STOP PRESS: Due to demand the See Sense front units are now available as a separate light rather than being bundled together with the rear light.
Oh this is exciting. If there’s one thing I love as much as cycling and cycling kit, it’s tech. So when you get the opportunity to test some nifty new cycling tech that’s as exciting as it gets. OK, it’s not a GPS unit, power meter or some new fangled head up display, in fact it’s just a light. But it’s a smart light and it talks to my phone. And that’s exciting.
This isn’t my first review of a See Sense light. I already own the original (well the 2.0 version). I’ve had it well over a year now and it’s been tested in some truly awful conditions. And I love it. It’s by far the most effective light I’ve ever owned. And, for something that started life on kickstarter, really very reliable. It just keeps going, I don’t charge it often. But, above all, my perception is that it keeps me safer because of all the clever things it’s doing.
If you already own an See Sense light, or have read my review of the old model you’ll know that it’s a smart light. But, for the uninitiated, it’s a bit different to most of the stuff out there. It has an accelerometer inside which senses what you’re doing. So, as you’re cycling along it flashes away happily. Brake and it starts to flash more rapidly, stop at the lights and it slows down, pull away and it flashes faster again. When you’re at tempo it adopts its normal speed. It also has a light sensor which adapts to your surroundings. Go through a tunnel and it flashes faster. When it senses headlights coming behind you it does the same. It’s not an early warning system for you, but it certainly is for others. The new one still does those things but it does an awful lot more.
The See Sense range has been overhauled with the introduction of the Icons. So out goes the original 2.0 model and in comes the new lot. As before the range consists of both front and rear models of varying powers. The range is now as follows:
- Icon+ Rear : 2 x 125 lumens
- Icon Rear : 2 x 95 lumens
- Icon+ Front : 2 x 210 lumens
- Icon Front : 2x 160 lumens
The rears are available as single units at £64.99 and £79.99 respectively. The Fronts are only available as a pack with their respective rear partner. So the normal pack is £119.99 and the + pack is £149.99. You might feel that sounds expensive. It’s certainly not cheap. But in my view they are worth it.
Before we get onto unboxing and testing I’d like to say something about warranties. You get a 12 month warranty from See Sense. That’s in addition, of course, to the statutory rights you get from the seller of the lights (where that’s someone other than See Sense themselves).
And, whilst I’ve never had any need to use See Sense’s warranty system, it’s something that other some other manufacturers should take note of. No emailing and waiting for a response Instead you register a ticket on the support website, get updates on it and can track the progress of your repair. And in the event you have a problem, or want your light serviced, it doesn’t have to go very far because your light is not just designed in Northern Ireland, it’s made there as well. That’s a great selling point in my view, you’re supporting the UK economy. So, if you’d gulped at the prices above, and I’ll tell you even more why you shouldn’t later on, then that’s one more thing to take into account.
This is a test of the base model rear. Base model. Right. Let’s be clear. In terms of lumens, and let’s not debate whether it’s social to have lights this bright, nothing gets closest this price. It’s cheaper and more powerful than an Exposure Blaze for example. And a hell of a lot smarter. Ok, it’s not made out of CNC aluminium and doesn’t have a gold plated charging port but you don’t really need those things.
WHAT’S IN THE BOX?
Well, for a start. There was a note addressed to me. Look, they didn’t have to do that. Just chuck it in the post and let me review it. It only took a few moments to write that. But, it’s just, well, nice. See Sense maintain a high level of social media presence. They respond well to queries and do so quickly. It’s a nice touch and they’ve responded very quickly to all of my technical questions.
The Icon comes nicely packaged and allows you to see what you’re getting before opening the box. Hopefully anyone browsing a bricks and mortar store will see the sticker advertising free crash and theft alerts and take a closer look.
So, in the box you get the light, of course, a short instruction manual, a card telling you that the app is on the Google play or Apple store, some “rubber band” attachments and a USB charging cable. More of that a little later.
The first thing you need to do is to pair the light to your phone via the app. You need a smartphone with Bluetooth SMART capability – this is Bluetooth v4.0.0 or higher.
The Icon currently supports Android v4.4 KitKat and Apple iOS7 and above. No Microsoft windows phone functionality then. But, come on, you bought a Windows phone? It’s worth stating that you need to a smartphone to get the best out of the Icon but, even without one, the power button ensures that all the other great stuff, intelligent traffic and environment sensing etc, is still present.
So first, you need to turn the light on, using the big black button, so that it’s ready to pair. Don’t look at it, it’s very bright. The initial screen requires you to search for your icon. It takes a few moments to find it and then pair it. Once that’s done you get to see the screen below, which contains all the options you need. Once the light is paired, it’s paired to your phone. So no technically minded thief is going to be able to come along and pair his app to your phone in order to defeat the theft protection. See that set of three lines top left? Press that and it takes you to a box where you can enter a phone number that your phone will text in the event of a crash. Press save on that and you’re ready to go.
First things first, you’ll need to update the firmware, probably. That’s a pretty standard thing across the industry. It takes a few minutes and you’re done. See Sense will be constantly updating the firmware to include new modes and features and to iron out bugs etc. And they’ll be updating the App as well. Indeed, just as I finished writing this review my app updated to a new version.
Let’s run through what each of the options above does:
- The toggle flash mode cycles through flash, steady and off. When the light is in off mode it’s ready to wake up unless you disconnect it. A light on the Icon flashes to show that it’s still connected and ready to be turned on with another press of the app button.
- The toggle flash pattern mode changes the flash pattern of the light. There are slow flashes, alternate flashes and some ambulance type strobes. Choose whatever takes your fancy.
- The brightness setting slider starts on maximum as default. Slide the bar to the right and it gets brighter, slide it to the left to get less bright. Not rocket science!
- Then there are two toggle switches to turn on and off the theft and crash detection. You should note that when you activate crash detection the light, of course, stays on. When you activate theft detection the light turns “off” and goes to sleep. It then sends you an alert, more later, if someone tampers with your bike.
So, onto the product itself. You can see the tech going on inside. Circuit boards and sensors. The two LED’s live behind the two circular lenses just below the big black on/off button. You might be able to make out that one of lenses is depressed and the other is pimpled. No idea why but I’m sure it’s to do with varying the light pattern. The rest of the housing alternates between clear and opaque. The four allen bolts are a welcome sight. This is a light which can be easily repaired. Indeed, once it’s out of warranty, See Sense offer a £25 maintenance package which will bring your light back to factory standard. The prongs at the side of the light are to hold onto the rubber band fixings. You simply connect the rubber on one side, put your light wherever you want it to be, and stretch the rubber band round to the other side. Mine is currently mounted on a seat post. The rubber band is stretchy enough to mount the front version of this light on a head tube.
The back of the light has a rubber attachment which a) protects the charging port and b) provides a curved depressions suitable for fixing the light onto a round surface. It works readily on seat posts, handlebars and head tubes. There’s an aero mount coming for the more difficult aero seat posts. Indeed, given the lumen output, this is a light that’s likely to see some use on the daytime TT circuit. The shape is a nice middle ground and should fit onto lots of different setups. It’s probably not appropriate for a seat stay though.
The rubber mount slides out and exposes the charging port. The supplied USB charging cable is the normal micro USB. The previous version shipped with the larger mini USB. There’s nothing bespoke about the supplied cable other than it being prettier and easy to find. So you can just use a micro USB if you can’t find the supplied one. That said, the end of the micro USB part is a little larger and fits a little better into the charging port so you might want to keep hold of that one and use it wherever possible. It’s a good length as well so you won’t find your light hanging from a plug in mid air. The light is rated to IP67 standard in terms of waterproofing (and dust). Translation? That means it is totally dust protected and will live in 1 metre of water for up to 30 minutes. I haven’t tested it though See Sense have and it’s independently certified. But what counts here is simple, it will stand up to the rigours of wet weather riding. I use mine with mudguards mostly but, even if you don’t, you can be happy in the knowledge that it’s protected from the elements.
The rubber mount appears below. It simply slides out of the hole. Then slides back in again. It’s not difficult to pull in or out and is a snug fit.
So far, so good. It’s well made and seems very robust. Indeed, it seems more robust and a little more premium than its predecessor and I’ve never had a day’s trouble with that one.
So, how does it work in practice? Well, you start by turning it on at the button initially. Then, as stated above, you pair it. Once it’s paired and you’re happy with what you’ve selected then you don’t have to use your phone each time. You can just use it as a smart light. But, of course, if you want the benefit of crash protection detection you need to be paired.
The first thing to say is that it’s bright. My original one was 125 lumens from a single LED. That’s a very impressive output indeed. But it’s nothing compared to the new versions twin 95 lumen LED’s. And that’s just the base model. The next model up is 2 x 125 lumens. We could have a long debate about whether X lumens is enough and Y lumens is too much. The thing is that more lumens are better if you want to use a light in daylight. And, given what our roads are like today, it makes sense to have a daytime running light. For me I consider the 2 x 95 to be enough but you might want more. Remember though, you can have the benefit of big lumens in the day or lesser lumens at night just by using the sliding switch within the app.
It’s hard to give a proper impression because my camera isn’t great in the dark and the light will overpower it anyway. So here are some daytime shots on solid. It’s particularly useful to see this as you can see that this offers 180 degree side lighting as well as rear lighting.
So, in terms of whether this is an effective rear light I can answer that unequivocally. It’s very bright and hugely effective. It does what the original does and improves on it in terms of lumens. Where it improves is the app. No more weird Rubik’s cube type patterns to try and put it in a different flash mode. Just open the app, press a button, change the mode to what you want and forget about it. And, once you’ve done that, the phone remembers your settings and brightness levels. So you only have to use the button to turn it on and off. It’s nice to have that button. Turning the old one on was easy enough but did occasionally take more than one go. If you’re conscious of wanting less lumens at night, turn it down. If you want more in the day, turn it up. If you want even more lumens, get the next model up. If you want the ultimate set of protection then get the front one as well.
Remember that the other beauty of the Icon’s smart sense capabilities are power management. Because the light does more when you need it and less when you don’t, it conserves power. Indeed, it lasts up to 15 hours on a 5 hour charge.
If you forget to turn it off then, after 3 minutes of inactivity it turns itself off. Well, it sleeps. Once you move it, it turns on again. The flashing light on the bottom right of the casing tells you how much charge is left. It it’s green then it’s 75%. If it’s red then it’s less than 25% though that should still get you home with charge to spare. You can check the actual % easily with the app. You can charge it with the mains or by means of a powered USB port.
If we stopped there I’d say that the light was excellent value and an absolute must if you’re commuting in the dark. Road.cc recently took votes on readers favourite rear light. The original 2.0 See Sense won. I voted for it as well as many others. I’ve no reason to believe that when that survey is run later in the year it won’t win again. It’s slightly more expensive than the competition. But it’s a good investment in your safety. If we stopped there, but let’s not, let’s deal with those other added features.
Let’s start with the theft test. We set this up really simply. As you can see from the video I’m as close to the bike as I would be on any typical cafe stop. I haven’t locked it, so this thief is getting away quickly. But, as soon as he moves it, the alert goes off. It’s very sensitive indeed. So, as long as you’ve got a little lock present to ensure that the thief is slightly delayed, you’re going to catch them at it. Yes, they can remove the light first. But that triggers it anyway. It’s an effective feature and works well. Make sure your sound settings are turned up and you get an audible alert as well. It sounds a bit like a car horn and is properly loud. You won’t miss it when it goes off.
What about the range? So far I’ve tested it from about 50 yards down the road with nothing interfering with line of sight and it works. The further you are and the more things between you the less likely it is that it will work. But, look, it’s a tidy feature to have, it’s designed for cafe stops in my view. Though if you’re a city commuter within a reasonable distance of your bike then it’s an added bonus.
And the crash test? Well, that’s a bit more difficult to test. And I don’t fancy injuring myself in the name of science. Once you trigger the crash test it sends a text to your nearest and dearest. Your phone will also trigger a message notification to yourself giving you the option of dismissing the notification and telling the other person that you’re ok. It won’t call an ambulance for you. But it’s a neat feature to have.
And since I’ve written this piece the most recent software seems to have incorporated a new feature. It states “Geo services have been added and crash detection SMS reports long/lat of incident.” That sounds pretty useful. First, someone can find you and second, it’s good evidence that you might rely on if you needed to do something with legal proceedings. Watch this space.
Would I recommend the Icon? Of course. The original was my favourite rear light. The new one improves on it in every way. I wonder what’s next?
Oh, if you’re going to buy it, get it straight from See Sense. Click on the link to buy.
I was asked whether I could do some more real world videos. Here’s the first, taken on a camera phone. I’ve used a light to replicate headlights. You should be able to see how the pattern changes from an alternate flash to an alternate strobe each time the light casts itself on unit. I’ll follow this up shortly with another video showing how the braking indications work.