In our latest look at gadgets flogged via infomercial, George Block tests the Bell & Howell Tac Light Pro and discovers a rare example of a daytime TV product that mostly lives up to the hype.
The ad for the Tac Light is a classic of the genre, featuring a highly-strung American in combat fatigues claiming the flashlight is like nothing else on the market. He reckons it’s essentially indestructible and bright enough that you can use it as a self-defence tool to dazzle unlucky miscreants.
We were sceptical, as our recent trials of As Seen on TV and TV Shop products, including the Lizard Air Lounger, Paint Runner Pro, Big Boss Expandable Hose and Genius Garlic Cutter, have found they often aren’t as amazing as they appear on the telly.
We tested the Tac Light ($50 including shipping from TV Shop, buy one get one free) against every claim made on the infomercial or on the packaging to see if it’s an exception to the rule.
✔ 1. “It’ll keep working when fully submerged in water, even boiling water”
We switched the Tac Light on, dropped it into a full sink and submerged it in a saucepan of boiling water. On both occasions it kept functioning at full brightness without allowing any water into the lens or battery compartment.
✔ 2. “Even getting frozen in a block of ice couldn’t stop our Tac Light from working”
We chucked it in a full container of water that we left in a freezer over the weekend. On Monday morning we recreated the scene from the infomercial where a hammer is used to smash the Tac Light out of an ice block. Sure enough, our model was still functioning. Some water made it into the lens and battery housing, but as the manufacturer only recommends short-term immersion we reckon that’s to be expected.
✔ 3. “Tough enough to survive getting run over by a Humvee”
Military Humvees weigh just under 2 ½ tonnes. We raised the stakes and repeatedly ran it over with an Isuzu ELF350 truck weighing 6.5 tonnes. While the Tac Light sustained no damage, neither did a $10 metal LED torch we picked up from New World. The Humvee test looks cool in an infomercial, but in this age of lightweight metal torches we don’t think it’s that impressive.
✔ 4. “Can be seen from 2 nautical miles away” (5 according to packaging and website) Five nautical miles equals 9.3km, the approximate distance between the end of Muritai Rd in Eastbourne, on the shore of Wellington Harbour, and Petone Wharf. Late one evening we stationed one staff member at the wharf and another at Eastbourne. The torch was easily visible, appearing much brighter than street lights, while the SOS flashing mode was also easily distinguishable.
× 5. “40x brighter than this regular flashlight”
No further information is provided on what this “regular flashlight” is, apart from a generic picture of a small torch, so we measured its brightness against the $10 Eveready LED flashlight we ran over. At a distance of 1m, the Tac Light delivered 1510 lux (lux measures brightness, or lumens per square metre), compared to 144 lux for the Eveready. The Tac Light is 10x brighter, well short of the 40x claimed.
Regardless, this is a very bright flashlight. Even when you “zoom out”, it maintains an even spread of light across the beam able to effectively illuminate a large area, in contrast to cheaper flashlights which are bright in the centre of the beam but taper off towards the edges.
? 6. “Similar to flashlights used by elite military units”
A Defence Force spokesperson refused to discuss the torches used by the New Zealand Special Air Service (NZSAS), citing operational security, but they did provide the specification sheet for the torch in general use by the New Zealand Defence Force. Called the Sidewinder Compact II and available on Amazon, it’s similar to the Tac Light Pro in that it’s a compact LED flashlight which claims decent water- and impact-resistance. Its maximum claimed brightness of 1175 lux at 1m is almost 30% dimmer than the 1510 lux we measured for the Tac Light. But as we couldn’t find any info on the torches used by NZSAS or American Green Berets, we’re unable to call this claim either way.
× 7. “Can stun and disorient would-be attackers”
Shining the torch directly into an unsuspecting subject’s eyes causes significant discomfort and leaves a lasting after-image, but it wouldn’t halt a determined attacker. The Tac Light’s brightness at 1m of 1510 lux is far less than the millions of lux generated at the same range by a military stun grenade, or the tens of thousands of lux generated by a camera flash. We don’t recommend relying on dazzling an intruder with a torch as a method of home security.
× 8. “Just nothing like it on the market today”
Not quite. Thanks to the advent of inexpensive super-bright LEDs, there’s been a surge of “tactical flashlights” available on the market. In general, “tactical” means the torch claims to be suitable for extreme situations, like during a disaster or for self-defence. The Tac Light Pro claims to have a total light output of 600 lumens. While that’s very bright, there are even brighter flashlights available. For example, torchmonster.co.nz sells 900 lumen tactical flashlights for $99. Many outdoor stores also sell water- and impact-resistant high-brightness flashlights, including the LED Lenser P3 and Macpac’s Optic Torch, though these torches produce less than 200 lumens.
While the Tac Light doesn’t satisfy all the outlandish claims made in the infomercial, it’s a very good torch overall: highly-durable, compact, lightweight and seriously bright. It’s also relatively inexpensive for a rugged, high-brightness “tactical” flashlight. We think it’s a good option for your emergency kit, or for keen trampers/campers and those who live in rural areas.
We’re looking to gauge interest in a test of tactical torches, headlights, bike lights or anything else. Let us know which devices you’d like to see us test in the comments (you must be logged in to comment).
First Looks are written from the perspective of our product experts. Our lab-based tests offer truly objective product comparisons.
by George Block
Cars, phones, infomercial products and anything else that takes our fancy — First Looks are trials of new or interesting products from the perspective of our product experts. Check out our latest.