Yuneec Typhoon H review: Great features, but it's a bargain for a reason
Disappointing build quality keeps this well-equipped hexacopter from landing on our short list.
When the Yuneec Typhoon H showed up at CES 2016 it stood out from the horde of other flying machines at the gigantic electronics show (the Ehang 184 being a notable exception).
Its six-rotor design and sonar sensors in front for obstacle detection give it the look of a flying insect, while its removable 360-degree rotating gimbal camera and retractable landing gear are things you can only really find on the $2,000 DJI Inspire 1. But the ready-to-fly Typhoon H was just $1,300 when it shipped in April and is currently $1,000 (AU$2,100, £1,000).
To top it all off, the Typhoon H is available in a Pro version for $1,500 (£1,550, AU$3,000) which adds Intel's Realsense technology for advanced obstacle avoidance and downward-facing optical flow sensors to help you fly it if a GPS connection isn't available or is lost. (This Intel demo at CES shows just a bit of this system's capabilities.)
Naturally, I had high expectations for the Typhoon H. I mean, I really like the Inspire 1, but it's simply not practical for anyone but professionals and enthusiasts with deep pockets. The Typhoon H offers comparable features (so much so DJI filed a lawsuit for patent infringement) in a more compact body and for a whole lot less money. You're getting a lot more drone for the price of DJI's top consumer drone, the Phantom 4.
Up, up and aw-hey, come back!
For the first couple flights the Typhoon H performed really well. It handled wind with no issues and everything functioned as promised. There are two modes you can fly in, Angle and Smart. Angle moves the drone in the direction the control stick is pushed relative to the nose of the aircraft. Smart mode move it in the direction the right-hand control stick is pushed relative to the pilot and no matter which way the nose is pointed.
Its Android-based ST16 Ground Station controller is somewhat unwieldy, takes seemingly forever to boot up and is not the most thoughtfully laid out or labeled, but it's great to have a 7-inch touchscreen built right in so you don't have to worry about attaching a phone or tablet. All the controls are at your fingertips for both the drone and camera. Transmission range for both video and control is rated at up to 1.6 km or 1 mile.
Then it happened: While it was hovering in place (during a video shoot), it began to drift. When I went to correct it, the Typhoon H didn't respond to the controls, and sent itself into a tree. It didn't hit hard, but it was enough to snap one of its carbon-fiber arms in half and bust the camera mount, though the camera itself was fine.
Yuneec sent a second drone to test, but honestly, it took me awhile to attempt the retest because I was afraid of a repeat performance. Anyone who's experienced a flyaway knows how gut-wrenching it is to watch the drone uncontrollably crash or disappear into the distance.
The fact is, though, flyaways happen. It's not unique to Yuneec and, in fact, on my DJI reviews you'll probably find at least one commenter asking me to do a web search for "DJI flyaway." But my Typhoon H problem was not an isolated incident: Yahoo's David Pogue and Videomaker.com's review of the Typhoon H point to flyaway problems similar to what I experienced.
Out of the box, my second Typhoon performed well again with no issues whatsoever. That lasted two flights.
As I was hovering a couple of feet in the air, something went wrong causing the drone to drop to the ground and flip, breaking the camera mount -- again -- and making one of the landing gear legs floppy. When I went to check out the Typhoon, I burned myself on one of its motors, which was much hotter than the others.
This time around it seems a motor failed -- a rarity for brushless motors, which are known for their durability. Still, it's a possibility, which is why Yuneec made it so the Typhoon H can be safely landed on its five remaining rotors. I wasn't planning on testing this out, but sure enough, if one of the motors won't move, you get a warning onscreen telling you to land.
Needless to say, I didn't get a chance to test everything the Typhoon H can do, such as its intelligent task modes that give you automated camera moves such as Point of Interest, Orbit, Journey and Curved Cable.
What's not to like?
Even though my attempts to test the Typhoon H fell short of complete, I flew it enough to know that when it performs normally, it performs well. That said, my experience did make it clear that some of its parts are not as durable as you might think.
The camera is mounted to the body on two small plastic rails. It's something that concerned me when I reviewed Yuneec's Q500 and, apparently rightfully so. The rails are not only a pain to use, they aren't very secure and break all too easily.
After the landing gear broke and refused to keep the copter upright, I opened it up to see the problem. A part connecting the landing gear to the motor that lifts and lowers it was made with plastic and simply snapped with very little effort.
There is a bit of a silver lining here, though: Replacement parts aren't very expensive. Moreover, parts can be found online with little effort as well as from Yuneec directly. While you might not be able to fix software problems on your own, the drone is surprisingly user serviceable. I just wish Yuneec had made it sturdier in the first place.
Also, the Typhoon H just lacks the fit and finish of drones from other manufacturers. Little things like battery life indicators on the actual battery and controller when not in use and not so little things like the process for updating the controller's and drone's firmware. (Battery life is about 20 minutes, by the way, with a long charge time of more than two hours.) Another thing: It's cool that Yuneec includes its small Wizard controller to give you the option to have one person control the drone and another the camera with the ST16, but using the Wizard is a pain.
Despite all that went wrong with my testing, my main issues with the Typhoon H are with its design and build quality and its ease of use. If you're a seasoned pilot who can stay level-headed if something goes wrong and doesn't mind it being rough around the edges to use, the Yuneec Typhoon H is worth checking out. Just do yourself a favor and reinforce the camera mount before you take off.