Last month I did a review on the Walkera Runner 250. This was a highly anticipated quadcopter that was supposed to do for quadcopter racing what the DJI Phantom did for aerial video. Unfortunately Walkera dropped the ball, and sadly the Runner just did not live up to the hype. One thing it did do however is help shine a light on this fast rising segment of the drone universe. Drone racing is growing in popularity by leaps and bounds. The Walkera Runner was supposed to be the quad that brought drone racing to the masses, but by dropping the ball they have left the door wide open for somebody else to pick up that ball and run with it. Enter the Eachine Racer 250.
In many ways, the Racer is the polar opposite of the Runner. Whereas the Runner had slick packaging and and made a very good first impression, the Racer has cheesy packaging and made a poor first impression. On the flip side however, flying the Runner was a huge disappointment, where as flying the Eachine proved to be a very pleasant surprise. The best part about the Walkera was the unboxing, but the best part of the Eachine Racer is actually flying it.
The racer also took a bit more work to get flying than the Runner did. Unlike the Runner which was ready to fly, the Racer is what they call a PNF (Plug and Fly) model. This means that you need to attach your own receiver and set up your own radio to get it ready to fly. There is also a software program called Open Pilot GCS (Ground Control Station) that you need to download and install in order to configure it. This would not normally be a daunting task as the software has an excellent vehicle setup wizard and overall is pretty easy to use. However, the complete lack of instructions make this process a lot harder than it needs to be.
(note – much of the above has changed with the introduction of a complete RTF model of this machine – see link at bottom of this page or here).
What you get in the package
The box, while cheesy, contains everything you need to get up and flying except a radio and a receiver. My understanding is that Banggood plans to offer a full RTF package as well, but for now that doesn’t exist so you’ll need to supply your own radio and receiver for this version. Also included and installed is a video transmitter complete with an OSD (On Screen Display) and a circular polarized cloverleaf antenna. The OSD is nothing fancy, but it does provide the information you most need for this type of quad – the selected video channel, the current battery voltage, and your flight time. Other items found in the box are a battery and a pretty decent charger, two complete sets of props, a cable to allow you to turn the headlights on and off from your Radio, a neck strap for your radio, and an adapter for the charger for european outlets.
Before you dive into the configuration you should bind your receiver to your radio and connect the receiver up to the Racer flight controller (a 32 bit CC3D based controller). This is because part of the Vehicle Setup Wizard involves having the software learn your control channels, so you may as well just get your radio bound and configured first so you won’t have to stop and do it in the middle of the wizard. A step by step walkthrough of the vehicle wizard is beyond the scope of this review, but there are plenty of resources available online to assist with the GCS setup.
Part of the setup process is choosing a model which the wizard will use to set up some initial PID settings. This provides a good starting point, but you will probably want to fine tune your PIDs a bit to get it flying smoother. I’ll be the first one to admit that tuning PIDs is a black art that is both frustrating and confusing, but luckily there is a much easier alternative for CC3D based flight controllers called OPTune. This is a process that helps you find the (almost) optimal PID settings for your quad by following an easy step-by-step procedure. I highly recommend using this process as it will improve your drone’s handling and smooth out it’s flying considerably. A link to the OPTune site is provided at the end of the article.
I didn’t bother with the default PIDS and went right to OPTune. Once that was done I was ready to take the Racer out for it’s maiden flight. After my experience with the Walkera Runner I didn’t have my hopes up very high, but I was very pleasantly surprised with how smoothly the Racer handles. By my second battery pack I was flying around effortlessly and felt completely comfortable with the racer. One minor issue I did experience was some lines of interference being produced in my goggles by the Racer’s video transmitter (VTx). Upon inspection after the flight I found that the screw holding the VTx in place was lose and the VTx was free to rattle about. Once this was tightened down the lines disappeared and the video was perfect. I’m very impressed with the included FPV camera. While it won’t compete with an expensive CCD based camera with wide dynamic range, I was nonetheless impressed with the quality of the video. This obviously isn’t a total bargain basement camera, the colors it produces are vivid, it does a good job handling shadows and changing light conditions, and even seems to do a very decent job in low light conditions. Overall this was a very pleasant surprise as I’ve gotten used to the included cameras on these pre-built drones being just a slight step up from garbage.
Some other nice touches
The camera and flying characteristics weren’t the only pleasant surprises the Racer provided. Unlike the Runner, the battery compartment on the Racer is well secured and should prevent the battery from damaging any components in a crash. The headlights on the Racer are extremely bright, and may even be bright enough for navigating at night (I haven’t tried this yet however). There is also a convenient switch on the quad for turning the lights on and off. I normally leave them off to save battery power, but it’s a nice option to have if you want to try some night flying or racing.
Another nice surprise on the camera was the ability to add some upward tilt for faster flying. The available tilt isn’t that much (maybe 10 or 15 degrees), but every little bit helps when you’re trying to maximise your speed, and it was a pleasant surprise to find it available at all in a quad in this price range. Another nice touch pertaining to cameras is the inclusion of an isolation plate for mounting a video camera such as a Mobius or a Runcam. This wasn’t entirely unexpected as lots of frames are including one these days, but I wouldn’t have been entirely shocked if it had been omitted to cut corners. It was nice to see they didn’t do that.
Pros, and Cons
Like most products the Eachine Racer 250 is not perfect and has some Pros and Cons:
Price! ($145 – basic)
Includes 600mw VTx with OSD
Tiltable FPV camera
Very bright headlights
Uses non-proprietary components
Headlight on/off switch
Secure battery compartment
No RTF version available at the time of this posting
Spare parts not yet available from Banggood (spare arms can be found elsewhere however)
Setup could prove daunting sans instructions for beginners
Limited to 3s batteries
The Eachine Racer 250 is a very big step in the right direction toward an affordable entry level racing drone suitable for beginners. It’s not quite there yet as the lack of a RTF version and complete lack of instructions would make the setup a difficult and frustrating task for beginners. Right now this is a fantastic package for intermediate flyers, or for a beginner who has access to a more experienced pilot to help with the setup. Keep your eye on this one though, if Banggood and Eachine follow through on their promises to improve the instruction manual and produce a Ready To Fly version which includes a Radio and video monitor (which I expect would go for <$300), then this may be the entry level racer we’ve been waiting for. Here’s a video I made of the Racer in action, enjoy!
Editors Note – this machine is now available complete – with a monitor, remote, batteries and most everything else you need to race, fly and FPV. It’s about $300 for this setup and probably represents one of the best values in the business.
Here is the Banggood Link to the complete unit w/monitor and remote.