A few short years ago, $100 would barely buy an entry level micro quad.
Today, that amount nets the buyer a beginner’s camera platform bristling with the latest digital and wireless technologies, including a 1080p camera, Bluetooth connectivity and a wealth of operating features for the budding aerial photographer.
Such a model is the Hubsan H216A X4 Desire Pro RTF quadcopter from GearBest.com. This model presently sells for all of US$99.99 with GearBest’s usual free shipping options to the US, so kindly read on while I share my experiences with the Bluetooth-controlled X4.
- Assembled H216A X4 quadcopter
- Bluetooth transmitter
- Flight battery
- USB charger
- Quick start guide, content sheet and safety disclaimer
- Spare propellers
- Propeller guards
Needed for completion:
- Four AAA-cell alkaline batteries for the transmitter
- Free Hubsan app
- Micro SD card up to 32MB
- Android or iOS smartphone
Hubsan is an up-and-coming manufacturer which already provides products to other distributors and it shows in the packaging. Graphically quiet and understated, the display box tells the buyer that a real quad instead of a toy is waiting inside.
Packaging is compact as well; the optional propeller guards and the printed materials are in a tray below the model itself.
The X4 itself is just as understated. While it won’t be mistaken for a high-end aerial platform, it’s a compact, nice looking model similar to many entry level sport quads. Instead of the usual high-gloss white, Hubsan chose a textured matte navy blue finish with powder blue and yellow accent stickers set off by white propellers.
As for the transmitter, I’m not certain whether it can be properly called a transmitter since even the box and app refer to it as a controller.
Either way, it operates via the Bluetooth phone app. Since Bluetooth operates on the familiar 2.4GHz band, I’ll defer to tradition and call it a transmitter. The quick start manual is helpful, although it refers to the model as “Star Pro.”
The flight battery came shipped inside the model and came up to a full charge rather quickly with the supplied USB charger.
The protective shipping film on the camera lens will have to be removed:
The red indicator light slowly flashes while charging and glows when charging is complete. While I was waiting, I downloaded the app via the iOS QR code in the quick start guide. This is an incredibly powerful tool and I’ll soon get into detail.
Since the battery is a standard 2S 7.4V lithium polymer (the label shows 7.6V), it can be charged on any li-po compatible charger. Good thing, too. The supplied charger started acting up after a few cycles, overcharging one cell while undercharging the other. I highly recommend the use of another charger if that entire production run acts the same way.
The labels on the box and beneath the model also refer to the input voltage as 7.6V. As for the QR code in the photo below, it turned out to be the unit’s serial number. Visible as well is the slot for the micro SD card.
All that was left to do was to install four AAA-cell alkaline batteries in the transmitter, fire everything up and (eventually) prepare for flying. Why eventually? Kindly read on.
Preparing for Takeoff:
Getting the X4 in the air is a convoluted, overly complicated process; one simply doesn’t turn on the transmitter, plug in the flight battery, arm the motors and take off.
- The flight battery is first plugged in
- The smartphone is then connected to the model’s WiFi signal
- The app is launched
- The correct model needs to be chosen
- The compass must be calibrated in order for the GPS to work correctly
- The GPS is then verified
- Flight is ready via the virtual sticks or…
- The transmitter can be powered up and its Bluetooth signature selected under “controller” in the main menu
Every. Single. Time.
I have experience with such models and unless it’s been transported more than about ten miles from its initial location, it won’t need to be recalibrated. The X4 needs recalibration whenever it’s powered up as indicated by the app which means spinning the model by hand as indicated for the horizontal and vertical axes. It only takes a few seconds with visual help from the app and onboard lighting, but it’s annoying, especially given the number of steps required to simply fly the thing. My guess is that Hubsan elected to go this route in order to make sure that the model is properly calibrated each time it’s flown.
Verifying the GPS lock is an interesting undertaking. The model and phone have to be about a half-meter apart, but I sometimes got wild readings of more than 20m apart or simply weak GPS linkage. This step may be skipped and doesn’t appear to have any bad side effects beyond the app warning against the use of follow-me and waypoint flight.
Once the app is launched, an incredible amount of information appears. There’s everything from the number of GPS satellites acquired and GPS coordinates, plus telemetry readings of the model’s altitude, distance down range, speed and battery level. Most amazing of all is what appears to be a Google Earth image of one’s location which appears at the upper left. It literally pointed to the roof of my house!
Other controls include the aforementioned virtual joysticks, camera control and settings for fun functions such as waypoint flying, follow-me mode and a lot more.
Indoor flight can be tricky since the X4 depends heavily on GPS; it’s more difficult to acquire a suitable number of satellites while indoors and control appeared to be compromised. Taking the model outside did the trick and within seconds, it had acquired eleven satellites.
Once bound, the transmitter operates exactly like an ordinary transmitter. One-touch takeoff may be used or pulling the sticks down to their full left and full right positions starts the motors in idle. The former first starts the motors and then automatically raises the model a few feet off the ground.
In any case, the X4 is now in the air at this point, so we’ll see how it flies.
The instructions state that the best results occur when the X4 acquires at least eight satellites and I managed to obtain only about six or seven in the living room. Outside, the number jumped to eleven.
I used the auto takeoff for the first flights and it works very well. Many small models with the same feature tend to launch rather quickly and rather high. The X4 launched nicely and came to a stop about five feet up. Perfect.
It has a tendency to wander when first getting its bearings, but only a bit. Once locked in, the GPS does a superb job of maintaining altitude and position. This in turn makes it far easier to be able to watch the smartphone while flying. While it may look like a small, generic sport quad, it acts more like the small camera platform that it is, even at the default high rate. Yaw is good, but left/right bank is shallow. On the plus side, forward speed is pretty good and the telemetry tells how fast the model is traveling. It also shows altitude and downrange distance from the launch point.
One should keep in mind that we’re discussing a model which goes for a hundred bucks demonstrating this incredible technology.
While it’s true that simply getting the model ready to the point of takeoff is a chore, it’s a good flyer on par with other entry level models and the Bluetooth transmitter never once browned out or otherwise lose signal. If that were to happen, the H216A simply takes control and returns itself to the launch point.
Not too shabby at all.
The flight characteristics are one thing, but the reason for this model is its video and still photo capabilities. Here’s where things got really, really interesting.
Windy weather conspired with a surge-damaged computer to prevent outdoor video for awhile. Once I was able to format a 2GB micro SD card I had on hand and get some outdoor video, I was amazed by the results.
I’ve flown camera quads both brushed and brushless which cost far more than the X4 and which suffer from vibration, aka “The Jello Effect.” As seen in my video posted below, the result is not only nearly vibration free, the video quality was stunning.
It’s on par with more expensive models in my opinion and perhaps better than some. While it isn’t the sort of model one would use for professional or advanced online work, it’s more than sufficient for beginners to get a feel for aerial photography and editing. I’m writing on a brand new, up-to-the-minute PC and it seems that Windows Movie Maker is no longer provided as part of new Windows 10 installations and I had to download it from a mirror site. Until I get a non-linear editor of some sort, I’ll use Movie Maker for now since it’ll work just fine. I point this out because the MP4 video files and JPEG photo files taken by the H216A work perfectly without the need for additional codecs or format conversion. In short, one can feel free to use an old, familiar program.
The H216A falls short in this regard. I spent close to a half hour trying to get the waypoint and follow-me functions to work. There are no instructions and no indication of whether or not the system would work with the transmitter switched on, as I was doing.
In fact, the model lost its WiFi signal during my attempts. That left the quad locked on to the eleven or so satellites it had acquired as it hovered about four feet off the ground right in front of me. If I was going to have to reboot this system anyway, that was about as fortunate a failure as I could have experienced; I landed it by tapping on the props with my shoe as it flew lower. This engaged the overload protection and stopped the motors.
Here’s some onboard video taken at a local park with my grandson Stephen playing a cameo role on the jungle gym:
Hubsan produced an official video of their own:
I shot this brief footage while trying to get the waypoint function to work and I thought it might make a nice video. Nothing like a winter’s day in the desert with temps in the 80s!
For those considering dipping a toe into the vast sea of entry level aerial photography quads, the Hubsan H216A X4 Desire Pro deserves a spot on one’s short list. It’s inexpensive, flies well, takes great video and photos and has readily available parts either online or through a Hubsan dealer. There’s also USA-based product support via Hubsan’s North American headquarters in Walnut, California. So, what’s not to like? That would be the lengthy process one must undertake via the app each time the model is flown. It’s annoying, new users might be discouraged and I believe it could have been designed better. The same goes with the powerful but difficult-to-use special features. There’s a lot of potential which could use an enormous makeover as well. The good far outweighs the bad, so I’ll cheerfully give 1 3/4 thumbs up. The app is what kept the score down and I’ll report back if I get it to work properly.
Thanks go to Anny, my current contact at GearBest who offered this model for review. Nathan Maat is the intrepid RC Universe administrator who makes all of these reviews happen on behalf of our worldwide audience. Thanks for visiting RC Universe!
Pluses and Minuses:
- Affordably priced
- Flies well with long flight times
- Video quality is outstanding
- Excellent parts availability with US-based support
- Accepts a regular li-po battery as opposed to a proprietary one
- The Bluetooth transmitter works well; any signal loss triggers the return-to-home
- Compass must be calibrated each time it’s flown as part of a lengthy startup process
- Battery door on my example keeps falling off
- App, while powerful, is difficult to use
- USB charger is not properly balancing the battery during charging