Syma X8SW RTF Quadcopter is affordable and flies great

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New and even improved quadcopters, it seems, are an almost daily occurrence over at Syma Model Aircraft Industrial, Ltd.

The affordable and great flying X8W and X8C have received a lot of good press over the past couple of years and the latest variation on that theme recently hit the mail order shelves.  It’s my pleasure to share my review of the new Syma X8SW RTF quadcopter from Cherise over at Banggood.com.  The X8SW takes the originals several steps further with the addition of an intelligent battery, barometric altitude hold and a 720P HD video/photo camera with Wi-Fi transmission to virtually any smartphone or tablet.  Other features include low-voltage protection, over-current protection, level calibration, high and low control rates, headless mode and, of course, an automatic flip function.

It’s now available over at Banggood for US$109.99 plus $10.21 shipping. The X8SW is a lot of entry level machine for comparatively little money and it’s available here.

Onboard 720p video may be viewed at the link below.

Specifications

Dimensions (LxWxH): 19.66 x 19.66 x 7.48″ (50 x 50 x 19 cm)

Battery:  Syma 2000mAh 7.4V intelligent lithium polymer with AC charger

Claimed Flight Duration:  Nine minutes at hover after up to 150 minutes charge time

Camera: 720p CCD video and photo via Wi-Fi or to the supplied 4GB micro SD card

Operator Age/Skill Level:  14+; experienced beginner

Contents

The X8SW comes as a ready-to-fly package complete with the following:

  • Fully assembled model
  • Four-channel 2.4GHz transmitter
  • Syma 2000mAh 7.4V 2S intelligent lithium polymer battery with AC charger
  • 720P photo/video camera with Wi-Fi
  • 4GB micro SD card and USB reader
  • Landing skids and optional propeller guards
  • Two sets of propellers
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • Plastic open-end wrench
  • Smartphone retainer clip
  • Illustrated instruction manual

Needed to complete the model:

  • Four AA-cell alkaline batteries for the transmitter

Syma models have always been packaged and presented well and the X8SW was no exception. Everything was neatly and securely packed.  Perhaps the nicest thing about the packaging was the model itself, not only because it has a decidedly upscale look, but because it’s easily knocked down for storage.  The landing legs and propeller guards clip in place and the propellers have a camlock system similar to previous Syma models. The styling isn’t unlike an early DJI Phantom with the addition of vacuum-plated red chrome accents. The transmitter follows much the same color scheme.  Syma might be trying to establish a corporate identity; styling cues on the smaller X5UW are similar, both transmitters are identical and both manuals are similar to those found on lots of other Syma models.

The display box continues the upscale look, but the rear of the package (r) has a lot of machine translated English.

syma box frontsyma box rear

The model and its accessories are in separate boxes and trays; this may be to aid with shipping.  Nice touch.

syma quad in traysyma accys in traysyma trays

As the intelligent flight battery was charging, I took a moment to look over the manual.

Syma manuals are comprehensive and chock full of marvelously rendered engineering drawings.  They’re also notorious for their machine-translated English, but with that aside, the instructions cover the model’s operating features well.  A sample is shown below:

syma manual frontsyma manual page

The manual doesn’t quite match up to the actual propeller installation procedure, however.  It says (in typical Syma machine-translated English) that nuts must first be installed underneath the props and the enclosed wrench used to hold the hub in place as the prop is locked down. The wrench was too large to hold the hub and there were no nuts of any kind provided beyond the decorative plastic crown nuts for the tops of the propellers.

The wrench, accessories, battery and charger are shown here:

syma tolssyma battery and chg

Instead, I was able to simply hold the hubs with my fingers, press down on each propeller and twist each prop into place before topping each hub with a crown nut which simply clips in place. The hubs themselves are marked as to where the “A” and “B” props are supposed to go, but the markings are very faint. They also twist onto the hubs in different directions; the “A” blades are turned counterclockwise to lock them on the hubs and the “B” blades are turned clockwise.  The camera simply slides into place and is plugged into its jack.  The optional propeller guards, as mentioned, slide and lock into place as the legs do.

syma prop in placesyma leg clip demosyma camera in place

 Flying

Basic flight prep is similar to most quads.  The transmitter is first switched on followed by the model.  Once the onboard LEDs begin flashing slowly, the left stick is then moved fully up , back to fully down and back to center to arm the model.  The LEDs will glow steadily.

From there, the pilot can calibrate the headless mode if desired or simply begin flying in one of three ways.  The first method is to push the left stick to full throttle and back to center which starts the motors in idle.  The second method is to move both stick down and in which also starts the motors in idle. Or, one can simply press the “B” button on the upper right front of the transmitter.  This causes the X8SW to take off automatically and climb to a predetermined height.  A gentle bump of the throttle stick in either direction cancels the auto takeoff and restores full control to the pilot.  Should one wish to fly outdoors on high control rates, the right stick should first be pressed inward.  Two beeps confirm the high rate setting; holding the stick for three seconds engages the headless mode.  I would highly recommend the high rates in breezy conditions, by the way.  I was attempting to shoot video in a windy area and as the model lifted off, it was blowing straight back at me and I had no time to either land or to back up since I was standing in front of a rock barrier.  I did all I could do, that is, to grab the leg of the model.  That’s when I stepped backwards into the rocks and I tripped!  I wasn’t hurt and neither was the X8SW beyond a couple of lightly scraped decorative crown nuts.  I learned two things.  One, make sure the model is on high rates in most outdoor conditions and two, the over-current protection worked perfectly when I dropped the model.

After a few practice flights, I discovered that the auto takeoff method tends to confuse the barometric hold feature if the throttle is used too early, causing the model to quickly bob up and down. It also causes the automatic landing feature to malfunction, causing the model to plummet. Unfortunately, there’s no way of disabling the feature.  Nevertheless, it works quite well overall (if it hasn’t been confused) and it doesn’t seem to be a hindrance during sporty flying. If anything, the altitude hold makes it very simple to perform 360-degree pans with no loss of altitude.

Overall flight characteristics are excellent; Syma does a fantastic job of getting the controls just right for new users. However, where other similarly sized Syma models I’ve flown have a relatively quiet gear-driven motor system, the X8SW is much noisier.  It isn’t any worse than other gear-driven quads, but it’s a disappointment in a Syma.

Perhaps someday, Syma will see fit to put these wonderful features in a brushless quadcopter, but that’s a rant for another day.

Special Features

While I’m not a big fan of headless mode operation on most small quads, some low altitude, low speed tests showed the function to work quite well even though I intentionally didn’t calibrate it.  That was very encouraging since the X8SW is primarily an entry level camera platform.  For example, it allows for some terrific flybys which keep the subject in frame as the quad rotates on its axis and continues to fly forward.  This is where the Wi-Fi function can be a big help to the beginning aerial photographer.

As for the camera itself, it does a pretty good job with both videos and photos.  There’s no sound on the video which to me is a huge step forward.  Most cameras capture nothing but the sound of the motors and it has to be muted in order to mix it down with music.  In short, sound is useless in an application such as this and Syma did the right thing in my opinion. Picture quality is good with good color saturation, hue and contrast.  The problem is the doggone “Jell-O” Effect rearing its ugly head in the form of wavy video due to excessive vibration.  This isn’t surprising given the camera’s solid mounting, gear-driven props and possibly unbalanced props.  It’s definitely disappointing since other Syma units I’d reviewed were almost free of vibration.

The Wi-Fi feature also works well and a compatible mobile device can be used as a viewfinder or a rudimentary FPV screen. Bright sunlight washes out the image no matter what type of device one happens to be viewing, but again, it might work well enough to be used to frame shots.  The camera clip is another big help in that regard since even a large smartphone fits.  When the clip isn’t in use, a block-off plate is installed in its place.  Nice touch as shown below:

syma xmtr frontsyma xmtr rear

The camera will shoot photos almost as fast as one can press the transmitter button; the onboard LEDs will flash in acknowledgement.  They also blink continuously to indicate that it’s shooting video.

Most new users seem to enjoy one-touch flips. For that matter, so do I.  The X8SW does very well in that regard.  The “A” button on the top right of the transmitter must be held down before the right stick is moved in the direction of the flip.  This prevents an unwanted flip should the button be pressed by mistake.  I’ve had that happen and it isn’t fun when a crash is the result.  Recovery is excellent thanks to the altitude hold; very little throttle is needed to compensate for the loss of altitude one encounters when flipping a quad.

Conclusion 

Roughly 120 bucks with shipping from Banggood.com will net the lucky owner of a Syma X8SW RTF quadcopter a feature-packed, good flying, entry level camera platform which does additional duty as a gentle flying sport quad and trainer.  It’s a fun way to learn aerial photography via quadcopter and while the results are somewhat wavy, they’re still suitable for learning the basics.  The modular, snap-together construction makes knocking down the X8SW for storage a breeze.

I’m less excited about the proprietary battery, although it works well.  I’m also less excited about the noisy gear-driven, brushed motors and wavy video along with less-than-friendly operation of the trims, starting and stopping of the motors and the auto takeoff.

One should keep in mind how this kind of money netted a very basic micro quad a few short years ago.  Today, it nets one heck of a nice beginner’s quad which earns two thumbs up.

My thanks go to Cherise of Banggood.com for offering this nice little quad for review.  I also want to thank Nathan and the crew here at RC Universe for publishing these reviews on behalf of our worldwide audience.  Thanks to all of you as well for visiting!

Gallery

Some beauty shots both with and without the camera:

syma beauty2syma beauty no camerasyma beauty1

These are photos uploaded in full resolution directly off of the SD card:

syma park1syma park2syma park3

syma park4syma park5syma park6

syma mtns3syma mtns1syma mtns2

Pluses and Minuses

Pluses include:

  • Affordably priced
  • Excellent flight characteristics
  • Modular landing leg and propeller guards require no tools
  • Long flight times
  • Good parts availability from a trusted name in entry level quads
  • Barometric altitude hold makes aerial photography easier
  • Camera will record to an SD card, a mobile device or both at once
  • Attractive styling
  • LEDs are easy to see even in daylight
  • A terrific bang for very little buck

Minuses include:

  • Noisy gear drives
  • The altitude hold sometimes works improperly
  • Some vibration present in the video
  • Complicated to trim if need be
  • Calibrating the headless mode is also complicated
  • Proprietary battery and charger
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