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Autel Robotics X-Star Premium Drone Review

Updated on January 9, 2017
X-Star Drone
X-Star Drone | Source

The first time I've heard the word "drone" is when U.S. was in a war with the other terrorist countries where they send drones to spy or even disable the enemy's armament. Today drones are commercially available for hobbyists, RC (remote-control) flying enthusiasts, or even photographers alike. They come in different sizes and shapes. The capability of these drones have greatly developed into something really amazing. It allows you to see the world in a different perspective, capturing adventures, and sharing them through great quality photos and amazing videos. And one of the most popular drones out there is the Autel Robotics X-Star Premium Drones which will mostly be the focus of this article review.

First Things First... FAA Regulations for Flying Your Drone

If you are flying for fun or hobby, you do not need permit from FAA to fly your drones. You, however, need to register your drone for $5 which is valid for 3 years and follow the safety guidelines. Just provide your email address, credit or debit card, and mailing address in order to register. You need to bring the registration card with you at all times when flying.

Safety Guidelines by FAA:

  • Fly at or below 400 feet
  • Keep your UAS within sight
  • Never fly near other aircraft, especially near airports
  • Never fly over groups of people
  • Never fly over stadiums or sports events
  • Never fly near emergency response efforts such as fires
  • Never fly under the influence
  • Be aware of airspace requirements

As of August 29 2016, the new FAA regulations (Part 107) for commercial drones have been implemented which covers unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds or 25kg. One must have a commercial license to pilot a drone that is used to capture and sell video footage, still photos, or land surveys (non-hobbyist use). For more information on the FAA guidelines, click here.

You are allowed to bring your drones with you in a carry-on when traveling in an airport. The X-Star Premium comes with a semi-hard splash-proof case for easy transport and protects your drone at all time.

How to Label Your Drones
How to Label Your Drones | Source

What is the top speed?

Maximum speed in GPS mode is 16m/s or 35mph.

Maximum speed in ATTI mode is 54mph which is comparable to most camera drones in the market out there. This may vary depending on the tail wind condition of course.

Vertical ascending speed is 13-14 mph while descending speed is about 7 mph.

X-Star Premium Drone
X-Star Premium Drone | Source

What is the best mobile device to use in flying Autel Robotics X-Star Drones?

The Starlink app works for mobile devices with Android or iOS operating systems.


Android
System: Android 4.2 or later.
CPU: at least quad-core 1.2GHz
RAM: 1GB or larger.


iOS
iPhone 5, iPhone5c, iPhone5s, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPod touch6, iPad Pro, iPad Air, iPad Air Wi Fi + Cellular, iPad mini 2, iPad mini 2 Wi Fi + Cellular, iPad Air 2, iPad Air 2 Wi Fi + Cellular, iPad mini 3, iPad mini 3 Wi Fi + Cellular, iPad mini 4, iPad mini 4 Wi Fi + Cellular.


The following devices have been tested by our development team and are fully compatible with the Starlink App.

Device Tested Operating System
iPhone 5s iOS 9.2.1
iPhone 6 iOS 9.3.1
iPhone 6 Plus iOS 9.3.1 & 8.4.1
iPhone 6s Plus iOS 9.3.2
iPad Mini (except for 1st generation) iOS 9.2.1 & 9.3.1
ZTE U9180 Android 4.4.2
Sony XL39h Android 4.4.4
HTC M9pw Android 5.0
HTC Nexus 9 Android 6.0.1
Samsung Galaxy S6 Android 5.0.2
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Android 4.4.4
Samsung Galaxy Tab A Android 5.0.2
Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Android 5.1.1
Samsung Galaxy Tab S Android 5.0.2
Huawei GRA TL00 Android 5.0.1
Huawei CRR UL00 Android 5.1.1
Mi Note LTE Android 4.4.4
Nubia Z9 NX508J Android 5.0.2
Nvidia Shield K1 Android 6.0.1
Moto Xstyle Android 5.1.1
HTC M8t Android 4.4.2
Oppo R7 Plus Android 5.1.1
Oppo R7 Android 4.4.4
RedMi HM1S Android 4.4.4
Vivo X5 Pro D Android 5.0

If your mobile device is not on the list, you can try installing the Autel Robotics Starlink app before you make a purchase of the X-Star drone. A successful installation of the app means you can use your mobile device but uncertain that all the features will work. Unsuccessful installation obviously means it won't work. No third party app like Litchi works with X-Star drones yet but it could be on its way soon.


For mobile device that uses USB-C port, it should work as a monitor as long as you have the correct cable or a suitable adapter to go from micro USB to USB-C.


The controller can hold even the full-sized iPad and it's pretty cleverly and elegantly designed. The holder grips the long sides (landscape position) of the iPad or other huge devices so length is not going to be a problem. However, the bigger the monitor, the heavier the controller gets.


You do not need a wifi connection or data to use a mobile device as a monitor... just the app. You connect the mobile device to the controller using the same charging USB cable. You can fly your drone in a dead spot (no cell reception) and it'll probably fly better because there is not much interference. But if you want to use Google Maps then that's the only time you will need data.


You don't really need to spend a pile of money on the mobile device in order to fly this drone. You can fly without a mobile device monitor using the controller's tiny screen provided to display altitude, range, battery status and other telemetry but you won't be able to see in FPV (First Person View) and use the drone's advanced features like Follow Me or Waypoints with the Autel Robotics Starlink app.

Camera Modes

The camera settings offer a lot of different options depending on your preference. You might not be able to record videos with sound because of the noise coming from the blades.

The camera sensor is a Sony Xmor which produces very good 4K video up to 30fps with a 108 degrees fields of view. If you do not have a 4K Ultra HD TV, you can always record videos in 1080p format. The HD Live View provides up to 720p video quality. Shoots still photos too, both JPG and raw, at 12MP and locations are geotagged in the metadata.

You can pan up and down but in order to zoom in on your subject, you need to fly your drone closer. The camera itself has no zoom in/out feature for now. You can also tilt the camera 90 degrees facing straight down for an aerial view, as well as adjust the tilt speed.

The X-Star Premium drone comes with a 64GB memory card which is more than enough film time. It equates to around 2 hours of video recording in 4K Ultra HD mode. If you are worried about running out of storage space then you can get another 64GB memory card.

Unfortunately, X-Star drone's camera is factory-installed which means you can't detach it from the gimbal to use for other footage when not flying or mount your own preferred action camera like GoPro HERO3 or HERO4. Autel Robotics once announced the X-Star Go which is a drone without camera but apparently did not make it to production. Gimbal can be removed for replacement or future upgrades though.

Camara Modes
Camara Modes | Source
Video Modes
Video Modes | Source
Controller
Controller | Source

Flying and Controls

The autopilot feature allows you to orbit around an object.

GPS Mode is the autopilot feature that allows you to take your hands off the control and it stays put in one spot.

IOC Mode is like the GPS mode except that you can control the movement of the drone. If you remove your hands from the stick, the drone stays put.

ATTI Mode is the direct control mode. This is the real thing!

Then there are the intelligent flight modes as well. The Follow Me mode works really great whenever you want the drone to capture video of yourself in action like running, biking, or other activities. You set the distance and other parameters of the Follow mode and it follows wherever the remote control goes as long as the flight path is clear of obstacles as it doesn't have a collision avoidance built-in yet. They are equipped with Starpoint Positioning System which monitors the altitude and track the position of the drone when close to the ground. I'm pretty sure Autel Robotics will add this very useful feature in the coming releases. Also, take note that if you are going fast into a fairly steep elevation while in Follow mode, the drone might hit the ground because the altitude is in reference to the take off point. So let's say for example that you have set the drone's altitude to 100 feet and you are heading toward an elevation of 200 then the drone will go straight and likely hit the ground.

Although the vertical limit can be set in the controller to 2600ft (maybe it can go more), FAA set the altitude limit that you can fly to 400ft. That is, if you are on top of a 500 foot building then you are allowed to fly 400 feet above the building.

When flying at night, you can use the LED lights under individual rotors so you could still see your drone from a distance. The front two LED's can be turned off to avoid glare when capturing video or shooting still photos.

If you are flying indoor, use propeller guards in order to protect your blades and make sure you are flying in a clear area. Indoor flying requires patience and precision.

Just in case you are wonderin', you should not fly your drones in the rain because it is not water resistant. The motors are not sealed and there are cooling vents on its shell where water can easily penetrate and damage the electrical components of your drone. With this in mind, try to avoid flying over the ocean because saltwater is corrosive. Some people do fly their drones while on a boat but it's a huge risk.

Autel Robotics uses brushless servo motors so it is very quiet. If you hear noise, it must be coming from the blades.

Battery Pack
Battery Pack | Source

Flight Time and Battery

Under ideal condition, the flight time on a single battery charge is 25 minutes. But nothing is ideal condition when flying outdoor so it might lasts around 15 minutes only because the wind speed, how you're flying the drone, and the features you are using greatly affects power consumption.

When the battery level reaches 25 percent, your drone will attempt to return to home. If the GPS signal is poor, it will hover for 10 seconds while trying to reestablish a GPS connection with the controller. If it fails, it will land where it is. If it reaches the critical level of 10 percent, it will land where it is. You should avoid flying your drone at critical battery level because it might just fall down and sustain permanent damage.

The remote controller can lasts for several hours which is enough for maybe 10 flights. If your mobile device charges when connected to the controller, then that will obviously drain the controller's battery.

Charging time for the battery pack is 1 hour or less. If you are thinking about charging the batter with a power bank, it won't work because it is designed to charge using the proprietary charger. The charger allows you to connect the battery and the controller at the same time which is really nice.

Connectivity

The range specified in the manual is 1.2 miles but you might be able to push it over 2 miles out. It depends on the area you are flying, line of sight, obstructions, and of course noise. It might not be a good idea to fly your drone out of your visual range which can lead to crash and losing them. Not only that, FAA actually says you need to keep your drone in visible sight.

Antenna positioning is very important if you plan on flying at the limit of specified range. They need to be parallel from each other and always in perpendicular to the path the X-Star drone is moving in order to get the best connection.

The Autel Robotics X-Star Premium drone has the capability to transmit over 5GHz wifi signal. The video transmits in 900MHz band. There is a cheaper model that can transmit video via its own 2.8GHz wifi signal, the X-Star WiFi which at the time of this writing is a $200 difference, with the same camera, gimbal, and motors. You simply scan and search for X-Star WiFi network from your mobile device to connect and control the drone. But the X-Star WiFi drones have shorter range and weaker connectivity than the X-Star Premium drones.

Customer Service

Autel Robotics has an excellent customer service with their U.S. based customer support available seven days a week. When problems arise, it's comforting to know that you have someone to turn to for help via phone, email, or live chat. This really adds more value to the X-Star drones.


There you go... Autel Robotics X-Star Premium is a really cool drone! You should give it a try!

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