It’s amazing how small and (relatively) cheap flying technology has gotten. I wrote earlier this year about several flying toys from Spin Master, Tony Sims mentioned the Sky Viper quadcopter in our recent gift guide, and I’ve noticed a lot of other tiny remote-control helicopters and quadcopters besides these.
The Blade 350 QX quadcopter from Horizon Hobby is no lightweight, though, and I wouldn’t call it a “toy.” It weighs about 1.5 pounds, which may not sound like much, until you compare it to the 3-ounce Air Hogs Elite X4. The body is fully plastic rather than mostly foam, and measures about 10″ square (not counting the blade tips). It’s also capable of some pretty impressive stunts, assuming you’ve learned how to do them, which I haven’t yet:
The price is substantially higher than the toy quadcopters, of course. There are two versions, the Bind-N-Fly (BNF) which retails for $419.99 and the Ready-to-Fly (RTF) which retails for $469.99. The difference is that the BNF requires a 5+ channel DSM2- or DSMX-compatible transmitter; the RTF has the transmitter (and 4AA batteries) included. If you’re a novice (like me) then you’ll want the RTF model because it’s already set up.
There are lights below the four rotors so you can see which way the quadcopter is facing (plus it has different colored blades in front and back). There’s also an indicator light on the underside which blinks different sequences to tell you the quadcopter’s status and battery level when you turn it on. I had to bring the reference sheet with me, though, because there are a lot of sequences to keep track of.
There are three flight modes available: Smart Mode, Stability Mode, and Agility Mode. With Smart Mode, there’s something called the SAFE circle which keeps the quadcopter from flying too close to the pilot. Basically when you power up and get the quadcopter and transmitter synched, it uses GPS to note where you’re standing, and then it creates a 15 foot radius around you where the quadcopter will not enter. Smart Mode also uses stick-relativity, meaning that the controls are always relative to your position—when you push forward, it flies away from you, and when you push right, it flies clockwise around you. It’s easier for new pilots because you don’t have to think about what direction the quadcopter is facing while you maneuver.
Smart Mode also includes several features that help keep the Blade 350 QX stable, like self-leveling and GPS hold. Basically that means that when you remove your fingers from the controls, the quadcopter levels out and holds its position—you don’t need to balance it out manually. Finally, there’s a “Return Home” feature: holding the switch down makes the quadcopter fly straight up, then back to its starting position, and then straight down. When I used it, it didn’t land exactly in the same location, but it got pretty close. I assume it may depend on what sort of a GPS signal I’m getting.
Stability Mode uses the self-leveling and an optional GPS hold, but does away with the stick-relativity controls, so now you have to pay attention to what direction the quadcopter is facing. The SAFE Circle is also turned off, so you have more freedom in where you’re flying (though I don’t recommend running into yourself).
Finally, Agility Mode is for experts: everything is full manual, meaning that the quadcopter won’t stop itself from tipping all the way over. It’s the mode you’d have to use to fly barrel rolls and other tricks, but I’ve got a ways to go before I’m ready to attempt those. You can watch the show reel for those.
Perhaps the best feature of the Blade 350 QX is that it can carry a GoPro camera. A mount is included so you can attach the camera to the front of the quadcopter’s belly. The plastic mount has some rubber dampeners to reduce vibrations in the video. The downside is that the mount just holds the camera itself, outside of a protective case, so you won’t see me flying it over water like they do in the show reel.
Still, it’s a lot of fun to fly. I took the Blade 350 QX out for a spin at a nearby high school field with my kids, and had my daughter film it from the ground. (Apologies for the shaky video on her end.) After I’ve gotten some more practice, I’m hoping to take it to film my daughter’s roller derby practice, as long as the girls aren’t going to get too distracted by a flying camera.
Here’s the video shot from the quadcopter itself:
And here’s a video of the quadcopter shot by my daughter from the ground:
If you’re a novice then I’m not sure if you’d spend over four hundred bucks on a quadcopter, but the Blade 350 QX is definitely easy enough to fly. It does take me a little fiddling around to actually lift off sometimes, but once in the air I found it very manageable. So far I’ve only tried Smart Mode and Stability Mode, but I’m hoping to graduate to Agility Mode someday!
The ability to mount a GoPro camera is very cool. I don’t know if the protective case is necessary, but I do wish I could mount that as well. (I suppose it adds a significant amount of weight.) Using the wifi remote means that you (or an assistant) can control the GoPro while the quadcopter is in flight. Sadly, though, the transmitter uses the same frequency as the GoPro app, so you can’t use a smartphone or tablet to see through the camera’s point-of-view while in flight. I imagine, though, the day isn’t far off when you’ll be able to fly a quadcopter using an iPad while looking through the camera.
More information (including much better videos than my own) are available on the Blade 350 QX website.
Disclosure: GeekDad was provided with a sample unit of the Blade 350 QX and a GoPro Hero3 for review purposes.