Review: Helian Portable Mini Cat 5M
I’ve never reviewed a light strip before. This heavy duty light strip comes attached to a case that the strip spools up into.
MSRP: $70 (or $80?)
This light strip was provided by Helian for this review.
Most of their light strips come attached to yellow spool cases that you can wind the strip up into when it’s not in use. The strip is very high quality, and about as rugged as a light strip can be, but it’s not intended to be used like light strips usually are. Whereas most light strips are RGB(W), and are intended for mounting in your man cave or dorm room, this strip is just white, and is designed to be easily deployable and portable to provide 5 meters of temporary area lighting. It’s a strange use case.
The Helian Portable Mini Cat 5M light strip (hereafter referred to as “the light strip”) comes in a cardboard box designed to hold one of many Helian products.
The back of the box has a specs table on it, as well as some potential use cases.
The box contains:
- A 5 meter light strip
- A barrel to two prong plug adapter
- A car cigarette lighter to two prong plug adapter
- A 12V DC power supply
- A carrying bag
- A lanyard
- A manual
The light strip is attached to an enclosed plastic spool. A foldable plastic handle attaches to the center of the spool and allows you to roll up the light strip. The light strip is not meant to be removed from this spool.
The end of the light strip that hangs out of the side of the spool has a two pronged waterproof connector on it for attaching the light strip to a power source.
Opposite the handle is another cable that comes covered with a cap. This connection point can be used to chain multiple light strips together.
The light strip is guided into the spool with a metal roller.
The light strip itself is very high quality. It’s encased in a thick layer (4mm) of silicone, which allows it to take much more abuse than a typical light strip. This comes with the downside of reduced flexibility.
The LEDs in the strip are in groups of three. These sections are all in parallel, which is what allows you to chain light strips together. The emitters aren’t anything I recognize.
The reverse side of the strip has the brand, website, and model printed on it at regular intervals.
Here’s the strip fully extended.
The cables it came with aren’t anything special, save for the strange connectors. They’re fairly thick cables. The barrel plug isn’t waterproof like the other two-prong connector is.
Lanyard and Case
The Helian light strip’s spool has a lanyard attachment point. The included lanyard is detachable via a button that secures to a metal ring.
I’m pretty sure Helian intended this to be used to hang the spool from things during use.
Helian also included a carrying case that’s capable of fitting the light strip and all of its accessories. It’s mostly made of that one synthetic fabric they use for reusable shopping bags, and it has a transparent vinyl(?) window on the back. It does its job, but doesn’t feel like a quality product.
The light strip is, electrically, just a bunch of LEDs and resistors, so it’s not super picky when it comes to power. Helian includes two different ways of powering the light strip: a wall adapter and a car adapter.
The wall adaptor supplies 12V at 3A max through a barrel plug. It’s one of those wall warts that’s so big you can barely plug anything else into the outlet. Even with the small side facing up, it gets in the way of the plug above it if the other thing being plugged in has a ground pin.
Because everything about this light strip says it’s 12V, I expected the car plug to have a voltage regulator in it, but nope, there’s nothing in there but a fuse.
Car power sockets are, in many cases, wired straight to the battery. This means that when the alternator is running, they can get up to 15V. Electronic devices meant to be powered by these sockets must therefore be able to handle voltages between about 12V and about 15V.
The light strip was able to handle 15V, but it drew a lot of power to get there. At 12V, the light strip only pulls 2A, but at 15 it pulls 3.5A. It didn’t burn out on me or get warm after that test, so it’s probably fine.
Modes and UI Use This light strip has two modes, on and off.
I said earlier that I’m having a hard time imagining a use case for this light strip. I’m gonna talk on that a bit more.
When I think of a light strip, I think of the low profile, adhesive backed RGB strips that you use to make stuff look cool. That’s not what this is. This was designed to provide a long rope of usable area lighting that could be easily rolled back up into its spool/case. But when would that be desirable? The back of the box gives us some ideas.
In these photos, Helian shows us their vision for this product.
- Use it to provide more usable light out of the trunk of your car.
- Hang it from some trees.
- You can use it to provide lighting for your camp site.
- Drape it over a fence. Why not?
These photos show three things:
- Strips longer than 5 meters were used for the photos.
- The big spool needs to be put somewhere during use.
- The actual use cases for this light strip are very niche.
5 meters is too short to do a lot of things with, so this light strip only has a couple practical uses. The two that come to mind are RV camping (hanging it from your awning) and lighting for a tent, like at a festival or late night farmer’s market or something. The bulkiness of the spool is holding the light strip back, in my opinion. It’s not very aesthetically pleasing, and it makes it more cumbersome to hook two light strips together.
Beam and Tint
This thing is bright. Definitely one of the brighter LED strips I’ve seen. The version Helian sent me is cool white, about 6000K, which isn’t my preference, but this didn’t have much green in it so it isn’t unbearable. What is unbearable is the low CRI. If I had to guess I’d say it’s about 70. Really washes out the reds and oranges.
I wasn’t able to get comparison shot, but the above photo shows the color accurately.
- Quality of the light strip
- Quite bright
- Multiple power sources
- Low CRI
Thanks for reading my review! If you have any questions, put them in the Reddit thread here: https://old.reddit.com/r/flashlight/comments/jbwtk2/review_helian_heavy_duty_light_strip_portable/?