These days when a company builds and releases a drone, you hear about it at least six months in advance. Parrot’s recently released Bebop was announced in May. The Hexo+ was first announced last April and, despite a very successful Kickstarter this summer, won’t launch until May 2015.
So it is a bit surprising when a UAV enters the market without any fanfare.
“Millions of people have watched the latest music video from OK Go and the viral video from Captain Dave filming dolphins swim near his boat, and asked, ‘How can I get my hands on one of those?’” Adorama’s Steven Pierce told Dronelife. “For this reason, we partnered with Aries to create special offerings exclusively for the U.S. market and are thrilled to be offering the Aries Blackbird X10, which presents the option of a high-quality drone at an affordable price. We can’t wait to see the creative and exciting footage new drone owners will capture.”
Dronelife got to play with one of the first models off the assembly line. Here is what we found:
By The Numbers
Right off the bat, it’s apparent the Aries BlackBird X10 takes a lot of its design choices from the very successful DJI Phantom line. It features four brushless motors, LED lights for directional indication, 6-axis gyro stability, and a WiFi range extender. It’s relatively the same size and weight as a Phantom, the battery slides in the back, and you use your smartphone to take pictures and video.
The BlackBird X10 has a range of about 500 meters (and another 300 meters with the extender) and gets about 20 minutes of flight time with a single battery charge. It features precision GPS for altitude and position hold and auto-return to home functionality.
As you may imagine, because the drone is made by a camera company, it packs quite an impressive payload. The onboard camera boasts 1080p video and 16 megapixel stills. It’s controlled by a companion app on your phone which streams real time video from the drone.
All that is pretty standard for a drone of this size. So what makes the X10 different?
What’s in the Box?!
1 Aries Blackbird X10 body
4 propeller guards
1 WiFi extender and charger
1 mobile device mount (for smartphones… it fit my iPhone 6 with a case, but just barely)
1 5300 mAh Lithium battery and charger
1 wrench, 1 screwdriver, and 8 screws for assembling props and prop guards
1 transmitter strap
So right off the bat, you get an extra set of props and prop guards at no additional cost.
(Side Note: the prop guards look a little cheap. I expected them to break right away, but they have held up quite well against walls/chairs/the floor.)
The first thing you notice upon removing the X10 from its box is the fact that there is no gimbal. Instead, the camera is vibration dampened, and automatically adjusts angle of shot when flying. The camera is housed almost entirely in the body of the drone. The only thing that sticks out is the camera’s lens.
This doesn’t restrict your control of the camera (more on that in a minute) but it does become noticeable when you adjust roll while shooting a video.
The camera itself is crystal clear and has an impressive 120 degree point of view. However, this brings to light another difference between the X10 and a Phantom: camera controls.
The Aries Flight Control app displays camera controls on-screen, but far more convenient are the camera controls built into the transmitter.
There are four switches along the top: S1 controls position lock, S2 calibrates the joysticks, and S4 toggles GPS mode.
S3 controls the camera angle (tilt up, hold, and tilt down), so you never take your hands off the transmitter to adjust the camera. However, the trade-off is you don’t have precise control over the angle of the camera. It deals in absolute positioning, which makes for some shaky video. While this may be a dealbreaker for some photography purists, it shouldn’t be an issue for first timers or casual hobbyists.
Especially when you consider…
Basic camera controls are built right into the transmitter. Three LED lights in the middle of the transmitter indicate the drone’s battery life and whether the camera is in picture or video mode. The best part of the transmitter, though, is the three buttons above the power switch that let you record a video, snap a picture, and stop a recording without having to fiddle with controls on your phone.
So how does it fly?
Well, the weather was kind of crappy on our first day of flying, so we started out flying indoors with no GPS connectivity. We had no trouble getting all the hardware to synch up or calibrating the compass and took off with no issues. However, once the BlackBird was airborne, it began to drop and drift. Without GPS, there is no reliable position or altitude hold to speak of.
Once we did get it outside, though, we got a chance to flex some muscles.
The X10 controls pretty well, but not as tight as comparable models. There was still some drift and altitude hold issues and the movement of the drone seemed to overemphasize its instructions from the throttle. (This was also an issue indoors.)
The drifting can make video capture tricky, as can the absolute control of the camera. Tilting the camera is not a smooth process when the drone is in the air. The fact that there is a noticeable delay between camera movement and the display on your phone doesn’t help either.
The quality of the images though, is just fine. (A microSD card, plugged directly into the camera, is required for recording and saving images.)
The Aries Flight Control app is easily navigated but, again, not as tight as it could be. For example, the app is locked in a vertical display so, when you put your phone in the holder on the transmitter, you are looking at everything sideways.
You can check out some of the pictures and video we shot with the Aries BlackBird X10 and stay tuned for some updated impressions in the coming days.
This video demonstrates the issues with the shaky camera…. but hey, it held up really well in the snow!
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com