Is a small, slim and compact lamp better to work with than a traditional inspection lamp? I test some of the best LED Slimline lamps to find out.
We’ve already tested a selection of head torches and inspection lamps, however, the next generation of illumination equipment appears to be small, slim and adjustable. Perfect for your routine car maintenance.
We’re talking compact, folding lamps – many of which you can clip to, or carry in, your pocket. You can also fold them out, secure them to a metal surface, or hang them up to illuminate whichever part of the car you require.
So, are they as handy as they sound? Here’s what I thought about some of the best LED slimline lamps that you can buy today.
At a glance:
- Best Buy: Ring MAGflex Pivot. RRP: £39.99. Not available in the US. Buy the Ring MAGflex Pivot here.
- Best Budget Buy: Laser Foldable Inspection Lamp. RRP: $30/£27.13.Buy Laser Foldable Inspection Lamp now.
- Recommended: Sealey SlimFlex LED1801. RRP: £74.94. Not available in the US. Buy Sealey SlimFlex here.
How I tested these products
I considered using a points scoring system to assess our range of lamps, awarding marks for battery life on minimum and maximum settings and maximum lumens output. I also deducted points for recharge time and price (i.e. the lower these amounts, the fewer points were taken off). And I awarded points for having more light settings, a greater reach, a quick method of switching off, a battery indicator and a universal charge lead (micro USB). However, I discovered some categories were subjective and helped to unfairly boost the total points for certain products.
Caveats to consider
For instance, I found the recommended prices varied too much, with some manufacturers sticking to their recommended retail values, whereas others relied on the cheapest offer on Amazon, so I decided to remove this category from the points table. When it came to awarding the Best Budget Buy, this was an equally tough decision, which was based on features, performance and average price.
Although our points scoring method helped to rank the lamps on test, it couldn’t cater for opinions on how easy each lamp was to use – such as whether it could be easily positioned inside an engine bay or over a brake caliper. So I spent several months using these lamps in various workshops to discover their uses, plus points and niggling faults.
We also cannot cater for the needs of individuals. For instance, I spoke to several mechanics, many of whom seem to prefer a sturdy and reasonably compact lamp with a strong magnetic base. The smallest and lightest lamps I tested didn’t appeal to them, possibly because they feared they would be too fragile and too easy to lose. Such opinions were the opposite to those of most of our editorial team, who prefer a lightweight, compact and slim lamp for transporting and positioning in tight spots.
Best LED Slimline Lamps
Ring MAGflex Pivot
Award: Best Buy.
RRP: £39.99. Not available in the US. Buy the Ring MAGflex Pivot here.
This is powered by a 3.7-volt 2.6Ah lithium-ion battery, which powers an 80 lumens torch on the tip and a 400 lumens bank of LEDs on the folding arm. Taking up to four hours to fully charge, the torch should last for 12 hours, whereas the main lamp lasts for three hours. Ring supplies a special power lead for recharging the lamp’s battery, unlike most other products that use a universal micro-USB lead. A series of four blue lights on the back of the lamp display the state of the battery when the lamp is in use, and indicate when the battery is fully-charged during a recharge.
You control the lamp’s main LEDs via a rotating wheel on the back of the body. The rotating wheel means you don’t have to operate the lamp at maximum brightness, which helps to extend the battery life. Measuring a mere 125mm in length when folded and 232mm when extended, Ring’s MAGflex Pivot is a compact folding lamp that’s small enough to be carried in a pocket.
With a magnetic base/back, metal hook and a 180° swiveling arm, every position is covered when it comes to illuminating objects inside an engine bay or wheel arch. This is one of only two of the slim lamps we’re testing that have magnets on the back of the body – the other being Sealey’s SlimFlex. It was tough deciding our favorite of the two, with Ring winning for being smaller, cheaper and having a display for the state of battery, despite losing points for not having a universal charge lead and a torch switch that’s too easy to catch and accidentally switch on. You may think otherwise.
Laser Foldable Inspection Lamp
AWARD: Best Budget Buy.
RRP: $30/£27.13. Buy now.
This compact, foldable inspection lamp measures 148mm in length when folded and 270mm when extended. It’s powered by a 2Ah lithium-ion battery, which is recharged via a micro USB lead and takes three hours to fully recharge. A series of four blue lights on the back of the lamp’s body show the state of charge of the battery when the lamp is in use, and also indicate its status when recharging.
A single LED on the end of the foldable arm provides a torch, and there’s another strip of LEDs that provide up to 550 lumens of illumination. The arm of the lamp not only folds out, it also swivels 180°, so it covers every angle of illumination. I found the magnetic base was one of the weakest on test, but sufficient to hold the lamp in position on a variety of metal surfaces, unless they were particularly uneven.
The torch should provide illumination for up to four hours, whereas there are no details concerning how long the 550 lumens strip of LEDs should last for. So, I tested this and found that 2hrs 10mins was roughly the limit.
A rubber-coated switch on the back needs to be pressed several times to choose between two levels of brightness for the torch and three for the strip of LEDs, plus a red strobe and red light, which may prove useful in the event of a vehicle breakdown. The switch needs a firm press with a finger, so there’s little risk of accidentally switching it on if it’s stored in a bag or pocket.
Sealey SlimFlex LED1801
RRP: £74.94. Not available in the US. Buy Sealey SlimFlex here.
This was a favorite among many of the mechanics and those on the editorial team who used it during testing. Powered by a 3.7-volt 2.6Ah lithium-ion battery, Sealey’s compact folding inspection lamp has a 1-watt torch on the tip, which should last for up to eight hours, and 12 SMD LEDs on its folding arm, which can provide up to 500 lumens of light and last for up to three hours. Recharging takes up to four hours via a micro-USB lead, or an optional extra docking station (LED1801K).
There’s an on/off switch on the back of the lamp and this requires a firm press, so it’s not so easy to accidentally switch the torch on. You operate the main lamp via a plastic wheel on the back; simply rotate it to turn it on. The wheel also adjusts the brightness. Just like the torch, it is not easy to accidentally catch the wheel and switch on the lamp, as there is effectively a safety switch whereby the wheel clicks when the lamp is switched on before it becomes easier to operate and adjust the brightness.
The lamp’s folding arm can swivel 180°, so along with a magnetic base, back and plastic hook, it can provide illumination at all angles. One feature I particularly like is the magnetic back, which enables the lamp to secure to the underside of a bonnet, for example. This lamp and Ring’s MAGflex Pivot are the only lamps on test to offer such a feature.
Measuring nearly 300mm when fully extended and 163mm when folded, Sealey’s lamp isn’t the smallest, but it’s not far off and it provides the brightest illumination for its size and type.
Draper 7W Slimline Inspection Lamp
RRP: $120.00 / £115.34. Buy the Draper 7W Slimline here.
This is the largest foldable slim lamp on test, measuring 220mm when folded and 397mm when extended. However, the extra size equates to extra performance from a 3.7-volt, 2.6Ah inbuilt battery that powers a 700 lumens bank of COB LEDs, or the 60 lumens SMD LED torch.
With a charge time of up to four hours via a micro USB lead, the torch should last for up to 15 hours, whereas the more powerful COB LEDs at full capacity will last for only a couple of hours. Three green lights on the back of the body indicate the charge remaining in the battery, and also help during recharging.
With a foldable and swiveling arm, and a magnetic base and plastic hook alongside, there seems to be no angle this lamp can’t cope with for illuminating inside a wheel arch or engine bay. This is quite a sturdy lamp, with an IP54 rating, so it’s reasonably water resistant. The rubber and plastic exterior coating seem to be durable and we managed to get our test lamp thoroughly filthy, but it cleaned up well with an old scouring pad and some washing-up liquid.
If you need a lamp, this one is certainly worth considering.