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Review: The camera-packin' Hubsan X4 FPV mini quadcopter

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January 26, 2014

The Hubsan X4 FPV is likely the world's smallest quadcopter that can be flown by first-per...

The Hubsan X4 FPV is likely the world's smallest quadcopter that can be flown by first-person-view

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It was just a few months ago that we showed you what is probably the world's smallest consumer quadcopter, the tiny Estes Proto X. Although it's a marvel of modern engineering, Gizmag writer Jonathan Fincher noted that it lacks any particularly interesting features, such as a camera. Well, late last year, Hubsan released its X4 H107D FPV. It's not much bigger than the Proto X, and it has a camera that transmits a real-time video signal to the user. When I heard about it, I knew I had to try it out.

The eye in the sky

Hubsan's other X4 quadcopters have already proven quite popular with hobbyists. The previously-released H107C model also has a camera, although it doesn't provide a live feed. Instead, users have to watch the recorded footage after the fact.

With the FPV, however, they can see what the camera's seeing as it sees it, via a 4.3-inch color LCD screen in the control unit. This makes it possible to fly by first-person-view (hence the FPV in its name), although a wider lens would make doing so considerably easier. It's also possible to start and stop recording via a single button on the controller.

The controller receives a real-time video feed from the quadcopter

The camera itself is nothing special, with its 0.3-megapixel sensor and 640 x 480 resolution. Although the picture is displayed on the monitor at 720 x 480, it's rather bizarrely recorded at a squat 720 x 240. This means that if you plan on using the recorded footage for anything, you'll have to run it through a converter to stretch it from 240 to 480. While Hubsan does provide links to a couple of free Windows-based converters, I couldn't find any aspect ratio-altering freeware that would work on my Mac. Eventually, I gave in and purchased AnyVideo Converter HD for six bucks, although I really shouldn't have had to.

Additionally, depending on where you're flying it, the video can get quite glitchy by the time it reaches the monitor. This might not matter if it were recorded onboard the quadcopter, but it's not. Instead, it's recorded on a Micro SD card in the controller, meaning that all the glitches are present in the video by the time it's recorded. That said, most users will probably be more interested in using the camera just to fly the thing.

The quadcopter itself

A front view of the FPV

The FPV measures about 4.5 inches (114 mm) diagonally, looks beautiful, and feels nice and solid in hand. One charge of its 3.7-volt 380-mAh lithium polymer battery takes about 30 minutes via an included USB cable (which can be difficult to disconnect), and is good for around seven minutes of flight time. This means that learning to fly the thing has to be done in numerous short installments.

Once the battery is juiced up, its charging receptacle wire has to be sort of twisted around, folded over, and stuffed into a little compartment in the back of the aircraft. It's hard getting it to stay in there, however, plus my copter has developed a short in that wire from all the manipulation. It would be far better if there were simply a clip or something similar to hold the wire in place, without placing so much stress on it.

Taking it up

As for actually flying the sucker ... well, a search on YouTube will show you that there are plenty of experienced RC aircraft hobbyists out there who are quite adept at piloting the FPV. My only previous quadcopter experience has been with the DJI Phantom and Phantom 2 Vision, and while they're certainly more intimidating to fly (because they're so big and expensive), they're also a lot easier. This is mainly due to the fact that they both use GPS to hold their position in mid-air.

The FPV (fortunately) is fairly crash-worthy

The GPS-less FPV, on the other hand, tends to drift around quite a bit. Although it's certainly possible to get it to go more or less where I want, I find that a lot of the time, flying it is almost like a game – it routinely tries to head off in one random direction or another, and it's my job to keep it from doing so. Keeping it hovering in one place is pretty much out of the question.

This is doubtless doing wonders for my hand-eye coordination, but it can be a little frustrating at times. I've only had it a few weeks so far, though, so hopefully my skills will improve. In the meantime, it's a good thing that the FPV is so tough. I've crashed it more times than I could possibly remember, and the only visible damage has been some bashed-up propellers (I'm currently on my second set). That did prompt me to install its prop guard, although that itself has already snapped in one spot.

The claimed maximum control and video range is 100 meters (328 ft), although I've yet to put that to the test. I have tried taking the quadcopter outside, but it's pretty easily pushed around by even moderate winds.

Shelling out

Yes, this shot would have looked better with the FPV in flight, but that would have been a...
The X4 FPV sells for around US$200. Is it worth it? I would say yes, provided that:
  • You don't plan on using the video for anything other than FPV flying
  • You take it easy on the battery wire
  • You don't expect to be an expert pilot right away
  • You're not buying it because you think that it'll be easier to fly than one of the "big boys" (although it's not as big of a deal when you crash it)

Speaking of fancier quadcopters, a Hubsan rep has informed me that the company is developing a "better, larger" X4 that will supposedly offer more functions than the DJI Phantom 2 Vision. It might be coming our way in March, so we look forward to getting our hands on it.

For now, though, you can check out the short-but-sweet video below, in which my friend Kevin and I give the FPV a whirl in a warehouse ... and despite the way it's edited, I must admit that it was actually me who was flying it in the final shot.

Product page: Hubsan X4 H107D FPV

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
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10 Comments

Very fair and thorough review - I agree that the whole video compression thing is odd and there are still a few kinks to work out with the video transmission system.

I think $200 is a bit pricey for a non-HD platform, though the FPV is a big game changer. For those just interested in starting out a bit cheaper, the regular non-streaming video version of the Hubsan X4 - the Hubsan X4 H107C can be found for about $60 and is a great first quadcopter purchase.

Facebook User
27th January, 2014 @ 04:37 am PST

The best compromise would be to have the live low rez video feed, but also have it recorded on the copter at higher rez without glitches.

Michaelc
27th January, 2014 @ 08:04 am PST

A really good review. I can hardly wait to buy one.

Maybe one can hack a wide angle lens onto the QC. On board SD card would be great. I want the camera to document things from altitude. Add some stabilization algorithms and sensors.

99gusPuppet
27th January, 2014 @ 01:10 pm PST

Augmentations:

Station-keeping software so one does not have to fly it every second, and the video does not jump around so much, a bottom mounted battery and a hot-swap station for 'refueling'. Swarming and nest building capability. Sting optional. :)

M. Report
27th January, 2014 @ 07:51 pm PST

It amazes me that the on-board battery charging is not done via a suitable battery or power supply with a tethered power wire and a tiny plug at the 'copter itself, seems to me that the present system is ass-about! I await the 'next-gen' version with GPS and a better charging option.

The Skud
27th January, 2014 @ 10:04 pm PST

Lengthen the distance covered, and it will be an indispensable gadget of every paparazzo.

kamaaina
28th January, 2014 @ 01:24 am PST

Aaaagh! The lens flares! Are you sure this clip wasn't directed by JJ Abrams?

MzunguMkubwa
28th January, 2014 @ 07:09 am PST

I think this is a fairly good-value toy. However, I'd buy it from a reputable vendor. If you are thinking of buying from a particular vendor, possibly one whose business practices you're not familiar with, please google

"reviews for "

before you send them any money.

I am just getting out from under a very negative experience with what seems like a completely insane (takes money but refuses to ship, offering only excuses) vendor. I will be checking for reviews of new sellers FIRST before buying things like this online from now on.

There seem to be a few sketchy vendors selling these, along with very strong ones like Amazon and various eBay stores.

To Hubsan's credit, each and every part that makes the toy can be bought as a spare. Three stars for that!

sleat
6th February, 2014 @ 02:11 am PST

The Hubsan X4 without the FPV has to be the best quadcopter I have flown apart from the DJI Phantom with GPS. In expert mode you can fight the wind very easily, Although it will take a lot of practice to master this small machine it is very responsive to the joystick, others are slow and delayed (eg: syma x1) which make flying not fun at all.

Anyone wanting to start out with the hubsan I would suggest you buy the Hubsan X4 107 from ebay or the cheapest is from banggood for around AU$35 - AU$45. There is an updated model with LEDS the Hubsan X4 V2 H107L that makes night flying fun and finding it when it crashes as well, oh and yes DO buy the prop guard and 5 extra batteries..you will need both. Expect 9 mins of flying time but well worth it..lots of fun.

Pc Collect
20th February, 2014 @ 05:54 pm PST

The video range is a lot better with a simple mod from the cali-bros.com

http://cali-bros.com/h107d-antenna-mod-longer-range-fix-cali-bros/

This will easily double the fpv range.

Nick Christensen
16th October, 2014 @ 08:01 pm PDT
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