In the past few years, LED handles have grown as a market for prop makers driven by demand from poi spinners learning gunslingers as well as juggling. Today, I’m going to test four different options for LED handles to see how they stack up and which ones are the best fit for you.
I didn’t start to see LED handles out in the world until just a couple years ago. For the most part, poi spinners have been happy to just let their handles be dark and the heads be the center of attention for both LED and fire spinning.
Unlit handles make catching poi throws in the dark really challenging and quite frankly gunslingers just don’t look like anything at all if the handles aren’t visible to the audience.
So, I’m going to take four of these options and grade them according to six criteria: ease of use, features, durability, brightness, battery life, and cost. For the first four categories, I’m going to be grading each handle on a 3-point scale: 1 is does not meet expectations, 2 meets expectations, and 3 exceeds expectations.
After I lay all this out, I’m also going to include some of my own thoughts, too.
There are a lot of possible ways to put LEDs in handles, so I’ve come up a couple criteria to limit which options I cover here.
The first criteria is the handle must be commercially available. That is--anyone can buy it. It’s not a one-off solution or hack someone has posted a photo or video of. Second: only one handle per manufacturer. This meant that I usually went with the most popular or most recent product that they’ve released. The other criteria is that I have to be able to connect it to a set of LED and fire poi, so it has to be able to connect to ropes, swivels, or loop handles.
With those criteria in mind, 4 options made the cut. They are: electron handles from Emazing Lights, Ultraknobs from Ultrapoi, IllumiGripz with Nite Ize from Sheridan Miller and Protobeam, and capsule handles from Flowtoys.
Okay, I have to drop one quick caveat with regards to the Illumigripz. The Illumigripz themselves are 3D-printed inserts. To make a complete set of handles with them, you also need Nite Ize LEDs and the handle itself. They’re meant to work with both Pomgrips as well as Propbox Approved handles. I went back and forth on this for a little while because getting a complete set of these means purchasing parts from three different companies.
Ultimately, though, there’s nothing involved in putting them together that’s really a hack per se. You’re supposed to be able to remove the Nite Ize lights to change the batteries and you don’t have to modify the inserts or handles at all. So...they do pass muster but just barely.
I have a test when it comes to LEDs of all stripes. Can I get something out of this product that I like without having to look at the manual?
The answer? Well, with the electrons the answer is absolutely not. For starters they ship in lock mode, so you both have to know what that is and how to disable it to even turn the handle on in the first place. For the record: you’ve got to hold down the button for 3 seconds until it flashes red.
Once the lock mode is turned off, programming these lights is not an easy or intuitive process. I’ve looked through the manual a few times now and can do some basic mode programming but by and large they’re still pretty mysterious to me.
I’m going to have to spend an afternoon at some point working through this stuff to get off-book. They get a 1.
Ultraknobs are pretty intuitive. Pushing the button cycles through a series of colors and holding it down cycles through different strobe modes for each one. Not difficult at all! They get a 2.
I’m really, really torn on the Illumigripz. On the one hand, Nite Ize are super intuitive. You just push them and turn them on and off or push twice to get a strobe mode. You really can’t get any easier than that.
On the other hand, the Illumigripz inserts themselves can be a little confusing. I wasn’t sure when I got them what these small rings were for. It turns out that you’re meant to put the LED through them and then place the full assembly inside the handle plug. They don’t come with instructions on how to do this. Kind of frustrating.
Given the ease of the Nite Ize but the lack of documentation for the inserts, I’m going to split the difference and give these a 2.
The capsule handles from Flowtoys totally pass my no instructions test--super easy! Getting deeper into the modes can be a little bit more challenging, such as if you want to select one specific color to display on them, but I’m giving these a 2 as well.
How versatile are these handles? How many modes do they have and can they be edited? I’m going to start this off by confessing that I’m not a modes geek. I like to turn my poi on and not have to worry about them. That said I’ll do my best for the geeks out there.
So to start with, the electrons. Not gonna lie: I’m pretty sure these lights are smarter than I am. When you have a grasp on how to program them, you can select exactly what color or colors you want and choose from 16 different unique strobing modes to get pretty close to just about anything you can imagine with a single LED.
I know that these lights have been created specifically with modes geeks in mind, so I’m giving them a 3.
Next, the Ultraknobs. These give you 7 colors to choose from and 4 additional modes that use multiple colors.
There’s not a lot to say here. I feel like there’s enough to choose from but that I could easily imagine something they wouldn’t do. There is one weird thing: the white mode isn’t actually white. It’s kind of a weird off-violet. Kind of strange but not the end of the world. I give them a 2.
When it comes to the Illumigripz, because the lights are Nite Ize you only get to pick one color at a time. Your only two modes are solid or strobe. The exact things that make them easy to use also limit their feature set. They get a 1.
Finally, capsule handles from Flowtoys. Here you get access to 13 different modes that each have several different sub-modes depending upon what strobe pattern, color, or response to motion you want.
The capsules are really flexible but it can take some time to get the setting you want out of them. I’m giving them a 3.
When it comes to poi and especially poi tosses, they’re going to take a lot of shocks.
I haven’t used electrons as much as some of the other handles on this list, but they’ve been able to take every beating I’ve put to them. Drops, gunslinger spiral wraps, more drops. The lights stay in and stay functional. I’m a little leery about them in the long-term, but I don’t have hard data to go by on this, so I’ll give them a 2.
Those of us who’ve used Ultraknobs know that durability is their biggest Achilles heel right now. It’s super easy to knock the lights out of the handles whether you drop them or are just holding them.
In addition, the boards inside are pretty delicate. I’ve now broken 3 of these handles--one of them actually broke as I was performing these tests. I’ve had the mini-USB jack break off the boards of two handles--once when the handle landed on grass! In the other, the button stopped functioning properly.
I’m told they have fixes on the way for the next version of these handles, but in current form I’m giving them a 1.
Despite the fact that there’s nothing but friction holding in the Illumigripz, they seem to be surprisingly durable. I’ve been using them heavily for several weeks now and both the boards and inserts seem to be taking all my abuse like a champ.
I really, really wish I could give these a 3, but there’s just one problem: the 3D printed inserts are pretty durable inside the handles, but not outside of them. I tore one insert and it’s actually made it pretty difficult now to use the button in that handle. Illumigripz get a 2.
I’ve been using capsules in various forms for 4 years and I’ve yet to be able to break one. Some of them have had battery defects, but that’s the only issue I’ve ever come across.
Especially when housed inside the handle casing, these things are pretty durable and dependable. I’ve used them more extensively than any other type of light on this list--capsule handles definitely get a 3.
To test this I tried each handle paired against both my LED contact poi as well as a set of my fire poi.
This is kind of a difficult comparison to make, because 3 of these handles are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, so your hand blocks out quite a bit of the light that they produce. That said, this property is also a consideration when looking at which handles you might want to buy!
Without a doubt, the biggest surprise to me were how bright the electron handles were. These handles are the smallest ones I tested and I thought they’d be nearly invisible. I was totally wrong! They show up just fine with both LED as well as fire poi. They get a 2.
Also surprising was the Ultraknobs. I’ve been using them for months and thought that they would be among the brighter options. Turns out they were the least bright handle I tested. They work just fine with LED poi but I noticed that they disappear in that first minute of a burn. I’m giving them a 1.
The Illumigripz were bright and clear with both LED as well as fire. No caveats here--they just work! I’m giving them a 2.
Finally, in a result that should surprise no one, the brightest handles by far were the capsule handles from Flowtoys. They occupy the largest form factor and quite frankly they’re the same lights that are in the heads of my LED poi, so they come off at just as bright.
Likewise, I’ve seen people using them in the wild for fire poi and they do not disappoint here. Loud and clear against the fire heads no matter where you are in the burn. An enthusiastic 3.
One quick note here: the next generation of capsules are due next year and they’re going to be capable of being even brighter! Be on the lookout!
To test the batteries, I wanted to give each of the handles the most punishing test I possibly could, so I charged them up or put brand new batteries in each of them and then turned them all onto their brightest solid white setting. Then, I let them sit for the night with a camera going to let me know when each of them went dead.
Okay, so this is where I have to insert the first caveat because for each of these handles there are actually multiple answers for how long they last.
Each handle lasts on solid white mode for a certain amount of time, but most of them can still operate in different colors for a little while longer.
The Ultraknobs and Electrons both do this thing where, as the battery runs down, the green and blue LEDs slowly go out but leave the red LEDs still going for a little while afterwards.
Because they default to fading into red, I’m going to talk about this red zone with the Ultraknobs and electrons. The reason here is that if you’re spinning LED heads the handles on red, they’re still usable whereas they’re too dim to be seen with fire heads.
So, how did each handle do?
On full white mode, the electron handles last somewhere between 9 and 10 hours.
I actually kind of goofed on this one. When I did this test overnight I set my camera going with about 9 hours of space on the memory card. I was meant to wake up as the camera ran out of room. Then I overslept by an hour. So somewhere between when the camera ran out of space and I woke up is when the electrons went to red. Sorry.
So how long was the usable battery life for the electrons, including the red zone? 26 hours! Crazy, right?
How about the Ultraknobs? Again! More caveats!
When I did this test overnight, the ultras went red after roughly an hour and a half and were unusable by 2 hours into the test.
This seemed kind of strange to me, so I reran the test the next day with a control. There’s now a version 1.5 of the ultraknobs that has a better button and some improvements to the board. I have both versions, so I charged up both and compared them to each other.
The older handle had the exact same performance: red zone after an hour and a half and unusable at 2 hours. The newer handle, though, went about five and a half hours before dipping into the red zone and topped out at 6 and a half hours of usable battery life.
I don’t know if that means that the battery goes downhill after a few charges, they’ve switched over to using different batteries, or the new handles have slightly different boards that use power more efficiently, but it sure seems like when it comes to battery life that the newer ones with the clicking buttons are the better call.
Testing the Illumigripz is a little weird because it’s really just testing the Nite Ize but hey, why not?
The package the Nite Ize comes in says that they last for 20 hours. I am here to tell you that they are actually underestimating that number!
By 22 hours they start to noticeably dim. They don’t go dark for at least 26 hours but they may not be useable for fire after that initial 22. Let’s just say the batteries in these last longer than my patience.
Finally, the capsule handles. These had the most consistent behavior of any handle that I tested. Unlike the other handles, there is no dimming period. When they start to run low, they blink twice and then go dark.
I found in my overnight test that on solid white mode they’d last 4 and a half hours before they’d blink out.
Now, like the ultraknobs I have several capsules in my collection and I decided to double-check my findings.
The result? Exactly the same! Whether old or new, the capsules would blink out after four and a half hours on white. I’ve heard lots of anecdotal stories about how long these can last in other modes and from what I gather, like the Nite Ize these can be made to last far longer than my patience.
Of course, many of these handles also have other color and strobe modes that can increase battery life--I’m not going to test them all for this video, though, because it would take me months to go through each and every setting on these LEDs. I just wanted to present to you guys a worst-case scenario.
Final note on this: only the Ultraknobs and the Capsule handles use rechargeable batteries and both charge off a micro USB cable. The electrons use 1602 watch batteries and the Nite Ize use 2016 watch batteries. You can find both at hardware stores or by ordering online.
Electron handles are available for $24.95 a pair at EmazingLights.com. They come as-is with the lights and batteries preinstalled. Make sure to take them off of lock mode when you get them. You’ll find them in the orbit section of the website.
Ultraknobs are available for $50 a pair at ultrapoi.com. They also sell these as individual handles as well as replacement parts.
To assemble the Illumigripz, you’ll need parts from at least 3 different online shops.
You need to order the inserts at Protobeam’s etsy shop and they cost $20 a pair or you can buy them for $10 per insert. A link to that Etsy shop is down in the description.
You’ll also need a pair of Nite Ize Spot Lits. You can either get these at a local pet or hardware store or by ordering them from Amazon. Either which way they’ll run you $14 a pair.
Finally you’ll need the handles themselves. You can go with either Propbox Approved handles or Pomgrips from Lanternsmith.com. Each cost $10 a pair or $5 for each individual handle. Links to both are in the description of this video.
So to summarize: for a pair of these LED handles, you’re spending at least $44.
Finally, capsule handles are available from Flowtoys.com for $110 per pair. They come with the capsules, casings, and leashes to go with them.
If you’re going to order from Emazinglights, Ultrapoi, Lanternsmith, or Flowtoys I’m going to ask you to do me a favor and use my promo code “drexfact0r” with a zero instead of an “o” at checkout. Doing that helps out both me as well as this channel.
Here’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room: size and weight.
Some people prefer heavier handles and it should be said that there’s really no way to do that with the Electrons, Illumigripz, or Ultraknobs. There’s limited space and thus limited weight that can be added to these.
At the other end of the spectrum are the Capsule handles, which are heavy and can’t be made any lighter. I personally find them difficult to throw and do contact with, but I’m sure there are people out there who’ve gotten used to them.
For folks who like their handles super duper light, the Electrons might actually be the winner here--they’re easily the lightest handles I tested.
Ultimately it’s going to come down to what fits you and what fits your style the best.
I know I’ve laid out a hell of a lot of information here, so if you like I’ve made it up into a nice chart that’s available as a PDF download on my website. Link is in the description.
I hope this was helpful and that I see a whole lot of you out there in the coming months enjoying your new LED handles!