I recently got the opportunity to try out a few flying toys from Spin Master. Two of them, the Flutterbye Fairies and the Air Hogs AtmoSphere, are simple sensor-driven toys, but the Air Hogs Elite X4 is a remote-control quadcopter that requires a bit more practice.
First up: the Flutterbye Fairies. Available in a variety of colors (though pink seems to be cheapest on Amazon at the moment), the fairy has a multi-flap “skirt” that acts as a propeller, along with a set of stabilizing blades and wands. Just under the skirt there’s a tiny on/off switch, a port for the charging cable that extends from the base, a sensor that detects how close the fairy is to something below it, and an IR sensor to receive commands from the base.
It’s pretty easy to use: stand the fairy in the base and plug in the charging cable. (The base uses 6 AA batteries.) Once the fairy is charged up (as indicated by the light on the base), then you can unplug the cable, flip the switch on the fairy, and then push the button on the base. The propellers will spin, and the fairy takes flight.
You can control the height of the fairy by holding your hand below it—the fairy will fly higher when there’s something close to it. If you just let it drop, it will hover above the ground. You can’t really control the fairy directionally, so you’re at the mercy of wind currents and random fluctuations in its orientation. Hitting the button on the base again shuts off the propellers to let the fairy drop back down, though you’ll want to be ready to catch it if it’s up against the ceiling.
We did find that when it’s fully charged, it flies pretty high above your hand, quite a bit higher than the photo on the box. We did have some instances where it flew up to the ceiling and didn’t want to drop down until we pushed the button. My daughters enjoyed it, but I think it may be better suited to outdoor use where we don’t have to worry about running into walls, as long as there’s not too much wind. It’s also noisier than I expected, but I suppose it takes a good amount of lift to suspend the fairy. it’s not terribly heavy, but at just over 7″ tall, it’s not tiny, either.
The Flutterbye Fairies retail for $34.99 and is recommended for ages 6 and up.
The Air Hogs AtmoSphere is quite similar to the Flutterbye Fairies in the way that it functions, but it may be a little safer. It has two propellers and a stabilizing bar, all enclosed in a round plastic cage with some vanes below the propeller. You plug it straight into the base (no cord on this one) and let it charge up. (The base uses 6 AA batteries.)
Once it’s charged, you can turn on the switch near the bottom of the cage, set it on the base, and then press the red button to launch. While it’s flying, it will detect when something is underneath it and fly higher, so you can control its height by holding your hand below it. Push the red button again to turn off the propeller, or if you manage to catch it without getting your fingers caught by the blades, you can also switch it off.
Overall the AtmoSphere seems easier to control, plus you’re a little less likely to get whacked by a propeller because of the cage (although the large openings do allow access for even big fingers), and it’s less prone to damage if it falls out of the air.
We did find an interesting result of the shape, though. If the AtmoSphere runs into something like a wall or a person, it keeps trying to fly up, but friction causes it to rotate. That means it just keeps flying against whatever it ran into until it doesn’t have enough vertical lift to keep it in the air. Still, my daughters found it generally a little easier to control, and I like the way that it plugs straight into the base rather than needing a power cord. The part I don’t like so much is reaching into the cage to turn on the switch.
The AtmoSphere retails for $24.99 and is rated for ages 8 and up.
Finally, the Air Hogs Elite Helix X4 is the biggest of the bunch that I tried. It uses a whopping 8 AA batteries (my advice: invest in rechargeables) but it’s capable of a lot more than the Flutterbye Fairy and AtmoSphere. You charge up the quadcopter either using an extendable cable from the remote or just using an included USB charging cable. The copter itself has a foam body with a plastic “skeleton” and four propellers.
To fly the Elite Helix X4, you set it on a level surface and turn both it and the controller on until the lights on front indicate that it has connected. The left thumbstick controls yaw (rotating left and right) and altitude. The right thumbstick moves the copter left, right, forward, and back without changing orientation. It takes a little getting used to—I kept moving left and right instead of rotating.
Finally, there’s a “stunt” button in the lower right. You can choose from three different stunts using a slider switch just above the button: a loop, a barrel roll, and an Immelmann. You just get the copter in the air (preferably high enough that you can recover if it’s off balance after the stunt) and hit the button, and the copter does the rest. It’s pretty cool to see, though a little scary to do indoors. Sometimes after doing a stunt the copter wasn’t perfectly level and veered off crazily, so I can see it would be better if I were outside and could get it higher off the ground first.
You’ll notice I don’t have a photo of the Elite Helix X4 in flight—that’s mostly because I didn’t let my kids fly it very much without my help. They can have it fly up and down, but because mine tends to drift just a little to the left, we were having a lot of accidents. You can switch the controller between Novice and Expert settings, but nowhere in the manual was I able to find what difference that actually makes. (In fact, the manual is probably my least favorite thing about the Elite Helix X4: it’s in several different languages, all mixed together.) At any rate, I’m sticking with “Novice” until I’ve gotten more practice.
The Elite Helix X4 is pretty amazing. Remote control toys are always pretty fun, but seeing something hovering in the air and doing stunts is delightful. It does take some practice, and I think I’d probably stick with the recommended age 12+ for this one. But if you or your kids want a cool flying toy, it may be worth the $79.99 price tag.
Overall, I think all three flying toys are fun, but the quadcopter will hold your interest longer than the other two. It’s more difficult, of course, but well worth the effort. The fairy and the sphere can be fun novelty toys but you don’t get a lot of control with them, so younger kids may like them, with some adult supervision.
Disclosure: GeekDad received review samples of all three items.