Nitecore P20i Tactical flashlight review: SST40 LED 1800 LUMENS
Introducing - the Nitecore P20i.
The latest iteration in the Precise series, the P20i is yet another tactical light, but this time utilising a 21700 cell and including USB-C charging, addressing feedback from a wide variety of sources.
Nitecore have been very generous in offering me a look at a pre-release light, but in the interests of the speed of getting it to me, I was sent the light outside of the usual process. The Package section is noticeably less informative in this review than in others, but let’s be honest; you’re here for the nuts and bolts, which is a whole bunch of pictures of the light, and the performance.
After reviewing the P20 v2, I was left with somewhat of a wish-list - higher output, longer runtimes, no PWM. Does this light make those dreams come true? Read on to find out.
What you'll get:
As I received a pre-release light, it wasn’t in the retail package and contained only the bare essentials - the P20i itself, the NL2140i battery, and a USB-C charging cable (complete with Nitecore-branded velcro wrap). As such, I can’t accurately describe the contents.
What I’m told will be included is the following:
- Nitecore P20i
- Nitecore NL2140i 4000mAh 21700 cell
- Tactical Holster NTH20
- Spare o-ring
- CR123 battery magazine
- USB-C Charging cable
Overall, it’s a very similar package to the P20v2, but with the addition of the charging cable, and replacing the battery to suit. I also assume a manual and warranty card is included, as per all Nitecore lights.
|Brand / Model||Nitecore P20i|
|Lumens||1800 lumens (21700), 1100 lumens (2*CR123)|
|Beam intensity||29,500 cd|
|Battery config.||1*21700 (Nitecore 21700i series), 2*CR123|
|Review date||August 2020|
Handling of the light
There’s only one way to really hold this light, as with a lot of other Nitecore lights - the “tactical” grip. Held overhand with my thumb on the button, my fingers slot nicely into the gap between the head and the tailcap.
It’s a solid feeling that gives confidence that it’s not going anywhere unless you want it to.
Hexagonal shaping behind the head helps prevent the light from rolling away if it is placed down; when testing by placing on a crate at home and then lifting one end, it’s far more likely to slide than roll, which means that it will stop as soon as the angle is removed, as opposed to using the rolling momentum to keep on going.
As with the other lights I’ve reviewed in the Precise series, this has a forward-clicky type switch, in that it has momentary-on from off, as opposed to a reverse-clicky which has momentary-off from on. There’s a definitive click when activating the switch, which is quite satisfying.
There’s no tail standing for this light, as the main button is very proud. I can’t immediately think of a use-case scenario in its intended use that would warrant it, though.
Build Quality, knurling, threads, and anodization
Again, Nitecore delivers on the build quality. Anodisation is perfect (not a mark to be seen), there are no sharp edges barring the square-cut fins that grab your hand slightly, but not painfully, and the knurling provides good grip while not being overly aggressive. All systems normal, here.
The threads are triangle-cut and well-lubricated, there are no issues with removing the tailcap and putting it back on if desired. There’s an initial grab as the o-ring is worked against, but that goes away quickly into smooth movement.
There’s only a single o-ring, but it looks quite sufficient to prevent water ingress; the IP68 rating definitely holds some weight.
A note, though - when holding the tailcap by itself, there’s a slight rattle when shaking it laterally; I suspect it’s the plastic cap with Nitecore branding visible next to the contacts. It’s a non-issue though, as the rattle disappears when the tailcap is back in place and snug.
LEDs, Lens, Bezel, and Reflector
Probably the most immediately obvious upgrade when using the light is the change from a Cree XP-L2 to a Luminus SST-40. This emitter is somewhat larger (5x5mm, up from 3.5x3.5), and as such has a larger die-size - all a good recipe for putting more light downrange. The CCT is unchanged at 6500K, but as I’ve mentioned in my other tactical light reviews, this is the favoured colour temperature for such a light.
The beam put out by the P20i has a similar hotspot to the Nitecore P20 v2, and that’s not a bad thing at all. There’s an awful lot of usable light, and at an increased lumen level, you’re going to see a lot more with it. On High, there’s a small amount of green around the corona, but not as much as with the XP-L2. That said, on lower brightnesses, the tint moves towards a greenish hue. Most won’t be bothered by it at all, but as a tint snob, it’s something I need to mention.
It appears to use the same reflector and strike bezel as its predecessor, which is welcome, as both are well-suited to the task.
Covering everything is some AR glass - not much to say about that other than it’s good to see.
- Length: 142.6 mm / 5.61 ”
- Head diameter: 31.8 mm / 1.25”
- Body diameter: 25.4 mm / 1”
- Empty: 114.5 g ( 4.04 oz)
- With battery: 190.5 g ( 6.72 oz)
Comparison Tactical Flashlights
2 comparison shots with other tactical flashlights:
Image 1: Nitecore P20i vs Nitecore P20 v2
Driver & User Interface:
Nitecore has simplified the UI on the P20i from what I’ve experienced on previous P-series lights - the three “groups” of modes have now been reduced to one, which is similar to the “Daily” mode (Mode 3) on those two lights, but with a slight difference - previous models rotated through the modes L/M/H; this light rotates H/M/L.
I don’t see this as a particular issue - there may be some that prefer one way over the other, but given there’s only three modes, it shouldn’t pose any kind of problem.
- Press and hold MODE button: Strobe
- Single click main button: High
- Half-press main button: Instant High
- Press MODE button: Change mode (H/M/L)
- Press and hold MODE button: Strobe (press again to return to previous mode)
- Single click main button: Turn off
Nice and simple!
- No mode memory - always defaults to high. Realistically, this is probably the mode that would be preferred - I’m imagining Nitecore has done some targeted market research on this.
Low voltage warning
- The indicator light on the side of the head will start to flash slowly when power is below 50%, and flash quickly below 10%. The actual voltages aren’t mentioned, but my estimation is that it would be around 3.6V for 50%, and 3.1-3.2V for 10%.
- Only one, and that’s strobe. Momentary activation is available by holding MODE from off, and holding MODE from on (but requires pressing MODE again to stop). The strobe mode also changes frequencies, which can have an additional disorienting effect.
- No lockout mode I can find - just the old fashioned way of loosening the tailcap ¼ turn.
- You have NO idea how happy I am about this. I’m extremely happy to report that there’s very little PWM. Looking at it through the camera on my phone, there are extremely small lines in the rolling shutter, and when doing the card trick, it’s very smooth.
I could probably cover this in the section below, but it’s worth noting here - when you tighten the lid, or stop charging the light, the indicator light on the side of the head will flash out the voltage. So if your cell is at 3.9V, it will flash three times, pause, then flash nine times. A nice thing to see, and even nicer is that in the product manual, there’s a small diagram for respective voltages for 21700 and CR123*2.
Batteries and charging:
The Nitecore P20i only works with two kinds of batteries - CR123*2, as with a large number of Nitecore’s lights, and a 21700 i-series cell from Nitecore. The 21700i series are a protected and proprietary cell that can only be charged inside the light itself; it won’t charge on an external charger.
That said, it’s entirely possible that one could make an external charger work with this, but as there’s a negative terminal in a ring around the top of the cell, I really wouldn’t recommend this. When charging the cell in the light, it pulled a fairly constant 1.3A. Nothing to particularly write home about, but not too bad either - this could likely be increased to 2A with no issue.
I’m very happy to report that charging works with USB-C to C, PD - I’ve tested it working in a Satechi charger and an Apple 61W power adapter, both using the Apple charge cable. This adds the P20i to quite a small list of lights that offer this feature.
It’s specified that the P20i is only compatible with the 21700i series batteries with output of over 8A - I’ll put the included cell to the test further down. Personally, I’m not a fan of proprietary cells, but I fully recognise that they’re incredibly useful in a light such as this - no hassle, just plug the light in and charge. Nitecore estimates it will take around 3.5 hours to fully charge the cell, which isn’t too bad.
If you happen to use CR123 cells - please don’t plug in the USB cable to charge them! Not only will it not work, it’s also quite a hazard.
For my readings, I use the following:
Lux Meter: For lumen readings and runtimes, an Adafruit TSL2591 connected to a Raspberry Pi running Ubuntu, using RuTiTe by bmengineer in a custom sphere (build document coming soon, when I have some more time). A UNI-T UT383S is used for candela readings.
Temperature testing is not yet finished, unfortunately. Next time!
DMM: Fluke 87 (original series!) and UNI-T UT210E - 16AWG wire is used directly into the Fluke via some banana plugs, and 8AWG wire in a loop for the UNI-T. The DMM I use depends on how high the expected current will be - I use the Fluke for <10A, and the UT210E for >10A.
I will be using the battery supplied with the light (Nitecore NL2140i); the light can also support CR123 cells in a 2x carrier, but as I have ethical/environmental concerns regarding disposable batteries, I’ve chosen not to purchase some purely for the purposes of testing the light.
I’m definitely discovering that testing current on Nitecore lights is difficult - this one even more so than the previous two. The tailcap isn’t so bad to get connection on, but the spring and contact down in the tube is extremely difficult to reach without bridging anything.
In the interest of keeping all of my hair attached to my head, this is a section I’m going to come back to as time permits - we’ll post an update when it’s done.
As seen on the graph, there’s some very nice flat regulated lines - while the light didn’t hit the advertised 1800lm, I’m yet to come across a light from any manufacturer that hits the rated output. There’s a quick dropoff in High until a fairly solid regulated ~500 lumens for almost three hours. Given that Nitecore’s documentation says 1.5 hours for High, this one’s a solid win in my book. Medium starts slightly below 200lm then warms up, and then holds that for 8.5 hours before dropping down; again, this is above the rated specification of 7h 15m. Lovely to see a manufacturer understating output!
I’ll add in the low runtime at some stage as it’s meant to last for ~50 hours, and deadlines wait for no one!
Lumen measurements (for each mode)
Popping the P20i onto my integrating sphere and running through the modes, I get:
- Low: 32 lumens
- Medium: 212 lumens
- High: 1690 lumens
This is a little lower than the advertised 35/280/1800 lumens, primarily on the medium mode, but I’m not overly concerned - the jump from 1690 to 1800 lumens is, to the eye, not that much different. The drop from 280 to 212 would be more noticeable, I think, but 212 is still plenty of light on a dark night.
1690 is still perfectly within the margin of error when using home-made measuring equipment.
I’ve measured at 5m indoors, and 10m outdoors. With a fully charged battery, I set the UT383S to record maximum lux, turn on, point it at the sensor, change to the highest mode if not already there, and gently wave the light around to try and capture all of the hotspot. With that, my results are:
- Indoors 5m: 1429 lux = 35725 cd = 378.02 m throw
- Outdoors 10m: 360 lux = 36000 cd = 379.47 m throw
Again, very happy with the consistent results, and above and beyond rated throw (rated at 29500cd - 343m).
Both images are shot at 0.6sec, f11, ISO100. WB is 5200K.
Disclaimer: This flashlight was sent to me for review at no cost, by Nitecore. I have not been paid to review, nor have I been holding back on problems or defects.