26 July 2013

REVIEW: Quadcopter with LEDs

In Quad we trust.

The recent spell of good weather has dragged us, the pasty denizens of The Test Pit, out into the open fresh air. But without a USB port readily available and no flat surface on which we could play with LEGO, we found ourselves in need of other forms of outdoor entertainment.

That's when we noticed the sky, that big blue largely unoccupied area above our heads. Wouldn't it be smashing, thought we, to play there, away from all the ants and mud and aggressive children that normally force us inside? Well we can, all thanks to Red 5 and their Quadcopter with LEDs.

This sleek looking remote controlled helicopter is currently one of Red 5's best selling gadgets so we jumped at the chance to have a go. Fortunately this wasn't our first foray into the world of flying toys, as in other writing jobs (ah, steady pay cheques...) we've reviewed both helicopters and their four-rotored friends the quadcopters. We were glad of this small amount of experience because even Red 5 admit that this is no beginner's folly. We agree with them.

Although in the pictures the Quadcopter looks rather chunky and substantial (certainly the ones provided for us - ours always came out a bit blurred) the Quadcopter is extremely light and simple. That black carapace which lends a stealthy appearance is actually a thin plastic dome that covers the internal circuit board and wires while leaving the whole craft exposed from below. Oh, and when we say plastic we mean cheap and thin plastic - the same kind used to make children's Halloween masks.

That said, the rest of the chopper is very sturdily put together, with the cross beam supports for each rotor blade being tough yet flexible. The battery attaches beneath all this and connects via an admittedly ugly and exposed wire connector and is mains charged. So although the Quadcopter's looks didn't immediately impress us, the included controller did. Easy to hold with pretty sensitive sticks, the four-channel remote is solidly built with great read-outs and adjustment levels. It runs on AA batteries and isn't used to directly charge the Quadcopter itself, unlike some other helicopter toys.

Quadcopter exposed: The internal gubbins
The promotional material is quite keen to mention the on-board six axis gyro, which apparently can keep the chopper level by independently altering the rotor speeds in relation to each other. Eager to test this, we charged up the battery (about two hours did the trick) and ventured out into the garden.

Getting the Quadcopter in the air is as simple and gently pushing forward on the left hand thumb stick. The helicopter shot straight up with just the lightest of touches; another indicator that this might not be great for beginners as it forces you to take control immediately.

Hands on with the controller
The right stick controls movement and we found both controller and chopper to be extremely responsive. The smallest touch we gave the sticks resulted in a quick movement by the hovering Quadcopter. Certainty that gyro was kicking in, as the craft remained dead flat and stable no mater where and how quickly we flew it. It did take quite a bit of practice until we felt we had full control of the Quadcopter, and also quite a few crashes which the chopper weathered pretty well - other than the rotors getting slightly scuffed early on, nothing snapped off and no wires disconnected. However because of the batteries 10 to 15 minutes life we had a lot of sitting around waiting for it to recharge.

The Quadcopter is the kind of thing that you'll master over a few days, not hours. Our advice would be to purchase a couple more batteries to quickly change when the juice runs low, increasing your flight time. The Quadcopter does work very well indoors, but we much preferred zooming around outside instead of carefully avoiding the crockery in the kitchen. And zoom it certainly does, as once we were au fait with the controls and the 'personality' of the craft (ours tended to drift backwards when hovering) it is possible to achieve really impressive speeds and distances.

As the name suggests there are indeed LEDs on the Quadcopter, running the length of all four support arms. These blink constantly when the chopper is turned on, and when at night or in the dark inside, make for quite a pretty show. However, if you're doing most of your flying during the day you really won't see the lights very well. We switched ours off most of the time, hoping to reserve the battery to increase flying time.

One thing is worth noting: if you are planning to buy one of these with the intention of mounting a micro camcorder on it, we're afraid you're out of luck. We attached a Zinc Red i Camcorder (review to follow) to the Quadcopter but were disappointed to find the helicopter couldn't lift the tiny thing. Nowhere does Red 5 say the Quadcopter can do this, but we thought we better mention it as many larger RC helicopters are capable of carrying a payload.

So the Quadcopter with LEDs is rugged, light, (fairly) easy to master and, more importantly, a hell of a load of fun. We think this is perfect for people wanting to find the link between small toy helicopters and larger adult models with cameras and GPS etc. We definitely believe the Quadcopter with LEDs has helped us cut our teeth for something even bigger, while providing some great outdoor fun.

By the way, we'd like to make several apologies to our neighbours for constantly knocking on their doors to ask for our helicopter back. Sorry about that.


Available from www.red5.co.uk

© The Test Pit

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