By Evan Ackerman
Dragon Lasers has seen fit to entrust me with another one of their high powered lasers to review (yay!). The Spartan is a 250mW green laser, meaning that it’s functionally the same as the Hulk laser that I reviewed last November. Rather than rewrite that review, I’m going to be focusing mostly on how the Spartan is different (and, I think, better) than the Hulk, with some eye candy thrown in for good measure. Check it out, after the jump.
There have been some questions as to the legality of high powered lasers, and concerns as to whether or not you’re allowed to import them into the US. All I can say is, I’m pretty sure you’ll be fine, since my review unit was torn open by customs inspectors:
They even opened the laser itself, and for all I know, they fired it up and played with it for a while:
This is obviously not a guarantee of any kind, but if there was any reason why a high powered laser wouldn’t be allowed into the US, I’m pretty sure I would have encountered it.
The Spartan is solidly built out of what looks to be aluminum. It’s rather heavy for its size, and seems to be milled as opposed to extruded. The external surface is knurled all over the place, and flat sides have been milled into the front of the laser; a nice touch to keep it from rolling away when you set it down. Unlike the Hulk, there’s no safety shutter to cover the aperture, but you turn it on via a push button in the back, making accidental activation unlikely (although by no means impossible). Pushing the button once turns the laser on, and while it’s on, slightly depressing the button lets you flick the beam on and off.
Just like the Hulk, when this thing is on, it’s painful to look at. While it’s billed as a 250mW laser, that’s the minimum average output power. It’s actually somewhere between 250mW and 300mW (!). The beam is clearly visible during the day, indoors or out. At night, it looks like the Death Star Laser, I kid you not. Looking directly at the beam spot, even from a significant distance, will cause you to see blurry spots for a while. The best thing to do is operate this laser like a weapon: do not point it at anything you don’t intend to destroy, keeping in mind that unlike most weapons, laser beams can bounce off things. No, you won’t actually destroy anything with it (besides balloons), but permanent blindness is a serious possibility. THIS IS NOT A TOY. It’s fun, but it’s not a toy.
The Spartan is different from the Hulk that I reviewed earlier in a few important ways. Let me start with the most important (and most awesome) way first: it takes rechargeable lithium batteries. I’m gonna say that again, it’s just that good: it takes rechargeable batteries. No other high powered laser that we here at OhGizmo have reviewed have been set up to take rechargeables, and I have no idea why, because powerful lasers are exactly what you’d want them for. As we’ve discovered, lasers chew through batteries like overcooked pasta, and the “burning window” that you have while the batteries are still fresh only lasts a couple minutes. With the rechargeables, you can keep swapping batteries to keep the laser fully powered without wasting piles of expensive disposables.
Besides the convenience, lower overall cost, and efficiency of rechargeables, I also noticed several other advantages. Firstly, they maintain higher power longer than disposables. They’re also smaller and lighter. And secondly, and perhaps most importantly, I feel like they actually pump out a little more power for the mW rating of the laser. Now, I have no way to directly measure the power output of the Spartan to compare it to the Hulk (which is also rated at 250 mW), or to see how long the batteries will put out peak power for. I did come up with a way to indirectly measure the power, though… Kids, don’t try this at home, but I got a pretty good idea of how the batts were doing by holding the laser flat against the back of my hand and timing about how long it took to sting really, really badly. It didn’t take long at all (a few seconds perhaps), and even after 5 to 10 minutes of use (or even several days of non-use), it still hurt after three or four seconds. A lot. Again, kids, please don’t try this at home… I’m, um, a professional.
The Spartan is also significantly smaller and lighter than the Hulk. It looks much more like a flashlight and much less like a weapon, and is easier to carry around with you. Part of the way it was made smaller was that the giant finned heatsink that the Hulk has on its nose is absent from the Spartan. This does mean that the Spartan isn’t quite as good at passive cooling as the Hulk; while the Hulk can operate indefinitely, the Spartan gets noticeably warm after a few minutes of use and I wouldn’t leave it turned on for an extended period of time. I don’t know why you’d want to leave it on for a long time without a break anyway, considering how potentially dangerous it is.
Dragon Lasers was kind enough to include a pair of safety glasses with the Spartan, ostensibly to keep me from blasting a hole or two through my eyeballs and giving the review a negative spin. Here’s what Dragon Lasers had to say about them:
The laser safety glasses have a rating (OD is optical density) of 2.5-3 which is very high and will protect you from a direct or reflected beam from a laser of up to 2000mW. They are designed for accidental exposure to the beam and protection will only last for a few seconds if a high power laser is pointed directly at the glasses. After that the dyes in the glass lose their ability to block the beam.
I was kinda curious as to what “lose their ability to block the beam” implied, so (of course) I pointed the Spartan directly at the glasses. Here’s what happened:
Turns out that after the dye is broken down by the laser, the goggles actually start to melt, and it’s some combination of these things that makes the changing patterns. Of course, you end up doing physical damage to your goggles. Destruction aside, this is one of the really great things about having a high powered laser: lots of stuff reacts to it, and besides being able to burn and/or melt just about anything non-reflective, every once in a while you’ll shine it at something you think is benign and get rewarded with a spectacular light show. Now, obviously, you should be careful when doing this, but as long as you are, it’s a lot of fun.
For this picture, I bought a bunch of cheap mirrors from Ikea ($1 each I think?) and set them up in a polygon. I was hoping to somehow have the laser bounce around inside indefinitely, but I couldn’t get the mirrors all aligned properly, so I gave up and took a long exposure while slowly moving the laser across one of the mirrors.
I’m standing behind the camera, shining the laser at my car’s headlight. Somehow, it refocused the beam into this GIGANTIC DEATH RAY which blasted back toward the house and woke up my roommates. Oops.
As far as long range stuff goes, the Spartan won’t disappoint you. While its practical visible distance depends on a whole host of factors including ambient light, weather, regional topography, and air traffic, if you find yourself in a good location where you can safely (safely) unleash this thing, the beam basically extends forever.
I can’t overstate how badass the Spartan is. I mean, if you find yourself a dark, safe place, waving the beam around is incredibly satisfying, especially because you can keep doing it and not worry about batteries. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time outside at night just pointing the laser into the sky and marveling at how awesome it looks. You can’t do it justice with a picture, and run of the mill green lasers don’t come anywhere close to the beam that the Spartan pumps out. As long as you’re the least bit creative, you won’t get tired of finding new ways to play with it. Impress your friends. Terrify your enemies. Contact aliens. You can do it all with a Dragon Laser.
‘Course, being able to do it all is not cheap. The Dragon Lasers Spartan GW 250mW costs $899.99. If you can make due with less, a 100mW – 150mW Spartan costs a mere $450, while at the other end of the spectrum, the 300mW – 400mW version will set you back about $1500. It sounds like a lot, but it’s substantially cheaper than you’ll pay elsewhere for comparable quality and power. Dragon Lasers is based in China, but all I can say is that I’ve found them to be friendly and communicative and buying a laser from them wouldn’t worry me at all.
So, in a nutshell, this is an incredible laser. It’s relatively small and light, it’s durable, it’s easy to use, it’s dangerously powerful, it takes rechargeable batteries, and it takes rechargeable batteries. The downside is obviously the cost. You don’t want to buy one of these as your very first laser; spend a few bucks and get yourself a 5mW green laser pointer to mess around with. If you like it and want something more (a lot more), the Spartan laser is a piece of hardware you should seriously consider. If you’re the type of person who thinks that spending $899 on a laser just might be worth it, as soon as you get your hands on one, you’ll realize that yes, it totally, absolutely, is.