First introduced in September of 2013 (one year after the DJI Phantom), the Blade 350 QX had some initial quality control problems. Some of those, as well as a mini-review of the early model, can be found at our forum thread here:
We recently got our hands on a newer (2.0 firmware, manufactured 6/2014) model and are pleased to report that this quadcopter has been largely perfected and is more than ready for prime time. This review – along with the existing thread referenced above – will document our experience with this machine.
Update – Amazon and others are now selling this 2.0 model for very low prices..often about $300 – click this link to see if the deal is still on!
For reference, here is an Amazon link to the Blade 350QX Quadcopter that we flew.
Here is the link to the newest model 350QX2 model which is also available.
(see our article below for more explanation of the slightly different models which have been offered)
Blade is the brand name given to R/C Helicopter and Multirotors (Quadcopters, etc.) by Horizon Hobby, an American company which has been in business since the mid-1980′s. They have offices and manufacturing around the globe and, in this sense, differ greatly from many of the current “toy grade” vendors.
Droneflyers.com focuses on beginner and intermediate pilots – so this unit was tested with a “starter” TX – the Spektrum DX5e – which comes in the RTF kit. This is also made by Horizon and can be used for many of their other models as well as some other brands which use the DSM R/C technology (this is a wireless protocol type). More advanced pilots can bind the 350 QX to more advanced Spektrum transmitters and take advantage of some additional features.
Appeal to users:
Advanced Beginner (flyers) and up who want to enjoy multiple aspects of this hobby such as sport flying, FPV and aerial photography.
Type of Quad: Consumer / Hobbyist “hobby grade”
Cost: approx. $499. with basic TX and battery ($449 BNF). Will work with most any DSM type TX (Spektrum compatible) you may already own.
Crashworthiness – Fair
Aircraft Weight (350 QX) – battery, stock landing gear – 680 grams (may vary depending on when built – newer QX2 model weighs more due to battery)
Total Droneflyers.com suggested added payload = approx. 250+- grams (centered)
Models Offered – To avoid confusion, here are the various models of this quadcopter which have been sold.
ALL models feature GPS, Altitude Hold, Compass, Return to Home (RTH) and other advanced features.
Original Model 350QX ($500 RTF)– this is the model released in September, 2013 and had various shortcomings such as weak propellers and qc issues. The propellers can be upgraded to the newer ones and the firmware (internal programming) can also be updated in order to make it more reliable and up to date.
Current Model 350QX 2.0 ($500 RTF)– this is the improved model with the better propellers and updated firmware installed at the factory. It also stands to reason that Blade has fixed problems with the electronics and QC as they went along. Our test model is this type – and comes with a red battery door and a 2200 mah LiPo battery. Included DC charger.
Newest Model 350QX2 ($500 RTF)– this model uses a larger battery – 3000 mah and claims an improved receiver, GPS and Compass for longer range and better reliability. It can be recognized by a white battery door. The same model is sold with a gimbal and included camera as the “350 QX2 AP Combo” ($900). Included AC/DC charger.
For many flyers, the QX2 has few advantages over the QX – in fact, you may own a stash of 2200 mah batteries as they are quite standard. However, it is likely that the QX2 will soon be the only model available.
Flight Modes with included DX5e Transmitter
As shipped, the 350QX has the following modes – corresponding to these numbers on the 3-way switch on the DX5e:
0 – SAFE Mode – headless mode. This is an interesting mode for beginners as well as for saving your quadcoper when you lose orientation. In this mode, the quadcopter will avoid flying into a 15 foot radius around you and also will always travel in the direction that you push or pull on the right stick. Other than as a demonstration or for complete newbies, this mode will likely not be used much, as the RTF works well on this model for those times when you really lose sight of your machine.
1 – AP (Aerial Photography) Mode – this is a newer mode introduced by Blade which can best be described as “soft and stable”. It’s designed for taking better video – but lacks any excitement factor. It’s somewhat close to how a heavily loaded DJI Phantom flies.
2 – Stability Mode – in this mode, the quadcopter still retains the self-leveling, GPS and Altitude hold, but reacts with much more power and precision. I find this mode most comfortable for most flying.
In addition to the modes, there is a Hi-Lo switch on the DX5e TX”Original (1st) Binding which allows for either 70% or 100% “rates” (power). Certain features such as GPS can also be turned off on startup or binding using instructions given in the manual or online.
The “bind” toggle switch functions as the Return to Home (RTF) – holding it back toward you in any mode will make the 350QX start heading back to it’s original position. You can leave go of the switch and take manual control at any time.
More advanced users can unlock additional modes with the DX6 (and up) transmitters.
Getting Ready to Fly
After charging and inserting the LiPo battery, the next order of business is to bind the 350qx to the DX5e TX. This is done in much the same way as with the Blade 200 we recently reported on. Rather than copy and paste, please read the section entitled “Original (1st) Binding” and “Fly” in this review.
Ideally, the 350QX should not need compass or other calibration. However, if you find your machine unable to hover and otherwise acting strange, there are instructions in the manual and many videos online about resetting and calibration of the compass and pressure sensor (barometer).
Once your quad is bound, startup is as follows:
1. Turn on your TX – put the mode switch into the setting you desire.
2. Turn on the switch on the bottom of the 350 and step back to about 15+ feet behind the quadcopter – wait until the blinking LED turns solid, which indicates GPS lock and proper binding.
3. Arm and Fly
The 350QX is armed (props started) by moving both sticks to the inside bottom corners and then releasing them. On my model, it also worked when moving them to the outside bottom corners. Make sure your throttle trim is centered before arming.
Flying the 350QX
No doubt about it – this thing is a blast! It’s easy to fly – but not too easy, especially when you set it to “Stability” and 100% rate. In that mode you can race it around the field, but feel confident due to the self-leveling feature. But watch out! This thing is quick and you may find your, as I did, having to do emergency saves when it almost hits some trees, a fence or a building.
As with all quadcopters, I found myself testing the limits by flying it quite high…and even on a fairly windy day (over 10 MPH steady). It’s relatively small, so keeping a visual on it can get difficult at distances. Luckily, the RTH (return to home) feature works perfectly. I tested it a number of times when the copter seemed to be getting too far away and I wanted to regain control and orientation. As long as you hold the “bind” toggle forward, it will head back to it’s landing area – you can release the switch at any time and take manual control.
The “headless” mode (switch at 0) is unlikely to be used much – so it’s best to consider the flight modes as being the AP mode (Aerial Photography) and the Stability Mode (self-level, but more aggressive). Either can be set at lo (70%) or hi (100%) – the lo is somewhat of a governor on the speed, angles and acceleration.
Flying the 350QX with Cameras
The 350QX comes with an isolation mount for a GoPro 3 series camera which is located far forward on the quad body. I elected to move the camera mount back in order to keep the center of gravity more balanced. My total GoPro setup weighed in at about 100 grams and it flew with no problems at all. I set the camera to take some still pictures – here is one of the pics (click a couple times to enlarge)
To give the quad a real test, I attached my Canon S100 camera and mount – a total of about 230 grams payload. This is quite close to the maximum suggested payload for the Phantom (1). It flew quite well, although I got a little nervous because my battery was running low. A sample picture from the Canon is below (click to enlarge):
All in all, the Blade passed the payload tests with flying colors (pun intended). Hobbyists would do well to center loads as much as possible. Blade sells longer landing gear which will help with mounting larger cameras and keeping the blades out of the picture.
The 350QX vs. The Competition
DJI became the “elephant in the room” when they released the Phantom at a consumer price point of $699 and then lowered it to $499. The combination of features, reliability and price brought quadcopter flying to the masses. As a result, DJI vastly outsells all other quadcopters combined in the price ranges of it’s machines ($500-$1500). However, such success means that other manufacturers are interested in a piece of the action – and none is/was more qualified to try than Horizon Hobby, maker of the Blade 350QX. While others have attempted to muscle in on Phantom’s success with clones and cheap copies, Blade has built their machine from the ground up and engineered it to be quite different from the staid Phantom. The Blade is slightly smaller and racier looking…and that sleek shape cuts through the air well. Simply speaking, the Blade gives you BOTH a “sport” quadcopter and also a hobbyist grade photography and/or video platform. The Phantom lacks the excitement part of the equation – even being described by it’s maker as a “flying camera”.
Blade now sells a new “AP” model – at about $900 complete with camera and gimbal. This is a decent value but should not be compared with the Phantom Vision 2+.
Many hobbyists are outfitting the 350QX as an FPV quadcopter – it’s speed and payload capacity make it a great platform for testing various setups and configurations.
Warranty and Support
Horizon Hobby has some of the best support in the R/C model business. This does not mean it’s perfect – it doesn’t measure up to Apple or similar brands, but it is much better than the competition in the world of drones. You can buy online or from your local hobby shop and rest assured that they will try to help you solve any problems you run into.
In general, it’s better to use their phone support than email – you will likely be able to talk to a technician when you call and solve your problem quickly.
There have been some reports of poor GPS reception, especially when a camera is attached. Apparently, the Cameras put out a small amount of radio waves which jam the GPS. Blade has suggested a fix in the form of wrapping part of the camera with copper foil – they even provided some inside the quadcopter box. Never the less, for now expect the 350QX GPS to not be as robust as the DJI…although it’s likely they will improve it with time.
I did notice some GPS drifting when I flew with a camera – however, the RTH still seemed to function well even during that period.
The 350QX in it’s 2.0 and newer form factors is a keeper. It’s not better than a Phantom – rather it’s completely different. Those who just desire a flying camera or camcorder will be better served by the DJI Phantom line. But for those who want to learn, fly and also dabble in aerial photography, the Blade is worthy of consideration. If FPV flying on a versatile machine is in your future, the Blade 350QX may be calling your name.
As AK, our initial reviewer, commented:
“The Blade is better for speed, sport, and proximity FPV. The Phantom is better for stability, range, and Aerial Video and Photography.”
Highly Recommended…a mark which we don’t give to many machines. After some initial problems, Blade got it right and now is a solid and reliable platform.
Update – Amazon and others are now selling this 2.0 model for $299.00 – click this link to see if the deal is still on!
Leave your comments and questions here with FB comments – or, join us at our forum thread here:
NEWS FLASH – Horizon has finally released the update to the AP (Aerial Photography) Blade 350QX – called the 350QX3. This features a much improved camera as well as a gimbal for stable video. Users seem very pleased with the quality.
The older AP model with camera is available at a bargain price if you are OK with the lesser specs of the camera, etc.: