Archive for May 2009

NiteCore SmartPD EX10 R2

leave a comment »

I have been looking for a small flashlight I can carry with me at night and use to light up dark areas.  After doing some research, I decided to purchase a NiteCore SmartPD flashlight from about two weeks ago.

The PD in SmartPD stands for Piston Drive.  Piston drive is a new switching technology that uses a piston to drive a switch on the flashlight head to communicate with the flashlight microcontroller.  The Piston Drive technology is supposed outlast the push button switches used on  conventional flashlights.  However, I don’t see why it would last longer since the Piston Drive also uses a switch that is built into the head to drive the flashlight.

NiteCore makes two flashlights with the PD technology, the D10 which uses 1 AA-battery and the EX10 uses a CR123 battery.  I chose the EX10 over the D10 because it is smaller and has a longer run time.

The exact model I got was the SmartPD EX10 R2.  The EX10 indicates that it takes CR123 batteries and R2 means that it uses a CREE R2 type LED.  The CREE R2 type LED in the EX10 is rated at 145 lumens which makes this one of the brightest small flashlights I could find.  This light has several advanced features including:

  • Instantly jump to max or min brightness.
  • Ramp to 100 light levels between min and max.
  • Light turns on at the last light level.
  • Waterproof.

The light can also be used in momentary or intermittent mode where the light is only lit when you push the piston down.  This video shows off the interface.

Personal Impressions:
The flashlight is is well built and feels solid in my hands.  I feel that I could drop it and it would still keep working.  The flashlight is unbelievably small, I can carry it around in the change pocket of my jeans and it will fit entirely in my palm.  The piston drive is stiff and has very little travel so it takes a while to get used to it. The max mode is very bright and will illuminate pretty much any room.  Does it outshine a 3-D LED maglight? No.  But is it bright enough to replace a 3-D maglight in most situations? Yes.  Likewise, the min mode is really dim and will really squeeze out every erg of energy out of a battery.  4sevens claims that the light is good for 90 minutes of illumination at max light mode – however, the 90 minutes counts till it is at 50% brightness.  In reality, the light is good for about 20-30 minutes of bright light on a fresh battery, after which it starts to noticeably dim.  This means that you have to use the bright mode sparingly and instead rely on a dimmer setting for most of your work unless you plan to replace your battery often.  Or, use the bright mode and then end up working with just a dim light until your battery runs out.

Occasionally, the light refuses to go into high/low mode using the shortcuts.  I think this is because the processor gets confused and needs to be reset.  This seems to be the case because it can be fixed by unscrewing till the light turns off to cut off power to the CPU and then screwing it back in.   Another annoyance is that the light is prone to roll around if placed on a flat surface which makes it unsuitable for any kind of work where you can’t hold it in your hand.  In addition, the black anodizing looks like it will easily wear off – I’ve already noticed a couple worn off specks just from carrying the light around in my jean’s change pocket.

Another caveat is that the microprocessor is always on so it draws current from the battery even when the light is turned off.  I’ve read that a new battery will power the microcontroller for ~400 days while the light is in standby.  I couldn’t find a statement on how much light I would get from the light after ~400 days or even ~200 days, I imagine it wouldn’t be much.  This makes the light unsuitable to use as an emergency light. Some say that you should store the battery separately, but do you want to be fumbling around for a battery in the dark when the light goes out or if you are in an emergency situation?  They may also tell me to unscrew the head a couple turns so that the head doesn’t make contact with the battery, but I think that should be unnecessary in a $60+ flashlight.  Just look at Fenix (a NiteCore competitor) which makes great flashlights that don’t drain batteries when turned off.

The NiteCore EX10 is a nice small flashlight that is useful if you plan to use and carry it daily and don’t mind keeping it at low/medium most of the time in order to be able to access max mode when needed.  I wouldn’t recommend it for non-handheld uses since it has a tendency to roll around, or for long term storage in an emergency kit.  I like it because it is solid, tough, and has min/max brightness modes.  I don’t like it because the PD switch isn’t as great as it is made out to be – it is stiff and relies on a mechanical switch despite NiteCore’s hype about PD being superior to mechanical switches – and it will drain your battery if you are not careful.  Overall, I feel that this is an overly hyped light and I would recommend against purchasing it.


  • Small, tough, and waterproof.
  • Extra bright when you need it.


  • Expensive!
  • anodizing is prone  to wear off.
  • Short lived max mode.
  • Poor candidate for long term storage.
  • Unknown long term reliability of piston drive.
  • No reverse polarity protection.

There is an extensive review of the D10 (AA-battery version of the EX10) and EX10 over at CandlePowerForums.  I consulted this review before choosing the EX10 over the D10.

Written by M Kapoor

May 29, 2009 at 4:06 am

Deck Keyboard Review

leave a comment »

I ordered my Toxic Green Deck 82 key keyboard in April of 2005 to go with my Razr Diamondback and the new PC I had built from scratch. I still use the PC and Deck keyboard daily, the Razr Diamondback sadly turned out to be an over-hyped piece of trash. The Deck keyboard is billed as tough and a easy to mod keyboard. The keyboard is also unique in that each key is back lit by a super-bright LED. I use the keyboard for 1-2 hours almost everyday at home. While this is not the most comfortable keyboard I’ve ever used, I have been impressed by its durability and construction.

I bought my Green Deck keyboard more than 4 years ago on April 10th, 2005 from for $119.99. The Toxic Green Deck keyboard had just been released and it was in high demand. ThinkGeek no longer carries the keyboard but it is still available through Deck Keyboards for almost the same price I paid years ago – $119.

Unlike some manufacturers that try to cut costs by painting letters onto the keys, each key in a Deck keyboard has its letter imprinted using a ‘sublimated negative printing process’, this means that the letter goes all the way through the key and will only become unreadable if the key wears through. Each key uses a ‘Cherry MX1A-11NN linear switch’ which is rated for ~50 million key presses or 20 years of use (according to the website). Each key is backlit by a super-bright LED (green in my case), the spacebar has two LEDs, and the caps lock key has an additional blue LED to indicate when it is active. The LEDs are readily visible during the day and especially in the dark which really makes the keyboard stand out. The brightness of the LEDs can be adjusted to one of 7 levels, 8 if you count off, by depressing the ‘FN’ key along with one of the 0-7 number keys. The brightness controls come in handy for when you want to turn the light down in order to watch a movie or when you are trying to avoid distraction. They keyboard’s edge housing is made of a very tough polycarbonate plastic and can be interchanged with other colored face plates available on the Deck website. The bottom of the keyboard consists of an approximately 1/8th inch thick metal plate that is screwed into the polycarbonate casing.

The Deck website really plays up the modifications (mods) possible on the keyboard. The Deck website sells two main mods for the Deck keyboard. One is different colored polycarbonate casings and the other is key caps with different logos on them. Other mods include opening up the keyboard and changing the LEDs to different colors or performing different kinds of paint jobs. Deck even covers modded keyboards under its warranty – one caveat is that the modifications have to of good quality and performed with competence. In the 4 years I have owned the keyboard, I have not made any changes to it – it is flashy enough the way it is and I don’t feel the urge to spend extra money on new keys or casings.

The cherry switches used on the keyboard are quiet, they don’t click like the switches on a Model M or Kinesis Contoured Keyboard. You only hear a click when the key hits the the base of the switch. The activation threshold on the switches is very low, so it is possible to type by lightly depressing the keys. This requires more concentration since you don’t get much tactile or audio feedback, but it allows one to type silently. The total key travel is deeper than on other keyboards I’ve used, this can lead to fatigue especially when you are are engrossed and start to pound at the keyboard.
As expected, the ‘sublimated’ lettering on the keyboard is very durable. Unlike most keyboards I’ve had, none of the letters have faded despite daily use. The keys are made of a hard, smooth plastic and they feel like they will last.

The Deck Keyboard is a very solid keyboard. I use it regularly and its solid nature and silent keys make you want to pound at it in order to get feedback. It has stood up well over the last three years, all of the LEDs still work and it feels the same as the day I bought it.  You have to watch out for the screws on the bottom of the keyboard or they will scratch your desk if you drag the keyboard.

The Deck Keyboard doesn’t have the best ergonomics. It is a straight keyboard which means that typing on it stresses your wrists. The keyboard is also has a 7 degree tilt and is about 3/4 inches high. The Deck website claims that this was an overwhelming choice by their focus group. However, the extra tilt and height puts more strain on my wrists since I have to bend them back further in order to hit the keys.
In addition, the deep key travel quickly leads to fatigue if you start treating it like a regular keyboard and push the keys down until you hear a audible click.

Customer Service:
Early in its life, my keyboard would sometimes double print a character – that is if I typed in ‘a’ it would show up as ‘aa’ on the screen. I decided to contact Deck since the keyboard was still within its 1 year warranty period. They responded promptly and asked me to send the keyboard back. They never found anything wrong with the keyboard, however they said that they cleaned it before sending it back. This cleaning, whatever they did, fixed the problem and my keyboard has been trouble free since. I was impressed by their quick response and communication throughout.

The lighting on the keyboard is great, it is readily visible during the day and really lights up a dark room.  One thing to note is that the lighting is not even at low brightness levels.  For example, on my keyboard the ‘k’ key really stands out at lighting level 1 and doesn’t blend in with the rest of the keys until I get to light level 4 or 5.  Similarly, a few other keys stick out at low light levels but this isn’t as noticeable as on my ‘k’ letter key.  This is understandable since the LEDs used in the keyboard probably vary in their forward bias voltages, this sort of variation is common in semiconductor manufacturing since it is hard to create completely identical units during die fabrication.  I’m mentioning it here because it was a small annoyance when I got my keyboard.  The annoyance has since faded as I’ve come to see it as a uniqueness.

Overall the keyboard is very strongly constructed and feels like a quality product. it is not very heavy but you can feel the sturdiness when you are typing on it. However, it has poor ergonomics and so isn’t suited for all day use.

  • Pros:
    – Solid keyboard that will add pizazz to your work environment
    – Excellent customer support
    – Easy to modify to suit your tastes
    – 20+ year lifespan (claimed)
  • Cons:
    – Expensive!
    – Poor ergonomics
    – Uneven lighting at low brightness levels

Written by M Kapoor

May 29, 2009 at 3:32 am