Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Fallkniven U2 Review

So much of good product design is about restraint.  Compare this:





To this:



It pains me to show that comparison because around 8th grade I would have sold a kidney for the Sony D35 Discman...

Nonetheless the point is made--restraint in product design almost always leads to superior usefulness for the user.  All of the buttons and displays and useless features simply are meaningless.  The Design of Everyday Things brought this home to me--its called feature creep and it is more about marketing a product than making a good product.  Features sell.  Buttons and displays remind us of more features and as such more buttons means more features.  To be fair, even the iPhone can look pretty busy when the display is on:


DOET focused me on sparse design and in my mania to find the essence of a folding knife, the simplest folding knife possible, I found the Fallkniven U2.  I had known about the U2 for a while, but the nail knick had put me off.  A review of the good, but not great Queen Cutlery Copperhead changed my mind.

Think of this as product design limbo, how low can you go--features-wise--and still have a well-functioning knife? This review will answer that question as there is very little to the Fallkniven U2. 

Here is the product page. The Fallkniven U2 costs $83.95.   Here is a written review. Here is a video review (Stefan is going all out with a professional voice over in part of the video; also the Gemini is functionally identical, there is merely an etching of the constellation Gemini on the blade of the regular U2).  Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Fallkniven U2, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample:

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Here is my video overview of this knife:



Twitter Review Summary: Think of it as a DFII in ZDP-189 with FRN scales, but with a nail knick.

Design: 2

The tang is exposed when closed.  That's it, the only real design drawback for the U2.  This is a simple and simply beautiful knife. Its classic styling might not be something everyone likes, but in terms of straight up cutting functionality the U2 is impeccable.  There is something to say for time-tested designs and the U2 is just that.  Everything about the design is simple--the pivot, the handle, the blade shape, the deployment method, everything, but it is pretty impressive.  Additionally, the overall size, shape and thickness are just right.

The ratios are good, as you can imagine with such a pared down design.  The blade:handle is .74, running around the middle of the pack.  The blade:weight is 1.68 which is VERY good, third only to the Al Mar Hawk Ultra Light which hits an unbelievable 2.81 and the Spyderco Air (1.96).  This crushes the fourth place knife the Chill (1.56).

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Fit and Finish: 2

One thing I was not expecting, given the price, was fit and finish this good.  The seam on the zytel handle, for instance, is virtually undetectable, either visually or with your finger tip.  The steel is such a high satin polish that it is almost mirror finished.  The pivot is smooth, though not quick.  Literally everything about the knife is just stunning.  As my first Fallkniven, I wasn't sure what to expect, but man is this great.  You can place Fallkniven in the tier of production knives occupied by Al Mar, the Taichung Taiwan Spydercos, and Chris Reeves stuff.  This knife was THAT good.  Note that it is among the cheapest of those blades.    

Grip: 2 

If you have a chance, it is definitely worth your while to go watch some knife videos from Average Iowa Guy, Kyle Ver Steeg.  Kyle is a survivalist and a hand surgeon, so he knows handles.  He was on the podcast and provided us with some real insight on what you need in a knife in survival situations.  He stressed that a comfortable handle is, perhaps, the most important thing.  And if you watch some of his forging and knife making videos you'll notice his handles are super simple.  The handle here is super simple and it works.  It is amazing in the hand.  Its simple shape affords a multitude of useful grips.  Its curves and cuts are all in the right place and the overall handle shape has gentle convex shape that just falls into your hand.  This just might be the best handle I have ever used on a folding knife.  The handle is so close to perfect I can't even imagine what they'd do to make it better.  Awesome.  

Carry: 2

A simple lanyard hole and a smooth-as-a-river rock shape makes the U2 a dream to carry.  The zytel handle absorbs dings with grace meaning that this clipless knife is comfortable in both a crowded and empty pocket.

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Steel: 2

The U2 isn't just a comfortable knife or a pretty, minimalist knife--it is an amazing performer.  I used this knife more than any other knife I have reviewed, save, perhaps, the ZT560 (which I used to make a dragon from cardboard for my son's 3rd birthday).  You see, when I was testing the knife, it was just before Christmas.  My wife was making a series of delicious cookies and one of them called for about a pound of hazelnuts.  Unfortunately we could only find shelled nuts and the recipe called for blanched ones.  After some attempts at blanching that failed, I decided to use the U2 as a paring knife and shave each of those tiny little fuckers.  It took about an hour and half, but in the end, she had her pound of hazelnuts.  The cookies were delicious enough to make the work worth it.  

In addition to that "test" I put the U2 through a variety of EDC tasks, other food prep, packages (lots and lots of packages given the time of year), and some other tasks.  Pretty much everything I put the U2 through it did not just well, but very well.

The secret is the blade itself.  In addition to an amazing grind and blade shape, see more below on those two points, the U2 is blessed with an exotic, rare, and amazing steel.  Its a laminated blade, with 420J stainless on the exterior and a core of SG-2 (what Fallkniven calls Super Gold Powder Steel or SGPS).  Here is the closest thing to a datasheet on SG-2.  The steel comes from Takefu, a company that also makes VG-10.  It has an HRc around 62-64.  In my testing the blade did not noticeably dull in anyway.  Normally AUS-8 is about done when I do my normal testing, as is VG-10.  154CM has something like utility edge but is still sharp.  Elmax, S30V, and S35VN are still pretty sharp but can't slice the hair off my arm with ease.  Only M4 and ZDP-189 have faired as well as the blade steel on the U2.  After lots and lots of cutting, from breaking down boxes for recycling, to the detail work mentioned above, the U2 gathered hair off my arm like a magnet attracts shavings--it was effortless.  I am not sure why SG-2 is not used more often, because it is an excellent steel.  I also noticed that it was much better than ZDP-189 at dealing with coloration.  Cutting up an orange or three and leaving the blade unattended would usually tint ZDP-189.  Not here.  Perhaps is not fair to compare given the laminated nature of the blade, but either way, the steel remained that bright high satin/low mirror finish.  I'd like to tell you about easy or hard it was to sharpen SG-2 but it never got close to anything like dull.  

Amazing steel and now I want more.  I know that SG-2 is often used in high kitchen knives, but to my knowledge no other production company uses it and only Philipe De Coene, who made my elegant Hybrid friction folder, uses it among custom makers.  
 
Blade Shape: 2

Occam's Razor of Gear applies here in spades--this is a blade shape, the drop point, that can handle just about any cutting task you throw at it.  Furthermore Fallkniven's drop point is especially nice:

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In addition to making the knife an amazing slicer, the drop point here, coupled with the unaggressive handle, makes this knife an excellent "around people" knife.  It cuts superbly well and is civilized enough to not frighten people.  Mantis knives this is not.

Grind: 2 

So in the world of production folders the debate is usually between some variant of a hollow grind versus some variant of a flat grind.  The option that is rarest, is a convex grind.  They are simply too difficult to do in large numbers.  Hordes of Bark River fans will sing the praises of a convex grind, and here, according to Blade HQ and other sources, the U2 has a mild convex grind.  It would make sense, as the edge here was phenomenally stable, never waivering or deflecting even a tiny bit, but to my crude hand I never felt the strong bowed out curve.  Either way, the grind was immaculate and the cutting bezel was quite wide allowing for very easy slicing.  I loved the grind here, wether it was convex or not.

Deployment Method: 1 

Okay, if you are fine with a nail knick, boost this knife up a point, but for me, for all its old timey appeal, I still want a one hand opening knife.  I know it would mess with the clean lines and the traditional feel of the knife, but no matter how minimally beautiful a knife is, it is still a tool and form must follow function.  Additionally, the claim that it would make this knife somehow less traditional is baffling to me--this thing has a zytel handle.  Few things are LESS traditional than that.  Its not even a particularly good nail knick, like the long French cut on the AG Russell Medium Barlow.  Its not awful.  Its not like the opener on the new Mnandi which basically doesn't work at all or a lazy flipper, its just not ideal and compared to so much else on this knife it sticks out like a sore thumb.  

Retention Method: 2 

I went back and forth on this issue a bunch.  I hate lanyards, generally.  And typically I really want a pocket clip.  But there are some designs where the right thing, the best thing for the knife, is to not include a clip.  This is that knife.  So in this context, and this context alone, thus far, a clip would have detracted from the overall knife.  

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Why here and not, say, the PT CC or the Al Mar Hawk or the Spyderco Air?  The PT CC is different from the other two, so I will explain it on its own.  The PT CC is a knife based on a design that has a pocket clip.  The handle is is shaped in a way to compensate for the drawbacks in terms of grip that a pocket clip can cause.  Here, the entire handle is basically perfect for a pocket knife.  There are ZERO hotspots.  Cramming a clip on there would ruin that perfect handle.  Compared to the Hawk and the Air, another issues arises.  Both the Hawk and the Air are so thin and small that there is a real estate issue.  I could have never comfortably sliced all of those hazelnuts with a knife as spindly as the Air or the Hawk.  Both are great cutters.  Both work well for the occassional slice.  Both are practically perfect for EDC tasks, but the U2 is good at that AND good at extended work.  A clip on either the Air or the Hawk would have given the hand more purchase, something that is not necessary here thanks, again, to the practically perfect handle.  

So, in light of a variety of concerns, I am more than pleased that Fallkniven did screw things up by adding a totally unnecessary pocket clip.  It would have done more harm than good, and it would have been an example of form NOT following function--a sin when it comes to a tool as impeccable as the U2.  

Lock: 2 

Fallknive chose among the simplest and most time tested locks--a lockback.  It works well with no blade play.  It was easy to disengage and engage.  It felt surprisingly secure given the plastic handles.  Excellent all around.  Oh, and if you need to adjust the pivot, you can.  Another small touch of greatness. 

Overall Score: 19 out of 20

By now I am sure you have picked up on the fact that this one of my favorite folders on the market.  It is elegant and minimal.  It has all of the good things of a traditional knife--a simple but useful blade shape and a time tested handle shape--with all of the positive things of a new knife like superb steel.  I wish the U2 had a thumb stud or an opening hole, but really the nail knick isn't THAT big a deal.  For all the good things you get, this is a pretty damn cheap knife.  This is basically equal to the DFII in ZDP-189 with FRN handles and it has the same price.  That combination of performance, price, and easy carry makes both knives EDC classics.  If you want one of the best EDC knives on the planet but want it to look a bit more traditional than a Spyderco, the U2 is it.  

The Competition

Compared to the benchmark, the SOG Mini Aegis, the U2 comes out ahead.  The fit and finish is in another league, as is the blade steel, the blade shape, the grind (yes, better than a SOG grind, amazing I know), and the handle shape.  Its only one point better on the scoring system, but that one point is a big deal.  The scale is supposed to be logrythmic in nature, not linear, which explains why the U2's 19 is much better than the Mini Aegis's 18.  Even from the perspective of value, the U2 is better.  Its more than twice the knife at less than twice the price.  The only thing that gives me pause, that might give you pause, is the slow, boring old nail knick.  In the end, though, its worth it.  This knife is simply great.  

Monday, January 27, 2014

FourSevens MMU-X3 Review

I try to take reviewing gear seriously.  I don't ever want to take myself or my opinions seriously, but folks spend a lot of time and energy making the gear we like and so I want to honor that labor and brainpower with a serious evaluation of their efforts.  Sometimes though gear is so fun, so ridiculous, and so gonzo that its hard to evaluate.  The MMU-X3 is just such a flashlight.  Its not the 18,000 lumen beast FourSevens makes as a portable light source for photography and videography, but it is a tremendously bright light, brighter than 99.999% of the population will ever possibly need.  This is not a light I could recommend to you for EDC.  I am not going to bother.  Its too big, too bright, and too bulky, but it is an awesomely fun light.  This isn't a serious review (well, okay it is, but you get the idea).  Have no illusions--if you buy this light it is for fun and fun alone.

But boy is it a LOT of fun.  And really, for all of the talk of preparedness or good design, there is a part of liking gear that is about appreciating fun, badass shit.  And the MMU-X3 is a fun, badass light.  If you want to light up an entire high rise, grab the MMU-X3.  If you want to see the colors on the belly of a low flying plane a night, the MMU-X3 is your light.  If you want to light up the ridge line on the horizon, the MMU-X3 just might do it.  The MMU-X3 is not the MOST impractical light out there, there is a growing category of stupidly large lights, but its not the Mk. II Aeon, nor is it supposed to be.  If you accept that premise, then keep reading.  If you only want to read about practical stuff, you can skip this review...and go do your taxes early Mr. or Mrs. Boring. 

Here is the product page. The MMU-X3 costs $120.   It is an upgrade to the MMU.  The differences are largely technical--longer runtimes and brighter outputs.  This is the first video or written review of the MMU-X3.  Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the MMU-X3, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample (already returned to FourSevens):

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Twitter Review Summary:  Get yourself a chariot, carrying the MMX-U3 makes you feel like Apollo.

Design: 1

The class of products that the MMU-X3 is in has something of a role in flashlight evolution.  Its the place where the LED, through upgrades, mods, and smart engineering, is rendering useless yet another competitor (having slain the incandescent light five or so years ago).  These "soda can" lights are making the very expensive and very bright HID lights obsolete (Surefire continues to soldier on with them, but virtually everyone else has moved on).  So in that regard it is pretty impressive.  \

You also have to consider just how big this light is.  Its portly, no doubt, but it is actually not as tall as the classic Mini Mag:

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Given that you have 1600 lumens in a package that small, its not just an engineering feat, its a pretty darn cool light.  The specs, given the three XML2 emitters and the 22650 Li-ion battery, are impressive.  It is important to note that this is a light that is about all out photon throwing.  There is no real useful low, and the entire light is based on run as bright as possible for as long as possible.  Most lights try to balance output and runtime, resulting in highest total lumen output in the medium mode.  Not here--the total lumens output is found on high and is a staggering, mind blowing 240,000 (1,600 lumens x 150 minutes).  That's the number, that's the big deal.  And that's why this light is so much fun to play with (and blind your neighbors).  The lumens:weight is: 171.3 (1600:9.34 ounces with battery).  Not as impressive, but it goes with the territory.

Given the impressive specs you might be wondering why it gets a 1 in design.  Here's why--the battery and charger are not included.  Frankly, that is just bullshit.  The 26650 is not a common cell, even for a rechargeable battery, and the size of the cell makes it difficult to recharge in an aftermarket charger (it barely fit in my i2 Intellicharger; anything smaller and you are out of luck).  As such, out of the package this light does nothing, unless you spend $40 more ($15 for the cell and $25 for the charger).  That is simply a bad decision and I am placing the deduction in design because the design necessitates that specialized gear and FourSevens has decided to charge you extra for it.  Hell, just sell the whole kit for $150 and call it a day.  Its a pretty darn good value at that price, but the fact that the battery and charger are sold separately is simply inexcusable.  Its not even really the pricing on the extra stuff--its the fact that it is not included.  Bad choice. 

Fit and Finish: 2

Like the MMR-X, the MMU-X3 shows an increased refinement in the product build of FourSevens lights.  Its nice to see and on this light all of that increased attention to detail is not just a pleasantry, but something of a necessity.  The head is very complex and the reflector even more so and yet everything is beautifully done.  Very, very good job.  

Grip: 2

For its stubby appearance, the MMU-X3 is actually great in the hand.  It is a combination of things.  First, the light's length is just right:

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Even in a cigar grip you can still easily access the tailcap.  Second, the diameter is just right, slightly smaller than a D-cell Mag Light.  Finally, the texturing, a combination of knurling and divots, is very well done.  Overall, I was surprised given the light's unusual girth.

Carry: 1

Want to know what it is light to carry the MMU-X3 in your pocket?  Go grab a can of soup (not soda, never drink soda, ever; its sludge) and drop it in your pocket.  That's what its like.  There is just no easy way to make this light pocket-friendly.  Hell its even too large for a lot of slots in organizer pockets on packs.  Its just really wide.  And yes, I am trying very hard not to stray into an awkward sentence that could be finished with "that's what she said."

Output: 2

Well, if you are even considering this light, this is the reason why.  It is an absolute torch.  Its as bright or brighter than your car's headlight (assuming you didn't upgrade it).  Much brighter in fact (here is an uber nerdy thread on the topic of car headlights over at CPF, steer clear of the math stuff unless you like getting lost in a conceptual black hole).  1600 lumens is almost twice as bright as the next brightest light I have used.  Its really amazing. 

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I'd like a moonlight low on every light, including this one, but that's like asking for a comfortable back seat in a Ferrari. I'd also like more than two modes, but again, that is not what this light is about.  High=1600 lumens; low=200, don't complain.

Runtime: 2

As amazing as the output is, its really the runtimes that are fantastic.  On most of the lights I have reviewed with high ouputs, like the Eagletac TX25C2, the Zebralight SC600 Mk. II, and the FourSevens MMX-R, that top output number is based on an artificially high high that evaporates after a few minutes.  Even the 1140 lumens on the Eagletac drops down to something like 800 lumens after a minute or two.  But here, you are allegedly getting the full 1600 lumens for 2.5 hours.  That is a real feat.  I write "allegedly" because I have no way of testing those numbers, but FourSevens seems to do very good with their runtimes.  I have no reason to doubt them, but I have a feeling the light would be hot enough to make biscuits with after those 150 minutes.

Beam Type: 1

This is an odd thing, but I would expect a light this bright and of this size to have better throw.  Its not an all flood light by any means but it seems to me that it is getting what throw it does have from the high output and not a true throw reflector or head.  Its not a big deal, but the Armytek Viking I have in for review is a much better thrower.  I'd have to imagine that those folks that have a real use for this light, as opposed to us hobbyist flashaholics, would like more throw for their search and rescue stuff.

Beam Quality: 2

The three emitter array is fine, actually quite good and the reflector produces a very good, but not great beam.  There is little artifacting, except for up very close, but at that range the light's output is so great it is essentially unuseable.  

UI: 1

Well, this could use some more.  I understand that this is a "tactical" light and it needs a momentary on switch (or so we are told, if someone wants to explain this to me, I am happy to read about it in the comments).

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That said, this is an awkward UI.  You twist not the head, but the tailcap to turn the light on indefinitely.  Twist and twist again to switch modes.  A double tap of the tailcap will do the same thing in momentary on.  I am sure it is something you can get used to and it is dead simple, but I like the TX25C2 UI better.  

Hands Free: 0

No tailstand, no teeth...and surprisingly given all of the scallops and divots, it rolls like a ball bearing.  Oops.
 
Overall Score: 14 out of 20

The MMU-X3 is not a good EDC light.  Its too big and, I know this sounds like heresy, but too bright.  It blows away any useful sort of vision you had in the night and you won't be getting it back until the next day.  Its soda-can form factor is a bit chubby and the lack of a pocket clip means this is not a pocketable light, but the holster is okay and really if you are in this product category in the first place you have sorta chucked aside any notion of convenient carry.  But all of this aside, this is one freakin' sweet little light.  You have something roughly the power of a car headlight in the palm of your hand.  A lot of this is just the gee whiz factor and I am sure this light, absent upgrades, will not score well over time.  It is essentially a one trick lumens cannon pony, but for what it is its good at it. 

This is a specialized tool being reviewed by a gear generalist (me), so naturally it is not going to score super high.  A lot of the points I docked it for are things that folks that need this kind of light can totally ignore.  If you are in law enforcement or do search and rescue this is probably one of your better options out there.  Deep down though beneath a serious exterior relentlessly focused on finding and analyzing gear, there is that flashaholic in me that got excited when I took my lights to Maine and could light up boats on the other side of the harbor.  For that part of me, this light would score much, much higher.  It is just awesome to feel like Apollo himself, with the Sun in tow (classicists out there, is Apollo the only major Greek god not renamed in the Roman pantheon of gods?).  

The real and most legitimate drawback is the fact that the battery and charger are not included with the light.  You can't sell a specialty tool that requires specialty equipment and not include it.  I don't really mind the prices on the battery and charger, but they absolutely should be included.

The Competition

Comparing this light to the Fenix PD 22 I use as a benchmark is kind of silly, so I won't bother.

The 1200 lumens or higher club has four distinct groups of lights--the HID lights, which are just too expensive, the long lights with huge heads, the spotlight-style lights (some of which even have separate battery units), and these soda can lights.  If I were in this group and didn't need one or another light because of lumens requirements, I'd probably opt for a soda can style light.  Eagletac makes one, as does Nitecore.  Both have roughly the same output and both use tandem or triple 18650s, which I think might be a better set up, as they are more easily found.  Additionally, some of these soda can lights can run on CR123as.  That might seem like a plus, and in a pinch the ability to get batteries at a store is always a good thing, but with lights this powerful we are finally running into a cost thing.  Some of these soda can lights would need 8 CR123as to run and even then, because of the energy drain, they would last long at all.  It would be roughly $8-10 an hour of operating expenses and that is just too much for me.   The array of 18650s add a bunch of weight that this light doesn't have.  Its a tradeoff and only you can decide--size and weight v. ease of finding batteries.  Because this is such a specialized tool, I am willing to put up with the extra weirdo battery, but I can see the advantages of the other system. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Masterstroke Airfoil Review

In 1977 an art museum and library opened in France called the Centre Georges Pompidou. The casual observer probably would have guessed, in 1977, that the building was scheduled to open a few years later as all of the plumbing, support structures, and technical elements were still visible, even on the outside of the building. But the building was not half done when it opened, it was an example of a movement in architecture called "high-tech architecture." The idea is to revel in the technical aspects of a building and that those technical aspects are not only aesthetically pleasing but seeing them creates a sense of solidity and confidence in the building. There is nothing to hide. The massive beams that support modern high rises are there to see. The plumbing and electrical components are readily visible.

Its little surprise that this aesthetic found its way into gear. After all, part of the call of the gear geek is the fact that we revel in technical details and engineering feats. We love the idea of a pivot with bearings or a light with a complex reflector. In pens clear fountain pens, called demonstrators, began their life as tools to show consumers how the guts of the pen worked, and decades later they are among the most popular sellers, even though, in the beginning they were never intended to be sold. Then there are the pieces of kit that are technical marvels both because of their technical achievements and because they show them off. In particular I am thinking of the out of production but still beloved GatLight from Lumencraft.

In a sense the Masterstroke Airfoil borrows extensively from the aesthetic of the demonstrator pen, the GatLight, and the Centre Pompidou. Its guts are not just visible, but exposed, and the result is a pen so striking it could never be mistaken for any other pen. That is an impressive feat given the sheer volume of pens that have been made. That is, in part, why I agreed to take it in for review on a very short time table (so the review could be put out while the Kickstarter campaign was still going)..

Here is the Kickstarter page. I received an aluminum version, but there is a titanium version as well. This is a Kickstarter project so pricing is complicated.  You can get an all-black or all-silver pen for $49 if you bid in time, or a colored version for $58.  After the Early Birds are gone (which they aren't as of the posting of this review) the prices go up to $59 and $65 respectively.  The titanium version are more.  The pen is available only through Kickstarter right now. Here is a written review by Ed Jelley.  Finally, here is my review sample (sent by the pen's designer and maker Grant Takara):

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Twitter Review Summary: Looks like nothing else, smooth as silk with one rough edge (literally).

Design: 2

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The Masterstroke Airfoil is a pen that looks like no other and I for one like the very technical look. The pen is divided into three sections--the grip area, the foils, and the tailcap. The pen is a twist design and you extend the writing end by twisting the grip section. The foils are arranged in a cruciform pattern like on old style bayonets (cruicform bayonets have been banned under international law for a very long time, as their shape made wounds that were impossible to sew up and the grooves in the blades made great homes for lots of bacteria). The tailcap does nothing at all, other than to act as a counterweight to the grip section, something that is necessary given the fact that the middle portion of the pen is almost weightless. There will be an option for a pocket clip, though my review sample did not include one. On paper (or in a CAD program) there are few pens as unique looking as the Airfoil.

Fit and Finish: 1

The problem with reviewing prototypes is that it is hard to know what is merely a prototyping flaw and what is a design issue. Here the airfoils themselves are very sharply cut and can be painful when resting on the webbing of skin between your thumb and pointer finger. Grant is aware of this issue and a fix is in the works. See below for more about this.

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If that is taken care of, then the pen will be a gem. The rest of this writing tool is simply spectacular. The twist mechanism is amazingly, almost inconceivably smooth, as the nib of the pen extends with almost no effort. The coloring on the body of the pen is uniform and well done. The bolts that hold the airfoils in place gleam as does the gold plated tube that holds the refill. Other than the airfoils, this pen is wonderfully finished.

Carry: 2

The production version will, according to Grant, have the option for a clip. As is the pen carries fine. This is a very large diameter pen but thanks to the airfoil middle section it doesn't weigh a ton. It also carries nicely with other stuff in your pocket as it is quite durable.

Appearance: 2

This is the thing that sets the Airfoil apart. In the above linked review, from the great Ed Jelley, he made it clear that he liked the very unusual looks and I, for one, agree. This is a pen that has a technical feel to it without losing sight of the fact that it is a luxury item. The center brass tube used to house the refill is gleaming and the screws used to hold the airfoils in place absolutely shine. The review sample was black and evenly colored. I liked the black quite a bit, but Ed's red version looked absolutely stunning. The other colors are great looking as well. The unique appearance, coupled with touches of luxury, and bold colors make the Masterstroke Airfoil a beauty attention getter.

Durability: 2

This was a very short review period, so I am not sure how well the pen will hold up over the very long haul, but in the 14 or so days I have had it it has shown no real signs of wear. The pen is mostly anodized aluminum, but there other materials--steel and brass--are also pretty durable. Given the materials and the fit and finish I'd be surprised if the Airstroke was anything less than a good hard use pen.

Writing Performance/Refill: 1

The pen runs a nice ballpoint refill, as the package includes a Monteverde Cross-format refill. For a ballpoint it is quite good. I am not a fan of ballpoints and I am not a fan of the Cross-format refill, but for what it is the Monteverde refill is smooth.

The essential problem is that it, like all ball points, has an oil-based ink that inhibits almost all page feel. This is one of the reasons I'm not gaga over the Fisher refills that dominate the hard use market. There is so little feedback from a ball point and after using fountain pens and the Mont Blanc Fineliner almost exclusively for months, it is noticeable going back. That said, if you like ball points, you'll be happy and the Monteverde is quite good.

The format is a little problematic as well. I think the overall shape of the Airfoil necessitated the long thin Cross-format refill, but that means you will have a lot fewer options. Many, many more options are available in a Parker-format refill, including the stock Fisher refills.

Here is a writing sample made with the Airfoil:  

P1020669

Again, the pen writes nicely for a ball point, but ball points are no better than average in the pen world, even at their best.

Balance/In Hand Feel: 1

The balance here is superior, shocking given the fact that more than half the pen is missing. The tailcap is clearly designed as a counterweight, what with the machined divot and all, and it works well.

P1020660

Its quite the good pen, balance-wise, given its cigar-sized diameter, yet it is still quite nimble.
That agility however is counteracted by the very sharp airfoils. You can get used to them, but they are very harshly cut, especially for something that is designed to be handled a lot. As I mentioned before, Grant indicated this issue will be addressed in the future. I am not sure if that means it will be addressed between the prototype phase and the production phase or in later models.

P1020666

The in hand feel, given the foils, is at one and the same time excellent (because of the balance) and below average (because of the sharp foils). You can get used to the foils, just like you can get used to harshly cut jimping, but if they were smoother from the outset the Airfoil would be significantly better in your hand.

Grip: 2

The grip section is quite good, smooth and shaped well. In fact, it is very good. Generally I don't like pens of this girth, because they are pocket anchors, but because of the foils, the Masterstroke Airfoil is very light. The benefits of a cigar-sized pen without the drawbacks--that is a, well, masterstroke.

Barrel: 2

Good looks go along way in making a barrel great, and that is still true here. The real barrel is quite good, as it is a sleek, golden brass tube. Overall, nothing to complain about here, aside from the airfoil's crisp edges but I am not going to ding the pen twice for the same problem.

Deployment/Cap: 2

The twist mechanism here is simply a joy to use. Driving in the car or waiting around in court I often just open and close the pen, reveling in just how amazing this mechanism is. This is easily the nicest twist mechanism I have ever used, including on high end Cross pens and the well-regarded Retro 51s.

Overall Score: 17 out of 20

The Masterstroke Airfoil is a very unique looking pen. For the price of the aluminum model, is quite a decent value for what you get. The foils are a bit jagged and you'll need some time to get used to them. I am not a fan of the refill either, but neither of those issues are fatal blows. The entire pen is a machining feat that echoes the technical look found in other product and building designs. This is a look I like and I like the Airfoil quite a bit.

Follow up

Here is what Grant said about the edges on the airfoils and the potential for a pocket clip:

The production pen will have the option for a clip, I will be releasing the machined prototype photos once they arrive on my doorstep mid next week.

I've gotten the same feedback about the foils from many people and that will definitely be beveled on later models.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Everyday-Carry.com

I am sure that some of you have noticed that I have been writing places other than here for a while now.  You can read some of my ramblings, EDC basics, and the like over on AllOutdoor.com, a great site run by even better people.  I also have written a few things for The New Artemis, bigger high concept articles that Ashley kindly published.  Finally, I wrote a piece of Huckberry's journal.  This is all on top of what I write here, which has been consistently pumping out two articles a week for at least a year.  

That's a lot of work.  But it is fun and I am a pretty fast writer and VERY passionate about the subject, so its not a big deal.

But I am mindful of the fact that all of this is based on Bernard Capualong's success at Everyday-Carry.com.  He gave me some link love in the very beginning and the readership of this blog came largely from that source.  Bernard's site is the hub of the EDC universe.  It may not have been the first, but it was the most interesting, with Bernard showing us cool gear and commenting on gear others carried.  It was a perfect EDC hang out.  So perfect, even Time Magazine wrote about it.  At its height Everyday-Carry.com was just huge.

Then it went silent.  The posts stopped.  Bernard's real life got in the way.  He was a college student so when classes picked up, the blog dropped off.  For a while I, like many others, thought the site was dead.  

Then the announcement came last month that it was being revived.  Dan had partnered with Bernard to resurrect the blog.  Behind the scenes Dan contacted me and we made an agreement that I would write for the site.  I am a loyal person--same job for ten years, same wife for 15 (soon to be 16), and I am only 36 years old (yes, I am a hillbilly, you can do the math and figure out how old I was when I got married).  Leaving AllOutdoor was not an easy decision, but ultimately I felt compelled to do so, not only to consolidate my writing and make it easier on myself, but also because Dan was willing to include me in the big plans he has for the site (huge, really).  Finally, it was because it was Everyday-Carry.com, the hub of the EDC universe, and I felt indebted to Bernard and the site.

I am super excited to be writing for them.  There is a lot of good stuff in the works.  I will continue to write here, this is my thing, but I will supplement what I do here with work on Everyday-Carry.com.  Dan is a big idea guy.  Talking to him I get the feeling that he loves gear as much as we do and he has a vision for the site that is truly staggering.  EDC is about to explode and Dan's ideas will help that happen.  

I am just happy to be writing about it when it does.  

Starting in February I will be writing exclusively for Everyday-Carry.com frequently and I am pumped for the future.  

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

SHOT Show 2014, Part III

In the last installment I covered Benchmade and KAI USA. This installment will focus on CRKT, Spyderco, Surefire, and some odds and ends.  

CRKT

Here is a great booth review with Marshall from Going Gear:



CRKT is 20 this year (one more year before the company can drink!), so they have a special edition two bladed knife from Brian Tighe. Its not my thing. But other knives they have are really impressive. First, they tweaked the Eros releasing both the small and large version in a plain, flat handle. The impression is a very clean knife, much less busy than the original model. It also has AUS8 blade steel and a stainless steel scales, two differences from the original, which ran Acuto+ blade steel and titanium handle scales. This is a great improvement to an already solid knife--a good flipper, a nice size, and a useful blade shape. More Sebenza, less HG Giger. There is a larger version of the Drifter (and it lost its useless recurve, YAY!) and the Pazoda. The continuation of the collabs between CRKT and Flavio Ikoma resulted in the Fossil, a huge, crude looking flipper that echos a lot of Ikoma's custom works. There is a large and a small and the small's blade is 3.6 inches long. This is the knife T-Rex would use; he'd need it given his TINY arms:
There is an innovative flipper/thumb hole design from Steve Jeringan that looks different. The flipper is not a traditional flipper, working more like the deployment on the Boker Exskelibur. The Incendor is a very low key blade, with lot of checks on its list of good features--blade just under 3", G10 handles, and an over the top pocket clip. Its not the looker the Fossil is, but it does a lot of things right and CRKT has proven the simple formula can work with the Drifter. Remember the Occam's Razor of Gear: Simplest is Most Often Best. There are a bunch of new fixed blades including a machete and parong from Ken Onion, a slew of tomahawks, and a Lucas Burnely knife. The new wood handled tomahawks look pretty rustic and cool.

Grade: A:  A very solid set of offerings from CRKT and the Fossil looks amazing.

Spyderco

Spyderco announced a bunch of new knives late last year, most of which I covered with Andrew and Dan on Episode 22 of Gear Geeks Live. There were a few exciting releases, the Peter Carey knife and the Kiwi4, but overall, it was a pretty staid set of blades. Given the numbers, I wasn't expecting anything at SHOT Show. But Spyderco is full of both surprises and iterations. There has been confirmation of what might be my ideal production knife--a smaller version of the Spyderco Domino flipper called the Spyderco Dice. If the blade is under 3 inches and flips like its big brother, I am IN. There is also a smaller version of the LionSpy. This makes a ton of sense, as LionSteel made a smaller version of the SR1, the knife the LionSpy is based on, so its probably not a huge investment to change over a few things and make some Spyderco'd SR2s.

Grade: B+:  One sure thing home run, a bunch of VG-10 blades, and a smaller big knife is better than I thought we'd see, but still not as good as KAI's showing.

Surefire

Here is the product video for 2014:


As usual, Surefire goes big. The video is a pretty amatuerish (boy, would they benefit from an Edge Observer video) with weird awkward shots of their products and "field" shots of people looking angry at night (even the woman walking to her car looks angry).  Can't we get a shot of someone caving, doing search and rescue in the wilderness, or a person working under the hood of their car?  The music is especially awful as it is on a repeat loop that lasts about 30 seconds. Additionally, the music is partly from the menu music for the 7th season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer's DVD box set (I am perhaps the only person nerdy enough to notice that--it requires a convergence of uber nerd traits--love of flashlights, love of music scores, and love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, yeah I am not afraid to admit that).  Sorry, crazy aside, but when a video is that comically bad it deserves special mention, sort of like the Benchmade Munt logo.

The question is never whether they have compelling products, but whether those products will ever see the light of day. I am still waiting on my touch controlled Isis and Aegis from two years ago. They have a lot of gun lights and gun accessories that I am not knowledgeable enough to write about, but they also have a ton of new lights, so here goes. They have a new tailcap, called the VOC. It works something like a selector ring. Its been discussed for a while, so it is nice to see it at the show and in the video. They have a new light in the backup series, the EB2, which is the same as the EB1, except it runs on 2xCR123a batteries. It comes in black or green, has an output of 500 lumens and has both a tactical and clicky tailswitch. They showed an update to the Fury line, the P3X which hits 1000 lumens on non-rechargeable batteries. They also show the V1 Vampire an IR/White light that is roughly the same size as the EB1. A friend of mine went to Iraq and needed a dual output light. This would have been great to give him. They had three new rechargeable lights--an updated Lawman, the R2, with the VOC tailcap, the new 2400 lumen UDR Dominator, and the P1R 800 lumen Peacekeeper. They also had some ARC lights (Surefire's HID series) but at this point I am not sure how useful they are for normal folks. You can get LED based lights just as bright without all of the hassle of HIDs. They had two interesting hands free lights, the 2211 Luminox, a combination of a Luminox watch with a Surefire wrist light. I haven't tried the wrist light, but at least the branding seems pretty synched up. I am not sure how practical the design is as the watch and the light are both pretty bulky on their own. But hey, anytime Surefire goes out of its comfort zone, that is a good thing. They also have an update to the Maximus headlamp. It outputs 500 lumens and uses a VOC switch. Lots and lots of promise and good innovation.

Grade: A+ if they deliver everything; B- if they deliver the same amount they usually do. 

The video on its own gets an F, as if it were made by the coolest, raddest, 14 year old mall ninja on the planet after he finished up with the 2014 Spyderco catalog, because the shot of the Szabo folder parachuting in to the Arctic is just not aggro enough. 


Odds and Ends

Leatherman had one new product and a tweak to an old favorite. The new tool is called the Leap. It is a brightly colored small tool designed for kids. As a Dad, this instantly caught my attention. My son loves borrowing my Leatherman Squirt PS4 (that he got me for my first father's day) and use it to open pistachios, something we love to eat together. I cannot wait for the Leap to come out and even though he is a little young I think I am going to get him one. It includes a pair of pliers, some drivers, a saw, and a removeable sheepsfoot blade. The blade locks and unlocks with a mechanism on the outside of the tool, meaning little fingers never cross the blade path. Its not going to set the world on fire, but I really like the design and the focus on an untapped market. The other new product was an update in color and texture to the beloved (though not by me) Juice.

It was a quiet year, but they had a big year last year, so we'll call it a B overall.

There are some different colored DPx HESTs on the way along with the HEAT, a small blade in the style of the HEST. That's pretty darn exciting. But the really awesome new DPx blade was the HEFT, a 3.5 inch blade flipper.



Flippers are everywhere and a DPx knife with a flipper sounds really appealing. I loved the shape of the HEST, but not the deployment (other than the wave thingy, I am being vague on purpose).

DPx gets an A, two new great looking designs from such a small company is a big deal.

Cold Steel's offerings were simply atrocious this year.  They showed off one folder, one, and it is not even that impressive.  The Magnum Warcraft Tanto is nice, but I would have much rather seen a Warcraft Drop Point instead.  The rest of their line up is a smattering of random stuff, including neon green gun training tools, along with a heaping helping of swords. Maybe swords sell.  Maybe Lynn Thompson needs an excuse to go slaughter some blue jeans stuffed with beef.  Whatever it is, I just don't get it.  There simply can't be a huge market for pole arms, right?  This is, in all likelihood, worse because the last two years have been so good.  They were my favorite gear company in 2012 and did quite well in 2013, but this year is just full of head scratching product releases.  How many swords can you really sell to SCA folks?  Literally nothing appeals to me here. 

Too much big, weird shit--overall an F. 

ESEE had four new products, the first of which is the ESEE CM6.   This looks very normal until you realize that it has a true sharpened swedge.  It is designed to work as both as a bushcraft knife and combat knife.  I am not sure those two uses mix well, but the blade looks very solid.  ESEE's other offering, the first knife in the Camp Lore, looks like a pure bushcraft blade with a very traditional blade shape, an excellent handle, and a leather sheath.  The second offering is perhaps the quintessential bushcraft shape, a bit bigger with a Scandi grind.  They rounded out the new stuff with a fire starting tool.  It was an excellent showing from ESEE and a sign that they are venturing out of their comfort zone a bit. 

Grade: A-, very solid but no true guaranteed home run.  

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

SHOT Show 2014, Part II

This is the start of the overviews of gear company lines: 

Benchmade

Benchmade had a very good showing, lots of new stuff, a new sub-brand, and a few tweaks on old favorites that sent knife knuts into fits. The info here is supplemented by the release of their 2014 catalog. Here is an excellent video by one of YouTube's best, Fate of Destinee. She put out a ton of quality videos last year and this year she is doing the same thing.


First up they go over the HUNT line, which looks like an improvement over the Bone Collector series. The purchase of a Lone Wolf a few years ago gave Benchmade a bunch of knives and they have finally finished the process of incorporating them into their product line. Unlike the Bone Collector series, these knives lack the "gills" that many people, including me disliked. They also add some more traditional elements (combining some things from Lone Wolf designs), like wood (or wood appearing handles). They are actually made of Dymondwood, a resin laminate wood product that works like G10, but still has a bit of a wood feel to it. They can be colored any color and here Benchmade chose to make them actually look like wood. It is a small touch, but something I like. One last thing though, with the new line, Benchmade Hunt, the logo designer needs to go back to art school.




The placement of the Benchmade butterfly is a bit, um, awkward. Benchmade Munt anyone?

The Benchmade proper line has a few changes--there is a fixed blade Contego that looks great, the Stryker comes in an Axis lock, there is a new Nakamura knife that looks excellent (though the finger grooves seem oddly out of a place, given the designer's meticulous approach to handles). Good to great stuff so far, but then there was the news that made everyone, perhaps literally everyone, that likes knives very excited--the 940 is being upgraded. Its not a gilded lily Gold Class knife, but a Limited Edition (like the M390 Barrage, of which they also made a special SHOT Show model). This model will run S90V steel and have a carbon fiber handle (perhaps even Lightning Strike Carbon Fiber, the pictures are unclear).

Grade: B:  Nothing groundbreaking, but lots of good tweaks and one guaranteed home run.

Kershaw

They announced a partnership with Duck Commander. Yawn. The knives were really the big thing. First was the news of a flipper version of the very successful Blur, called the Camber, info found here. That is a great combination of beloved knife and new opening mechanism. But wait there is more. Here is the new product line page with a lot of blades. KAI announced a partnership with Emerson Knives that will result in the wave coming to more people with a more traditional grind. There are EIGHT Emerson collaborations in the regular Kershaw line up with widely varying designs and sizes. They range from the Gentleman Jim like CQCK-1 to the tanto CQCK-3 to...well...basically the whole line of Emerson knives. They are Chinese made knives (Emerson fans just died a little) so the steel is 8Cr13MoV. That alone would be enough for an A, but KAI USA is here to knock it out of the park. There are blackwash versions of favorites, like the Cryo. There is are two new blade shapes, a hawkbill, recurve number and a tanto Cryo. There is a lighter G-10 Cryo. There is a Matt Diskin flavored folder called the Strobe that has elegant lines. The dark horse of the new knives is the very elegant looking Amplitude 2.5. It is a assisted knife, but everything else looks good--a flipper, a 2.5 inch blade length. No steel has been announced yet. The Nura, which comes in two sizes, the 3.0 and the 3.5 inch blade, is really an important knife. It was designed by Dmitry Sinkevitch and has a look that is utterly unique:
 4030tikvt_profile_1020x400
This is the first Kershaw brand knife that has the KVT system since the beloved Tilt. No steel has been announced, but its futuristic looks, which go with the new Kershaw logo, and the smooth flipper make it the knife I am most excited for. Lets hope for a 14C28N blade. Either way, this is a buy.

Grade: A+ (VOLUME AND QUALITY): Kershaw simply killed it, enough new and awesome knives for three year's worth of announcements, all in one year.  

Zero Tolerance

The releases from ZT were less numerous, as should be expected given the brand's more premium line, but they were no less exciting. Anyone want an Emerson with the wave, a normal grind, and ELMAX steel? How about a FRAME LOCK? Oh, yes, this is just too cool. The knives are well into production and the blades look great, coming in at 3.6 inches. There are two versions, a base model and a CF model that runs M390 in the blade. Buy. Then there is the Hinderer collab, the ZT0562. This knife is a slicer grind with a 3.5 inch blade. It has a framelock and two models, one with CF scales and M390 and the other with "only" ELMAX. There is a new fixed blade, a production version of the Fieldtac from Hinderer that runs a new steel, Vanadis 4 Extra. Oh and a tomahawk because they are as obligatory as they are unnecessary. Because this is SHOT Show and historically ZT brings the big guns for BLADE, I would imagine this is only a portion of their line up for 2014, which is a very good thing. I would note the more prominent role that manual knives are playing in the ZT line up which strikes me as a very good thing. Most collectors and buyers of premium knives like either full autos or manual action knives and it looks like ZT has heard their cry.

 Grade: A: Very, very solid line up with exciting stuff. Signing a deal with Emerson is nothing less than a coup. Huge Win.

SHOT Show 2014 Part I: The Wishlist

Well, there are big changes here on my end that prevented this stuff from going up before and during SHOT Show, but I don't want to let you folks hang out there.  I am sure you have seen a lot of the announcements already, but this is not just about news, it is about analysis and hopefully I can provide some of that.  This was meant to be a three-part series on AllOutdoor, but things prevented it from going up.  More on that later.  For now here is SHOT Show, Part I:

The annual trade show for the outdoor industry is coming up very soon. Held in Las Vegas, the Sporting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show, is a great chance to see what new gear is coming out in the next calendar year. Videos and articles stream out of Las Vegas at a staggering speed and I hope to find the best ones and provide some commentary and analysis so you can keep up. I done this for two years on my personal site and it is always fun. But before the deluge of information starts, here is my wishlist of things I'd like to see. Bear in mind, this is all speculation on my part.  

Benchmade Comes Out Swinging

 Last year's line up was paltry, with a bunch of odds and ends, like a sheath and dagger system and only two major releases: the Volli and the Bushcrafter knife. Both were greeted with yawns from enthusiasts. The Volli was billed as a slim knife and is based on the Barrage platform with a similar blade shape and overall size, but as new releases goes it was very safe and kinda boring. Dan from Blade Reviews noted as much in his review of the knife. The Bushcrafter was, again, a safe and staid release. I don't do bushcraft, but comparing the knife to a few of the better bushcraft knives, there are few things that stand out as odd about the blade. First, the choice of S30V steel is good for catching eyeballs and marketing, but most bushcraft knives are made of steel that sharpens easily in the field. S30V is not that steel. Similarly, most bushcraft knives use steel that prioritizes toughness over hardness, again something that S30V clearly does not do. So while the knife might tempt mainstream folks thinking it is a bushcraft knife, for the hardcore, the Bushcrafter probably didn't move the needle. But we know that Benchmade CAN hit home runs. The Mini Grip is outstanding, one of the best, if not the best mid priced EDC on the market. The 940 is probably as universally acclaimed as you will find given the finnicky nature of knife knuts. They have a dozen or so very excellent, well-loved blades, but last year's offerings were blah. The year before they had more knives, but none of them seemed to ring true with knife fans. The 755 Pocket Rocket was not as warmly received as it could have been, being too fat for a knife that small. Its time Benchmade brought their A game. I'd love to see a new small knife, something around the size and weight of the much-beloved Aphid (which is selling for a lot on secondary markets) and a new, better flipper. The combination of the Axis lock "detent" and the size of the 300SN made it one of the laziest flippers on the market.
IMG_0034

I am rooting for Benchmade. USA Made (by in large, a lot of their cobranded stuff is overseas made), great materials, and top shelf fit and finish make them one of my favorite brands.  

New Collaborations for ZT

We know that ZT is going to have new collaborations. They always do. I'd love to see some really off-the-wall pairings. A ZT/TuffThumbz knife would sell like crazy to the enthusiast market. A Michael Burch/ZT knife would me amazing. There are just so many pairings that would work. ZT has proven with the ZT0600, ZT056X models, and the ZT0801 that they can do a very good job translating top shelf designer's knives into production blades without losing much in the way of high end feel.

 IMG_0039

They have been on such a roll recently, I am sensing that they are going to be bringing the thunder this year.  

Kershaw Brings Some Upscale Variants

 Thomas W was on my podcast, Gear Geeks Live (episode found here), and he dropped some news about variants. There is going to be a G10 variant of the fatty Cryo which will address two of my biggest problems with the knife--the weight and the grip. There will almost assuredly be more Leek and Blur variants. I'd love to see some variants of their mainstays with carbon fiber or other high end touches. These knives have great bones, yes, even the Cryo, and tricking them out would not only appease folks looking for a smidge more performance, it would also tickle the collector fancy. Plus, keeping the improvements on these modestly priced knives would mean they could still sell to the mainstream.  

Surefire Makes Good on Promises and Releases a True EDC Light

Surefire has long been the vaporware company of the gear industry. A few years ago they showed off two lights that had touch controls--the Aegis and the Isis. Both looked like they were straight from the B/S/T section of CPF's custom subforum. But since then the lights have not been seen. The Lawman was the big addition to the Surefire line up in the last year and it is a truly great light, but Surefire needs to leverage its know how and skill to make a compact EDC light. The EB1 is not that light. It is sold and designed to be a tactical backup (yes I hate the word "tactical"). An update on the emitter on the Titan T1A would be perfect. A new light with the Surefire touch would be equally cool. Surefire should not turn away from the growing EDC market. They need to go in with guns and flashlights blaze. There is a lot of money to make there.  

Spyderco has Something Up There Sleeve

We have seen most of Spyderco's line up as they do previews differently than everyone else, bringing stuff to a European show, IWA, or releasing it in a catalogue first. This year's offers range from silly (the Mike Draper/Spiderman folder) to the intriguing (the cast 440C fixed blade). There is a lot in there, but I was disappointed to see so few new knives with great steel. Hopefully Spyderco has a few things tucked up their sleeve. A production version of the Southard Downing would be well-received, at least by me.  

Chris Reeve Announces a Flipper Version of the Sebenza

 In an early draft of this article I had written "Christ Reeve" as a typo, but if he delivers a flipper Sebenza (I don't even know if CRK goes to SHOT Show, so this PURE speculation), he just might earn that title from knife knuts. It seems kinda odd that the guy that invented or popularized the Ti framelock, doesn't make a flipper version.  

More Flashlight Manufacturers Embrace the new UIs

All of the Eagletacs and Fenixes and Olights of the world need to move on from the clicky and embrace the better, newer UIs. I'd love to see a D series light with a QTC pill inside.


IMG_0036

Similarly the i-series from Olight would do well with the quantum material UI. Lots and lots of mid- to high-range lights would be much better with selector rings instead of one or two or god forbid three buttons. Simple is best and the new UIs allow makers to create simple better lights cheaply, especially in the case of QTC pills. Its coming. Whether it is this year or next, there will be a wave of production lights with these new UIs and my bet is that they will all use QTC pills because of cost and ease of manufacturing. I love SHOT Show for the same reason that I look forward to E3. It gives me things to save money for. Let's hope the big names bring their A games. Saving to buy gear is almost as fun as buying and using it.

Monday, January 20, 2014

2013 Gear of the Year Awards

I had planned on something more complicated for this year, but alas, as is want to happen at the end of the year, I got very busy. Oh well. I didn't want it to creep into February without getting these out.  There is only two rules--the product must have been sold for the first time in 2013 and a product can only win once.   I was fortunate to review a lot of these products, but not all of them.  When possible, the links go to my review.  Otherwise, they go to the product page (or the closest thing I can find to a product page).   

Overall Product of the Year
 
Nominees:

TuffKnives Tuff Tanic
Chaves Knives Redencion 
Curtiss Knives F4 Series
MBI HF-R Ti 
Muyshondt Aeon Mk. II 
Prometheus Alpha Pen 
Spyderco Domino

Winner: TuffTanic


This was a close call between the Alpha Pen and the Tanic. Ultimately I went with the Tanic. Few things have captured the EDC community's collective mindshare like the Tanic did. But the Alpha Pen is a close second. See below for more on why.

The Tuff Tanic is a great knife, but it was the marketing that sent this thing into the stratosphere, allowing BladeHQ to sell out their allotment of 8-10 knives is about 10 minutes (excluding the lefty), even though they were priced at $1,200 a piece. Geoff's story is hard to ignore. He rose out of YouTube to mod knives, then make fixed blades, then friction folders and finally a locking folder. His path has been followed by a notable cadre of people in 2013 and 2014 including the modding wunderkid Alexander Dietz. Its fun to watch all of this happen as it is shaking the custom knife world to its core. Instead of riding the show circuit and trying to sell knives that way in the hopes that a major maker picks you up, the Internet again changed how things are done and the Tuff Tanic is the best example of that. If it were just a good story, that would be one thing, but the knife itself is amazing. Sources I consulted with in the custom world were astounded at the fit and finish and even remotely we can marvel at the unique aesthetic. Those whales are finnicky people and to please them is a remarkable feat, especially with your rookie locking folder offering.

In the end there are a ton of great products released this year, but none had the market impact, industry impact, and level of execution that the TuffTanic did. It is an easy and worthy winner.

Overall Company of the Year

Nominees:

CRKT
MBI 
Prometheus 
AG Russell 
Surefire

Winner: CRKT

There is a lot of competition out there right now and the stakes are huge as the gear market grows. Of all of the companies out there, it came down to two for me--CRKT and Prometheus. Prometheus, on a per employee basis, killed it, as they had two massively successful Kickstarter releases--the Alpha Pen and the Beta QR light. That said, CRKT had a bigger impact. They were able to get their products on a lot of major retailer's shelves, I saw them on Lowes shelves for the first time, and still deliver a lot of interesting and innovative products. As the knife market grows, the designs seem to be increasingly bifurcated with lots of cheap knives and lots of expensive knives with very little in the middle. CRKT bucked the trend and released a slew of good to great blades in the $40-$100 price range. Among those that received good feedback from critics and markets alike were the new Ripples, the Swindle, the Moxie, and the Carajas. Each had something unique and interesting and each was relatively inexpensive. Last year they released a bunch of blades, but many were too big for real EDC carry (like the Mah Eraser). This year, they downsized to a much more EDC friendly size and we all benefited.

Best Value

Nominees:

CRKT Swindle
ESEE Zancudo 
Spyderco Domino
Kershaw Injection

Winner: CRKT Swindle

IMG_0025

Gorgeous, right?  Ken Onion is one of the biggest names in knives. When he puts out a blade everyone takes notice. So when he jumped ship from designing new knives for KAI to designing new knives for CRKT it was a big deal. The first two years of the collaboration produced a lot of knives that LOOK like Ken Onion knives--curvy, organic with unusual blade shapes. But the Swindle proved that Ken Onion was more than a one note designer (and let's face it, after a decade of KAI/Onion knives that are stultifying similar, EVERYONE thought he was a one note knife designer). The Swindle is a modern framelock/flipper version of the old swayback pattern and it is a marvel. Even the base model is an elegant, attractive, unique and useful blade. The action on the flipper is superb, thanks to IKBS bearings, and the pocket clip is a really cool idea. The street price of around $36 really fools you. If someone had never seen the knife before (and the steel was better) they'd think it was a $200 high end production blade.

Community Leader

Nominees:

Geoff Blauvelt
Chris and JR from Knife Thursday 
Triple Aught Design

Winner: Knife Thursday

While I think TAD survived Patrick Ma's departure quite well and Geoff's year can only be described as meteoric, it was the guys from Knife Thursday that galvanized the entire knife community. The mindshare they have, the percentage of new knife knuts introduced to the community through them, and the number of blades they have sold is pretty staggering. They have the best giveaways on the internet (I tried to keep up, but mine come from site revenue, while theirs come from makers). They have a podcast. They have an amazing website. Their Friday Night Instagram trade post is pretty fun to watch. Now that they have a huge audience it will be fun to see what they do with it.

Production Light

Nominees:

Prometheus Beta-QR 
Steve Ku Quantum D2 
Surefire EB1

Winner: Beta-QR

P1000667

The D2 is a great light, but really an update of an older (and still great) model, as is the EB1. The Beta-QR is totally new and totally amazing. If the light didn't have the great QR attachment point, it would still be an awesome release--elegant form, amazing emitter, perfect size--but the QR sends this thing over the top. And the Beta-QR represents the first of what I think will be a trend--high quality crowdsourced EDC gear. I have talked to quite a few makers in preparing for both an article and a podcast on the topic and it is clear to me that many of the more technically proficient custom gear makers out there see the potential Kickstarter holds. Now if we could just get Kickstarter to amend its policy on no knives. I'd love to see a Begg kickstarter project.

Custom Light

Nominees:

MBI HF-R Ti
Muyshondt Aeon Mk. II
Cool Fall Tri-V, Mk. II

Winner: MBI HF-R Ti

IMG_0047

Its hard to not vote for a light made for me, but putting on an objective hat I can see why people would prefer the screaming MBI HF-R. It has a higher high and a more innovative (though I am not sure if it is better) UI. I like long runtimes, as most flashaholics do once they stop participating in the lumens arms race, but the HF-R still has you covered with a super low low that lasts forever. Plus the HF-Rs are more widely available. These are absolute gems at this price.  I'd love to try the Tri-V, but I don't have a spare $3000 lying around. Still it is, as always with Dave's releases, a high water mark in flashlights.

Production Knife

Nominees:

AG Russell Acies2
Spyderco Domino
CRKT Swindle

Winner: Spyderco Domino

Don't let the "Manix with a flipper" talk scare you away--this is one of the best knives available on the production market. It has the amazing Spyderco ergonomics with the silkiest flipper I have ever seen--rivaling some customs I have handled. The handle scales are ugly, yes, but this thing is crammed with innovation--the lockbar stop and the replaceable lockbar face are the same piece and they are on the inside of the knife. The steel is one of my new favorites--CTS-XHP. And this is a Taichung, Taiwan Spyderco. Its clear by now they make the best Spydercos available, if not the best production knives available.

Custom Knife

Nominees:

Gavko EDC
Ramon Chavez Redencion
Stan Wilson's Flipperless Flipper



Winner: Stan Wilson's Flipperless Flipper

This market is so overheated right now that there probably more new models released in 2013 than in any other year. A lot of the knives are awesome, no doubt, but the prices are crazy. I would have still picked the Tuff Tanic, but the only-win-once rule precludes me from doing so. If you are looking for a new high end knife my advice is to either wait or find an up and coming maker. There are no values in this market right now.  None.

But sometimes its not about value, and the custom knife market is one of those times (though at some point we have to call the rate of appreication crazy).  To that end, among the myriad of custom options released in 2013,  I'd take Stan Wilson's Flipperless Flipper. Watch the video and you will see why.  This portends for new designs. Mr. Wilson, please call your patent attorney now. That said, an order now for the Flipperless Flipper would result in a knife being delivered sometime in 2015. 

Multitool

Nominee and Winner: Nite Ize DoohicKey

It was a quiet year for Multitools. I had originally thought about the Leatherman OHT, but that was introduced in 2012. So it is basically a bunch of OPMTs from Leatherman, all of limited utility, and this tiny, cheap gem. It is so pared down, so impressively focused, and so cheap its hard to ignore. There is virtually no one that wouldn't benefit from a DoohicKey, all the way the hardest of hardcore gear geeks to your grandma. The carabiner attachment point is a good idea, even if it messes with your keys' ability to lay flat. Plus the DoohicKey is even cheaper than the Gerber Shard, coming in at $5.95 around me. Pick one up. Its better than that hideous rubber turtle bottle opener you are currently using (okay, so its your significant other's keychain, so what, swap this out for that gouache piece of garbage).

Pack

Nominees:

Topo Designs/Doane Mountain Briefcase
Hazard 4 Patrol Pack
Go Ruck Bullett
Cocoon/Grid It Slim Backpack
Tom Bihn Synapse 25

Winner: Bihn Synapse 25

IMG_3816
This was probably the closest category this year.  There were two outstanding options.

There are some great packs out there and the Hazard 4 Patrol Pack is unquestionably one of them. LoadedPocketz did a great job reviewing the pack and I have come to trust his instincts when it comes to packs. The big deal is that this pack gives people an option between the Mystery Ranch/Kifaru/TAD/GoRuck price bracket and the Maxped/5.11 price bracket. It was a weird empty space in the market, kind of like an obvious lexical gap (there is no word for adult children, that is how do your parents refer to you when you grow up?), and Hazard hit is just right. The pack has a ton of features and seems to be able to go toe to toe with the more boutique brands, yet its not a stretch for Maxped fans. More than anything else, this is about hitting an untapped market.

But the Hazard 4 Patrol Pack is very, well, tactical looking and for most folks, including me, that is not a plus factor.  I appreciate the utility of MOLLE, but its not a look I like.  The Synapse 25, on the other hand, is just as useful and twice a beautiful.  Simply put this is best all around pack I have ever used, miles ahead of my current pack the Maxped PFII.  The Synapse 19 was too small, but the 25 is perfect.  I loved this pack.  

Pen

Nominees:

Prometheus Alpha Pen
Tuff Writer Ultimate Clicky Ti
Cult Pens Mini Fountain Pen (by Kaweco)

Winner: Prometheus Alpha Pen

P1010320

The Alpha is my go to writing tool. Dowdy introduced me to fountain pens as the end of 2012 and I have reviewed three of them including the superb and perfect Vanishing Point, but in a job that requires me to lend out my pen fountain pens aren't a good choice. There are just too many people that don't know how to use them and watching someone crush a nib because ink is not coming out is no fun. I still prefer fountain pens for notetaking. For example live notetaking of a trial, where sketchnotes can't work and I need verbatim quotes is a grueling tasks. About hour three my hand is killing me with a normal pen. A fountain pen pushes that time limit back to about hour 5 or 6, a huge upgrade. But again, they make terrible loaners.

That is where the Alpha comes in. If you haven't tried the MontBlanc Fineliner refill you owe it to yourself to do so. It is about 80% as nice as a fountain pen (great, bold lines, easy flow, and nice page feel) with none of loaner-related drawbacks. Everyone knows how to use it. It is a huge upgrade from the go to refill for hard use pens--the Fisher refill. The Fisher writes forever but is no where near as good a writer. In fact, it is a pretty awful writer. It feels slick and oily with ZERO page feel or feedback. The Fineliner on the other hand is a dream.

But the Alpha is awesome for other reasons. First, its cheaper than any MB pen, yet you still get to use the MB refills. Second, it looks gorgeous. Since I have been using the Alpha, everyone from a young kid all the way up to an attentive judge has noticed and commented. Its even better when I tell them how relatively inexpensive it is. Third, it is durable enough to withstand daily use. I am writing a lot. I am running around a lot. I go to dirty, rough places a lot. Retro 51 pens lasted me about a month before something broke. Even my modded Zebra F-701 didn't last all that long. But the Alpha is as tough as it is beautiful. Its 80% of a TuffWriter.

So we get the perfect balance for me and for EDC use--80% of a fountain pen's good traits and 80% of a TuffWriter's good traits. This one is easily worth tracking down. Its GREAT.

Accessory

Nominees:

Gear Pull
TT PockeTTools Dangler
Nock Co. Brasstown Pen Cases

Winner: Nock Co. Brasstown Pen Cases

There were a lot of really great accessories released this year, from big companies like CRKT, and little upstarts like those listed above. The Gear Pull is probably not my thing, but oh it is gorgeous. There is very little out there that is cooler looking, but again, its not my thing. The TT PockeTTools Dangler is very nice, but again more than I would carry.

In the end, the accessory I want the most that came out in 2013 was a Nock Co. Pen Case. So many pen cases don't speak to me, looking very stuffy, but the Nock Co. cases, particularly the Brasstown, seems just the right thing. I don't like sheathes, but here I can see some real value in having a separate case for my pens. Fountain pens don't do well out in the car in the freezing New England cold, so grabbing a small case to take into the house without lugging my whole bag in would be great.
The other thing with the cases is that don't have to worry about fit and finish or design. If anyone on Planet Earth knows pens, it is Brad Dowdy. He has gone out of his way to do everything right with the launch of Nock Co. on Kickstarter, detailing, for example, why they need a bar tacker (for those extra tough square corner seams).

New Website

Nominees:

Real World EDC
Pocket Philosophies
The New Artemis

Winner: The New Artemis

No question here--The New Artemis is the best new site in the community. It is not only one of the most beautiful sites in the entire EDC community, Ashley, the editor, brings an entirely new voice to a subculture crowded with men. Its not just that she is a woman, but she has a broader definition of EDC, focusing on electronics, apps, and smartphones, things much more commonly used on a daily basis than all of the guns, fixed blades, and pepper sprays out there. Between all of the infographics, the beautiful typeface, and the very nice, budget friendly gear recommendations, you find articles written by folks on the edge of civilization, such as this piece.

YouTube Reviewer

Nominee and Winner: Jim Skelton

There are so many new YouTube reviewers out there it is hard to keep track of them. That said, Jim is truly a great talker. He may not have all of the details of knife design down pat, but he brings an enthusiasm and a genuineness that easily makes up for it. You can learn details, but you can't learn enthusiasm or his ability to revel in details.

Friday, January 17, 2014

FourSevens MMR-X Review

I have written before about FourSevens' need to stay on the bleeding edge of flashlight design.  As a brand that disrupted the entire market by being innovative, they need to continue to do so in order for their lights and brand to remain relevant.  Surefire can get away with being less cutting edge because their lights are associated with bomb-proof designs and impeccable performance.  Emitter upgrades with no real changes to UI or form factor had left me cold on a lot of FourSevens' designs.  Some of the mainstays of their line had remained unchanged in any meaningful way for their entire lifespan.  As someone with a healthy addiction to flashlights I have come to learn over the years the incremental lumens upgrades, while being a great selling point, are pretty worthless in real life.  I wanted to see some real change.

Here it is.

The MMR-X is a huge step forward.  It puts FourSevens back on that bleeding edge with a host of features.  And, for the first time in my opinion, the performance is now truly elite.  The beam pattern on this light is perhaps the best I have seen on a production light and very close to the best I have seen on a custom.  While the AL Atom was neat, and the headband a great idea, the MMX-R is a flagship product worthy of heralding.  Its not a great EDC light because of its size, but it is a truly sterling flashlight.  The recharging feature is great, the bit of UI programmability is very nice and thankfully not overdone, and the entire light feels and handles much better than the vast majority of aluminum tubes out there.  

Here is the product page. The MMR-X costs $100.  This appears to be the first review of the MMR-X anywhere (thanks Trevor!).  Here is a video overview from FourSevens.  Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the MMR-X, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link (review sample sent by FourSevens and to be returned):

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample:

P1020296

Twitter Review Summary: Bringing both thunder and lightning, the MMR-X revitalizes 47s line up.

Design: 2

I was so worried about the UI.  The USB interface could have been SO overdone and confusing.  But really the USB serves as a lockout more than anything else.  With the light plugged into a USB port (even a non-computer USB port, such as a wall wart charger), the light is both recharging AND open to change the modes available.  You can't tweak the low's lumen count, but you can change the order of the modes as well as which modes are used.  There are five output configurations and you are bound to find something you like.  More on this below, but suffice to say, in terms of design, the USB interface is very nice--allowing some tinkering without sending you down a rabbit hole.  The USB jack is also nicely and securely hidden.
 
P1020288

The rest of the light is pretty standard for an 18650.  But the kit that comes with the MMR-X is great.  You can go from a full on tactical light (yes, I used that word and no I don't know what it means), with a strike bezel, a single ultra high output, and an easy access clicky to a more practical light with a flat bezel, multiple outputs, and a tailstanding reverse clicky.  As has been the trend recently, the MMR-X is a system or platform.  It can be many things to many people and unlike a lot of products that try to do that, the MMR-X switches roles well.  In the non-tactical mode it is easily on par with the Zebralight SC600 Mk. II and the Eagletac TX25C2, two of the better 18650 lights on the market.  Its bigger than those two lights because of the need to accomodate a micro USB port, but it is still pretty small.  Here is the light next to the ubiquitous Mini Mag 2xAA:

P1020310

The stats on the MMR-X are quite good.  The max lumen output found on Medium mode and is 72000 (150 lumens for 480 minutes).  The lumens:weight is 163 (800 lumens/4.90 ounces, note that the weight is LESS than FourSevens specs, always a pleasant surprise).  

One small note.  This light uses a "buttonless" 18650.  There are aftermarket buttonless 18650s but your probably best just buying them from FourSevens.  Its not exactly a proprietary battery, but it is annoyingly close.  Only the fact that you can charge the battery while it is in the light makes up for this drawback.  I love the format and the rechargeability, I just which the battery was a normal 18650 rechargeable. 

Fit and Finish: 2

The emitter is centered.  The anodizing is consistent.  The knurling is cleanly cut.  The threads are smooth.  The clicky is nice.  Every single detailed has been attended to and the end result is a light that feels better than other FourSevens lights I have reviewed.  The thin walls of the Mini is obviously out.  The rough-ish threads of the Quark is gone.  And the slop in the body parts I noticed in the review of the MMX is gone.  Absent branding, and ignoring the micro USB port (because Surefire would never be that progressive), this light feels more like a Surefire torch than it does mid-market lights, even other FourSevens lights.  Very, very impressive.

Grip: 2

Its odd to say this, but most lights this size have terrible pocket clips (the Eagletac TX25C2 being the notable exception).  Generally they are bulky paint scrappers that do their best to keep a large, heavy, round object from floating around and banging stuff up.  FourSevens didn't bother with a clip and the result is a light that is much better in the hand than its competition, including the FourSevens MMX.  

P1020307

The knurling is very good, but not rasp-like making the light very nice to touch.  As you can see from the picture above, its easy to access the clicky from the place your hands are meant to be.  I still like side switches a bit better, but this is not bad at all.  

Carry: 1 

With the lack of a clip and the extra length the micro-USB port necessitates this light is pretty tough to carry in a pocket.  It is not close to the Eagletac in that respect.  But this is not really intended to be a pocket light and compared to other lights like it, such as the MMX and the Armytek Viking (review coming) this is a pretty darn good pack light.  The head is not overly bulky and there isn't anything to snag or bunch up when sticking this light in a pack.  

Output: 2 

The High is staggeringly bright at 800 lumens.  That's the number to lure in suckers (as it lasts for a minute).  400 lumens is plenty bright but not best in class.  Both the Eagletac TX25C2 and the Zebralight SC600 Mk. II have significantly higher highs for longer.  Its the 1 lumen Moonlight mode that the rest of us appreciate.  The other two levels are 25 lumens on Low and 150 lumens on Medium, giving this light a great high, a great low, and good spacing everywhere else down the line.   But the mere numbers are only a small part of the reason why the MMR-X scores a 2.

ASIDE

FourSevens calls the modes by confusing names, such as Max instead of High.  For purposes of this review here is what they are:

800 lumens (after 1 minute drops and holds at 400 for two hours): High, called MAX by FourSevens
150 lumens: Medium, called High by FourSevens
25 lumens: Low, called Low by Foursevens
1 lumen: Moonlight, called Moonlight by Foursevens

The problem with the nomenclature, and the reason I am going to the trouble of renaming them for this review, is that FourSevens names don't match up with what the rest of the industry is using, so a person may mistake the MMR-X's "High" as 150 lumens, which compares poorly to the High for other lights in this product class.  The MMR-X's true high of 800 lumens is quite competitive.  So for purposes of you doing comparisons I am going to use the nomenclature listed above as opposed to FourSevens' nomenclature.  This, along with the confusing renaming of favorite lights, is another sign that FourSevens rebranding has gone crazy.  I love the site and the logo, but I HATE the jargon.  When your insistence on new and different names for lights and features makes your products look worse compared to competitors, its time to drop all of the jargon.  Just a friendly suggestion from an avowed FourSevens fanboy.  

END ASIDE

Here is the emitter end:

P1020292

The big trick with the MMR-X is the fact that you can choose how the light switches between modes.  Here is how it works.  First, plug the supplied USB to micro USB cable into a light and a USB port (either a computer or a powered USB wall wart).  Once you do this you can charge the light, run the light from the external power supply, and alter the outputs.  Altering the output configuration is easy and involves turning the light on and off while it is plugged in.  There is an LED (seen two pictures below in the UI section of this review) that provides information about what configuration you are in and when you have changed from one configuration to another.  Once you have selected your preferred configuration, simply unplug the light or turn it off and it is locked in.  That is the beauty of the programmability here--it is really just a failsafe feature to prevent you from dropping into a programming mode by accident as can happen on lights like those from Zebralight or the notoriously daunting LiteFlux LF3XT

There are five output configurations.  Here they are:

Configuration 1: High only
Configuration 2: High then Low (25 lumens) (this is the default configuration)
Configuration 3: High then Strobe
Configuration 4: Low then Medium then High then Stobe
Configuration 5: Moonlight then Low then Medium then High then SOS then Strobe then Beacon High then Beacon low (I set it to this configuration which has the flashing modes hidden like most FourSevens products).

There is also mode memory, so the light defaults to the last non-flashing mode used before the light was turned off.

In short, this is a light that can do anything.  If you want a lightning strike or a match flame, its got you covered and there are myriad of ways to access any of those outputs.  Its probably more than anyone really NEEDS in a flashlight but the great thing about the output design is that if you just want it to turn on and make things bright it can do that with aplomb.  High end, easy customizability AND simple rock solid performance?  YEP.  

I seriously considered breaking the scoring system here.  This ability to tailor not just outputs but output configurations is truly amazing.  I wrote this review once giving the MMR-X a 3, and then scrapped the whole thing and wrote it again (I very rarely do drafts, no time, hence the more than occasional typos).  This is much better than the system the NexTorches use.  Those lights require a software download and allow for a lot of tinkering, varying outputs by lumens not just choosing between configurations of preset outputs.  Having played around with the NexTorches I feel like they are just TOO much, too fiddly and too tied to a computer.  Like infinitely moveable shelves on bookcases (which I have built before), once the outputs are properly set you probably won't mess with them again.  Why not set them right the first time like FourSevens did?  This is the right amount of customizability.

Runtime: 2

The high runs for an hour before dropping down to "merely" 400 lumens.  The moonlight runs for 35 days.  Well above par.  Move along.

Beam Type: 2

A lot of lights in this product category have HUGE throw heads and I understand why--many torches this bright are used for search and rescue.  But personally I don't have the need for two mile throw and I think very few people do.  Instead I like the more than average throw you get here, but the head is still normal sized.  Put another way--enough throw to run with the big dogs without the downside of a megaphone-shaped flashlight.  

Beam Quality: 2

Ah, the real secret of the MMR-X--its wonderful beam.  This is a smooth reflector light and the overall beam pattern, nice spill with perfect hotspot, is amazing.  There is nothing I can say about the beam pattern.  It is smooth, clean, and perfectly tuned.  Frankly, only the Haiku is in the same league and you know how much I love that beam pattern.  The quality is so high I don't even think the much-vaunted Surefire beam pattern compares.  The market is so big I am wary to say this, but this might be the best production light beam available.  It is certain the best I have seen.  

UI: 2

So its a standard clicky or a reverse clicky. Options alone boost the clicky only interface up a point, but then there is this little secret, here is the before:

P1020284

and after:

P1020285

As you could see from the output section, the programmability of the MMR-X hits a sweetspot--the Goldilocks of programmability.  When I received the light I was skeptical.  Do you really NEED all of this configurability?  Then I tried it out and realized that this light can go from full on tactical light to kitchen drawer user within a few seconds.  You might not switch the light around all that often, swapping out bezels and changing output configurations, but I bet you do it at least twice.  And the fact that you can do it, but don't need to do it makes this among the most flexible UIs on the market. 

Hands Free: 2

The light's kit comes with a reverse clicky that allows the MMR-X to tailstand and the cuts and grooves in the light make it pretty unlikely to roll away.   Overall nothing to complain about and a great deal of modularity to praise.

Overall Score: 19 out of 20

As great as the MMR-X is, there is one thing that makes it even better.  It is both better and CHEAPER than the light it either replaces or competes with in the FourSevens, the MMX, which retailed for $120.  Cutting edge innovation, breathtaking fit and finish, AND cheaper?  Amazing.  The MMR-X isn't a great EDC light, its just too big, but it is a great flashlight.  There is nothing more capable or flexible on the market.  It is also a superior value, both because of the price and because of the rechargeable battery that is included (hey Eagletac, give us a freakin battery next time, the TX25C2 didn't come with one and 18650s aren't exactly available at the local Quicky Mart).  This review took forever because this light can do almost anything.  I didn't even mention the fact that you could run it from a laptop in the even of a power outage, getting all of the juice from both the included 18650 AND the laptop battery.  That much energy on moonlight would last you probably three months.

The MMR-X can do just about anything and it does everything very very well.  This is a great light and one of the best on the market.  Time to go update the Top Five.      

The Competition

Though they are only separated by a few points on the scale, the MMR-X is orders of magnitude better than the readily available benchmark, the Fenix PD22.  In part the scoring system is a checklist of essentials.  If a light doesn't roll and can tailstand it gets a two in hands free.  That is a checklist.  But the scoring system is also a bit of a judgment call--good design is less of a set of features and more of an overall impression (I was going to write "gestalt" but that seemed to pretentious and I am already hands down the most pretentious gear reviewer out there, no need to push it).  The PD22 hits a lot of checklist points, but is not in the same league as the MMR-X in terms of both quality and value.  This at $100 or the PD22 at the $40-$50 price range is not even a competition.  The PD22 is more pocketable, but that's like saying a Toyota Corolla is a better car because it is smaller than a Rolls Royce Silver Seraph.  This isn't quite the Silver Seraph, more like a Tesla--sporty, green, and innovative, but you get the idea.

The real competition here is the Zebralight, the Eagletac, and the NexTorch.  The first two can be carried daily because of the clip and the smaller size, but neither of which is as versatile as the MMR-X.  The MMR-X's other competitor the NexTorch isn't in the same league.  That light is more of a novelty and the programmability is for the hardest of hardcore flashaholics.  For the rest of us, the MMR-X is exactly what you want and need.

Lots of competitors, but the MMR-X still comes out on top.  Great job FourSevens.

Corrections:

Trevor contacted me today (2/25/14) and made a few corrections, all of which make the light better, but doesn't really alter the overall score:

  • The MMR-X will take ANY 18650, not just flat topped version.
  • The decision to step down as they do with the Burst and Max was something that underwent a great deal of scrutiny.  It was not an accident or a desire to artificial boost the lumens ratings.  Trevor notes that if they wanted to they could have listed the lumens count higher than they did as they always measure them conservatively.  This matches up with both my experience and what others have said on CPF.
  • The rebranding thing was also something that was placed under close scrutiny.  That said I still think it is too complicated.