2016 Pelican 3310PL – 378 Lumen Edition

 Pelican 3310PL, lights on

Concept: 5 out of 5
Execution: 5 out of 5
Yeah, but: Pelican Ugly.

The Long Version: The Pelican 3310PL is the best flashlight ever created. It's probably also the least sexy flashlight ever created, but even that’s part of its appeal. There have been a few generations of the 3310PL, so make sure you're buying the new one with “378 Lumens” clearly marked on the packaging.

That headline feature, the 378 lumen output, is a tremendous output from such a small light. It’s easily the brightest light I own. But better than that, it also has the most useful light output of any I own. It combines a very tight long-throw beam with a very usable and smooth spill that's brighter than my favourite flood headlamp. It’s rare to find a light that gets one of these right, let alone both. Perfect for exploring a haunted house. And, sensibly, the light defaults to high power when it’s turned on, but has two more settings as well.

The low-powered setting on the 3310PL puts out 39 lumens, which is still better than the best efforts of so many lights from just a few years ago. That's enough for a huge range of tasks, and much better than the full output if you need to use it at close range. At this level it’s useful but not blinding, while the spill still provides enough oomph to light the peripheries. So whether I'm looking for a pair of shoes in the back of the closet, or lighting a stairwell in a power failure, the 3310 is effective and useful.

The third mode is a 1hz strobe. This is a bit unfortunate, since it needs to be clicked through when switching from low power to high, but at least it's a slow flash. It could be used as a location marker for an air drop or rescue attempt, reflecting the 3310's serious-yet-practical possibilities. My other flashlights might do a faster strobe, intended to disorient my enemies in combat, or a cutesy "SOS" pulsing pattern that I'd rather not use for a great many reasons. So while I would prefer not to have the strobe mode complicating things at all, it certainly could be worse, and perhaps some day it might actually be useful.

The three options in the "pick two" joke for flashlights are usually Bright, Small, and Long-Lasting. The Peli 3310 really does pull off all three. It's not small enough to be an “everyday carry” penlight, but it can be tucked in a back pocket easily enough when needed, and adding it to a jacket or a bag is trivial. And it can run on high for eight hours, which is amazing, and will last eight days on low power. Yes, days – or about two hundred hours. On just three AA batteries.

While the light doesn’t seem to have a regulator to keep its brightness level constant, there’s clearly still some kind of witchcraft involved in making this output and run time possible. Personally, I approve. And I don’t mind a light that gradually dims rather than suddenly dropping to nothing, especially when it’s this bright, for this long, and runs on batteries that are as cheap and abundant as AA’s. I have an eight-cell charger and fistfuls of low-discharge rechargeables, so forget those spendy and toxic specialty disposables.

 Pelican 3310PL, lights off

So: about that appearance. Yes, it's ugly. But it's a flashlight that glows in the dark. That's freaking awesome.

Pelican, like knife maker Spyderco, isn't afraid to experiment with practical and functional designs that don't take aesthetics into account. That's awesome, because like knives, flashlights have a bad case of the Mall Ninjas. Frankly, too many lights are pandering to people who imagine themselves to be the last warriors standing on the brink of civilization, ready to wage a battle that only they can see coming. The result is a sea of toughguy-grade aluminum torches with serrated bezels that are designed for hitting people — as if that's ever a sensible life choice. Those who want Combat-Ready Tactical Lights will absolutely hate the look, feel, and construction of the polycarbonate 3310PL. And good riddance to them.

The 3310PL is ugly and amazingly practical. Its body has a flat profile that won't roll when it's put down. The photoluminescent plastic is a little smooth, so it has thick ridges that provide a solid grip, even with gloves, but it's only ridged on the edges so that they don't interfere with its pocket-friendly shape. The result is a light that’s nice to touch, durable, light, won’t scratch, and sealed against brief water immersion. The only way I'd change its design would be to give it a flat base so that it could tail-stand more easily. This light has ample power to light up a room, and enough run time to make that a practical option. But Pelican does know a bit more about flashlights than I do, and they probably concluded that even if the tail was flat the narrow body of the light wouldn’t properly balance the wider head, and they’re probably right.

Batteries load through the back of the light, which twists to open in a way that’s only slightly disconcerting. The back detaches, but remains tethered to the body, and the battery contacts move a little differently from the rest of the tailcap. The back also locks in place with a secondary mechanism, turned with a screw driver or the plastic tab on the lanyard, but this isn’t needed to keep it closed.

And have I mentioned that the entire body glows in the dark, which means it can be found immediately when the need suddenly arises? Try that with some black metal tacticool milspec battery-eater. There’s a reason why nobody sells those things with a case and hardware to mount it as an emergency lighting station for factories, which Pelican provides as the 3310ELS variant. This is a well-designed and mature light meant for real emergency preparedness, not just enthusiast preppers.

So how much would you pay to own the best flashlight yet made? Would you pay between $50-100? Most of my lights fall in this range, and the new 3310 comprehensively outperforms them all. How about over $100? It's easy to spend that much on a "serious" light if you want to. Over $200? There are lots at that level as well — there's really no upper limit. But the Pelican 3310PL costs less than $40. All that and it's one of the cheapest lights I own.

I want to buy one for every member of my family and every room in my house.

last updated 14 september 2016


Microsoft Universal Folding Keyboard

Concept: 5 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: It really only makes sense for phones.

There's a certain perversity that the best keyboard for iPhones is made by Microsoft, but the counterpoint is that Microsoft's folding keyboard makes no sense unless it's paired with a large-screen smart phone – the computing revolution that has largely been their undoing.

My mobile computing has always been about doing the kind of things that I do for this blog: write words and process middling-quality photos. The history of the devices I use is a progression toward smaller size and greater power-independence. My Macbook Air took me away from the desktop, and years later an iPad with a Logitech keyboard case took over its on-the-road duties. I was able to travel across the continent with my full setup, including a couple of small cameras, in one tiny Mountain Co-op sling bag, and do most of the things that I could do at home. But now, thanks to my 5.5" iPhone and folding keyboard, I could do that same trip with just the electronics that I can tuck into my jacket pockets. There are some compromises, of course, but that's also true of carrying a traditional laptop, and traveling light is *awesome*.

The Microsoft Universal Folding Keyboard is a compact keyboard that folds in half thanks to a split down the middle, similar to the Ergonomic design but without the funky angle. When folded it's small enough to carry easily in a jacket pocket, but the unfolded keyboard is big enough to have properly-sized but tightly-spaced keys. There has definitely been a typo-ridden learning curve, and I was surprised by how much my hunt-and-pecking was thrown off by the mid-keyboard gap and its "T" "G" "H" and "N" keys of unusual size. I'm also realizing just how often I cross that centre line, and am trying to improve my typing as a result.

But I'm also used to the Apple keyboards with buffer space between the keys. Those with other keyboards – or those who can touch-type – may have a different experience with it.

Functionally the keyboard is very good; Microsoft has always been good at its peripheral business. The throw is short, but no more so than for most laptops, and the feel is nice. It's also quite clever, turning on when it's opened and turning off when it's closed. The specs sheet says that it has a three-month battery life, but that must be anticipating heavy workweek use, since my iOS Batteries indicator still shows it at 91% after a couple of months. I may just charge it annually.

While Ballmer may not think that the iPhone will amount to much, the "Universal" Folding Keyboard can be set for iOS/OSx as well as Android and PCs, so the home and function keys work properly for those devices. Yes, this means keyboard control over the home and lock buttons, as well as a replacement for iOS Music's missing transport and volume controls. Even better is the return of the usual keyboard-based cursor keys and copy/paste shortcuts. No, I wouldn't want to write a novel on my phone with this keyboard, but it's enough for a review. It's also quick enough and convenient enough for writing little social media blurbs, so that's really all I need from it.

Other reviews seem divided on the folding keyboard, so I was initially hesitant in ordering it. And I suppose its modified layout could be a deal-breaker for some, but everyone I've shown ther keyboard to has liked it. Many have sworn they'll buy their own, just as soon as it goes on sale; Bill took the plunge and bought it sight unseen. I've even had a stranger in a restaurant stop me to ask what it was that I was typing on. So while not everyone has thought that it's worth the asking price, it is compelling.

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