The Cheerson CX-20, carried by GearBest, is pitched as a cheap, easy way to get into the world of UAVs. While it’s consistently priced below $300 and provides an excellent learning experience for those new to the UAV community, I would qualify the CX-20 as more of an RC helicopter rather than a true drone.
Despite the CX-20’s GPS connectivity, there is no potential for autonomous flight and the lack of a camera eliminates the possibility that this unit could be considered a tool rather than a toy.
However, from the moment you open the box, the CX-20 experience perfectly prepares users for the current state of the world of drones.
What’s in the Box?
The CX-20 comes with everything you would expect from a toy-grade quadcopter:
1 battery charger
1 camera support
However, the CX-20 lacks a camera. Most people who buy drones want do so for the express purpose of taking pictures. While the CX-20 is equipped to handle a GoPro or similar action camera, if you don’t already have one, you will end up spending more on a camera than you did on the actual drone.
It’s also important to note that the camera support is a mount, not a gimbal. This means once the camera is mounted, it cannot move independent of the CX-20. So every jerk and turn of the craft will be reflected in the footage you capture.
The controller is pretty standard fare for an RC unit. It requires 4 AA batteries (not included) and follows the familiar left/right control sticks, trim buttons, dual switches for adjusting the flight mode and LED indicators for battery life.
How Does it Fly?
I’m not going to sugar coat it: the manual that comes with the CX-20 is fairly useless. The unit is made in China and, unfortunately, the English translation of the user manual isn’t great.
Before I could even think about flying, I had to calibrate the compass and the manual’s guidance was very hard to understand. Some simple Googling yielded much better instructions via YouTube so I sifted through the search results and found some videos (with at least written English instructions) that got me calibrated.
I also had to refer to these videos to decipher how to actually get the motors running which, it turns out, closely resembles the typical UAV ‘power on’ sequence of “hold a (or both) control stick(s) down in the bottom corner(s) to turn on the motors, then just throttle up.”
The first time I got this far and throttled up, the CX-20 promptly fell over to the left and chipped two propellers. After I replaced the props and went through the whole sequence again (in the same location) the CX-20 took off just fine. So the initial issue went undiagnosed.
Every takeoff I had after the initial calibration and crash went off without a hitch.
Despite my gentlest touch, I never got the CX-20 to land smoothly and I wouldn’t recommend flying in any amount of wind, but these tests did demonstrate the durability of the CX-20, which sufficiently impressed me.
I got about 12-14 minutes of flight time out of my battery charges and was able to fly it around my testing area without any drop of signal between controller and craft. (The manufacturer claims the range is about 300 meters.)
The reason I can recommend The CX-20 is precisely because it is imperfect. Even top of the line consumer drones don’t always behave as advertised and users are forced to seek out solutions, often not included in the box.
So, not only can the CX-20 train users how to fly, it also trains users how to think and react when an issue arises.
If you can get the CX-20 flying, you are ready for a real drone.
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