Yuneec Typhoon Q500 4K review: A very fine 4K camera for the ground and the sky

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The Good The Yuneec Typhoon Q500 4K offers smooth, stable flight for grabbing photos and video from the air as well as the ground with its included handgrip. All-in-one controller with first-person-view screen and camera controls. Comes with two batteries, two sets of propellers and a storage case to hold everything. Very quiet compared to competing models. Can be used with Yuneec's ultracompact Wizard remote control.

The Bad The Typhoon Q500 4K's size isn't travel-friendly. There's no support for waypoint navigation. The overall design could use some polish. Video quality is good, but best viewed at small sizes on tablets and phones.

The Bottom Line Thanks to some useful accessories and a solid feature set, the smooth-flying, easy-to-use Yuneec Typhoon Q500 4K quadcopter is a compelling package for video and photos in the sky or on the ground.

7.8 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Battery 8
  • Features 8
  • Ease of Use 8

Camera options for your average consumer drone are limited to either a mount for a GoPro or similar camera or a built-in camera that is permanently attached to the drone. The former is fine, though it may or may not give you a first-person view (FPV) from the air and it's one more thing to keep charged (and you'll have to figure in the extra cost of the camera). The latter, however, means you've got no upgrade path should a better camera come along, and it can only be used with the drone.

Yuneec's Typhoon Q500 4K is not your average drone. Slung from the belly of the $1,300 quadcopter (£960 AU$2,200) is a 4K-resolution camera combined with a three-axis antivibration gimbal. When not in the air, the camera-and-gimbal system can be quickly removed and attached to the included SteadyGrip, a battery-powered handheld mount that lets you use the Typhoon's camera on the ground. Combined with an iPhone or Android smartphone, you can shoot completely control the camera and see what you're shooting. (Yuneec makes an updated and improved version of the SteadyGrip called ActionCam with a built-in rechargeable battery and the Q500 4K's CGO3 camera.)

The DJI Inspire 1 series takes a similar approach, but it's targeted at professionals and starts at about $2,700 for the drone and the handheld camera mount is an additional $270. The Typhoon Q500 4K is a better option for beginners, giving you an aerial and ground imaging solution that, while maybe not as feature-filled as some competing models, does what it does very well.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Design and features

The Q500 4K is big. Not like "How does that thing get off the ground?" big, but next to the relatively compact DJI Phantom 3, it's big. (The diagonal motor-to-motor measurement is 390mm for the Phantom compared to the Typhoon's 510mm.) The size does make it easier to spot in the sky from a distance, but you're not sliding the Q500 4K easily into a backpack for a trip to the park.

Instead Yuneec packs everything into a large, sturdy case. Along with the drone and its camera you'll find two batteries and a charger; two sets of propellers; the ST10+ controller, a neck strap and sunshield; a cable to use the charger in a car; and the SteadyGrip handheld mount. Unfortunately, Yuneec used Styrofoam inside the case instead of something a bit more long-lasting.

The Styrofoam is representative of the design and build quality on the whole: it's a good package overall, but lacks some polish. The black-and-gray plastic body looks nice, but pick it up and it feels a little flimsy. It's great that the camera can be removed, but to do it you have to keep plugging and unplugging this small cable and pushing in a plastic tab, both of which I feel might not last with frequent use. Nothing that's a deal breaker, but a little disappointing.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The controller for me is definitely a plus, though. Instead of relying on a tablet or smartphone for a live view from the camera as well as flight information, the ST10+ has a built-in 5.5-inch touchscreen display built right in. There's a bit of lag between the camera and screen, so I wouldn't recommend flying by FPV alone, but for setting up shots and giving you telemetry data at a glance it's great. It also means you only have to worry about having the controller charged, not a second device.

Having the fixed screen does mean you can't go with a larger tablet display, but since the drone doesn't support waypoint navigation -- where a larger screen to set up an autonomous flight path comes in handy -- and FPV flying isn't a great idea, it's not a big loss.

The controller also has buttons for starting and stopping video recording and snapping photos and sliders for setting the camera angle and limiting overall climb/descend and directional speed. A switch lets you move between flight modes: Smart, Angle and Home.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Smart mode is made for beginners. In addition to enabling a virtual barrier called a geofence to prevent it from flying more than 300 feet away from the pilot, the controller will always move the Q500 4K in the direction the right-hand control stick is pushed relative to the pilot and no matter which way the nose is pointed. It's fine if you've never flown before and you use it just to get a feel for how the quadcopter will fly, but I don't recommend using it much beyond that.

However, Smart mode is the only way you can use two of the drone's main attractions: Follow Me and Watch Me modes. With Follow Me, the drone uses a GPS signal from controller to follow whoever or whatever is carrying it. Watch Me mode works similarly, but keeps the controller -- or whoever's holding it -- framed in the camera no matter where and how it moves and the camera can automatically tilt according to the controller.