Despite the increasing number of companies making and marketing consumer drones, there’s apparently still room for growth and innovation. For example, Axis Drones' Aerius quadcopter is touted as the smallest one ever manufactured. We got some hands-on time with the wee wonder.
When it comes to being tiny, the Aerius does a fine job, as it's shorter than a US quarter stood on end. And if you were to land the Aerius on top of that quarter, the "feet" would sit just outside the outer edge. This drone is definitely finger-size, smaller even than the Estes Proto X quadcopter we reviewed a couple of years ago. Aside from the internal components and wires, the Aerius is primarily made of a lightweight plastic, which is durable enough to withstand normal operation and plenty of unexpected crashes. At the worst (generally), you'd only have to readjust and/or re-attach the propellers, which poke right back on.
The only moving parts on the Aerius itself are the props and power switch. A bit of circuit board sticks out of the rear, which plugs into the included USB cable in order to recharge the quadcopter. And in case you forget its orientation, the Aerius sports two pairs of LEDs that light up while it's on; red indicates the rear and blue indicates the front. The LEDs are bright enough to be visible indoors during the day, and they make nighttime flying pretty darn fun. Direct/outdoor sunlight instantly drowns out the lights, however, so you'll have to either color a pair of blades with a Sharpie or have a keen sense of orientation to know which way you're flying.
The package also includes a transmitter, two AAA batteries (for the transmitter), an extra set of four rotor blades, and an instruction booklet, which is definitely worth the read for fledgling flyers. When not in use, the Aerius stows away safely within its transmitter under a clear plastic lid that locks shut. It's too bad there's no extra room for the USB cable. But either way, the Aerius's transmitter is of a portable size, roughly that of two decks of cards stacked upon each other. It's pretty easy to tuck it away in coat or bag pockets for impromptu fun wherever, whenever. Those comparing the Aerius to the strikingly-similar Skeye Nano drone may find that the Aerius's transmitter with storage space makes all the difference for convenience. If not, well, the Aerius also charges in half the time.
Flight Control & Performance
The Aerius's transmitter is comfortable to handle, like many dual-analog gaming controllers. While compact for average-sized adult hands, it may feel a bit on the small side for those with larger fingers. The corners feel smooth and well-rounded, nestling in palms without digging in. Thumbs can rest on the sticks without having to over-reach or cramp up. The analog sticks themselves feel firm and springy, pushing with smooth movement and resistance. Below the sticks lie a pair of buttons, with the right-side one being used to adjust for drift (left-side does nothing). These buttons are stiff and deliver a noisy click when pressed. They also have a bit of wiggle/rattle, but it doesn't affect operation at all.
From its resting place within the transmitter, it takes less than 10 seconds to get the Aerius up and zipping about in the air. After switching both the drone and controller on, and then pairing the two by pushing the left stick all the way up then down, the Aerius's LEDs will stop blinking and remain lit, indicating that it's ready to fly. The left analog stick controls yaw (rotation) and vertical thrust while the right stick controls directional movement (left/right and forward/reverse). It's all labeled in the included manual for easy reference. The Aerius can fly an impressive 70 ft (21 m) away from the transmitter while still maintaining a connection. It possibly could go farther, but at that distance it's already a small thing to keep track of.
The Aerius responds quickly to the guidance of the analog controls, needing only a light touch to get it going. Directional and yaw operation are excellent, with acceleration feeling linear to how far the sticks are pushed. So long as the sticks are nudged gently and smoothly, the Aerius won't go shooting off somewhere unexpectedly. The transmitter is pretty sensitive, requiring a bit of practice to get the feel of it and fly without having to constantly over-correct. However, things get a touch trickier when it comes to maintaining a steady vertical hover. At best, one can have the Aerius very gradually ascending or very gradually descending, which deserves merit considering the Aerius's simplicity and size. Movement and remaining battery life can also affect how well the drone sustains a steady altitude.
The biggest challenge in flying the Aerius is the directional drift. Once the rotors start spinning to provide the drone with sufficient lift, the Aerius will start to head off on its own (even right out of the box). The trim tab on the transmitter is meant to help correct this issue. If the Aerius drifts left, then you'll want to keep pressing right on the button until you're satisfied. If it drifts forward, then you press down. If it drifts off at an angle, then you have to press two directions on the button separately. The problem is that the trim settings never bring the Aerius to the point where it stays put, at least not for very long. All the trim does is reduce the severity of drift.
The condition of the plastic propellers also plays a part, as even a rough landing on carpeted floors can bend a prop enough to affect the drift. But this is to be expected with most any quadcopter of this kind of size and power. So flying the Aerius also ends up as an exercise in patience and constant correction, not unlike if one were to fly a drone outdoors with random gusts of wind ... and you can trust that it doesn't take much wind to push this quadcopter around.
But once you put away the intricate obstacle course and target landing pads, ditching precision for casual flying, it's easy to enjoy the Aerius for simple fun. For roughly 15 minutes of charge time, you do indeed get 5 to 7 minutes of flight time. The included USB cable has an internal LED that lights up while the drone is charging, and it automatically shuts off after the battery is full. Aside from the drift, the Aerius is pretty stable and flies smoothly. It's even programmed to perform aerial tricks. Through the right analog stick, four maneuvers can be executed: a front/back flip and left/right roll. These are fun to pull off, so long as you remember to keep enough space from obstacles. And be prepared to account for the drift to resume as soon as each maneuver has completed.
In addition to the default low speed, the Aerius drone has two additional flight modes, toggled by pressing in the left analog stick. The high speed mode provides a little more power, with more responsiveness to the flight controls. The battery life isn't really affected by high speed, maybe shortening the total flight time by 40 seconds or so. The more interesting (and, arguably, more useful) setting is headless mode. With this mode activated, the Aerius moves in the same direction (right analog stick), no matter which way the nose is pointing. The instructions mention being outside and having wind reorient the drone, but bumping into things indoors can have the same effect. Spin the Aerius around all you like, and forward/reverse and right/left still work to fly the same way. Headless mode makes the introduction to quadcopter piloting easier for kids (and adults), allowing them to focus on height and direction before adding rotation into the mix.
When it comes to flying into things and/or accidental crash landings, the Aerius is pretty durable. The low mass and small size help keep it from damaging itself or other objects. Whether you're learning or just flying loose and reckless, a serious crash is bound to happen sooner or later. In such instances, the Aerius ends up fine. But you're probably going to have to hunt for propellers, which can and will pop off and scatter with wild abandon. Even though the props are made of plastic, they, too, are sufficiently durable. You're more likely to lose all of them (two are still MIA as a result of playtesting the Aerius for this review) before any one of them actually breaks, although nicks and scuffs can collect on their edges.
Whether you're just starting out and looking to drones as a potential hobby, or are experienced and want something that's quick and easy to play with, the Axis Drones Aerius quadcopter is a fine choice. The transmitter is compact, yet sizeable enough to comfortably hold. The Aerius itself is small and light, making it more ideal as an indoor toy versus many other, larger quadcopters. In terms of control, the Aerius is pleasantly responsive to the dual analog control sticks. And all it takes is about 15 minutes of charging to get 6 minutes of flight time, on average.
Since the Aerius features only basic controls and hardware, it's actually a little bit harder to fly than larger models. Precise navigation can be a bit of a challenge, maybe even frustrating at times, due to the drift and inability to hold a perfectly steady hover. But those who manage to have fun and deal with the drift and/or the compact transmitter should find it easier to fly more robust drones later on. The Hubsan X4 quadcopter, reviewed last year, is larger yet packs an internal camera to let users fly with a first-person view.
But what makes the Aerius very accessible is the price. For US$35, this quadcopter can be a great gift or stocking stuffer; it's far better to learn and practice on something like this than a more expensive piece of equipment. Kids (and adults) can understand how to pilot drones more effectively without having to worry too much about the consequences of crashing. And if the Aerius does end up breaking, it's not a big deal to replace.
The Axis Drones Aerius is available for pre-order right now, with an expected ship date of October 23rd.
Product page: Axis Drones Aerius quadcopter
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