Small quadcopters, it seems, have placed model aviation on a whole new level, perhaps more so than the advent of the small RTF electric airplane of the early 2000s. Add to that the burgeoning technology of do-it-yourself aerial photography and it’s no wonder that multirotors have forever changed the model aviation landscape.
Online vendors have certainly capitalized on the trend with a plethora of ready-to-fly models. One such example is the subject of this review.
It’s the Kai Deng K80 Pantonma RTF quadcopter from my friends at GearBest.com. The K80 Pantonma offers a lot of options, among them two color choices, six different cameras, obstacle avoidance and even 3D virtual reality goggles. It’s available as a basic sport quad selling for under $50 with no options, however, I reviewed it with a top of the line 2MP Wi-Fi camera which was later sent when the cameras arrived in stock.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 7” (330 x 330 x 68mm)
Standard Version Flying Weight: Approximately 4.75 oz. (135g)
Flight Battery: 650mAh 3.7V lithium polymer in a proprietary housing
Propellers: 3” (135mm)
Claimed Flight Time: 5 minutes
The oddly named Pantonma basic model comes with the following:
- Fully assembled model
- Spare propellers
- Phillips screwdriver
- Propeller guards
- Dummy camera and obstacle avoidance module block-off plate
- 2.4GHz four-channel transmitter with built-in battery
- 650mAh 3.7V lithium polymer flight battery
- USB charger
- Illustrated instruction manual
To begin with, my version of the Pantonma is an attractive little model in its turquoise, pewter, black and white trim. It’s also available with gold instead of turquoise trim. There’s even a hint of a windscreen, giving it a modicum of scale detail.
A very pleasant surprise for an inexpensive RTF quad was in the form of its transmitter. It looks like a video game styled transmitter, but it stretches to accommodate a smartphone! Without a phone in place, the transmitter is wide enough to impart the feeling of holding a full-sized unit and all buttons are clearly marked. Both its built in 80mAh li-po and the flight battery are charged via a USB charger, but only one charger is supplied. I had another charger from a small FPV monitor on hand which allowed me to charge both at once.
The battery is Kai Deng’s attempt at a proprietary battery much like those found on DJI and similar high end units. The case was easily disassembled and I was faced with a common sized 650mAh 3.7V li-po with four power leads instead of two. Two for the power plug, two for the charging jack. I would recommend that a new pilot unfamiliar with working with lithium polymer batteries and/or electronic soldering either purchase another pack or two from GearBest for under seven bucks a pop or have an experienced hobbyist install a new battery in the cradle when the need arises. If I can find the proper plug, I’ll make a charging adapter for use with my ElectriFly Triton EQ charger, but the USB unit works quite well. The dummy camera (l) and the battery pack are shown below:
Once the flight and transmitter batteries are charged and either the dummy camera or a real camera installed, the model is ready to go either with or without the supplied propeller guards.
Personally, I don’t like propeller guards, but what sets those on the Pantonma apart from most others is that they simply press in place. No screwdriver needed, although the manual states one is necessary and that block-off plates are provided, which they aren’t. They don’t noticeably affect flight characteristics, so should a beginner feel more comfortable with the guards in place, I say go for it.
Once the transmitter is switched on, the model can be powered up via a button atop the body shell. Binding the two units is accomplished by raising the throttle to full and bringing it back to center, verified by a beep and the steady glow of the onboard LEDs. A tap of the auto-takeoff button on the upper right of the transmitter starts the motors in idle.
This is where one should exercise caution, especially a beginner. The throttle response is very sensitive and not particularly linear, either. The Pantonma will rocket into the air with even slight application of the throttle, but once it’s airborne, the automatic altitude hold function works reasonably well.
The key word here is “reasonably” since attempts to adjust the model’s altitude will be met by that same jumpy throttle response.
Indoor test flights on low rates showed how capable a flyer the Pantonma is. Again, the altitude hold does a good job of holding the model in place (unless one were to abruptly apply throttle) with smooth pitch, bank and yaw controls. Many inexpensive quads tend to have overly slow yaw response in low rates, but not the Pantonma. It has an excellent yaw rate, but the motors tend to rev up somewhat as it returns to neutral which in turn bring the model’s rotation to a slightly jerky stop.
Outdoor flight on both medium and high rates bring the K80 to life with medium rates being an excellent compromise; high rates felt “twitchy” at first, but I’ve since become rather accustomed to the lively performance on high rates. However, that throttle response remained a problem. Throttling back while in fast forward flight threatened to shut down the motors and reapplication of throttle meant abrupt acceleration. There’s a definite learning curve to mastery of the throttle, but thanks to otherwise great flight characteristics, practice should eventually make perfect. I’m pleased to report that flying in a wide-open space makes for some fun flying on high rates, but one should be cautious of letting the Pantonma get too far downrange. I tried a range test over grass and when it lost signal, it kept going! Fortunately, I was able to reestablish the radio link and fly it back to me. Lesson learned!
Special Flight Characteristics
Entry level quads often come with a host of features and the Pantonma is no exception. Automatic flips are, of course, a popular option. The K80’s auto flip is one of the best I’ve ever used since the altitude hold function helps the model to recover after a flip with little loss of altitude. It’s overridden when the camera and/or obstacle avoidance sensor are installed, so dizzying videos taken while the Pantonma is performing flips are, sadly, out of the question.
The return-to-home function, while a nice idea, works very poorly in practice. No matter how carefully I positioned the model prior to takeoff, engaging the RTH function sent it off in seemingly random directions. Even more confusing is the headless mode. The instructions are a real mishmash of machine translated Chinese and headless mode on a small machine like the Pantonma is gimmicky at best. Like the RTH, I simply couldn’t get the headless mode to perform as I wished.
This arrived separately as soon as the Wi-Fi cameras were in stock at GearBest. My contact, Adam Chiu wasted no time in shipping the 2MP, 1280×720 version! All cameras simply pop in place and are powered by the flight battery. Three QR codes are printed on the back cover of the instruction manual which allow a smartphone or tablet to be used as an FPV monitor. Virtual flight controls are part of the app, but I couldn’t make them work and there are no instructions how to do so. I’ve had experience with a similar setup and I highly recommend using the transmitter over virtual sticks.
Several features really made me smile, starting with the crystal-clear resolution. Lag is typical of a Wi-Fi link, but it’s almost negligible in this case.
Video and photos can be recorded directly to the phone with a simple touch of the screen’s corresponding button. What really sets this camera apart is its tilting lens! Buttons on the transmitter tilt the lens downward at 45- and 90-degree angles and back. It’s not a high-end brushless gimbal system, but it’s a real breakthrough on an entry level RTF like the Pantonma. Another breakthrough is an artificial 3D view which requires the use of goggles sold separately. I tested it simply by looking at the phone, crossing my eyes and looking at the central image. Not only does it work, it works incredibly well! Should I be fortunate enough to score some goggles, I promise to report back. My guess is that the image can be seen through ordinary smartphone goggles as opposed to specialty goggles.
The camera comes packaged in a box meant for a store display, so perhaps Kai Deng is considering expanding their presence in brick-and-mortar hobby shops:
Below is a comparison of the real camera and the dummy camera; both share the same case.
The camera simply slides in place of the dummy and is just as easily removed.
The Kai Deng K80 Pantonma is a nice little entry level machine, especially since it’s currently on sale at a tick over $40. This nets a new user an easy to fly, basic quad with the possibility of upgrades.
While I can’t speak for how well the collision avoidance module works, I can say that I’m impressed with the camera. However, at $49, it can be more to purchase it than it is to purchase the quad! The K80’s regular sale price of $83 coupled with the camera put it in some darn good company which boasts better parts support. While the manual lists a full complement of parts, few are available on GearBest. Some research turned up some overseas parts sources, but none have the customer service of GearBest. It’s my hope that GearBest will stock parts soon; the audience at which this model is aimed are very likely to break parts.
It isn’t a perfect effort by Kai Deng, but it’s a good one which earns 1 ¾ thumbs up.
My thanks go to Adam Chiu and his crew at GearBest for expediting this model for evaluation on behalf of our RC Universe readers.
Pluses and Minuses
- Affordably priced
- Fine overall flight characteristics
- Excellent optional camera
- Excellent transmitter
- No screwdriver necessary to attach or remove propeller guards
- Modular construction for ease of service
- Choppy, overly sensitive throttle control
- Lots of poorly translated English in the manual
- Not all parts are available yet
- No failsafe if the model were to fly out of range
- Proprietary battery, although it may be possible to replace the pack inside the shell
Here are some full resolution stills taken at a local park: