A fun $50 flier.
If you’re curious about quadcopters but don’t want to spend a lot of money on something that you’re just going to fly into the bushes, you should be checking out drones like the Syma X5C (See it on Amazon). At around $50, the X5C is basically a training drone that is small enough to stay below the FAA’s minimum size requirement for drone registration, and is built to withstand plenty of bumps and bruises. It even comes with a camera too if you want to try your hand at some aerial photography.
In the box
- X5C drone.
- 2MP 1280 x 720p still/video camera.
- Four propeller guards.
- 3.7v 500mAH battery installed under the camera.
- 2.4Ghz remote control with two control sticks and LCD info screen; it runs on 2 AA batteries (not included).
- Complete set of extra propellers.
- Small Phillips screwdriver for installing props, prop guards, and landing skids.
- USB charging cable.
Design and Features
My initial thought when I picked up the box that the Syma X5C quadcopter came in was that the manufacturer forgot to include the drone, as the box was way too light. Obviously it was indeed included, but my impression is a testament to how small and feathery this little quad is at just .2lbs. Yes, that’s point two pounds, not two. I also noticed how similar the X5C looked compared to the popular Phantom series of drones from DJI, with its mostly white shell and props, LEDs, camera placement, and similar landing gear profile.
The package includes the quadcopter, one set of replacement propellers, four prop guards, a rechargeable battery that offers seven minutes of flight time, and a removable two megapixel camera for still or video, making it a basic yet comprehensive bundle. A screwdriver is included if you want to install the optional prop guards, which I recommend since accidents will happen and they protect the drone as well as innocent bystanders. Syma also throws in an 8GB microSD card as well for recording photo and video, which was a surprise. There’s nothing on the drone’s product page on Amazon indicating it includes storage, though I did see a few commenters saying theirs came with a 2GB card. I still to this day don’t know why mine came with an 8GB card, but I wouldn’t expect it if you end up ordering one.
The X5C is also equipped with red and green LEDs that serve two main purposes: helping you know which direction it’s facing (red lights are in the front) and indicating the battery is low by blinking in-flight.
Flight control is handled via a 2.4Ghz remote control. The two standard control sticks are accompanied by an array of buttons (some of which are not used on this model) and an LCD that shows basic information such as battery life, amount of throttle, and directional power. The acceleration stick (left side) is not spring-loaded which allows for reasonable control of how fast and high the X5C travels. The various buttons control the two camera modes (still imaging and video recording) while others allow for fine tuning the drone’s stabilization. There is also a button that allows you to invert the controls, which a lot of people will find useful. One specialized function on the remote is the “3D Inversion” button, which allows the X5C to literally do a flip (yes, a flip!) during flight, though the feature is deactivated when the camera is attached.
Setting up the X5C was a breeze and took about five minutes. First I installed the propeller guards, and next I had to install two AA batteries (not included) in the remote. After these simple steps I was ready to fly, but unfortunately the quad’s 3.7V 500mAh Li-Po battery wasn’t, as it needed to be charged first. I grabbed the included USB cable and charged it with my laptop, which took about an hour and a half to complete. The battery is small and easily accessible through a hatch on the underbelly, but given the long recharge time you’ll definitely want to buy some extra batteries as they’re only $6 a piece.
I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised when I first took this thing for a spin. Maneuverability was mostly similar to the larger (and more expensive) quads I’m used to flying, despite the fact that it lacks any sort of GPS stabilization, which actually makes it easier to fly indoors. Since it doesn’t use GPS it can’t offer any type of return-to-home functionality, which most drones have. This just means you’ll have to fly it back to yourself each time instead of pressing a button and having the drone easily come back to you using GPS. It does, however, boast a 6-axis gyroscope stabilization system that keeps it pretty steady in the air, both while accelerating forward/upward as well as allowing it to remain somewhat still if desired.
The X5C is speedy and handles predictably thanks to its small size and low weight. I was easily able to yaw (rotate) in order to make tight turns at high speeds. This was useful as I mostly I flew around my yard in rural Maine, which is dotted with Spruce and Birch trees – a drone’s worst enemy. I also inadvertently tested the prop guards once by flying the X5C into a tree, but X5C bounced right off and continued to fly. With further, ahem, testing, it became apparent to me that this thing is built pretty well despite being light as a feather and made of plastic.
Controlling acceleration proved to be a bit difficult at first because as the acceleration control stick is pushed upward (increasing acceleration), height is also increased. It took a few tries for me to find the sweet spot and gain more control over those two variables. On my first flight, I found that the X5C’s lack of weight allows it to get pushed around in winds in excess of about 7 to 10mph, and I had to do a lot of real-time adjustment when a gust came up unexpectedly. At one point, a ~15mph gust easily blew the drone over a dense wooded area near my house, but I was able easily lower it out of the wind blast and eventually bring it back to my location. This little incident took most of the battery’s seven minute flight time and I noticed the drain by the blinking LEDs as it descended.
I also decided to try out its “3D Eversion,” or “flip” feature by accelerating at full speed and pressing the designated “flip button” on the remote. Since I didn’t have the camera attached on this initial flight I figured it would be easier to flip, but it resulted in a crash in the snow, so I decided to take a break and charge the battery again.
On my next flight, I wanted to see how high it would go, so I maneuvered it 50ft. straight up. This again posed some problems with the wind, but I managed to snap a few still images with the included “HD camera.” The images were about what I expected from a 2MP camera with a bit of distortion and not much clarity. The sample image here is unedited straight from the included 8gb micro SD card. Video quality is similar in that it is quite poor, lacking clarity and looking somewhat blown out. It’s also quite shaky as the camera is mounted directly to the X5C without stabilization provided by a gimbal mount. I also noticed that maneuverability was decreased with the camera and prop guards attached, likely due to weight.
The Syma X5C quadcopter has an MSRP of $132.99, but most retailers, including Amazon, typically sell it for much less. It can usually be nabbed for under $50, making it one of the more affordable decent-quality entry-level drones: