4Sevens Preon Review (1xAAA & 2xAAA): RUNTIMES, BEAMSHOTS, and more!

Originally posted: January 20, 2010
Last revised: February 1, 2010

Reviewer's Note: The Preon 1 and Preon 2 samples were provided for review by 4Sevens.com. Please see their website for more info.

Warning: pic heavy, as usual.

Manufacturer's specifications, condensed from 4Sevens’ website:The Preon is 4Sevens answer to the expanding world of AAA flashlights. Have they pulled off a winning design? Scroll down to find out …

The Preon comes in two forms – 1xAAA (Preon 1) and 2xAAA (Preon 2). For all intents and purposes, the parts are interchangeable – the head is common to both lights, and the flat tailcap/clicky switch works on either model. They also come in a range of materials (i.e. Aluminum or Titanium) and colors (e.g. aluminum in Black, Red, Blue, or Gold), and are available individually or as part of a combined kit (accessories are also sold separately).

The lights come in similar packaging. Inside the hard carboard case with plastic insert is the light with a removable pocket clip installed – and with either the flat tailcap (Preon 1) or protruding clicky switch (Preon 2). Also included in the package are 1x or 2x Duracell alkaline battery, spare o-rings, keychain attachment ring, and manual.

First thing to notice about the body design is the smooth wall construction – very sleek, with no knurling or ridge detail. My samples were of the four colored aluminum versions, but titanium is also available.

(from left to right: Duracell alkaline AAA, Preon 2, Preon 1, Maratac AAA (Natural), IlluminaTi, VersaTi, LiteFlux LF2XT, Lumapower Avenger GX, Fenix L0D.

Preon 2: Weight 20.2g (with keychain clip), Length 127.4mm x Width 14.0mm
Preon 1: Weight 15.3g (with keychain clip), Length 75.6mm x Width 14.0mm
IlluminaTi: Weight 23.5g (with keychain clip), Length 68.8mm x Width 14.0mm (bezel)
ITP EOS A3 Upgraded: Weight: 11.6g (no clip), Length: 69.7, Width: 14.1mm (bezel)
VersaTi: Weight: 23.2g (no clip), Length: 67.1mm, Width: 14.6mm
LiteFlux LF2XT:Weight: 21.2g (with pocket clip installed), Length 81.2mm x Width: 14.9mm (bezel)
Avenger GX: Weight: 22.9g (with Clicky switch), 22.0g (with twisty switch), Length 93.8mm (with clicky switch) or 86.7mm (with twisty switch) x Width: 15.2mm (bezel)

The Preon 1 is slightly longer than most of the recent 1xAAA lights, but that is due to the ability to swap out the flat tailcap for a clicky switch. Note that the Preon 1 is still roughly in keeping the classic Fenix L0D (which lacks this ability). The Preon 2 is quite reasonable in size for a 2xAAA penlight, and comes with the reverse clicky switch.

Fit and finish are excellent on all my samples - no flaws or chips in any of the various matte color finishes. Typically, color anodizing is done only at the type II anodizing level, but 4Sevens claims HA (type III) for the Preons.

Grip is obviously reduced compared to other lights with knurling or extensive ridge detail. As such, you may find it a bit hard to twist modes one-handed with the Preons. The installed pocket clip works well as an anti-roll feature. Identification labels are sharp and clear against the matte background (although hard to read with the gold finish). Quite stylish looking overall.

UPDATE Feb 1, 2009:
4Sevens.com informs that they use a proprietary coating on the Preons to increase the roughness to the touch. It is true that the Preons are not quite as slippery as I would have expected from their appearance, but the coating is still not as "grippy" as actual knurling.

Screw threads are anodized in the head, allowing for head lock-out.

As mentioned previously, the flat tailcap and clicky-switch tailcap are inter-changeable, so you can swap one for the other (flat tailcap included with Preon 1, clicky switch for Preon 2 – but both available as extra accessory). No need to anodize screw threads here, as the head allows you to lock out the light.

You can switch the pocket clip for the included keychain clip ring (although you will have to take off the o-ring first ). Although the keychain clip ring looks fairly thin, it should be durable and stable, given that you can only remove it by unscrewing the tailcap.

Note there is no keychain or split ring included with the Preons.

Superficially, the business end of the Preon looks a lot like the recent ITP/Maratac/Titanium Innovations lights. However, like the IlluminaTi, the Preon is distinguished by its Cree XP-G emitter with a R5 output bin. The emitter is also similarly guaranteed to be perfectly centered (not necessarily the case on the budget ITP/Maratac lines).

No tint bin is specified, but all four of mine were what I would consider a premium “cool white” tint bin for XR-E/XR-Gs (scroll down for beamshots). For those of you not familiar with tint bins, please see my Colour tint comparison and the summary LED tint charts found here.

Like the IlluminaTi, texturing of the orange peel reflector is fairly high on the Preon (both a bit higher than the ITP/Mararacs). Should provide a similar looking beam pattern.

And now for the requisite white wall hunting … all lights are on Max with OP reflector on a Sanyo Eneloop AAA, about 0.5 meters from a white wall.

As you can see, on 1xAAA the Preon is pretty comparable to the other XP-G R5 light, the IlluminaTi. Beam pattern is very similar to ITP/Maratac lights (although slightly brighter due to the R5). On 2xAAA, max output is considerably increased (i.e. roughly doubled).

User Interface

The regular Preon interface is similar to many of the competing twisty 1xAAA lights, in this case in the Lo > Med > Hi mode sequence. But the Preons have a few additional tricks up their battery tubes ….

Basic operation is controlled by twisting the head tight against the body to activate the light, loosen to turn off. Do a twist off-on in under 1 sec and the light advances to its next mode sequence. Wait more than two seconds before re-activating the light after turning off, and it returns to default Lo (i.e. no memory mode).

With the reverse clicky switch installed (standard on the Preon 2), you will need to have the head tight against the body – you can then cycle through modes by repeatedly pressing the switch. Note that the light can still operate as a twisty, even with the clicky switch installed (i.e. just has to be in the clicked On postion)

There is no strobe or SOS mode to worry about in the regular interface. But they are “hidden” away if you want them. Normally, twisty-mode cycle selection continues indefinitely - keep doing off-on twists to run through all the sequences in order again. But if you run through the complete sequence twice in under two seconds (i.e. On Lo > Med > Hi > Lo > Med > Hi), you will access the additional hidden modes. These present themselves in sequence as Strobe > SOS > Hi Beacon > Lo Beacon.

Strobe was measured at 9.9Hz. Beacon modes are 5 rapid flashes followed a single ~1.25 sec flash at 10 sec intervals, at either full power (Hi) or lower power (Lo).

Note that there is no memory for “special outputs” either – if you turn off the light for more than 2 seconds, you will be back at constant output Lo when next you re-illuminate. So no worries about getting stuck accidentally strobing yourself here. Frankly, this is the sort of interface I like to see – “special modes” are well hidden, and not at all obtrusive.

Like all multi-mode lights in the tiny 1xAAA class, the Preons use pulse-width-modulation (PWM) for their Lo/Med modes. However, they have among highest PWM frequencies I’ve detected for this class – 2.40 to 2.43 kHz.

You will not notice the PWM in regular use, unless you really go looking for it.

Testing Method: All my 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 the extended run Lo/Min modes (i.e. >12 hours) which are done without cooling.

Throw values are the square-root of lux measurements taken at 1 meter from the lens, using a light meter.

Throw/Output Summary Chart:

As expected, the Max overall output of the R5-equipped 1xAAA Preon 1 is consistent with my only other 1xAAA light using this emitter (IlluminaTi), and is higher than the Q5/R2-equipped competition. Min output levels are reasonable for this class.

Note that this light really “shines” in 2xAAA form (sorry, couldn’t resist). Preon 2 max output is nearly double that of the Preon 1.

Note also that 10440 Li-is not supported (the published voltage range is 0.9V- 3.0V only).

Output/Runtime Comparison:

Shown above is the Hi output mode the Preon 1 and 2, on all batteries. Consistent with the published specs, you get nearly twice the max output for the same runtime when run in 2xAAA form. That pattern was consistent on all batteries tested.

Individually, the 1xAAA and 2xAAA forms of this light behave as expected. Max output and runtime are consistent with published specs.

Note that runtime on Med was lower in my testing than specified by 4Sevens, but I suspect that is because output is actually somewhat higher than spec (i.e. more like ~20/35 OTF lumens rather than the reported 8.5/22 OTF lumens for Preon 1/2). Regardless, output/runtime efficiency is what I would expect for a light of this class.

I have also tested the second sample/color of each Preon light on Eneloop (shown as the dotted lines above). As you can see, the replicate samples were very close in output and runtime to the first batch of Preon 1/2 lights.

And for how the Preon 1 compares to the 1xAAA competition:

Compared to its class, output/runtime performance for the 1xAAA Preon 1 is right where I would expect it. As you can see, output on Med is slightly higher than most of the other lights (which means lower absolute runtimes). But overall efficiency seems consistent with other lights, given the higher Med output level.

One interesting note - the Preon 1 had the highest max output on alkaline for any light in this class. Most of the competition are not quite as bright on alkaline as they are on L92/NiMH.

Potential Issues

Lack of head knurling means you may find one-handed twisty mode switching difficult in the 1xAAA format. And the clicky switch is a little soft compared to full-size model switches - but that's a nitpick, given that there are so few clickies in lights this size.

The keychain clip ring and pocket clip are both very stable - but it is either one or the other at any given time, and switching them back and forth is a bit messy (i.e. have to remove an o-ring, and the clip rings are a tight fit around the tailcap screw threads).

Medium mode is a bit brighter than most of the competition, meaning absolute Med runtimes are lower (although overall efficiency seems comparable to others in this class).

Preliminary Observations

There has been a popular resurgence of the AAA form factor lately on CPF, with new lights coming out from several manufacturers. Most likely it was the hugely popular budget ITP/Matatac that really got the ball rolling. But even before that, the LiteFlux LF2XT, Lumapower Avenger and others have created devoted followings.

The Preon takes the current trend toward small size and KISS interfaces a step further, with additional features, choice of materials and colors, improved PWM, 2xAAA option with increased output, and choice between twisty and clicky switch action – all in am incredibly small package. What is not to love?

The Preon is definitely intended as something of showy light, with its sleek tumbled-matte finish and multiple colors/body materials. Personally, I would have preferred a bit more ridge detail on the head (to facilitate one-handed switching), but I understand the decision to keep it looking smooth (i.e. more stylish this way).

While personal tastes vary in terms of styling and colors, there is no doubt the Preons carry a powerful punch. I particularly like the 2xAAA option (with roughly doubled output on the common head ) and the slim clicky switch design. The modular nature of the light is quite impressive – you can mix and match parts with ease (and all are available as optional accessories in either form). You can even buy it as a kit with one head and both body formats.

I am amazed that they managed to keep the light this small while adding the option to switch between the flat tailcap for tailstanding or the clicky switch. And special bonus – this means the keychain clip ring or pocket clip can be firmly installed (i.e. no danger of it being pulled off). Both seem reasonably strong to me.

Oh, and the 2.3 kHz PWM freq is also appreciated. This is one of the highest I've seen to date for a 1xAAA multi-mode light. Although anything in the ~1kHz or higher range is typically fine with me (e.g. IlluminaTi, LiteFlux LF2XT, etc.)

Simply put, there's a lot to like about these 4Sevens offerings in the AAA space. "Atlanta, we have a winner here."

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

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