NightStar Shake Flashlight Review
If you have ever used one of the cheap knock-offs before, this light is a pleasant change. Designed and distributed by Applied Innovative Technologies (AIT) of Fort Lupton, CO, it was the first (and many say the best) shake flashlight on the market. In fact, unlike other models, it proudly wears its patent numbers stamped right into the flashlight's exterior. But just how well does this technologically advanced flashlight perform? I recently put the latest generation of the NightStar through its paces and the results were surprising.
The first thing you notice about the NightStar is the clear polycarbonate housing that allows you to see all of the technologies that make it work. It's really quite fascinating to hold this light in your hands and watch the magnet passing back and forth through the coil and see the wires leading to the capacitor. Other colors such as solid yellow and black are available, but the clear version is easily and instantly distinguishable from other flashlights. As visually appealing as the clear shell is, it also has to be functional and the NightStar appears to live up to this requirement well. From the stories and testimonials I've encountered, this light seems to be practically indestructible. It's even waterproof down to 2200 feet - virtually the only opening that could allow water in is the lens assembly and it is sealed shut at the factory. Even the on/off switch uses magnets so it's one less area to worry about leakage.
After removing a brand new NightStar from its packaging, I flipped the switch and ... nothing happened. This was expected since the capacitor was not charged yet or had become fully discharged during storage and shipping. The directions recommend shaking the flashlight horizontally to the ground for 3 minutes to completely charge a fully discharged capacitor. While shaking, I noticed that rather than using springs or rubber bumpers to keep the charging magnet from slamming against the internal housing, the NightStar uses "mag-lev recoil" or repulsion magnets to slow and stop the charging magnet before it hits the housing. (As you probably remember from grade school, magnets can either attract or repel each other.) This produces a much smoother and quieter charging system. I stopped at 30 seconds just to see what it would look like after such a short charging and I was surprised at how bright it was already (about as bright as I remember the previous generation of the NightStar being). I turned it off and continued shaking for the remainder of the 3 minutes. My first reaction after turning it back on was "Wow, that's bright!" This new model is approaching the brightness of a traditional flashlight.
Like most other shake lights, the NightStar uses LED technology instead of incandescent bulbs. LEDs consume less power and last much longer than traditional bulbs. In fact, you should not ever need to replace the LED or perform any other maintenance of any kind for as long as you own this flashlight. AIT calls their LED technology StarCore™ and claims that it produces "unsurpassed brilliance." While I cannot yet say that this light is the brightest on the market (since I haven't tested every model yet), I can say it is the brightest I have used so far. Even compared to earlier models of the same flashlight, it is substantially brighter. But this is not a long distance search light. The light is too diffused to really see much past 50 feet. It's made for more traditional applications such as finding your way around during power outages and changing a flat tire in the middle of nowhere on a dark, moonless night.
So, how well does it perform? Initially the light starts out very bright. Over time though, it starts to dim as the capacitor drains its stored up energy. After about 5 minutes of use, the light is a little dimmer but still very usable. At the ten minute mark, it's noticeably dimmer, but still sufficiently bright to find your way around. And as advertised, at 20 minutes, there is still enough light to be useable, but it's certainly not like the first 5 minutes. After this, I figured the light would die out rather quickly, but after 35 minutes, there was still light being emitted. It was not what you might call a bright light, but it was sufficient to read an envelope address label at a normal distance. I could even make out larger objects across the room, but not see much detail about them. Surely it would go dead soon. But after 1 hour, it was still lighting sufficiently to read package labels and easily make out nearby objects. At this point, I decided to recharge it by shaking it the recommended 30 seconds. It was bright again. Not as bright as the first time, but I imagine this was the result of not recharging it after 20 minutes, but waiting until after it had run for over an hour. Shaking it for a few more seconds returned it to its previous brightness.
It appears the NightStar lives up to its claims about having 20+ minutes of usable light. Now an equally important question is can a light with such advanced technology survive everyday use and abuse? I've already mentioned how tough the polycarbonate shell looks, but now it was time for a couple of torture tests. First I decided to try a drop test. Most flashlights are dropped several times during their lifetime and I figure that most of these falls are less than 6 feet. Sometimes those falls are onto soft surfaces like carpet and other times onto hard surfaces like concrete. Therefore, I decided to try several 6-foot falls onto a solid concrete surface. How did the NightStar perform? After the first drop, the NightStar seemed to still work like a champ. But then I noticed a small problem - the light would not shut off. (Hey, wait a minute - that's not supposed to happen!) I decided to press on and see if anything else would happen. After another 4 consecutive drops, no other major problems appeared.
After those repeated falls, I thought it was an appropriate time to test the waterproofness of this light. Surely those falls onto concrete would have cracked the housing or dislodged a seal somewhere. But after more than 2 hours at the bottom of a metal tub filled with water, the NightStar still worked perfectly fine (except for the afore mentioned switch problem). In fact, after drying it off, I could not see any evidence of water inside the housing whatsoever. And because it is sealed so well, this flashlight floats (lens up). Although some may find this trivial, if you drop it over the side of a boat in the middle of the night, this feature can be a real benefit and even a lifesaver under the right circumstances.
But what about the switch malfunction? Honestly, I was kind of shocked. From everything I have seen, this is not typical of a NightStar. I've seen them run over by a city bus and slammed into concrete after being thrown 25 feet into the air and they still work like the day they were made. This must have been a one-in-a-million malfunction during the manufacturing process that didn't present itself until the light was dropped onto a hard surface for the first time. But there was an upside to this malfunction - I got to see how well the NightStar warranty process worked. I contacted AIT and they were extremely friendly and understanding and offered me a return authorization number without hesitation. I shipped the light back to them via the USPS and exactly one week later, I had a brand new light in my hands. I'd call that very good service. AIT obviously wants to take care of their customers and keep them happy. If you ever do have a problem with a NightStar, rest assured that the company backs them up and will make it right.
As you can see, the NightStar is bright enough to be useful and tough enough to stand up to everyday abuse. So, is it worth your consideration? I honestly think this is one of the best flashlights you can own. The fact that it never needs batteries is truly advantageous. How many of us have put a flashlight in our vehicle for emergencies and 6 months later when we needed it, it was dead? It's just as useful in your home for those inevitable power outages. The NightStar is even easier to find in the dark than other flashlights due to its glow-in-the-dark switch. If the flashlight has been around any type of light source prior to it becoming dark, the switch will glow for several hours. Also, one of the accessories you can buy for your NightStar is a glow-in-the-dark, wall-mountable flashlight holder. This of course makes finding it even easier. Other accessories you can purchase for the NightStar include a belt holster which can also be used to mount it other places (e.g. your car or truck), an in-depth physics guide explaining all the principles behind this unique product and custom labels used for commercial branding purposes.
Performance-wise, this light does not disappoint. Price wise, the NightStar is not the cheapest shake flashlight on the market, but at $39.95 it's not that expensive when you consider that you never have to buy batteries for this light. And remember that old adage about getting what you pay for? For the price you get higher quality components making it an overall better flashlight (perhaps the best shake flashlight on the market) and a 5-year warranty to back that up. In the end, this is a great flashlight and I do not think you can go wrong purchasing a NightStar.
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