Nextorch MyTorch 1AA, 2AA, 3AAA (XP-E R3, PC-Programmable) Review: RUNTIMES +

Originally posted: April 29, 2011
Updated: May 2, 2011

Warning: This round-up review of the Nextorch MyTorch 1AA, 2AA and 3AA family is a LOT more pic heavy than usual.



The Nextorch MyTorch is the first fully-programmable series of lights where all settings and features are set through a graphical user interface on a computer (connected to the light by USB). This review will look at all the AA/AAA members of the Nextorch MyTorch family – the 1AA, 2AA and 3AAA models. The MyTorch 18650 is examined in a separate review.

This review will begin with a general overview of the common features of the family, followed by detailed output and runtime comparisons for each model.

MyTorch Common Manufacturer Specifications:MyTorch 1AA Specs: MyTorch 2AA Specs:MyTorch 3AAA Specs:Again, see my MyTorch 18650 review for details on that model.





Packaging is fairly comparable for the three models reviewed here. Inside the cardboard box you will find more cardboard packaging, encasing the light, USB cable, and specific manual for each model. My 1AA also came with a manual for the downloadable Nextuner software, but you can download this manual from Nextorch's website as well.



From left to right: Duracell AA, MyTorch 1AA, Klarus ST10, Thrunite 1A, Crelant 7G1, Xeno E03, JetBeam PA01, Zebralight SC51, 4Sevens Mini AA.




From left to right: Duracell AAA, AA, MyTorch 3AAA, MyTorch 2AA, Eagletac P20A2-II, Thrunite 2A, Fenix L20, Sunwayman M20A, 4Sevens Quark AA2, 4Sevens Mini AA2.

All dimensions given with no batteries installed:

MyTorch 1AA: Weight: 58.8g, Length: 120.3mm, Width (bezel): 26.3mm
MyTorch 2AA: Weight: 75.4g, Length: 171.3mm, Width (bezel): 26.3mm
MyTorch 3AAA: Weight: 144.5g, Length: 146.2mm, Width (bezel): 36.0mm

The overall build elements are similar among the members of this family, so I will start with general comments on the MyTorch 1AA/2AA lights, followed by additional info on the MyTorch 3AAA

MyTorch 1AA/2AA:






The MyTorch lights have distinctive styling. The overall pattern is very streamlined, with smooth lines and rounded edges everywhere. They are quite different from the more "tactical" appearance common to most other lights.

The lights do not have traditional knurling, but instead feature a checked pattern along the body handle/tube. This provides some extra grip, but not as much as actual knurling would.

The head and tailcap have raised flutes along their longitudinal axes. This feature provides very good anti-roll characteristics - I'm surprised no one thought of this before.

Black anodizing (manufacturer claims hard anodizing) is slightly glossy, and lettering is bright white and clear on the black background. I would have a preferred a few less labels on the 1AA version.





Screw threads are rather fine, but are anodized at the tail end of the body tube, allowing for lock-out. The tailcap spring has a flat cover on it (to prevent scratching your cells).

The lights can't tailstand. However, I rather like the look of the projecting GITD tailcaps, which have a very rounded appearance with a shiny area around them (which feels like chrome-plated plastic?). Note the switches are all reverse-clickies.

Although hard to see above, there seems to a raised area around the positive contact terminal in the head of the 1AA/2AA lights. This is presumably to provide reverse-polarity protection. However, my 1AA sample was very fussy with batteries - most of my older Sanyo-branded Eneloops would not activate the light without a small magnet added to the positive button (although most of my newer Duracell-branded Eneloops worked fine). I experienced similar issues with Duracell-branded alkalines (i.e. some batches wouldn't activate, others worked fine). In contrast, my 2AA version (which uses a similar head) was much better - only a few of my older Eneloops wouldn't work. There is obviously some manufacturing variability here.

MyTorch 3AAA:




The exterior styling of the MyTorch 3AAA is similar to the 1AA/2AA, but with a much wider body and head. It also uses a different internal design, with a battery carrier for holding the three AAA cells.





This has got to be one of the smallest carriers I've ever come across, but it seems well made. There are small "+" and "-" labels on the carrier to help you position the cells correctly inside it (as usual, the springs go toward the flat negative terminal of the batteries).

While it seems like you should be able to insert the carrier either orientation into the light (i.e. it fits bi-directionally), my 3AAA would only activate when the carrier was inserted with the two "-" battery terminals end pointed toward the tailcap. I am not sure why.




As you can see, the 3AAA has a large and wide spring in the head, which makes contact with the outside ring of the carrier. The tailcap is similar in design to the MyTorch 18650, and has a flat contact surface mounted on the top of the spring (which makes contact with the interior contact region of the battery carrier in this case).

The MyTorch 1AA, 2AA, and 3AA all come with the Cree XP-E Cool White emitter (R3 output bin). Let's take a closer look at those emitters ...

MyTorch 1AA/2AA:



Note: the red area on the right of the bezel is just a reflection of my camera’s red-eye reduction light.

The 1AA and 2AA share a common head, which is fairly small, but with a deep reflector (MOP-textured). The emitter was reasonably (but not perfectly) centered on my 1AA sample shown above, but was noticeably off-centre on the 2AA (not shown). It does not seem to affect the beam noticeably. However, I do find there are some artifacts in the beam, especially around the periphery of the spillbeam. Scroll down to later in the review for beamshots.

BTW, the bezel ring (and tailcap ring) seem to be chrome-plated plastic. They are not made of metal.

MyTorch 3AAA:



Note: the pics above are not to consistent scale – the 3AAA head is much larger than the 1AA/2AA model.

The 3AAA has a much larger head, with correspondingly larger (and deeper) reflector. Thus, while I expect reasonably good throw from all three models, the 3AAA is likely to be exceptional in this regard.

You will also notice the centering disc around the emitter (with Nextorch name printed on it). A similar centering mechanism was used in my MyTorch 18650 sample.

Again, scroll down to my individual reviews below for beamshot comparisons to other lights of their respective classes.

User Interface

The UI is common to all three models, and is quite distinctive.

You set all the features through a graphical user interface on a computer, through their Nextuner software, available for download on the Nextorch website. Note that at the moment they only support Windows-based PCs. I tried the software on one system running XP and another running Windows 7 - both installed and ran fine.



All three lights come with the same standard USB cable. The connection point is hidden under the head - you loosen the head to reveal it.







The mini-USB end connects to the light, as shown above. Note there is an o-ring around the base of the head, ensuring waterproofness at this end when the head is screwed back down for use. It is hard to tell if there is an o-ring around the point where the lens meets the bezel. Ultimate waterproofness is therefore unknown.

So what can you program these lights to do? Basically, you can set the lights to have anywhere from 1 to 50 modes, accessed in sequence from the tailcap. Those modes can contain constant output levels (anywhere from 5% to 100% output, selectable in 1% increments), strobe modes (from 0.5 Hz to 20 Hz, in 0.5 Hz increments), or combination signalling modes where you control the length and duration of pulses and the in-between off periods (e.g. beacon modes, custom SOS modes, or anything else you could imagine).

To use the light, turn on/off by fully pressing the reverse clicky switch (i.e. click needed to turn on).

The lights do not have memory, and always come on in the first programmed set mode. Soft-pressing the tailcap switch (or clicking off/on) will advance you through the subsequent modes, in repeating sequence.

However, the retention time of the last set mode is long at 15 secs (i.e. if you turn the light off and back on within 15 secs, it advances to the next mode instead of starting at the beginning). I would recommend this interval be shortened to no more than 1 or 2 secs.

Nextuner Software:

The software is pretty easy to install and use (instructions are either included with the light, or are available for download on the Nextorch website).



For the screenshot above, I have set the light to four constant output modes (100%, 75%, 40%, and 5%). This was actually my testing regimen for the runtimes (i.e. scroll down to see output/runtime graphs at these levels). To set each level, you move the green percentage bar to the right or left. Click on the green "Next" indicator to add more modes.

If you click your computer cursor over the white pull-down indicator tab at the right of each mode, you will see the above dialogue box showing your options for that mode. "Luminance" refers to constant output modes, "Frequency" for strobe modes, "Customize" for signalling modes, and "Delete" to remove that mode.



In my second example above, I have set the light to two modes: a 20 Hz Strobe mode, followed by a customized signalling mode. When you select a Customized mode, the area on the right of the screen opens up, and you can choose the number and type of signals that occur (i.e. set as light/dark intervals with millisecs assigned to them by the movable green bars). Here again, you can add as many interval modes as you like with the green Next arrow button.

When you are done setting up the light, you have the options to "Test", "Download" or "Save as ..." (bottom left of the screen).

"Test" is actually quite interesting – since the light is connected through the USB cable, pressing this button turns on the light on and lets you see what each mode looks like. Simply click on a given mode to see the light perform that setting.

"Download" refers to saving the settings to the light. This is necessary to program the light before disconnecting the USB cable.

"Save as ..." refers to saving a copy of the programming as a file on your hard drive. I strongly recommend you do this before exiting, as the software has no way to read the existing settings from the flashlight. If you don’t save a copy to the hard drive, the next time you run the software you will need to start all over again from scratch in building the modes. Accordingly, you can start a session by choosing "Open" from the menu at the bottom, once you have pre-saved a configuration set.

PWM

As expected for fully-programmable lights, I found all three models used pulse width modulation (PWM) for the sub-maximal outputs. Below are representative 75% and 5% output PWM traces.




All three lights use ~124 Hz PWM in all modes between 5% and 99%.

Oddly, I didn’t find this level of PWM as disturbing as I normally do (and I am typically quite sensitive to it). I suspect Nextorch must be using some sort of circuit filter to reduce the visible impact of the PWM.

In support of this theory, I could also detect a clear negative deflection at this same 124 Hz frequency on the max 100% mode of all lights, as shown below.



Here it is a blow up of the 100% signal, followed by a blow-up of the 5% PWM:




Whatever this negative deflection at 100% represents, it is definitely not PWM (e.g. there is no visual distortion pattern when shining on a fan, for example). I would have to let those with more knowledge of circuit design try to explain this finding. The end result is that the PWM is not as apparent as I would expect for the frequency.

Strobe

Strobe can be set from 0.5 Hz to 20 Hz, in 0.5 Hz segments. Below are the min (0.5 Hz) and max (20 Hz) traces




Beacon/SOS/Signalling modes

The customized signalling modes can be quite complex, but here is a simple 1 sec beacon of short pulse duration (i.e. 5 millisec pulse, once every second).



You could design your own SOS modes, but this would be time-consuming (i.e. you would need to set all the timing manually in the programming menus). There is no pre-set SOS mode.

Testing Method:

Effective November 2010, I have revised my summary tables to match with the current ANSI FL-1 standard for flashlight testing. Please see http://www.sliderule.ca/FL1.htm for a description of the terms used in these tables.

All my runtime graph output numbers are relative for my home-made light box setup, a la Quickbeam's flashlightreviews.com method. You can directly compare all my relative output values from different reviews - i.e. an output value of "10" in one graph is the same as "10" in another. All runtimes are done under a cooling fan, except for any extended run Lo/Min modes (i.e. >12 hours) which are done without cooling.

I have recently devised a method for converting my lightbox relative output values (ROV) to estimated Lumens. See my How to convert Selfbuilt's Lighbox values to Lumens thread for more info.

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Individual Light Runtime/Output Comparisons

MyTorch 1AA

For beamshots below, all lights are on Hi on Sanyo Eneloop, about ~0.75 meter from a white wall (with the camera ~1.25 meters back from the wall). Automatic white balance on the camera, to minimize tint differences.













The 1AA version has a reasonable beam pattern, although I found there to be some noticeable artifacts in the beam, especially around the periphery. Max output is typically a bit lower than the competition in this class, as demonstrated in the Summary Tables below.













For the output level, Max runtime on the MyTorch 1AA is excellent on all standard batteries (L91, NiMH, alkaline). As you drop down to Med-Hi levels (e.g. 75% setting), the 1AA efficiency performs around the low end of most of the PWM-based XP-E R2 or XP-G R5 comparison lights. By the lower levels (e.g. 40%), the 1AA’s relative efficiency drops further, but is still acceptabe.

I haven’t tested 14500, as I have no indication these are supported.

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MyTorch 2AA and 3AAA

For beamshots below, all lights are on Hi on 2x Eneloop NiMH (or 3x Eneloop NiMH for the MyTorch 3AAA), about ~0.75 meter from a white wall (with the camera ~1.25 meters back from the wall). Automatic white balance on the camera, to minimize tint differences.













The 2AA version has a reasonable beam pattern, although like the 1AA I found there to be some minor rings in the beam and clear distortions around the periphery.

In contrast, 3AAA version has excellent throw, and a very even beam pattern with no obvious distortions. In keeping with the deeper reflector, overall spillbeam width is a bit narrower on the 3AAA.



As you can see above, the 3AAA version definitely out-throws most lights in the 2AA class, despite having typically lower max output. The 2AA was marginally brighter overall, but still at the low end of this class.










On Max, the MyTorch 2AA runtime performs at around the level you would expect for its emitter and output level. As with the 1AA model, relative efficiency drops compared to other lights as you go down to lower outputs (i.e. closer to a Q5 output bin as you get to the mid-levels on the 2AA). But this is again still within a reasonable range.

On 3AAA, Eneloop runtime is reduced compare to 2AA – as expected. The nominal capacity of an Eneloop AAA is only 800mAh (i.e. 2400mAh in total for 3 cells), compared to 2000mAh for an AA (i.e. 4000mAh for 2 cells). But the efficiency is likely to improve somewhat on 3x configurations, as you no longer need to use a boost circuit to reach the emitter’s Vf. The net result is that the 3AAA version won’t run for as long as the 2AA for the same output, but it won’t be that much worse either.

One interesting finding – the 3AAA model lasts longer on alkaline than I would have expected (i.e. especially compared to the 2AA). Combined with the slower drop-off in output at all levels, this suggests that the 3AAA should be your preferred choice if you plan to run mainly on alkalines.

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Potential Issues

Max output is at the low end of their respective classes, on standard batteries. Ability to take higher voltage Li-ions cells is unknown (no mention of support by Nextorch, so I did not attempt).

There is an unusually long 15 sec retention memory for mode switching (i.e. if you click off-on within 15 secs, it advances to the next mode instead of returning to the beginning).

Switches are reverse clickies, and the lights cannot tailstand.

The bezel and tailcap rings seem to be made of plastic (chrome-plated) and not metal.

The 1AA/2AA models use a physical reverse polarity protection system that seems to prevent some of my older cells from working (i.e. some buttons were too short to reach the positive contact disc in the head).

All models use visible PWM for sub-max output levels, at a consistent 124 Hz. However, Nextorch seems to be using some sort of circuit filtering to help reduce the visual perception of PWM. I am sensitive to PWM, but did not find these lights distracting, except at the lowest levels.

No clips, lanyards or belt holsters were included with any of the lights. There are no obvious attachment points for a lanyard. Grip is lower than most lights, as traditional knurling is not used.

Programming control in the Windows software is fairly sophisticated. However, the lights cannot be reprogrammed without access to a computer. Also, the Nextuner software cannot read settings from the light, so you should save a copy of your customized configurations to your hard drive for future reference.

Nextuner software ran fine on both Windows XP and Windows 7, but it set off a potential malicious software warning alert on my older version of ZoneAlarm on the XP machine (no issues with the newer ZoneAlarm on my Windows 7 system). Due to how it functions, I suspect it is likely to trigger a lot of firewall/anti-virus software alerts.

Preliminary Observations

The Nextorch MyTorches are an innovative line of lights – not just for their distinctive styling, but their novel computer-programmable control interface.

Let’s start with the build – these are not your typical "tactical" looking lights. Although style is a matter of personal preference, I rather like the streamlined “Scandinavian-inspired” look (will these be showing up at IKEA anytime soon? ).

Grip could be better, but I found all the models easy to handle and use (especially the 3AAA, which has very good hand-feel for my size hands). And the anti-roll feature of raised bands running lengthwise along the head and tail is quite ingenious (i.e. most makers do recessed bands, which serve no functional role). The "hidden" mini-USB port beneath the head is another clever idea.

I am not typically a fan of 3xAAA lights (both for the lower battery capacity and the need for a carrier). But the MyTorch 3AAA has a seemingly well-designed slim-lined carrier (although I’m not sure why I couldn’t reverse its orientation in the light). Beam-wise, I personally prefer the 3AAA model with its greater throw and lack of artifacts in the spillbeam.

On all batteries tested, max output was toward the low end for each of their respective classes, but runtime was good-to-excellent at these levels. Keep in mind, these lights are still brighter than the earlier XR-E-equipped lights. Runtime efficiency drops relative to the competition as you go down to the lower output levels, but is still acceptable as all levels tested. The 3AAA was a particularly good performer on alkalines.

But of course, the truly revolutionary aspect of these lights is their computer-controlled programming interface. The Nextuner software offers an extensive array of controls, and worked well in my testing. I enjoyed exploring the various modes and settings (the Test feature is a particularly smart idea). Too bad Nextuner can’t read the existing settings from the light - but it does at least give you the option to save/open a copy to the hard drive.

The fully-customizable strength of the MyTorch line is also a weakness – you need to have access to a computer to re-program the lights. Still, I don't see this as much of an issue. Most programmable lights are so complicated that you need to have the manual with you to re-set their functions (thus making re-programming on-the-fly difficult for any heavily customizable light).

Another drawback to this sort of exquisite output control is the need to use pulse width modulation (PWM). Unfortunately, the MyTorches use visible PWM at 124 Hz throughout the series, for all levels below 100%. However, they seem to be using a circuit filter to compensate for it - I'm personally sensitive to PWM, but I don’t find it as distracting on these lights as I would expect from the frequency. See my PWM discussion earlier in the review on this point.

Price is also quite attractive given everything you are getting here. Although I don't normally comment on this, at ~$30 (before dealer CPF discounts), the 1AA model has to be the cheapest non-budget light I've seen in this class. And while not in the same output league as the newer XP-G emitters, these lights certainly outperform all the similarly inexpensive mass-market lights.

At the end of the day, the MyTorch line is something new in the flashlight world – an innovative computer-programmable interface, coupled with distinctive build and styling. Much to my surprise, I personally quite liked the overall performance and build of the 3AAA model. See my MyTorch 18650 review for additional comments on that model.

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Nextorch MyTorch lights were supplied by batteryjunction.com for review.

To follow the online discussions for this review, please see the full review thread at CPF.




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