Part One – note, we will either add to this review or post a Part Two as we gain more experience with the RC Logger Nove 350X Quadcopter.
RC Logger is a different kind of drone company. Since their founding in 2010 they have been a popular “boutique” brand with many R/C hobbyists. As the hobby evolved they have brought many new designs to market, including the Eye One Extreme what we reviewed last year.
The new NovaX 350 is a mid-sized model with GPS features as well as a smartphone app for configuration. It is capable of lifting decent payloads (350 grams) – which include cameras as well as optional (or DIY) gimbals for smooth video. At a price of about $320 – $500+ (depend on RTF or ARF) it is a good value – assuming it fits your needs.
Who is it for?
The best description for the NovaX 350 might include the words “sport” and “flexible”. For example, a pilot wishing to do some fast FPV flying, some manual stick practice and also some aerial photography would be able to easily switch the modes and payloads to suit. Evening and night flying are another specialty of the NovaX – it has perhaps the best stock set of LED lighting on the market.
While many buyers might choose the RTF (comes with a remote and is ready-to-fly) version, there is also an ARF (almost Ready to Fly) version which allows use of many higher end Remotes (TX)…and then the tweaking of many of the various flight characteristics.
Unboxing and Assembly
The NovaX came nicely packaged with smaller boxes inside a single large one. Two sets of legs are provided – a short set and a longer set. Assembly of the basic unit was quite easy – the legs and the propellers are the only parts needing assembled and I was able to do both using only the printed Quick Start Guide. RC Logger provides more complete PDF documentation as well as numerous videos online.
Preparing for Flight
The NovaX comes with a balancing battery charger as well as a heavy-duty battery (5200 MaH Lipo 3 cell) – I left this to charge while I familiarized myself with how the initial calibrations are done. While waiting I also downloaded the app (IOS or Android) which is named “EyeControl”. The App provides multiple functions through a bluetooth interface to the NovaX and Remote. These include calibration, geofencing and configuration of the controller in the various modes. Other settings allow you to control the RTH (Return to Home) height. Here is a link to the video showing basics uses of the app. Note that more features may be available in newer versions of EyeControl.
With the battery fully charged, I installed it and turned on the Remote and then NovaX (with props removed) – and used the EyeControl app to guide me through the gyro, compass and R/C (TX) calibrations. I had some trouble getting the compass calibrations to take – perhaps because I was in a small yard with power lines and other obstructions nearby. The RC Logger video appears to show this being done indoors – which ended up working for me. While in the app I set a tight geofence to assure my first flights would stay close to home. It’s always a good idea to fly conservatively until you have some experience with a new model.
Before installing the propellers I checked that the motors would turn on – the arming or disarming command on the NovaX (mode 2) involves holding the left stick to the bottom left for a few seconds. Once I was sure of the basics I turned everything off and installed the propellers. As a precaution (always good on first flights) I tethered the NovaX to the ground with approx. 20 feet of light rope and initiated the first flight. THe NovaX lifted off and seemed very stable – probably the result of its advanced GPS system which uses US, Russian, European and Chinese satellites to obtain the best fix possible. Here is the first quick test – made only to check that everything works and the quad is stable.
After the successful tethered flight I prepared for the next trial by setting the geofence on the EyeControl app. I set it for a very small area – just 20 meters in any direction – just so I could get more experience with the manners of the NovaX. I ventured out to empty lot next to a local park and flew circles and various patterns for 15 minutes – in the process I got to feeling very comfortable with the stability and general control of the NovaX 350. I clamped my Yi camera onboard and got my first aerial picture (as well as some video).
Following this flight I changed the geo-fence to a much larger area and took the machine into the park for some higher and speedier flights. The machine handled fine – once again it obtained good GPS lock almost instantly – a lock I tested by checking the RTH (Return to Home Function)…which worked perfectly.
I took some video as well as some still pictures and also tried some of the other performance modes which allow for more speed and agility. These modes will likely entice the quad buyers who want the option to use one machine for a number of various uses – that is, you could use it one day for aerial photography and another day for FPV low level flying – and another day for various forms of flying practice. Any good pilot need to “get in hours of flight time” and the NovaX – with it’s fun factor – can help!
The NovaX has various flight modes – enough to satisfy virtually any type of pilot or any particular mission scenario. The RTH model Remote (TX) uses two of the switches to control these modes.
The switch labeled “bank selection” controls the maximum tilting of the quadcopter as well as various speed settings. The AP (aerial photography) mode allows for slower tame operation. Switching it down to Sport mode gives a much more responsive control…and much more fun if you are mostly flying for kicks. The custom mode allows for you to set your own parameters – this is well documented in the manual.
The “Flight mode” switch changes the NovaX between GPS mode, which uses all available sensors and instruments, to altitude hold (barometer only) or to basic…which has neither GPS or Altitude hold.
For basic testing and aerial photography (still photos), I used GPS mode and the sport setting – this allowed me to fly the copter a bit more aggressively.
Although I need to get more flights in, I am enjoying this quad for a number of reasons. Firstly, the assembly, setup, calibration and app gave me very little trouble. I was able to quickly learn the way the whole setup (app, modes, LED status lights, etc.) worked. The NovaX is fun to fly – something that can’t be said for many of the newer camera/gimbal machines which are designed for careful and slower (stable) flight. I treat a $400 machine differently than I might a $1K bird – that is, I’m not going to worry as much that a hard landing or small crash is going to do away with my large investment. This allows for more learning and experimentation.
Summary of First Look
The NovaX 350 seems to be a very solid machine. It is quite different than most of the mid-sized models available today as it is designed more for flexibility, building upon, fun, modification, learning, etc – as opposed to as a “flying camera” such as the DJI, Yuneec or similar models.
RC Logger combined various features from the past (programming options, etc.) with more modern software and hardware (strong GPS, app, etc.) to create a platform – exactly what you do with that platform is up to you…which I think is the whole idea with the NovaX. If you are interested in the hobby aspect of drones – learning more about how all the various systems work and can be tweaked – the NovaX 350 might be for you! Also, many pilots are limited by budget, storage space or other constraints and can’t own a whole fleet of quadcopters for various uses. The Nova would be a great machine for the person who wants to do a little of everything – fun flying one day, FPV the next and aerial photography the day after. More serious hobbyists will be able to use their higher grade radios (Remote, TX) to control the NovaX.
Those who want stable aerial video will be able to choose between 3rd party gimbals or RC Loggers own optional X series. CES 2016 is next week and I hope to learn more about their gimbals when I visit their booth.
Although our review is not complete the above should give the reader some idea of the type of machine this is – and whether to put it on your list of prospective machines. For more information check out the following links:
RC Logger Site
NovaX 350 Thread on RC Groups (technical)