Monday, June 23, 2014

First impressions of the Blade 200QX


Blade 200 QX

The 200 QX arrives

I had pre-orded a 200 QX for a number of reasons. Now that it's here, I'm quite happy I did. It's a cute little thing:

For those not familiar with it, the 200 QX is Blade's latest quadcopter. It's in the same class the 180 QX and their first quad, the m QX and the WLToys v959.

Overview

While the size temps me to call this the latest in their m QX line of quads, it actually has far more in common with the 350 QX than the m QX or it's successors:
  • It has the same hard, white shell instead of a cheap plastic canopy.
  • It uses brushless motors.
  • It uses a multi-cell lipo.
  • It has three different flight modes, not two.
It really looks like a miniature 350 QX:
Blade Brothers
Blade 200 next to a 350 QX with a red skin.

Hardware

I like the hardware. For some reason, the plastic feels sturdier than the 350 QX plastic. Possibly it's just the smaller size making it a little bit firmer.

It has very high-speed (3000Kv!) brushless motors, so the props seem ridiculously small. However, they provide plenty of oomph. It sounds more like a Nano Qx than anything else.

Blade fixed what I thought was most annoying about the 350 QX (I know that other people have much more serious problems than I did): the battery cover latch is actually solid. I've had more than one 350 QX flight end without a battery cover, even though they started with one. The 200 QX battery cover latches down solid, and has shown no signs of such a problem.

On the downside, it has no power switch. Having to plug it in and then try and get the battery hatch on and the thing on the ground before it goes into bind mode reminds me of the toy quads.

Flight

The thing is an absolute joy to fly. It does mimic the 350 QX in having three flight modes, one of which is pretty much useless. But it's also stable and responsive like the 350 QX in the modes I do use. The unused flight mode has a limited flight envelope - so you can't get in too much trouble, or go too fast as well as automatic stabilization when you let go of the sticks. There is a middle mode where the limits are much higher. The documentation says "maximum limits", but as far as I can tell it still falls short of acrobatic. This mode also automatically levels the quad if there is no directional input. Finally, it has a mode with no limits - and no automatic behavior. You have the full flight capabilities at your fingertips, and can do all the acrobatics your heart desires. When in this mode the 200 QX feels like a collective pitch helicopter. It doesn't stop doing what you tell it to until you explicitly tell it to stop.

Unlike the 350 QX, there is no hands-free mode, or return to home feature. However, switching to one of the stable modes will cause it to go into a mostly stable hover, and still acts as a safety net.

The obvious comparison would be with the WLToys 959:
Not Brothers
200QX and a WLToys v959


Except there is no comparison. The 200 QX costs nearly four times as much, without a transmitter or a camera. I'd say it's easily four times the craft. It's not clear having a real body instead of a cheap plastic canopy is a win, but the brushless motors that give it it's character cost more than 5 times as much - even if you buy cheap Chinese clones of the Horizon Hobby motors the 200 QX uses.

And it has such a nice character. Lots of oomph, and a serious punch out. It has enough lift to carry a GoPro camera. Unlike the v959 and its ilk, this is a hobby grade quad. Yes, both have enough power to do flips. But on the toys, you have a button that makes the thing flip, so you can show off to your friends - but otherwise that power isn't available and it's constrained by an autoleveling feature. On the 200 QX (and the 350 QX, and the Nano QX) you have a mode where you get all the power you need to flip. Or loop. Or roll. Or whatever. But you have to actually be able to fly the quad to do it.

Aside from acrobatics, the 200 QX feels much more stable than the v959 - at least when in one of the two auto-leveling modes. To be fair, the v222 would be a better comparison, but I'm not interested enough in those to buy one.

Camera

Sorry, didn't get one. I couldn't convince myself that it made sense since I already have a 350 QX and GoPro.

However, that the 200 QX provides an external servo interface connected to the Aux channel opens some interesting possibilities for adding my own gadgets. The same could be done with the v959, but the interface isn't standard, and I'd be surprised it has enough lift to get a GoPro off the gound (let me know if you do that). Watch the blog for future reports.

Summary

Ok, it's expensive. This isn't something you'd buy to see if you're interested in flying RC multi-rotors. Not unless you've got a lot more cash to burn than I do. For that, the NanoQx is a lot better buy. On the other hand, I think it makes a much better second quad than the v959. If you start with the Nano QX, the v959 will be a disappointment. This won't.