Drone racing is in the beginning stages of an explosion similar to what AV drones have experienced over the last couple of years. While it’s still too early to tell if it’s going to be the next big thing or just a passing fad, it’s not hard at all to imagine these mighty midgets becoming very popular over the next year or so. This segment of the hobby was once the domain of hardcore hobbyists only, people armed with soldering irons, hex drivers, and vast amounts of knowledge of how to build, tune, and fly these tiny beasts. That’s changing however, and ready-to-fly and plug-and-fly (pre built, just add your own receiver and bind it to your radio) are popping up everywhere. Originally these RTF and PNF models were fairly expensive, in the $400-$500 range. Less expensive models started to show up last summer though, and the trend toward lower prices and a wider range of options has continued since then. A few months ago I did a review on the Eachine Racer 250 (ER 250), an excellent low end racer-style quadcopter well suited for hobbyists with some flying experience with micro quads or AV drones who wanted to make the transition to racing drones. In this review, I’m going to look at the Racer’s younger, leaner, and meaner brother, the Eachine Falcon 250 (EF 250). How does the Falcon stack up against the Racer and other drones in this genre? Who is it for, and is it a good value for the money? Keep reading to find out!
What’s in the box?
The Falcon comes in 2 configurations, a Ready To Fly model that includes a Flysky I6 radio, and a Plug and Fly model with no radio. This review was done using the RTF version that includes the radio although the Falcon itself is exactly the same in both versions. With the Falcon Eachine continues their tradition of horrible packaging. This is definitely nit-picking as I’ve never received anything in damaged condition from them, but it certainly doesn’t make you feel like you’re getting a premium piece of equipment when a plain brown box made of cheesy cardboard shows up at your door. That being said though, everything inside was in perfect working order. The Falcon comes packed in a nice little carry case that can hold the Falcon, the I6 radio (probably not a larger radio though), and a few batteries and propellers. Also included is a low end battery charger, a battery strap, and a small CD with instructions for operating the radio. What’s not included is any sort of instructions whatsoever for the Falcon itself. This was the case with the Racer as well, and definitely something Eachine needs to improve upon.
Getting it Flying
Going from unboxing to first flight with the Falcon is a piece of cake. It comes truly ready to fly, all you need to do is charge the battery, put the props on, put some batteries in the radio, and fly it. The radio is all set up and pre-bound to the receiver in the Falcon. The only active switch is the flight mode switch, but that is really the only one you need to get flying. Unlike the Racer, the Falcon comes perfectly tuned and flys great out of the box. It does come with a fully configurable and tune-able flight controller (CC3D), but it honestly flys well enough as is that you don’t really need to mess with with the tuning unless you want to. Once your batteries are charged and your props correctly installed, you are good to go.
While there is currently no configuration for the Falcon that comes fully equipped to FPV, the Falcon does come FPV ready once you add a ground station (goggles or screen with a video receiver). The camera is fully tiltable this time around (the Racer was limited to about 10 degrees of camera tilt), which opens the door to some much faster speeds. On the downside the Racer’s very handy On Screen Display (OSD) that showed your battery level and flight time is not included with the Falcon for some reason. Additionally the camera seems to be of lower quality than the one included with the Racer. While it’s good enough to get you started, this is probably the first thing a serious FPVer would want to upgrade.
The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
The good: Contrary to the Racer, the Falcon was really built for speed. The motors and Electronic Speed Controllers (ESCs) have both been upgraded on the Falcon, and even the stock propellers are far superior to those included with the Racer. The motors come with special mounts pre-installed that tilt the motors forward by 10 degrees, which means that the Falcon is going to require less camera tilt to achieve top end speeds. It also means that the copter is going to start flying forward as soon as you lift off, so be aware of this when taking off for the first time. The Falcon is tuned very well out of the box. This is a big improvement on the Racer, which does not fly smooth out of the box and requires considerable tuning to reach it’s full potential. The Falcon is sturdily built and should stand up to a decent amount of punishment. That doesn’t mean you can fly it full throttle into a tree or drop it onto concrete from 50′ up and expect it to survive unscathed, but it should survive moderate crashes quite well. The included carry case is a very nice touch, and will come in handy especially for new flyers. The stock 5045 bullnose propellers also seem to be of good quality, required very little balancing, and seem to be pretty durable as well. Lastly, the ESCs have a built in safety feature in which the motors will stop if any resistance is encountered to protect the motor shafts from damage.
The Bad: As I mentioned above, the complete lack of even a quick start guide is inexcusable. The camera quality is poor, and unlike the camera on the Racer which was a pleasant surprise is quite disappointing. It’s probably not fair to list the included I6 radio in the “bad” category as it does what it’s supposed to and works decently well. I’m not over the moon over about it though, I found it to be cheaply made and very “toyish” feeling. It has a much different feel than my normal Spektrum radio so I never really got comfortable with it (I’ve since migrated the Falcon to my Spektrum radio). It’ll do, but it’s not something you’d want to build a fleet around and will probably be one of the first things you’d want to upgrade if you stay with the hobby. The video receiver itself also seems to be somewhat worse than the one on the Racer. I’m not sure if it’s the antenna (also not particularly good, but at least it’s a circular polarized antenna so I won’t complain about it), the receiver itself, or the placement but it just seems to be more “staticy” than the one on the Racer
The Ugly: The omission of the OSD on this model was an odd decision as this was a very popular feature on the Racer. The most glaringly ugly thing about the Falcon though is the arrangement of the internal components. First off, the antennas for the receiver are not only not mounted correctly, they are not mounted at all. The antennas are simply left hanging out the back like a sickly looking tail rather than being properly mounted in a V configuration above the quad. Even worse, the USB connector to access the flight controller to tune and make adjustments is not even accessible without taking the Falcon partially apart. You literally have to remove the top plate, the side plates, the video transmitter (VTx), and the receiver before you can get at the port. To make matters worse, the side plates are EXTREMELY difficult to get back in place properly once removed. I finally gave up and left them off until I’m sure I’m done messing with the settings in the flight controller. It honestly looks like this was assembled and thrown together with no design whatsoever. In fact, one of the RC Group members came up with a re-design of the placement of the internals and VTx which allows access to the USB port with no dis-assembly whatsoever. Eachine did a good job of listening to customers and making some changes to the Racer in subsequent revisions, hopefully they will do the same and clean up some of this stuff in the Falcon as well.
Flying the Falcon
As I mentioned above, I never really got comfortable flying it with the included radio. While I’m not nuts over the radio I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, it just has a feel that’s different enough from the one I’m used to to really throw me off. Once I migrated it to my Spektrum and got the rates and exponential (expo) set the way I like them though, the Falcon came alive. This is a very fast, mean machine. It’s easily the fastest quad I’ve flown, and it flys like it’s on rails with the stock PIDs. I really have no complaints about how the Falcon flys. It’s fast and agile, and should make for a very respectable racing quad. That’s not to say it will beat something like a Vortex or a DIY built with top tier components, but it will definitely keep you in the race and considering it’s about 1/3 the price of a Vortex I can live with that.
I’ve included a flying video at the end of this review. Since this review was done in the dead of winter the video is only of flying around my yard, but that actually is pretty effective at showing the speed and maneuverability of the Falcon for maneuvering around a race track. Hopefully once Spring comes I’ll get a chance to take it out to a larger field and let it unwind.
Pros and Cons
Like just about any other product the Falcon has it’s good points and it’s bad points. I’ve touched on most of these in the review, but here’s a quick summery”
Price – At $220 for the full RTF ($170 for PnF) version it’s an excellent value
Speed – This is a fast quad. You won’t be disappointed in the speed.
Tuning – Unlike the Racer, the Falcon is well tuned out of the box
Carry case – Even if you don’t use it for toting the Racer around it should be useful for something
Fully tilt-able camera mount- It’s fast even with no tilt, but it should scream when you tilt the camera
Tilted motor mounts – 10% tilted motor mounts will add even more speed
Props – The included 5045 bullnose props not only provide a lot of thrust, but seem durable and required very little balancing
Sturdy – While I haven’t had a major crash, the Falcon seems well built and durable
CC3D Flight Controller – This is a good, solid 32 bit flight controller that is compatible with Open Pilot, Libre Pilot, and all of the various forks of Cleanflight.
Anti vibration isolation plate – Both the FPV camera and optional video camera benefit from the isolation plate
ESCs – 4s support and motor shaft lock protection (20 amp would have been better though)
Poor quality FPV camera – The camera included with the EA Racer was better
Electronic components poorly laid out – It’s necessary to take the quad apart to access the USB port on the FC
Improperly mounted Rx antenna – The antennas were simply left dragging out the back like a tail rather than correctly mounted in a V-configuration
Lack of instructions – Instructions for the radio only, nothing for the quad itself. Even a quick start guide would have been helpful
Radio – It’s adequate for an included radio with a RTF, but I just don’t care for it so I’m calling it a con
OSD – Not included.
While there are a few pain points with this quad, the negatives are relatively minor annoyances for the most part that don’t detract from the performance of the quad. The Falcon is a joy to fly, and should be well suited for FPV racers or freestyle proximity flyers who have a decent amount of flying experience. And that is a crucial point. This is NOT an entry level quadcopter. If you’re just making the jump from micro quads such as a Hubsan, the Eachine Racer 250 I reviewed a few months ago would be a better choice. This quad, while well tuned and stable, would be a handful for a beginner. If you’ve already been flying a quad such as the Racer 250 or an Eye One Xtreme though, then this is a very good value and a good next step. Despite a few warts, I definitely feel I can recommend this quad as a good addition to your fleet if you have a bit of flying experience under your belt.
Below is a a flying video of the Falcon in action, as well as a short video review illustrating some of the points in this review.
Short video review: