Aries BlackBird X10 Quadcopter review: This flying camera literally has its ups and downs

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MSRP: $799.00

The Good The Aries Blackbird X10 is a ready-to-fly quadcopter with very good battery life and an integrated 16-megapixel camera with fine video quality. The camera's tilt can be controlled from the transmitter and you can get a first-person view from the camera and more via a wireless connection to an iOS or Android device.

The Bad Unpredictable panic-inducing flight performance. Without a gimbal to stabilize the camera (which admittedly would increase its price) it's more difficult to get steady, smooth video.

The Bottom Line The Aries Blackbird X10 has the makings of a good ready-to-fly quadcopter for aerial photos and video at a reasonable price. The performance is just too inconsistent to give it a full recommendation, though, especially for novice pilots.

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6.3 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Battery 7
  • Features 6
  • Ease of Use 5

Review Sections

The ready-to-fly Aries Blackbird X10 quadcopter is made for photo and video enthusiasts more than RC hobbyists.

Looking a bit like a skull and crossbones (or a splayed frog ready for dissection), it has a built-in 16-megapixel camera with an f2.8 lens with a 120-degree angle of view that you can use it for grabbing stills as well as 1080p video at 30 frames per second (25fps PAL).

Syncing up an iOS or Android device with it can give you a first-person view from the camera as well as control over starting and stopping recordings, snapping photos and changing camera settings. Built-in GPS can keep the X10 hovering in place to potentially get you that perfect shot and make piloting easier in general.

Sold exclusively through camera-and-electronics retailer Adorama, the X10 lists for $800, which roughly converts to £520 for the UK and AU$965 in Australia; Adorama offers shipping worldwide through its website. The shop regularly runs deals on it, though, and at the time of this review it was $600. The X10 is essentially a black, rebranded version of the white AEE Toruk AP10, too, in case you'd rather have it in that color.

Considering its specs, what it's possible of doing and what's included, that's a very good price. Unfortunately, it it proved to be better on paper than in my use.

Joshua Goldman/CNET

Preparing for flight

Outside of charging up the batteries and attaching the propellers (two complete sets are included as are a set of prop guards), there isn't much to do to get the X10 up in the air. There is one big, slot-loading battery for the quadcopter and the transmitter has a 2.4GHz Wi-Fi range extender that's charged via Mini-USB cable. The transmitter itself is powered by four, AA-size batteries, which are included as well.

You'll also want to charge up an iOS or Android phone to give yourself a first-person view (FPV) from the camera as well as access to camera controls and settings via the Fly Aries app. The camera records to a microSD card up to 32GB (not included); the slot is behind a cover on the bottom of the camera.

The transmitter, or controller if you prefer, has four switches across the top labeled S1 through S4. S1 has three positions, but only the top position is used. S2 is used for calibrating the joysticks and pairing the Wi-Fi in the quadcopter with the wireless range extender (these are paired out of the box, though). S3 controls the three-position camera tilt, while S4 is for setting your flight mode: GPS or Normal.

Sarah Tew/CNET

In GPS mode, once you're in the air, the X10 will hover in place when the controller's sticks are in neutral positions. It also keeps you from starting the propellers unless it is locked on to GPS and allows the quadcopter to set a home point for the failsafe return-to-home feature.

When flying in Normal mode, the X10 will hold its altitude when the left stick is in neutral position, but will drift in whatever horizontal position you last used. This is the best way to get smooth camera movements since the GPS isn't constantly trying to keep the quadcopter from drifting, but it also means you're in complete control.

To setup the mobile app for FPV, you turn on the transmitter, the wireless extender and then the X10. Once everything is started up -- about 30 seconds -- use your smartphone to connect to the wireless network created by the range extender, open the app and you should see a live view from the camera. Using a Samsung Galaxy S5 it worked just fine. Testing with an iPhone 6 Plus everything went smoothly until I tried to rotate the phone into landscape view and nothing happened: It stayed in portrait.

Touching the preview area is supposed to change the app interface to support both portrait and landscape, but it didn't work on my 6 Plus or maybe I didn't tap it just right. The app is optimized for an iPhone 5, though, so it's possible that doing this actually does work, but I didn't have one available during testing.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Also, the app is only used for viewing and controlling the camera. You can't adjust settings for the X10 in general and it doesn't give you any feedback on the X10 such as altitude or battery life. In fact, for battery life you have to rely on lights and alarms on the quadcopter. So, while you might technically be able to fly 500 meters (1,640 feet) away, you'll probably want to keep it relatively close.

Flying the Blackbird X10

There are no automatic take-off or land buttons on the transmitter or the app, such as those found on the Parrot Bebop or DJI Phantom 3 models. Instead, you spin up the props by simultaneously pushing the left stick to the lower left and right stick to the lower right (this is also how you shut them off once you've landed).