BioLite BaseLantern XL Review
Cons: Some features can be temperamental, expensive
Our Analysis and Test Results
We had a lot of fun with this light. It elevates a basic lantern into the generation of the internet-of-things, which we recognize isn't for everyone. Even if you choose to use this light without the smartphone app, it still offers a good set of basic features, not least of which is a good, bright light. It's not super practical for backpacking, but it performs admirably in large spaces and brings a little extra flair to the night.
Shining at 500 lumens, the BaseLantern XL lights up large spaces fairly well. We put it to work in the dark, using it as the primary light source in rooms up to 24' x 12'. On a counter in the center of the space, it kept all four corners bright enough to do most tasks.
The light quality is kind of harsh though. The Biolite app allows you to adjust the warmth of the light, adding in more blue or yellow, depending on your preference. Even at its warmest, we still found that the BaseLantern XL never really let us forget that it was a LED behemoth. Because it is so bright, it is also difficult to look at or over it. We preferred to use just 180 degrees of light and set it off to the side, rather than place it at the center of the action.
The weight of this product is the downfall of its durability. Though it's more water repellent than it looks, if the BaseLantern XL is dropped (or falls off a branch) onto a hard surface, we suspect that the brittle light cover would crack. It's hefty, it's just not that outdoorsy. Having said that, it does come with an IPX4 rating, meaning that it can withstand splashing water from all directions.
This lantern comes with a laundry list of features. It can also be connected inline to Biolite's string light systems. It charges via micro USB and has two USB charge out ports. The BaseLantern XL reliably and quickly charged phones and tablets (50% in 1 hour 15 minutes, 100% in just under 3 hours for an iPhone 6), though it was sometimes finicky about whether or not the light needed to be on to start charging devices (it could always be turned off once the lantern recognized the device).
Download the free Biolite app to your Android or iOS smartphone and it automatically pairs your device to the lantern via Bluetooth. Once the lantern is connected, it's game on. The user interface of the app is mostly taken up by a large power button, which you can also 'rotate' to adjust the brightness of the lantern. There's a slider at the bottom of the screen that enables you either to adjust the warmth of the white light mode or select the color in rainbow mode.
The screen also indicates whether or not the lantern is charging any devices as well as the amount of runtime left in the lantern, which adjusts depending on the mode and brightness selected. Our testing suggested though that even slight changes to the settings could dramatically change this reading. In one instance, we had it jump from almost 91 hours to 27 hours a minute after plugging in a phone.
You can also control whether it shines 180 or 360 degrees of light. The app also unlocks what we called 'party time': pulse, strobe and chill modes as well as the ability to sync the flashing pattern to the beat rate of music, though again, we found this feature to be temperamental and inconsistent. There is a lot in there, but not all of it is totally necessary. If you just need the basics and want them to work well, the Black Diamond Apollo is still your best bet.
Ease of Use
The base features are relatively straightforward. Once the lantern is charged, you can control the light modes using the power button on the lantern itself. Press once to turn on either color mode, 180- or 360 degrees of white light. Wait a couple of seconds and press the power button again to turn it off. Holding the button down in any of the modes also dims or brightens the light. The trick is that the lantern will 'remember' which mode it was last in before it was turned off, so the order of the settings may appear to be different even though it's running through the same three modes.
The legs fold down easily and can adjust to either keep the lantern upright or angled up or down. The legs also act as a loop to hang the lantern on a tree, however, the product is so heavy that we had trouble finding branches above head height that it wouldn't pull down or slide off of.
We found the BaseLantern XL to be clunky and inelegant. Though its two metal legs fold up compactly, at almost 1.5 pounds this thing is designed to stay at basecamp instead of in your pack. Even setting that aside, it's just not particularly nice to look at — its form seems out of step with its function.
The Biolite BaseLantern XL is pricey. Its price tag makes it by far the most expensive lantern in this review. Though it has tons of features, we just aren't convinced that a lantern needs everything that this one offers.
It's an ambitious product, but at the end of the day, a lantern just doesn't need to be like this. It's bright, which is what you want a light this size to be, but the suite of features that the app makes available just set us up to be let down. Some of them are cool for sure, but sometimes when we just needed it to be a light, the BaseLantern XL was too busy convincing us we wanted a dance party.
— Ben Applebaum-Bauch