Coleman CPX 6 quad Camping Lantern
7th Nov 2014
Every now and then somebody invents something quite clever and this is one of those things. Essentially it's a large camping lantern that will light a table, cooking area or tent during the evening, but when people start to disappear off to bed they can remove one of the four light panels and take them with them.
First off it's big. Think standard gas lantern in height, but about as wide as a side plate (actual dimensions are 29.7cm high. 16.6cm diameter). with it's battery in it's a whopping 2.16kg, so not something you will take backpacking unless you are a glutton for punishment. It's cylindrical, with the four light panels each wrapping a quarter of the way around. Each one has a large grab handle and a button that you use with your thumb, whilst holding the handle, to remove the panel from the base unit. It's heavy enough that you can do this one handed. Each panel has an array of 6 LEDs, so that's 24 in total. There's a master power button on the top which turns on all 4 panels at the same time. There's also a fold-away handle to carry and hang the whole unit with, tucked into the top. The battery compartment is in the base. This compartment comes with a plastic cover and houses 4 D Cell batteries, or a rechargeable power pack. The cover is easily removed by pressing a couple of clips with thumb and forefinger. If the power pack is in place the cover becomes redundant. The power pack is removed in the same manner as the cover. If using the power pack there's a rubber flap that covers an input socket for the mains charger. It's water resistant, though not water proof.
It's certainly bright. Bright enough to light a large camp area well enough to cook by. Whether you are using the 4 panels together on the main unit, or the panels individually, pressing the button to turn them on puts them on a maximum brightness. Pushing again reduced the brightness and prolongs the battery life, and pressing again turns them off. Sounds simple. Sadly it's not quite so. I've not used the thing with the D Cell batteries, so am only commenting on its use with the power pack. With all four units in place the buttons work as you'd expect, but towards the end of the charge, the master button will not turn the main unit on despite the fact that individual panels can be turned on if removed from the unit. It's not possible to control the individual panels whilst they are attached to the unit as their switches are on the rear. I don't know why they haven't designed this so that you can control individual panels. The way I have been using it, the light gets by far the majority of its use with all four panels in place, as a general camp light, with the panels being used individually for a short time before bed.
Another frustration is the fact that the charging cable, which is 2m long, so clearly intended to be able to be used to power the light from the mains as well as to charge the pack, projects out the bottom meaning that you can't stand the thing upright whilst charging. I can understand why the socket needs to be on the base in order to keep things water resistant, but a recessed socket and groove for the cable would have been a very simple solution.
I am surprised that there is no flashing mode. Nearly every LED I have ever seen has a flashing mode and, whilst it's pretty rare to think that you'd need one, it may be useful one day to be able to attract attention and set it flashing.
I am surprised also that there isn't any sort of light built in to the base unit which means that if you remove all four panels the base, which still has the power pack, has no light.
I haven't mentioned it as it should be obvious, but each of the panels has its own built in rechargeable battery which is charged from the main power pack when the panels are docked to the base. Although there is an LED on the power pack to tell you when it is fully charged, this only lights up when plugged into the mains, and there is no indication on the 4 panels what state their batteries are in. Some sort of battery indicator on the base and the 4 panels would have been a super useful addition.
The run time is quoted at 37 hours when in lantern mode with all four panels attached. This is in the low mode, and s substantially less when on high. Good enough for a single evening's camping, but probably not enough for two without a re-charge. The individual panels will shine on the high setting for 3 hours each before they need docking to suck another charge from the base.
Retailing at £79.99 this is a very clever bit of kit, but one that is in its first generation and in need of quite a few minor tweaks to make it better. It's very good, and works exactly as described, but could so easily be so much better. As batteries become stronger and LEDs better I can see this device becoming the standard car boot camping light, with a USB charging socket for phones and cameras to boot.