Review: Axis Drones Vidius quadcopter is a tiny eye in the sky
The ever-expanding arena of drones and three-dimensional remote-controlled flight is fascinating and fun. And if you're looking to take your quadcopter game to the next level, first-person view (FPV) with a built-in camera is where it's at. But before you plunk down hard-earned cash for the big boys, you probably want to make sure you have a good handle of it all first. We spent some time behind the controls of an eye in the sky, with the latest quadcopter from Axis Drones, the Vidius.
If you were fortunate enough to dump out your pockets and find a half dollar amongst all the loose change, it would be the perfect little landing pad for the Axis Drones Vidius quadcopter. Although bearing a striking resemblance to the previously-reviewed Aerius, the Vidius comes off a little more sleek with its smoother curves and all-black body. Measuring 1.7 x 1.7 x 1 in (4.3 x 4.3 x 2.5 cm), this quadcopter weighs less than a handful of dark chocolate Hershey Kisses. As with most quadcopters of this size, the Vidius is mostly made of lightweight yet durable plastic. Those new to handling these types of devices can expect frequent crashes without so much of a scuff. But, as experienced from reviewing the Aerius, it's losing the removable propellor blades that will put flight on pause as you hunt.
Aside from the propellers, there isn't much to fiddle with except the power switch, USB cable, and transmitter. The retail packaging indicates the Vidius is ideal for those aged 14+, but it's so simple to use that any savvy nine year-old can get it up and going without much instruction. The Vidius features two pairs of built-in LED lights – green ones facing front as red hold up the rear.
Although slightly brighter than what we experienced with the Aerius quadcopter, these running lights are better-suited indoors as direct sun quickly washes them out after short distances. Low-light or nighttime flying is a blast with the glow of LEDs, although the Vidius' all-black body can compromise visibility. Centered between the front propellers is a small camera lens, which, when operating the Vidius via mobile app, transmits a live video feed for a first-person view.
The package includes a teeny screwdriver to open the transmitter's rear door, but you'll have to supply your own pair of AAA batteries to make it work. And if you have medium-sized adult hands, the Vidius' transmitter is going to feel small and cramped. But at least it's lightweight with comfortably-rounded edges. The textured, dual-analog sticks move smoothly, with the right-side directional control being a touch more stiff/springy versus the left-side vertical. The former has more of a "snap" to it as it re-centers, requiring a little bit more attention and hold while flying. Trim buttons (drift correction) click nicely, although the one between the analog sticks feels tucked away too much for big fingers. A quick overview of the included manual is recommended, as it covers all button operation and the full set of features (e.g. power setting, flips & rolls).
Flight control & performance
After switching on the Vidius and its transmitter, it takes just a few seconds for the two to pair and be ready for flight. A quick up-down flip of the left stick initiates a single beep and four solidly-lit LEDs as indicators. As with many quadcopter control, the left stick handles thrust (up/down) and yaw/rotation (left/right), while the right moves the Vidius along the xy plane (right/left, forward/reverse). Expect to experience some amount of drift for every takeoff. Although the trim tabs help mitigate the severity, they won't completely eliminate it. There's only so much that small quadcopters can accomplish with their sensors and circuitry.
Give the Vidius just a touch of lift and you'll see which direction it'll want to go on its own. If forward, then trim back. If left, then trim right. If some other vector, you'll have to adjust both to help keep it centered and still. You can also reset the Vidius' internal gyroscope if trimming doesn't seem effective enough. And making sure the propellers are properly set and free of hair/string is key.
Crashes can and will happen, so you'll want to inspect the rotors and propellers after each incident. Keep in mind that blades are labeled as A and B, and swapping positions will cause nothing but flight problems. But no matter what, practice and familiarity leads to improved handling. After a few hours of learning to fly the Vidius, one can steady the quadcopter enough to take photos with minimal blur.
Drift aside, the Vidius responds quickly to its transmitter controller. There's no mushy feeling to the analog sticks, and gentle nudges is all it takes. Recommended, actually, since it can be easy to over-correct and have the Vidius swing around wildly. Compared to the Aerius, the Vidius handles better overall, especially with respect to thrust along the z-axis. While the Aerius, at best, gradually ascends/descends, the Vidius can be carefully guided to a pretty steady hover. Although this is easier to achieve and maintain when the Vidius is only a few inches up from the ground, it's doable at any height. The yaw/rotation control of the left analog stick shares similar sensitivity and empowered motion, although care needs be taken to not nudge thrust when re-orienting the front of the drone.
Things get trickier with the right analog stick's directional control. It has a little more resistance/spring, which makes it a little less forgiving ... at least when compared to the left stick. Although sensitive, it's not difficult to navigate the Vidius with ample practice of the controls. The overall experience is smoother and improved upon that of the Aerius, be for it casual or more precise flying.
The Vidius features three power settings, defaulting at low speed (single beep) each time it turns on. Pressing the left stick in at any time cycles to medium (two beeps) and high (three beeps) before starting over again. The difference in speed is appreciable more by handling than by sight. Directional nudges do more with less, and higher speeds help keep the Vidius from being pushed around too much from outside winds.
The Vidius is also programmed to perform tricks, although we miss the "headless mode" of the Aerius for easy flying. A press of the transmitter's right stick, followed by a directional push, sends the Vidius into a front/back flip or left/right roll. Just remember that drift resumes after execution, so watch out for obstacles/environment. As for distance, we were able to fly the Vidius close to 100 ft (30 m) of open space before it was too difficult to track with the eye. Not too bad for such a small thing, although the manual indicates a possible wireless range up to four times that amount.
At the default low speed setting, the Vidius flies for an almost exactly seven minutes, whether using the transmitter or smartphone for control. The higher speed settings reduce flight time, but the Vidius consistently delivers at least five minutes of fun before needing to recharge. True to what is listed within the manual, it takes only 20 minutes and then the Vidius to be ready for another go. The included USB cable has an embedded LED that lights up red once charging is complete. Just be sure to align the notch correctly, as it only plugs in one way.
Mobile app & camera
The included transmitter is well and good for flying, but using a mobile device takes the Vidius to the next level. The Vidius Drone app is free, available for iOS and Android, and provides the same control as does the transmitter. But it has a few bonus features at the cost of losing rolls and flips. Once powered on, you pair a smartphone by connecting to the Vidius Wi-Fi signal. Open the app, hit fly (pairs), and then you're set. Right away, you'll see real-time video shown beneath a button and control overlay. Outdoor visibility of the app's controls will depend on how bright your screen can be set to.
The Vidius Drone app represents all main flight controls of the transmitter in digital form: thrust, yaw, direction, and trim. Along the top of the screen are buttons to take image snapshots, record video, cycle power level, enable gyroscope control, vertically flip the video, and exit the app. Within the settings, one can save/reset parameters as well as flip the interface for right-hand operation. As you fly the Vidius, the app doubles as a first-person view through the tiny, built-in camera lens. While super cool, the Vidius Drone app has its own learning curve, whether using the digital sticks or by tilting your smartphone to give the Vidius direction (gyroscope control).
Unlike the transmitter, the app can't provide any tactile feedback. So navigation of the Vidius relies more on sight than touch. But with zero resistance behind the controls, it can end up being easier to fly the Vidius with greater precision and intent. Depending on knack and practice. Without knowing exactly where your thumbs are in relation to the centers of each digital stick, you may have to occasionally glance down and/or shift eyes to the controls instead of the video feed. The camera lens is basic and not the kind with a wide field of view. Flying the Vidius primarily through first-person perspective becomes easier as you learn how to keep movement consistent and steady. This is important if you're interested in minimizing blurry photos or choppy video.
The Vidius takes snapshots at 1100 x 800 pixels (72 DPI) in jpg format, saved to your mobile device's internal storage. Recorded videos are also low-resolution, saved as an avi. There is no image stabilization or focusing options for the camera, so you'll have to time your shots well as you handle the Vidius. As for video, the only limit to recording is the amount of available space on your mobile device and the remaining battery power of the quadcopter. At low power (30 percent) and recording the entire time, you can expect to fly the Vidius for about four minutes before it needs to be plugged back in. Recorded videos aren't as shaky as they initially appear from watching through the screen.
As with most small, basic cameras, the one equipped within Vidius performs better with ample/outdoor light. Under such conditions, colors are reasonably accurate and the overall image quality is surprisingly viewable. But once the available light starts to dip down, you'll notice that the image takes on a reddish hue. Yellow turns to a shade of orange, greens turn to a dull purple, and white shifts through varying pinks. The photos aren't anything you'd ever be likely to print, but good shots are certainly worthy of uploading to social media. At least for skill if not content.
There is a bit of a difference between flying a drone through a transmitter versus a mobile app, especially when a live video feed is involved. Sometimes it's easy to focus on the latter instead of the controls. The Axis Drones Vidius quadcopter makes an excellent entry-level choice for those interested in learning how to fly such devices with built-in cameras. It's prudent to practice on something simple and inexpensive rather than going straight for a high-ticket model from the start. And with up to seven minutes of flight for 20 of charging, the Vidius offers more opportunities for air time per hour.
Although the included transmitter may feel cramped for many, it's quite responsive and does well. Drift exists with the Vidius, but not to the level as smaller sibling, Aerius. With enough practice, the Vidius is capable of steady flight and hovering to take some (reasonably) crisp photos and video for the camera's size. It can be a little frustrating at times to achieve the desired accuracy of flight, but never to the point of ruining all the fun. That part is left to soft landings causing propeller blade(s) to pop off and plink against some far wall. Even though the Vidius can play outside, the odds of finding a rogue propeller shrink drastically (black blades are of no help).
With its US$95 retail price, the Vidius is available now as an affordable option for those who want a portable quadcopter equipped with a FPV camera. The Vidius tucks easily in pockets for flight anywhere, with no FAA registration required. And given the smartphone pairing through its mobile app, you don't even need to bring the transmitter along.
Product page: Axis Drones Vidius quadcopter
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