- 4 / 5 Bee's Knees -
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this years riding season has been quickly approaching its end. Thankfully for me, two products up for review are an exciting new take on bike lights with the promise of user-rich personalized features. On the surface, the Magicshine MJ-900B certainly appears mostly unchanged from its older brother the 900. However, the addition of the “B” designator to this model adds a plethora of new features which distinguishes it from the older version.
General design elements remain the same. A single emitter XML2 from Cree is housed within an ultra-compact, ultra-light housing. The housing has seen a small change with the addition of a black coating to the aluminum elements for a uniform look. Nothing more than a single rubber strap is needed to secure the light to a set of bars thanks to the lights scant weight and protective silicone padding.
One major revision to the product is the battery and its features. For this model and other new models, the battery doubles as a portable charger for small USB devices such as your phone or cyclometer/GPS. Charging a device is accomplished by connecting a device to the output USB and selecting the charge button. This button also serves to illuminate three lights which display the remaining charge of the main battery. Additionally, the battery and power cord can be separated (a dust cover is included to prevent damage to the contacts) and the battery becomes even more suited as a portable charger. While riding, the end cap/cover can remain in place and a user can press directly on the rubber end to display the remaining charge. A thinner section of rubber allows the three lights to illuminate through the cover to eliminate the need for removal. As a final note, the connection between the power cord and light has been greatly improved. The amount of effort needed to separate the two has been significantly reduced but a flexible boot still promotes a water-tight seal. All of the changes made to the battery are a massive success. While I cannot confirm the exact construction of the old batteries, the new ones house LG (brand) batteries for more reliability and better performance.
Adding Bluetooth compatibility and a customizing app is what truly brings this light into the 21st century. Users can connect multiple lights to the iOS/Android compatible app and build light setting profiles for each light. Within each profile a rider can edit the type of light setting including constant, SOS, flash or strobe, as well as the output of each setting. Output for a given setting can be selected in 1% intervals from 1%-100%. Having this flexibility gives riders the freedom to program these profiles or “scenes” as Magicshine calls them thereby creating tailored setups for any riding theater. For examples sake, during general MTB riding you may build a profile with only constant settings of 15%, 60%, 70%, 80%, 90% and 100%. For MTB racing you may only want a couple settings, say 60% and 100%. For road cycling and commuting you may opt for a different profile entirely. One may consist of constants from 25%-100% but also include a dim nighttime flash of 15% and a blistering 100% strobe for daytime use. Again, the customization of these lights is ground breaking and establishes features that all lights will need to offer in the future to be competitive with each other. Additionally, the app worked flawlessly on an iOS platform, never crashing and always offering a very intuitive and responsive experience.
Operation of the light is equally as easy compared to use of the app. Directly from the light, a user can cycle the unit on/off as well as change the output setting within a given set profile. Unfortunately, you cannot cycle between profiles/scenes from the light itself. In order to change the profile you need to connect the device to your smartphone and change it within the app. This is of course very easy but not as quick as if it were available directly on the light body or battery. Tactile feedback from the power button is sharp and glove-friendly. This button is also backlit when the remaining charge of the system drops below 30%. Light shaking is completely non-existent thanks to the lights minimal weight. All testing was performed in a bar setup, helmet mounting could be easily accomplished with an extension cable. The overall cable length is ample for mounting the battery to your toptube or downtube but little else.
Light output for this 1,000 light is interesting to say the least. The beam pattern has a notable center spot with a gradual transition to a soft flood. When run alone, the light has a fair amount of light spread but isn’t as wide as others. One inherent issue associated with the light is its tendency to cast shadows from brake/shift cables. This is a result of the lower mounting position on the handlebars. The advantage of this again is the lack of light shaking by keeping the mass low. Burning the light on 100% is a must on tight single track trails. Wider trails and open roads allow for use of nearly any output although the higher outputs are more welcomed. Overall the design of the light seems to cater more to MTBing than road biking due to the external battery setup, yet the beam pattern is much more usable in a road environment as are all of the programmable flash settings. The 900B (vs the 902B or 906B) has a significantly more compact battery which does make road use more palatable.
For the 900B, a smartphone controllable app and vastly improved battery completely devastates its predecessors along with much of the competition. The usability of the app as well as the features it affords are truly ground breaking. If there is a problem with the 900B, it must be that it is in an awkward spot for output and beam style. Again, since most external battery setups are more MTB driven, you would expect this light to be ideal as a MTB light and acceptable as a road light. However, in a MTB setting I was left wanting a bit more output and a significantly wider beam pattern (for tight trails). As is always the case, in a road environment, I was annoyed by the cables, but the output and beam pattern was acceptable. In summation, the MJ-900B is a remarkable bike light with features that ought to be found on every light manufactured from here on out. If the beam pattern were more usable for MTBing or if the output were slightly greater, I’d have to review this light with little or no complaints. All that said, the price point of this product is remarkably low and it is tough to be too critical at the price. Check out the review of the 902B and hopefully the 906B in the future here on Subjective Cyclist to select the one that’s right for you.