MBI HF-R is, to this day, one of the most advanced and interesting lights on the market. Unfortunately it is not being made anymore and finding a replacement is virtually impossible. Its combination of size (1xAA battery) and brightness (600 lumens) is still hard to match. Throw in the clockface UI and there is nothing like it. It was also a high maintenance light, as the UI connectors required regular deoxydization, but the work was worth it.
The A2 isn’t the MBI HF-R, but it is darn close in terms of size and lumens. Oh and because we live in the Golden Age of Gear, the A2 is $30. It is a flawed light, but its combination of size and brightness is incredibly compelling. I couldn’t think of a better product review to close out 2018–the A2 is representative of much of 2018’s gear haul.
Here is the product page. There are four variants (each with a variant name—A1, A2, etc): one in Ti, one in AL, one in stainless steel (the review sample), and a polycarbonate version. They range in price from $21.95 to $39.95. Here is an excellent written review by ZeroAir on Reddit. Here is a video review that shows that I am not bonkers for being in love with this tiny light. Here is a link on Amazon.
And here is the review sample (sent by Rovy Von):
Twitter Review Summary: The hard-not-to-buy-a-few-and-stash-them-everywhere light.
NOTE: The specs on Rovy Von’s site do not match the specs from independent reviewers. Until otherwise, I am going with the independent reviewer specs. The strange thing is that the specs from the reviewers are worse in some instances but better in others. For example, ZeroAir found that the charge time is less than Rovy Von’s advertised time (30 minutes v. 45 minutes), but the output is also less, about 10% less. I don’t believe this is a case of spec inflation, otherwise, the recharge time would be lower than it is. I think there is a chance that either the integrating sphere used by Rovy Von needs calibrating or they are referencing AT THE EMITTER outputs instead of OUT THE FRONT outputs. The lumens loss, around 10%, is about what you’d expect when light passes through the lens of a flashlight, so my bet is that they are using emitter specs and not the out the front output as the ANSI specs mandate. The loss of 10% of output is, of course, imperceptible at the output levels the A2 can hit.
This is a clipless keychain light that tailstands (albeit gingerly) and doesn’t roll. Those two features alone make the A2 impressive. And both were made possible by clever and subtle design changes to the normal tube build. The side switch is nice and the charging port while not particularly easy to open is totally sealed when closed. There is a lot going on here in this tiny torch, but all of the design cues are spot on. Impressive when you consider this is a budget light.
This is point in the value product review where I have to comment on design and price. There is a school of thought, starting many years ago and flowing through the batch built housing of the Bauhaus that believes that good design is affordable, that good designers don’t just consider the final product but how its built. Its clear that Rovy Von, like Victorinox, understands this next level of good design. Just about anyone can make a decent light with a massive per unit budget. It takes so real forethought to drop a gem without causing the buyer to drop some dough.
The performance ratios are nuts because this is a light that weighs about as much as four quarters and belches out 500 lumens. Lumens:weight is nuts: 572.92 (it weighs .96 and outputs 550 on high). Max lumens output is found on medium which runs for 55 minutes at 230 lumens minutes for a total of 12,650.
Fit and Finish: 2
Brushed stainless steel and rubber aren’t exactly exotic materials (and no, neither is Moku Ti—its man made, we can make as much of it as we want...within reason). But thanks to nice machining and a solid blueprint it all comes together very, very well. The charging port, as I mentioned above, is a very snug fit.
There is simply no way around it—lights this small are hard to grip well. I have taken to attaching my A2 to another tool, usually a Leatherman PS4 for additional grip and that works well, but as a standalone light, this thing is tiny. The grooves cut into the side and the rubber switch help a bit but physics is physics and small things are always going to be hard to hold.
The flip side of the grip problem is the carry boon. Lights this small always carry exceptionally well and even when tether via a split ring to another piece of gear the A2 disappears in your pocket. In many ways the A2 bears out the cellphone phenomenon—the smaller the item, the less excuse there is to not carry it. Remember those massive Motorola phones with the huge batteries and the rubber antenna? With something that big even the utility of calling from anywhere couldn’t compel people to carry cellphones. When when the Ericsson “candy bar” phone came out, with its compact form, cellphones became ubiquitous. So too with lights. EDCing a torch seems silly when all you have are those massive plastic tubes that came free with batteries (like when you get a “free” handle with a pack of razors). But with something as truly invisible as the A2, it is hard to think of reasons you shouldn’t carry a light.
Rovy Von has a great product here and it is hits the right notes to get notice. 500 lumens out of a tiny package is definitely that and for that alone I think it earns a 2, but the next iteration should have a true moonlight low. That would make this great light a true top-of-the-category competitor. As it is, the output is basically, bright, brighter, and brightest. If the light were not so small or so blindingly bright, I would deduct a point, but when a product does something truly special, you can overlook flaws that would harm lesser products. If the scale were more refined I’d give the A2 a 1.5 here.
Again, here, I am grading on a bit of a curve. With 550 lumens on a light this small, its basically like holding the end of a live electrical wire. It gets ferociously hot on high terrifyingly quick. The max runtime is on low and it is 22 lumens for 150 minutes. The two lower modes are decent, but this light is clearly clocked towards ultra high outputs. I don’t particularly prefer that design decision, but I can see how lots of folks do. A second iteration of this light with a true moonlight low will eliminate the need to make a decision on output v. runtime. All of this is balanced out by lightening fast recharge times. You can get a full charge in about 30 minutes (Rovy Von claims 45 minutes, but independent testing by ZeroAir on Reddit showed a recharge time of 30 minutes). Similar to output, with a more refined scale I would give the A2 a 1.5. On balance I feel like the 2 is fair light of how fast you can full recharge the light.
Beam Type: 2
Surprisingly, given how small the light is, this is not the squashy beam that you find on lights like the oLight S1R. Its not a thrower at all, but it does give you something of a compromise between the two.
Beam Quality: 1
And here is a place where, even with the small size and high output, I cannot ignore a flaw. The tint is just not up to snuff. It results in lots and lots of color distortion with reds turning purple and purples turning blue and blues, well, they glow basically. After a systematic purge of non-Hi CRI lights the tinty output of the A2 reminds me why I engaged in such a thorough elimination of lesser emitters. Losing color rendering does matter. Instead of illuminating things, bad color rendering basically brightens dark places without providing you with the necessary visual information to truly do work.
Okay, easy first fumble here. The low—>high—>medium—>strobe output selection is a throwback to an earlier era when we had not, as a group, learned that strobe in the main menu stinks. Strobes need to be hidden, there is just no two ways about it. The use case for strobe is so rare and the effect is so jarring, especially if you are trying to do something discrete while others around you are sleeping, that including it is probably close to a full point deduction. Add to that the non-sequential output and I think the UI here needs a major revamp. If I had my way, I’d opt for a .5 lumen low, a 40 lumen medium, and then balls out crazy high in that order with no strobe or a hidden strobe.
Hands Free: 2
This light can tailstand. It does so more like a ballerina en pointe than a pyramid, but it can still do it. It doesn’t roll thanks to the flattened body tube in the rear of the torch and it works well held between the teeth (never recommended). These things are never found all together in a small torch but here they are and that is one of the many reasons I really like the A2.
Fidget Factor: very low
There is not much for the fingers to play with here and the light’s switch lacks a good tactile click, so if you are looking for something to replace your favorite flipper, keep looking.
Value: very high
The MBI HF-R was over $200. This light is about $30. Its not as good as the HF-R, but it is very similar in design, performance, and function. That is a good value and a sign of just how fast modern lights are evolving.
Fett Effect: medium
Scarification looks okay on stainless steel but not as good as it would on something like Ti. As it is, it will get beat up (this is a keychain light after all) but it won’t look like junk when it does.
Overall Score: 17 out of 20
The A2 is a flawed light for sure. I could have easily given it a 15 or 16, but I really like this light. I think this light, with a few changes (better outputs, better emitter, and modded UI) could dominate the market. None of those changes are hard to make, putting this light on the cusp of greatness. I am coming around to the idea of mini USB charging light and one this small, this well-designed, and this bright really makes a compelling argument that replaceable cells are a limitation on design and not a boon. At $30 and less than 1 ounce there is no reason not to try the Rovy Von A2. And when they make a few tweaks, well watch out. 2019 could be the year the replaceable cell light died.
There are an innumerable number of mini-USB charging keychain lights. I am sure I have missed some. I am sure some are as bright. Most are stupid plastic hunks that are bigger than they need to be, even for a keychain light. That said, a cursory look shows a decent torch from Fenix, but it lacks the nice body tube here. There are Nitecore lights in this product category but again they are bigger than they need to be and have features that are silly (like an OLED display). If you want peak brightness in a small, well-designed package, this is it.