competitive options, you can get a Convoy M1 (XML2), a NiteCore i2 charger, and a protected Panasonic 3400mAh battery for under $50.

  3. The design is sleek and pretty, but looks too fragile for long-term use. Can’t say much without giving it a try though. Yes, what people are really going to love about the B20 is its pocket-fit size and handiness. The design looks perfect for a fine grip. Above all, the output is worth the price!

  4. I've had one of these for about a year now. I've dropped it plenty, let it sit outside for a few days, it took a tumble off my car at about 30mph, it's covered in paint, but it still works like the day I got it. Anyone worried about it being fragile... It isn't... Lol. Love the output. Really love the price. And now a new B20 pilot 2 is out and I'm grabbing one of those as well. A solid 18650 performer for under $50.