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The Case for Carrying a Flashlight on Your Keychain

Using a mobile phone regularly as a flashlight is like moving your stuff to a new apartment in a Corvette.


You’ve got a phone in your pocket at all times, with a light up screen and a big LED for a flash on the other side. With all that light, why on Earth would you need a keychain flashlight? The glow your phone can muster is better than nothing in case of emergency, but up against even a middling micro-torch, it’s a tiny burb of light that’s paltry by comparison. Whether it’s to unlock the front door at night or investigate why the car’s engine won’t start, a true flashlight will serve you better. It’s why I’ve kept one on my keychain for years and why you should consider the same.

First thing’s first: brightness is key. Any dedicated flashlight that takes itself more seriously than a toy will have a more powerful array of LEDs than your phone does and, importantly, a battery that’s better suited for dishing out power to it in short bursts. A good quality flashlight will put out hundreds of lumens in a beam that can travel across a room or a dark alley. Take the Fenix E18R ($65) and its 750 lumen output with a beam rated to provide illumination up to 400 feet away. Your phone, by comparison, probably can’t do much better than 100 and provides that in a floodlight cone that’s not at all suited for distance.

The best designs are small, light and disappear easily into a pocket. If $65 seems a bit rich for your blood, you can find lights worth snagging for much less. One of my favorites is NiteCore’s Tini that not only weighs less than half an ounce but is a key fob that’s ready to shine 380 lumens at a moments notice. It costs $30.

What’s more, frantically pulling your phone out of your pocket in the darkness to try and find whatever you just dropped is inviting a second catastrophe, butterfingers. Even if you drop a flashlight, it probably won’t break, and if it does, the light doesn’t contain your photos, contacts and music. Made of anodized aluminum, Olympia’s $20 RG850 combines light weight with toughness. It’s waterproof and will come in handy when changing a tire in a rainstorm, not a good time to see how waterproof your phone is. Or if you’d like to go completely overkill, the AE Light W30 LifeLight is made of aerospace grade aluminum and the tough Acetal Homopolymer thermoplastic. The $150 light includes a lifetime guarantee.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my phone. It’s with me always and can be used as a flashlight in a pinch. But the Swiss+Tech flashlight on my keychain gets used just about every day. It’s the way to go for everything from finding items in an unlit closet to peeking behind my desk to see what’s accumulated over the years. Its four stacked button batteries need to be replaced every year or two but there are also flashlights with rechargeable batteries that can run for hours, if not days at a time.

Using a mobile phone regularly as a flashlight is like moving your stuff to a new apartment in a Corvette. Sure, it can do the job but is so ill-suited to the task that it’s almost funny. My advice is to light up the world with a flashlight and let the phone concentrate on communicating.

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