Mini Quadcopters are supposed to fulfill three basic requirements. The first is affordability. If it’s a small drone with limited tech prowess, it should definitely cost less than $100. The second is simplicity of use, is this mini-drone likely aimed at young kids or beginners and user-friendly enough to provide a smooth ease of entry? Finally, the experience should be more fun than anything else. While Eachine’s E012HW quadcopter does check off that vital first component, it fails miserably at fulfilling the other two, in addition to being terribly, terribly named.
It would be unfair to approach the E012HW with high expectations. Let’s be clear, this is a mini-drone targeted at people with little-to-no experience with unmanned aerial vehicles and without the motivation or patience to acquire a more demanding, and therefore, rewarding drone. Hence, I’ve approached this mini quadcopter in contrast to its own kind. Even on its own terms, the E012HW disappoints. Fundamentally, a drone experience anchored to both underdeveloped smartphone software and lackluster physical performance is one that leaves satisfaction to be desired. In order to more clearly understand the overwhelmingly negative traits of this thing, we should look at the immediate issues, first.
The Good, the Bad, the Frustrating
This first-person view (FPV) mini quadcopter requires you to download a smartphone app to see through its quality-hampered camera. Nothing bad to see here, right? Unfortunately, besides yet another terribly named component of this experience, the “Idrones WiFi” app welcomes you with an aesthetically confusing home screen (with an inexplicable backdrop of the city of Seattle). If you manage to find help or instructions within, you’ll quickly notice the various misspellings and utterly unclear directions. While it tells you to enter the “Settins” [sic] menu and switch your phone’s Wi-Fi on, you’re never told what it’s actually called. This may not be a big deal to some, at home, with only one wireless connection available anyway but for someone with more than 30 connections on the dropdown list, it can take a few tries to connect to the correct one—it doesn’t have “Eachine” or “E012HW” in its name. Of course, once you’ve managed to connect your drone to your phone and lodge the latter into the controller, the confusion has just begun. Click on “Play,” to start flying, by the way, or at least, get closer to doing so.
I may not be the smartest drone user in the world, having only flown my first UAV last summer, but I’d like to think that I’m a pretty capable gadget and tech user. I built my own computers as a child, installed operating systems as finicky as Windows ME in confusing LAN network scenarios, and even freed my PlayStation 2 of its region-encoded restrictions by fusing a China-made chip into its innards. Realizing that I’d have to toggle the controller’s left joystick up, then down, wait for a beep, and then press the upper right shoulder button to take off, however, was something that took me far too long to generate a positive first experience, here. Being frustrated so early on in the process is something I can easily see dissuading young users from marching forward and putting in the effort to overcome.
The E012HW is too underpowered to hover in place. As soon as it takes off, the drone sways in an unprompted direction and does so throughout your attempts to control the flight. While the physical controller feels good in your hands and provides a welcome phone holder atop, the drone doesn’t seem to respond well to your input. It often loses connectivity, first of all, due to its lack of reliable powering of both the FPV stream to your phone and the connection between devices. This leads to the drone crashing—a lot—and oftentimes receiving your inputs too late to matter. Of course, if you have a big open space to allow for this occasional loss of control to matter, I presume most young kids would be using this thing indoors. And if they are outside, this quadcopter doesn’t have nearly enough power to withstand even the lightest wind speed.
The in-app controls are a mess. While it appears to provide users with a lot of info and a customizable experience, the touchscreen controls don’t respond too well to allow for basic, capable piloting. I flew this thing for more than half an hour, to make sure I was at least putting in the effort to know for sure if I felt unreasonably impotent here or simply found out that this isn’t a well-designed app. It was the latter, unfortunately.
While I’d personally firmly lump the erroneously labeled FPV experience into the “bad” column, I have to admit that giving new drone users the experience of seeing what their drone sees is always a strong move and always leads to a few rewarding, joyous moments. Of course, the image quality is terrible, and recording videos doesn’t mean that the aural aspect comes along with it. Your videos will consist of heavily grainy footage, very unstabilized (if you even manage to steer this thing in one direction long enough to warrant recording anything), and a silent score. While this doesn’t hold a candle to the FPV experience or image quality of other drones, it would be unfair to expect anything of the sort with a quadcopter that costs $46.99 and is smaller than your hand. I’d say that given the circumstances, the E012HW’s first-person feature is its brightest spot, even if that isn’t saying much.
I realize that not all drones can be affordable, user-friendly, and fun. For companies without the ability to guarantee all three, battles have to be picked. Mini quadcopters often relinquish the element of fun for the decrease in cost, which, while understandable still leaves you with an unsatisfying experience. To be clear, the E012HW does fly, and it is extremely inexpensive. It’s just not good enough to warrant even the low cost of $46.99. You might think that this could be a fun gift for your nephew or a young kid who likes flying things, but in my earnest opinion, it seems unlikely that this drone would provide any long-lasting joy, whatsoever. It reminds me of a long-gone era where gadget-store employees in shopping malls would stand outside and present low-quality RC toys or quadcopters, for unsuspecting parents who might think their kids would love this.
In the end, I suppose the biggest, most fundamental problem here is that mini quadcopters attempting to provide a sophisticated FPV experience just don’t exist (yet). The drone is simply far too small to have a high-end camera embedded, which would increase the price, and not powerful enough to provide both the live stream and input connectivity simultaneously without issues. Not unlike the manufacturers, here, you’ll have to pick your battles. Do you want a drone that fulfills the minimum requirements and is extremely cheap? Or do you opt for a more expensive one, that provides a solid, well-designed experience? Personally, I’d recommend the latter.