At the top of the bustling consumer drone marketplace, two big names have been battling (sometimes litigiously) for dominance. DJI popularized drone flying as a hobby with its Phantom line, but lately, Yuneec has been whittling into DJI’s marketshare with its competing Typhoon line. Both company’s flagship quadcopters are equipped with excellent video cameras, both are accessibly priced, and both have autonomous and safety-minded features that make flying easy for inexperienced pilots.
Yuneec Typhoon H
Hexacopter design offers added stability in flight. 360-degree camera with optional Team mode makes possible shots you just can’t get with quadcopters. Automated flight modes and integrated camera/flight controls mean a single pilot can still do everything themselves. Folds down into a neat backpack case, sold separately.
Battery recharge time is significantly slower than the competition. Construction feels less sturdy than other drones like the Phantom.
So far, DJI remains the market leader. But Yuneec’s latest offering, the Typhoon H, may well change that. The company’s newest drone isn’t just different or stacked with unique features (which it very much is). It’s also far more powerful than any other drone in its price range: it costs $1,300, putting nearly head-to-head with the $1,400 DJI Phantom 4.
The first thing that sets the Typhoon H apart: it’s a hexacopter, with six rotors instead of the four found on the popular quadcopter design. What’s more, the Typhoon H only needs five of those rotors to stay in the air, so if one motor konks out mid-flight, you don’t crash or splash. The H also features retractable rotor arms, which cuts down on the size of the transport case and makes it roughly the same size as a typical quadcopter when stowed.
Most drones that come with more than four rotors, such as DJI’s Matrice 600, are aimed at professional filmmakers. These hexacopters typically lack an integrated camera flight system, the feature on a consumer drone that lets the pilot use the same camera to both navigate and to capture aerial footage. Instead, these filmmakers’ drones have a gimbal where a separate pro movie camera is attached to capture footage. This also means you need two operators—one to fly and one to film.
The Typhoon H is much more consumer-friendly. It bundles a very nice 4K video camera (shooting 30fps or 60fps in 1080p, and featuring 12-megapixel stills) and flies just fine with only one person at the controls. It can also be paired with a second controller though, which opens up the possibility of separate pilot and camera, something not easily done with any other similarly-priced drone on the market.
This alone puts the Typhoon H well above and beyond what you’ll find in DJI’s Phantom line. There are other impressive features, too. The camera is mounted on a 3-axis gimbal, which allows for 360 degree pans. It has retractable landing gear, sonar-based object avoidance and, like the recent Phantom 4, plenty of autonomous flight modes. The result is a very impressive, rock-solid aerial photography platform.
We’re Doing Six Blades
The Typhoon H is the first hexacopter I’ve flown, so I can’t compare it to the professional models out there, but I can say its significantly more stable and much, much faster than the older four-rotor Typhoon Q500 4K. It felt every bit as snappy as the Phantom 4, and was capable of holding steady in similarly windy test conditions.
The camera is likewise an entirely different beast than you’re accustomed to if you’ve primarily flown fixed-landing-gear quadcopters like the Phantom or older Typhoons. With the H, you can retract the landing gear with the touch of a button, leaving the camera free to rotate a full 360 degrees without any obstructions in the frame. You can turn the drone to pan if you want, just like with a quadcopter. But the retractable landing gear lets you experiment with new types of dramatic shots. For example: lift off, then start panning the camera in a sweeping arc as you fly off in a completely different direction. It’s a lot to control at once, and I suggest getting comfortable with flying the Typhoon H before you try it. Fortunately there are some automated modes for both the camera and the drone that help you get the shots you want even if you aren’t the best pilot. You can, for example, set the camera to pan around while you continue flying forward, or you can put the Typhoon H in one of its autonomous flight modes and just focus on panning the camera.
The Typhoon H has five auto flight modes, including Journey mode, which automatically takes off and then fires off a selfie. Orbit Me mode tracks the location of the controller and steadily orbits you in a wide circle, even if you’re sitting in the back of a moving pickup truck. Point of Interest mode orbits any subject (well, GPS point) you select. The confusingly named Curve Cable Cam flies along a route drawn by pre-set coordinates.
By far the most unique is Team mode. This mode allows the Typhoon H to “bind” to an additional (included, for a limited time) smaller remote called a Wizard. The person holding the Wizard controls the drone’s flight, while the person holding the main controller is free to just operate the camera. The Typhoon H can be instructed to just follow the Wizard. If the person with the Wizard is windsurfing, scrambling up a mountain ridge, or riding a motorcycle across a salt flat, this makes for some pretty dramatic footage opportunities.
And about that main controller. The ST16 transmitter which (also included) is a step or two up from the controller that comes with older Typhoons. There’s still the same Android-based display, but it now runs 720p resolution and is much brighter and easier to use in direct sunlight. There’s also a helpful sun shade in the box.
There are two downsides to the Typhoon H. The first is the construction, which while sturdy enough to withstand a rough landing, is still a bit flimsy. I managed to pop off the gimbal just trying to get it out of the box (to be fair, the gimbals on older DJI models were also prone to popping off. A small twist tie can solve this issue).
The other drawback is the battery recharge time—a full charge takes well over two hours. That’s twice as long as the Phantom 4 takes to fuel up. The flight time itself is on par with quadcopters however. Yuneec claims 24 minutes, but I averaged 22 in my testing. Of course, yours will depend on what you do and what the conditions are on any given day. More wind means less flight time, as the drone has to work harder to stay stable. Still, with a two-hour recharge time, you’re definitely going to want an extra a battery or three.
The Typhoon H can be a lot of drone to control at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s clearly far more sophisticated than anything else on the market at this price. Spend the time to master its full capabilities and you’ll never want to go back to quadcopters again.