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TnC Key-Lux - 1 Watt N Cell Keychain Prototype Flashlight Review

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TnC 1 Watt N Cell Keychain Prototype

The latest creation from Chris of TnC Custom Products - the Key-Lux - the N cell keychain light prototype. TnC made first preproduction run of this nifty flashlight in may 2004. As I write this review(06/04) the production run is not out yet, but expected to be out soon. Proto run was limited to fifty units. All of them are numbered. I got the honor to receive #2 :) Click here for the picture. #1 stays in Chris' museum I figure.
    I've been following and using TnC products for a while by now, and this keychain light is something new for TnC. Though it follows the pattern. First it was 1 and 5 watt Lux Stars, then much smaller Hyper Lux I and Hyper Lux V were introduced, and finally we got this keychain light that is much smaller than its predecessors. I really like this new light, though I do hope TnC won't abandon larger flashlights altogether.
    One more thing worth noticing about this flashlight is that it's a first production light utilizing 1 watt luxeon LED and powered with single cell, other than lithium CR123. The positive side of that is the availability and price. Con is the runtime and power. But for this light extremely high output is not really necessary, and so far everyone who saw this light commented that it is very bright for such a small size.


 - Key-Lux body basically is a cylinder, with slightly larger head assembly, or bezel I guess. Made of bare aluminum. The choice of power source, that is N cell battery allowed to shrink its size considerably compared to its CR123 lithium powered counterparts. For comparison take a look at this picture. As you can see TnC Key-Lux light is considerably smaller than other 1 watters on the picture, Arc4+ and Longbow Micra. It's also shorter than Arc AAA, which is 5 mm LED light though. Obviously something had to be compromised for choosing the smaller power source, and that's the light output (or runtime if you try to keep the light output high). Like I said above, for keychain light I don't really need much higher output. That is from my personal experience after EDCing Arc4+ and Micra and few other 5mm LED lights such as Photon III and Led Lenser V9.
    As I mentioned proto run is bare aluminum. Production models will have HA III type anodization in various colors. As far as I know the plans include for red, blue, natural HA, and may be more, though probably black won't be an option. Pity, I'd like a black one. Anyway, I guess other colors will do too. And even more pity is that there won't be splash anodized keychain lights. That'd be real cool though. Well, let's wait and see.
    Operating TnC keychain light is easy. It employs standard twist head mechanism. Turn the head to one side, the light is on, turn it to the other side, the light is off. Body has very nice knurling, providing positive grip. Yet knurling isn't too aggressive to become annoying. For comparison, both Arc4+ and Longbow Micra have noticeably more aggressive knurling. Even Arc AAA does have more aggressive one, though not as much as Arc4+.
    Also, have to mention that the light is waterproof or at least water resistant. It as O rings from both ends. Also, on the positive side, it comes with mineral glass lens. Very clear and quite scratch resistant. Which is an important factor for the light intended to be carried on keychain, where contact with other hard metallic objects is unavoidable. In the end, as usual TnC delivered very high quality flashlight. Absolutely fine craftsmanship, execution. I like the design a lot, and have no complaints regarding its quality :) For 55$ that's an achievement.
    One more important feature of the keychain light is its modularity. Well, the definition of modularity can vary from flashlight to flashlight :) For some it means installing extra parts on the light such as replaceable heads, power packs, etc, for others interchangeable LED modules. TnC would fall into later category. It uses ArcMania (check out CPF for his stuff) LED sandwich. Later on, if you get your hands on more efficient or more powerful LED sandwich, you can easily swap it. I like this part about flashlights a lot, that is when available. To complete the description take a look at the disassembled keychain light, well it's attached at the end of this review as well.


 - It is very nice. Both LED quality and resulting pattern are very good. The LED (ok, the light emitted by it) is very white, no tint. As the time passes LED quality is improving and becoming more consistent. So, in high end LED lights one shouldn't expect too much of a tint. Also, that is really positive detail and nice touch, at least for me is the use of the reflector. After using various optics on many different flashlights I can tell that I am definitely sick of the optics. Whenever I can I am trying to replace optical units with the reflectors. Quite often it isn't very easy to achieve that goal, but sometimes doable. Anyway, back to TnC keychain. It has polished metal reflector. Polishing is very nice, to be precise it's mirror polished. On the first look I couldn't really tell whether it was a metal or not, only closer examination told the tale. You can see that on the pictures below. Thanks to its reflector Key-Lux produces nice, tight hotspot and large corona. So, it's neither over-focused nor too wide to become less useful. Production models will have orange peel sputtered reflectors that will improve focusing further. But even as it is now there is no comparison with NX05 and Fraen optics. You don't have to worry about centering optics, reflectors have lesser loss of the light and they produce nice beam. As some flashaholics believe optics do have their place, but at least for my EDC and non EDC use as well, the reflectors have proven themselves much more useful. Your results may vary ;)

Power Source And Runtime

 - As I've already mentioned this flashlight uses single N size cell as a power source. N cell battery is much shorter than AA or AAA batteries and a lot smaller in diameter (and shorter as well) compared to CR 123. Obviously that allowed for a smaller flashlight. Interestingly enough, TnC proto comes with the rechargeable N cell in it. And I have to mention to Chris' credit, he put a cell with 500 mah capacity in his light. Average N size rechargeable cells sold out there are 250-300 mah. So, obviously using rechargeable cells has its positive moments. One thing is you may not have a charger. Simplest solution is to use your AAA charger and add a spring at one side to fill the gap. Worked for other folks, and I'll be doing the same. Obviously small cell means smaller capacity, compared to AA rechargeables where top of the line cells have 2300 mah capacity, 500 mah isn't that much. However the flashlight will still produce around 100 Lux from 1 meter for at least an hour (65 minutes according to some sources) and then the output will drop, rather sharply. In my opinion it is a very good result for 1 watt luxeon, even if it is underdriven. Considering the power source capacities I think it's more than reasonable.


 - I've been EDCing this light for last few months. Very nice as EDC. Small, not really noticeable in your pocket, plenty of light for small tasks and navigating in dark areas. Of course it is not as powerful as Arc LS 3W or even Longbow Micra, let alone VIP, but still it'll hold its own, especially in its class :) Even after prolonged operation the light stays cool, I haven't noticed any overheating. For comparison Longbow and Arc4 heat up considerably after few minutes, but their lumen output is much higher. For what it was designed, this light does its job extremelly well and definitely in my EDC top list. Once production model is out I'll definitely get one or two, will make a nice gift ;) One thing I have to mention for the record is that once proto light was out CPFers asked for AA version of keychain light and Chris was forthcoming as usual. As I promised I was gonne post the review of HAIII anodized AA version of the same flashlight, so here it is - TnC Key-Lux AA. Overall, if I have to choose of those two in everyday life, I carry n cell Key-Lux, because it's much smaller. If I were to go outdoors perhaps I'd take Key-Lux AA, which is more powerful and has lnger runtinme.

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Last updated - 05/06/19