Friday, September 16, 2016

NITECORE TM03 (2800Lm/18650/Cree XHP70) Review +Outdoor Beamshots

Nitecore has added a new interesting flashlight to its Tiny Monster series lights.
The new flashlight is the TM03-a single 18650 powered,equipped with a big and powerful Cree XHP70 LED.
The model is just a little larger than a regular 18650 flashlight,but is stated to be the brightest 18650 tactical flashlight,in stock form. The TM03 is capable of 2800 lumens maximum output,according to the provided technical data.
How a so powerful and relatively compact flashlight performs in real use? Read in the following review,and enjoy the numerous beam shots,including taken outdoors.

The TM03 comes well packed and protected in a sturdy cardboard box.
The only spare part is a single red color O-ring(note that the flashlight has two o-rings for sealing the tail).
In the box will find also-warranty card,instruction sheet,good holster and specially designed for the TM03 IMR 18650 battery,which should ensure proper 'feeding' of the XHP LED!

Here is the included holster.From my experience,compared to other brands,Nitecore offers good holsters for its flashlights,but not the best for the particular model.
I think the case here confirms my opinion. The holster looks good initially-Thick cap,various options for attaching it,including Velcro tape on the back. However,once the flashlight is in the holster,we see that the holster is too narrow to allow inserting the TM03 with the head first. You have to keep the flashlight with the reflector up. The cap/cover on its side is a little shorter than I would prefer. Overall the holster is good,but not so well balanced for this particular flashlight.
Yet,holster is always a plus for the brand,as there are examples of flashlights with no holsters included in the standard set.

Size comparison-
18650 battery,Nitecore TM03,Nitecore MH27,Nitecore EC4,Fenix PD35.
Weight with a battery-
Nitecore TM03 260gr. / MH27 223gr. / EC4S 274gr.
Black anodizing with matte finish. Six cooling fins. Knurling more aggressive than the knurling of the MH27.

The TM03 is slightly longer with visibly thick battery tube.
Head diameter is the same 40mm as the MH27 and the EC4/S and many other flashlights,as well.
This allows you to use the same reflectors and diffusers on different models.
Definitely a great news for people that already have some 40mm color filters and diffusers.

The TM03 features the already popularized dual switch tail-cap design. It is a combination of hard forward clicky switch and soft momentary switch.
The 'physical' clicky switch takes care of the ON/OFF operation. Momentary On is possible.
The second hexagonal shape switch is actually the cover of the mode switch,which partly can be seen under the made of metal cover. The second switch is not as high as the primary switch and the metal cover helps for its easier operation. Can be pressed with different zones of the finger

Below are excerpts of the original Nitecore TM03 instruction sheet.
Please read carefully the Precautions section,as it explains situations that may occur in use.

It is important to note that the driver will not allow you to increase the brightness,once battery voltage is below 3.7V. This is a good precaution of over-discharging the battery.The voltage of almost empty battery will fall quickly if you try to draw the maximum possible from it.
If you use the TM03 with a different from the dedicated 18650 battery,some functions will be inactive-will not be possible to activate Turbo mode,in order to protect a non IMR battery.

The standby time is should be approximately one year. The TM03 uses a quick activation secondary switch,which does not cut the main power from the battery.This means,it will take some current from the battery. I tried to measure the standby current,but did not manage to take measurement and can't provide data regarding parasitic drain.

The TM03 stays comfortably in the hand. The designers have done a great job with the knurling and all the additional grooves. There is plenty of relief to ensure stable grip.
A tactical grip ring seems not needed here,yet I am somewhat disappointed to find that a special grip ring for the TM03 is not included.
Even without an addition grip ring,I am able to hold the TM03 with a cigar grip,as only the weight of the flashlight can cause some difficulty.
There are two channels on the body that seem made for a pocket clip attaching. However,there is no such included in the set.

Animated picture of the beautiful textured reflector and the powerful Cree XHP LED.
The LED seems perfectly centered.

Nitecore TM03 features Cree XHP LED coupled with a dual zone aluminum textured reflector.
As a result of their physical characteristics,most big LEDs like the XHP70 used here,have inconsistent light emission throughout the whole range of their beam. This is mostly a result of their multi-core design,as there is always some gap between the cores,leaving less bright zones in the reflected beam.
To reduce the multi-core effect on the beam,Nitecore has equipped the TM03 with a dual zone textured reflector-a reflector with two zones with a different pattern textures.
The reflector is very deep,as well.About 40mm depth.
It is hard to say from looking at it,but the reflector may have also different angles of the two zones,for better mixing the light.
As usual,the front lens is made of toughened,ultra-clear glass with high quality anti-reflective coating.
The TM03 comes with a blue plastic protector foil stuck to the glass-this is the first time I see taken some care for keeping the lens clean until it reaches its end user.

Reflector comparison-
Nitecore TM03(XHP70)-Nitecore MH27(XP-L Hi)-Nitecore EC4S(XHP50)-Fenix PD35(XM-L2)

Closer look at the dedicated 18650 IMR battery and comparison with a protected Keeppower 18650 battery. The Nitecore NI18650D also has built-in protection circuit. The battery also has two contact points at the top. The standard center positive contact and second negative pole ring.
The second negative pole tells the driver when the inserted battery is not the dedicated high drain battery.
It is hard to dig deeper in to the full functions of the additional negative ring.
It is important to note that sometimes the negative contact may touch the positive point of the charger.
You have to take a little more care to properly insert the battery in the charger.

A look at the tail end. The battery tube has increased thickness,which should ensure better impact resistance.
As you may noticed from the picture,the TM03's tail-cap does not allow tail-standing.

The TM03 can be disassembled on two main parts. The head is a whole part with the battery tube.
This improves the heat transfer from the LED to the whole flashlight making it more efficient.
Sending more heat to the battery tube means,that the battery may get hot and the comfortable grip may be affected as well,with the heat spread to the whole aluminum body.

Nitecore TM03 is the first flashlight with two sealing O-rings that I test,from long time ago.
The presence of a second O-ring will definitely increase the sealing of the tailcap.
But,in terms of comfort,the additional O-ring seem to make screwing the tailcap much more difficult than usual. Strong grip is needed to be able to screw/unscrew the tailcap.
Anodized rectangular cut threads.
Thick and firm tail spring. It leaves deep marking on the battery's bottom plate.

Using a dedicated battery for the TM03 requires a special design of the contact points.
The 18650 battery prepared for Nitecore TM03 has two contact points on the top.
There is also a second contact point/ring in the battery tube,with one of the features to not allow the use of a regular,low energy battery(which may damage it). The TM03's battery also has built-in protection circuit placed on the top.

Close up of the tail switches.
The secondary switch is made of metal,as well as the two pins holding it from the sides.

User Interface

Below is the full user interface explanation in details,taken from the user manual.
It is quite well explained and I will not reproduce it.

The second mode/quick Turbo(Strobe) button is well positioned and sufficient in size,but I found it very hard to find it by touch if I don't keep the flashlight in certain position in my hand,as shown in the animated picture above.
The main switch is easy to press from any position. The On/Off operation is comfortable.

Sometimes if I press it rapidly few times fast,the driver does change the mode. However if I release/press it again once,it activates the Turbo mode successfully. As far as I understand from the user manual,this is a result of the lowered battery voltage after repeatedly activating Turbo mode.

According to the specifications,the TM03 features temperature regulation,which takes care of maintaining optimal working temperature and preventing overheating.

In my Run time test,I tested the TM03 on Turbo and High modes.
I tested the Turbo mode two times-once with a cooling fan,which helps for seeing the optimum performance,when the heat is quickly taken out of the cooling fins.
In the second test I left the TM03 without any additional cooling for period of 20 minutes,at ambient temperature of about 26C.
First graph presents comparison between Turbo and High mode.
According to my testing equipment the TM03 went to a little over 3000 lumens initial output,which is surely impressive for a single 18650 flashlight.
The driver start to decrease the output after about 2 and a half minutes on Turbo mode.
It seems very soon and may wonder new to powerful flashlights users,but for people with experience,this is an absolutely expected step. Even 1000Lm 18650 flashlights get hot quickly,if not used in cold ambient temperature. The 2800 lumen Nitecore TM03 gets very hot after this 2.5 minutes,as I could say that the heat level makes the flashlight very 'uncomfortable' to hold without gloves.
In my test,the TM03 decreased the brightness as stated in the manual,to about 1/4 of the initial output.
It sustained this level for 70 minutes,until the battery became empty.
Even the external air cooling the flashlight stayed hot for 20 minutes 20 minutes after the step down.
The output was not increased again,after the temperature was lowered to a normal level,as stated in the manufacturers datasheet.
High mode started at about 1700 lumens and lasted on similar output for a little over 20 minutes.
Because of the longer run on relatively high output the overall run-time was shorter than the Turbo run-time.

My lumen measurements:
Turbo= 3100 Lm initial/ 3030 after 30sec
High= 1640 Lm
Mid= 535 Lm
Low= 51 Lm

Battery voltage after Turbo test 3,36V.
Battery voltage after High mode test 3,3V.
I did not wait long enough to see if the flashlight has low voltage protection,however the battery has built in protection and I assume it has the needed over-discharge protection circuit.

Below is a comparison graph of the first 20 minutes Turbo mode with and without additional Fan cooling applied.
As you can see from the picture below,in my test the difference is too little to be of serious importance.
Ambient temperature 26C.
Outdoors,in very cold weather the TM03 may perform differently.


The LED produces Cool white light,as the different zones of the beam have slightly different tint.
The center is well defined bright hotspot with cooler looking light compared to the rest of the beam.
The spill is quite wide with yellowish ring at the periphery. There is also wide corona between the spill and the hotspot.
I can see also a darker pattern in the center of the hotspot,which is pretty much expected from the combination of a big light source in a relatively small reflector. The type of the LED also affect the beam.
The multi-core XHP70 has its artifact effect,even the complex reflector.
Anyway,the main goal in the TM03 is the very high output,so some 'imperfections' are usually acceptable.
Especially if you use the flashlight outdoors in a variable surface,the difference in the beam will be much less visible.
You can see the beam in outdoor action,below in the beamshots section of the review.


1 meter 1/500s

1meter 1/1600s

3 meters 1/6sec

3 meters 1/50sec

3 meters 1/250sec

3 meters 1/1000sec


pointed down

pointed up

Good points:
Excellent machining,finish and build quality; Good implementation of the dual switch design; Good user interface;Very high initial brightness; Good throw with bright spill; Quick access to Turbo mode; Quick access to Strobe mode; Color filters and diffusers from previous models can be used;

Weak points:
High brightness,but for short period;Gets hot very quickly to a level you can not longer hold it;Cool white light; There is some compromise high brightness/beam pattern; No direct access to the lowest mode;
Tail-standiing is not possible;No hole for a lanyard;

My overall impression of Nitecore TM03 is very good. Build quality is on the expected high level. No problems with the anodized surface.Absolutely clean reflector with perfectly centered LED.
Impressively bright. I prefer a grip ring option for a tactical flashlight,but I really don't feel it needed on this model. The body is quit well designed to ensure stable grip.
Operating Nitecore TM03 is easy and gives you the feel for a serious,really powerful illumination device in your hand. It performs great outdoors with its flood beam with good throw.
The beam has its small imperfections,but as I already said,they are mostly acceptable when the main goal is maximum output from a single 18650 flashlight. I would prefer a Neutral white light for my TM03,but according to Nitecore first samples will be with a cool white LED. A NW version will be possibly released in the future(after the review).
The runtime performance is expected knowing the physical limits of the flashlight and should not surprise anyone. My recommendation though,is for better implementation of a thermal regulating circuit,which will allow the output to react more actively.

Thanks for Reading!
Thanks to Nitecore for providing the TM03 for test and review!


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  2. thank you great review I just purchased this to use as an on duty light will be making a kydex holster for it

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