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Thread: Nitecore NU20 Review

  1. #1

    Default Nitecore NU20 Review

    Being an avid runner (both road and trail) and lighting enthusiast, I’ve owned my fair share of headlamps and running lights over the years and I'm always in search of new and/or different lights for my excursions. I've recently started paying more attention to the Nitecore range and was curious to see how their headlamps would perform, specifically for trail running usage. Nitecore kindly provided me with a NU20, targeted specifically at trail runners. I’ve put the NU20 through the paces for the past 3 weeks, running with it during some training runs on road as well as some very technical, and in some cases very long trail runs in rain, gale force winds and some intense heat and humidity. Basically, I tried to put it through anything a trail run could. Below is the retail packaging, the headlamp unit itself and the included headband, a very good quality USB cable (only for charging) and user manual. What struck me the most when unpacking was just how tiny this headlamp is.


    Nitecore stating the built in 600mah Li-ion battery is equal to the 3*AAA power source found in many headlamps on the market, thus: 2.22Wh vs ~3.5Wh (3*AAA Energizer Lithium@1A) vs ~1Wh (3*AAA Duracell Ultra Power @1A) as per HKJ’s reviews. Since the NU20’s battery is built in I have no way of testing its capacity without opening it (and possibly breaking it) but I suspect it should reach its claimed 2.22Wh given its approximate physical size. The claimed 6-hrs run time on High seems very suspect but with the ANSI testing method, it’s probably correct.

    Modes are nicely spaced although I would’ve liked another mode between medium and high, say a 120Lumen mode. The beam pattern is very nice: a good wide spill and a nice “medium” hot spot. The 2 special modes (SOS and beacon) is a welcome addition especially for a trail running headlamp.

    Control:


    Low, 1 Lumen (Not noticeable in the photo but very handy for digging around in a backpack):


    Medium, 40 Lumens (Not very useful for running on the trails, but OK for walking and some additional light when on the road):

    High, 220 Lumen (the only mode that’s really suitable for running):

    Boost, 360 Lumen for 30 seconds at a time (not much brighter than “high” to the naked eye):

    There is an added function that give you an indication of how much battery life is still left. To access this feature, you press the button for 1 second and tiny red light flashes underneath the switch rubber. 3 Flashes=above 50%, 2 flashes=bellow 50% and 1 flash=less than 10%. Managed to capture the blink:

    A very good quality elastic headband adjusts with ease. The switch guard is a very welcome addition as I had a headlamp switching on inside my hydration pack before and the ability to charge the headlamp on-the-go is also a very nice addition. The plastic casing helps with the weight and I never found the casing get too hot to the touch, even on my hottest most humid run. The rubber switch cover, waterproof seal on the USB port and the tightly glued(?) casing kept the rain out, no problem. I only submerged the NU20 in the basin (roughly 20cm of water) for a good 30mins and no signs of a leaks. So for “normal” trail running use, it will hold up just fine during a HEAVY downpour as well as getting soaked from sweat in a hydration pack or shorts.

    Speaking about shorts: It’s compact size and light weight meant I could very easily bunch it up and stuff it into my back pocket on my shorts if I knew I was going to, or planning on running in the dark for the last part of my run. This is where I think that the headband could be much thinner as the light weight of the headlamp doesn’t need a very strong elastic band to keep it in place. Bunching or rolling it up saw most of the bulk came from the strap.

    Size comparison to a Petzl Tikka RXP and the HC30:

    The fact that the battery is built-in and I have no way if replacing it or carry a spare is a bit of a negative, however by the time the battery has done its 300 or 500 cycle it would probably be 1,2 maybe 3 years later and you’ll have upgraded to a NU20(ver2) already. The swivel “click” is very sturdy, perhaps too sturdy as you have to use both hands if you want to adjust the angle. Personally, the UI is a bit annoying for me, turning on and switching up modes is an easy click however, the mode cycle grates me. From switching the light on to Low, you have to click again within 3 seconds if
    you want to cycle to medium or high, after 3 seconds a “click” will turn the light off. So if I do a trail run and I reach a long steep hill mid-way and I want to switch from High to Medium (to conserve the battery and as I don’t need 220 Lumens for this slow pace) the light will turn off and I then have to turn it on again and then cycle to medium. And then switching from medium to high as it gets darker and I need more light, for that few seconds from turning off to back again and cycle to high means I have to stop, do the switching dance and then get going again…it’s annoying.

    I found the High mode only gives you 1h10mins of usable light, after that there is a very sharp drop in light output. I’ve reproduced and confirmed this result later with lux meter also. So for proper usage the NU20 is perfect for roughly 1 hour of running, on high mode that is. I’ve not testedruntime on medium though as 40 Lumens is not nearly enough light for night running, in my opinion anyways. So I judge and review this headlamp purely based on its performance on “High”. Personally I don’t like Lumens as a unit of measure for any light (headlamps or hand held) intended for running use and I really wish manufacturers would start publishing Lux values at various distances up to 15m preferably. As we all know 1000lumen means nothing if it’s not managed and directed properly, i.e. reflectors, lenses etc. Running on trail at night requires a well illuminated area for sufficient view of the terrain and obstacles and this is where ANSI figures fall flat on the face. 6-Hrs ANSI run time is useless if usable Lux is provided for only a fraction of that time. The addition of the on-the-go charge feature gives the NU20 a comeback for longer use, although the USB port is in completely the wrong place for this. Inserting the USB cable into the port and routing the cable to a hydration vest or shorts pocket to connect it to a small battery bank means the cable is in clear obstruction of my left eye…HUH!? The most obvious place for the USB port for on-the-go charging is surely in the side of the casing. Unless I’m missing something here?

    Some points:
    Weight: 5/5 (extremely light, could lose some more weight with a thinner headband)
    Brightness: 3/5 (bright for its size, but lacking some serious turbo)
    Run time: 1/5 (enough for a short run, but not nearly enough for a more serious night run)
    Comfort: 5/5 (barely noticeable on your head)
    Innovation: 4/5 (some nice features but docking a point for the position of the USB port)
    In Total: 18/25

    In conclusion, the NU20 is a very welcome addition to the Trail running scene and even for training runs on the road. IMHO this really is the perfect everyday headlamp for any runner spending up to 1hour in the dark, road or trail. To my surprise, the NU20 has knocked my current favourite, my Petzl Tikka RXP to the drawer for the majority of my runs. It’s not without its limitations though: usage past the 1hour mark means you’ll have to carry a battery bank to charge it with if you don’t mind having your left eye obscured by the USB cable.
    Last edited by Rekkie; 01-07-2017 at 07:08 AM.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Nitecore NU20 Review

    Great Review, Rekkie! Good pics, plus you get points for the funny final pic of you glaring at a USB cable that is where it shouldn't be.

    I just got mine today, and I second all of your judgments. I had not minded the UI, until you pointed out that switching from M to H or H to M will require a period of total off in between. Yes--that's not ideal.

    I also think it is not robust enough for hard use--in particular, the pivots that hold it into the bracket, and the bracket itself, look like they would not hold up well to life in a pocket or life in a back-pack, unless they were protected by a padded bag or the like. But it's so small that you could put it in a small bubble-wrap case and still have a very small item. (I agree that the head-band is disproportionally large and heavy--you could save a lot of bulk and a bit of weight by swapping that for a thinner piece of elastic ribbon.)

    I got two copies of the light today, and immediately modified one by removing the reflector. That way the beam has no hot-spot at all, which my wife prefers for running, since there is no bouncing ball out in front of you. Now she can try each way--with and without reflector--and see which she prefers.

    The mod was fairly easy--the only hard part is carefully, gradually un-gluing the back cover. It's the normal experience with plastic that has been glued or welded along seams--you have to start somewhere, and then separate the seam carefully without cracking anything. There is a post on the back cover that holds the rubber USB boot in place, so don't break that while you are working around the edge.

    After you have the back cover off, then there are two #0 Philips screws that hold the circuit board into the shell. Remove those, and everything comes out: the battery and the circuit board come right out, and the reflector will probably come along with them. It is press-fitted into the circuit board with two posts that serve to center it around the emitter. Finally, the reflector presses against an O-ring which holds the glass lens in place. Without the reflector to keep it in place, it falls right out, so I put a very thin layer of superglue around the inside of the plastic window-frame and glued the lens in place.

    Voila--an NU20 mule.

    Overall, I like the light a lot. Incredibly small and light. Not a replacement for a serious headlamp like a ZL H600 series, but it fills a niche for a tiny, lightweight runners lamp for people doing an hour run at night who want to minimize weight and hassle.

  3. #3
    A&Q Moderator
    Woods Walker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Nitecore NU20 Review

    Looks great. I can run with 30 lumens but then again don't run fast as often do so with a pack. What is up with the USB placement? I kinda want one even though.
    The TK20. Yes it still rocks.

  4. #4
    Flashaholic* KITROBASKIN's Avatar
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    Default Re: Nitecore NU20 Review

    Thanks for the good information. Was it mentioned that there is a battery state of charge indicator?

    Is it long term comfortable on the head? 1-2 hours? Indefinitely?

    Still do not understand the medium/high brief blackout. Is there is a video somewhere? How long is it dark between those modes?

    After seeing the clever picture of the obscuring USB cord, it was also amusing to see the visual on the Nitecore website describing on-the-go charging...

    RETAINS ALL FUNCTIONALITY DURING CHARGING PROCESS

    http://flashlight.nitecore.com/product/nu20

  5. #5

    Default Re: Nitecore NU20 Review

    Quote Originally Posted by lampeDépêche View Post
    Great Review, Rekkie! Good pics, plus you get points for the funny final pic of you glaring at a USB cable that is where it shouldn't be. ...
    Lol, my first(and last) ever selfie. Think I'll try magic tape over the lens instead, think you'll loose some OTF light by removing the reflector. I agree it does feel a bit flimsy(ish), but I've really tried to abuse the NU20 as much I would under normal use and so far it held up fine. But then again I've got some OCD when it comes to handling and packing things away.

    Quote Originally Posted by Woods Walker View Post
    Looks great. I can run with 30 lumens but then again don't run fast as often do so with a pack. What is up with the USB placement? I kinda want one even though.
    I found the 40 Lumen mode is OK(ish) for running on the road/pavements where you have some light already, but it's a bit too dimm for the trails to my liking. On a slow ascent it's fine, but flat, technical and downhill sections it's a no-no for me. That's why I wish they had a mid-mode 120lumen or so. I've got a 90deg angled USB cord coming in the mail I want to try, hopefully it doesn't obscure my eye then. The included cable could've been a 90deg one.

    Quote Originally Posted by KITROBASKIN View Post
    Thanks for the good information. Was it mentioned that there is a battery state of charge indicator?
    Is it long term comfortable on the head? 1-2 hours? Indefinitely?
    Still do not understand the medium/high brief blackout. Is there is a video somewhere? How long is it dark between those modes?
    After seeing the clever picture of the obscuring USB cord, it was also amusing to see the visual on the Nitecore website describing on-the-go charging...RETAINS ALL FUNCTIONALITY DURING CHARGING PROCESS
    http://flashlight.nitecore.com/product/nu20
    Yes. I haven't been able to wear it for longer than 1h20mins or so due to the battery life and me using it on high mostly, but comfort is A+, barely noticeable due to it's light weight. I'll make a short video of the brief blackout. It's not much, maybe a second or two depending on how fast you a can click the button. It is however "long" enough that you're left without clear vision of your path for a brief moment. Also as your eyes adjust to the light from bright to "off" it increases that blackout time. At least for me it feels long enough to warrant a short break in stride, because with my luck that will be the exact moment I trip over something,roll an ankle or hit my head on a branch.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Nitecore NU20 Review

    The 90 degree USB cable is a good idea. Let us know how it works out.
    The TK20. Yes it still rocks.

  7. #7
    Enlightened dwong's Avatar
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    Default Re: Nitecore NU20 Review

    Thanks for the nice review, hope the CRI version will have less hotspot.

    That usb cord... LOL
    I see the atoms free and fine, That bubble like a sparkling wine;I see the songs Electrons sing, Jumping from ring to outer ring;
    -Lister, The Physicist

  8. #8

    Default Re: Nitecore NU20 Review

    Good review that covers the practical aspects solidly. Your runtime observations are exactly what I expected from reading between the lines of the specs. I think it's hard to fault the runtime given how small the light is. The lack of clarity on how the ANSI spec affects the utility is the real problem...Nitecore sets themselves up to disappoint their customers with that.

    It sounds like for that first hour the output is very consistent, however, and that is good.

    Good points about the mode spacing. That makes a lot of sense.

    It appears that Nitecore didn't give any real thought to this light being used in conjunction with a power pack, despite giving it the ability to operate while charging.

    The non-replaceable battery* gives me some pause, but if you think about it, if you get 300 cycles out of this light, your cost is only $0.10 per use. Considering how uniquely small it is, I could definitely live with that if I decided I need an ultralight headlamp.

    * Lampedepeche figured out how to access the battery, but the glue (no doubt helpful for sealing) indicates that was not intended, so I doubt Nitecore intends to sell replacements.

  9. #9

    Default Re: Nitecore NU20 Review

    Quote Originally Posted by iamlucky13 View Post
    Lampedepeche figured out how to access the battery, but the glue (no doubt helpful for sealing) indicates that was not intended, so I doubt Nitecore intends to sell replacements.
    Yeah,
    I think that's right--you'll get a few hundred charges out of it, and then toss it out. The battery pack is soldered in.
    One point, though--the battery pack of the light I opened said "610 mAh". So the 600 figure is actually slightly conservative, which is good.

  10. #10
    Flashaholic* Overclocker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Nitecore NU20 Review

    nice borg implant

  11. #11
    A&Q Moderator
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    Default Re: Nitecore NU20 Review

    They sell the angled USB cords for right or left angle. Wonder which would be best. I always get that mixed up when looking at photos. They also have a double angle. Wonder if those work.
    The TK20. Yes it still rocks.

  12. #12

    Default Re: Nitecore NU20 Review

    I ordered one based on the product picture so hopefully it'll work.

  13. #13

    Default Re: Nitecore NU20 Review

    Quote Originally Posted by Overclocker View Post
    nice borg implant

    I was just thinking that would make a good Halloween costume. Just walk around saying "We are borg. You will be illuminated."

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