Yuneec Typhoon H Hexacopter Camera Drone – Droneflyers Review and Rating
Prelude – If you are a drone newbie or beginner and/or technically challenged we would caution you that this model – and, in fact, most delicate and complex camera drones over $1,000, are not for your first attempts at flying. The exception would be if you have a local hobby shop or dealer who is willing to do setups, troubleshooting and education. Most beginners should consult our series of articles and recommendations and start with the basics.
The Yuneec Typhoon H created excitement at the 2016 Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas. Much of the buzz was about the Intel Realsense obstacle avoidance system slated to be included on the H. However, Yuneec was late in delivering Realsense (they are just starting to sell the Pro models now – August, 2016) and instead released the Typhoon H at a lower price of $1299 (about $1125 discounted on Amazon) without the Realsense module. Although they promised an easy upgrade, they are not currently offering this…the full Realsense H “Pro” (about $1899+) is currently the only way to get the full OA (Obstacle Avoidance) system.
Our Typhoon is the standard model which also comes with a “Wizard” controller – a hand held wand that can substitute for the Remote controller in certain situations.
Some customers have been confused by Yuneec shipping the H without the RealSense. There is a so-called “obstacle avoidance” front facing sonar built into even the base model but it is not very useful (low range, only front..not on aircraft bottom, not “vision” but sound, etc.).
To clear up this matter, here are the three Yuneec H models and approx. prices as well as features.
- Base model – this is the basic hexacopter unit sold from launch until beginning of August, 2016. It comes with a single battery and no Wizard wand. Current “street price” is approx. $1100.
- Base model with Wizard – this is the same as #1 but includes the Wizard wand. Current “street price” is approx. $1180.
- YUNEEC Typhoon H PRO Hexacopter with Intel RealSense and Backpack- this is currently selling for approx. $1899.
The H is a consumer level camera done which features a 4K camera capable of video or still pictures and a large remote controller with a built-in 7″ screen. The OS (screen) runs on Android. In terms of other offerings in the same segment, here are the current popular choices:
Only #4 above has true “computer vision and obstacle avoidance”, and so can be compared to the H Pro. All units have 4K cameras. At the end of our review we will offer specs, suggestions and opinion on the pros and cons of the various units.
The H is marketed as having three main selling points:
- It is a Hexacopter whereas most consumer camera drones are quadcopters. Claims are made that a Hex is more reliable since it can operate if one motor or propeller is damaged.
- It has RealSense Obstacle Avoidance (Pro Model Only) – the first Drone to use this particular brand of computer vision.
- It has a built-in tablet – most all other consumer drones use the customer choice of IOS or Android devices.
Our own introductory article on the Typhoon H asked two basic questions about the model. The first is whether it takes better video or pictures than the competition. The second question was whether it is more reliable and functional in flight than other consumer quadcopters. We hope our hands-on will be able to provide more insight on total value. This is especially important since the Typhoon is more expensive than most other consumer-level camera drones.
Unboxing and Assembly
The Typhoon H was packed well – in a foam case which was inside of two different boxes – a display box and a shipping box. The foam case seems to be reusable for basic transport – although it doesn’t have a hinge or a latch and handle like the Phantom 4 case. No assembly is required. Preparing for the first flight requires the following:
- Unfold arms – they snap into place.
- Install propellers – they are color coded and install very easily with a quick press and turn.
- Remove gimbal holder and install included SD card.
- Charge battery and remote (ST16 remote controller w/display built in).
The fit and finish of the Drone itself is good – the arms, landing gear and battery fit well and setup and use of the battery charger was easy. The gimbal and camera (CGO 3+) have been brought over from an earlier model, the Q500 4k, and have a cheap feel (some describe as “plasticky” to them which is not up to the same standard as the rest of the machine. The ST16 Remote also has some less-than-premium construction qualities – especially the many switches and the dual “stock” antennas. We’ll discuss some of that in more detail in the operation section.
In terms of size, the following picture compares the Yuneec H to a Phantom 4 – the foam cases behind are the stock cases each model comes in. In terms of dimensions of the cases:
Box size – or backpack size – airline and other travel….
Typhoon H – 19.5″ x 16″ x 11.5″ = 3588 cubic inches
Phantom 4 – 15″ x 12 5/8″ x 8 5/8″ = 1645 cubic inches
Size is an important consideration if you intend to travel, hike or otherwise transport your Camera Drone. It is dangerous (and against FAA and other rules) to check these drones as baggage due to the large and powerful batteries. They must therefore be carried on board and stored in the overhead compartment or under the seat. The Yuneec H may have to be broken down into two cases in order to fit this requirement – one for the body of the Hexacopter and the other for the batteries and ST16.
For hiking, climbing, skiing, etc. the drone is often transported in a backpack – the picture below shows a backpack carrying a DJI Phantom 4 (left) and one made for the Typhoon H (right). Some cases and backpacks are designed better than others so be sure to check the specifications and capacity of the model you are considering.
The smart consumer will take plenty of time to read the included documentation as well as the full manual (not included in package – PDF on Yuneec site). In addition, most consumers will need to consult various videos and forums to understand the system and controls.
Setup and Calibration
As with most all advanced GPS drones, various calibrations should be done before the first flight. These include a compass and IMU (accelerometer) calibrations. Instructions can be found in the owner’s manual. The software interfaces for these and various other operations lacking (few or no prompts, status bars, etc.). Make sure you understand the processes before attempting them. All calibrations must be done with both the Drone and the Controller powered up and fully connected. Firmware should probably be updated if it is not current. Firmware updates are not done automatically or through the internet (app). You have to download the two files (one for the H and one for the remote) and copy them to MicroSD cards which are then inserted into the devices. After insertion you can then, through the System Settings Menu, upgrade the firmware. After firmware upgrades, the ST16 and H must often be rebound. This is not an easy process unless you carefully study and follow the proper instructions through a 3rd party video. Note the various videos made by this Yuneec Dealer – they are worth their weight in gold.
If your eyes aren’t glazing over by now you will start to understand our warning at the article head regarding newbies. It takes education, dedication and patience to learn the setup and operation of an aircraft like the Yuneec H Typhoon!
Given the complexity of these operations, I was unable to fly the H the first day I received it – despite spending over 5 hours in prep and calibration. I’ve had similar experience with other models and brands, but the H was a little tougher due to the user interface being cruder and the instructions and prompts being less than perfect. I’ll chalk much of this up to my inexperience with Yuneec products (this is my first), but there could certainly be a number of software and documentation improvements made. I suspect Yuneec is hard at work doing so – although often the 3rd party (users and dealer) efforts are better than what you get from the manufacturer.
With setup complete, the H is ready to hit the sky. First I did a quick test of the Camera – both video and stills – so I could compare these with aerial shots and get some idea of the image quality. The basic Yuneec GUI (user interface) is shown below.
The left vertical column contains telemetry – including distance, altitude, battery voltage and GPS status. Camera settings are on the other left vertical column. The right vertical menus are for the other flight modes (non-GPS, waypoint, POI, etc.) as well as some status information. The bottom menus all take you out of the screen shown to “system” screens including the basic Android OS.
It is important to make sure all the switches on the ST16 are in the proper position before takeoff – not understanding these could easily cause a crash or other mishap. For example, I switched into “Angle” flight mode so as not to experience the problems some pilots have with the stock “Smart” mode (more on this later).
Once GPS is acquired on both the Drone and the ST16 (both have GPS inside), the H will allow you to start the propellers by pushing the red button on the top left of the controller for a few seconds. Automatic takeoff is supported, but since I like to be in full control I took off simply be advancing the throttle (left stick).
Here are two of the first still images I took – one is processed a bit afterwards and the other is right from the camera on auto settings. I am not overjoyed with the out-of-the-camera images on auto (point and shoot), so will take some time to look up the best manual settings for the Typhoon H.
Below is the first video taken with the H:
Setup of the H “in the field” is fast and easy. I was able to go from the box to takeoff in a little over 2 minutes.
Flight time on a full battery is approx. 18 minutes.
Intelligent Flight Modes (autonomous or semi-autonomous)
The Typhoon H features the following GPS based flight modes:
1. Journey – a selfie mode (up and away from subject).
2. Orbit – Circle the pilot (or whoever holds the ST16)
3. POI – Circle an object (building, monument, etc.)
4. Follow Me
5. Curved Cable Cam (CCC) – basic waypoints which must be set first by flying the course in the H and setting each waypoint. Afterwards, the course can be saved and run again.
I tested all of these extra features – with some practice I was able to figure them out and execute the various moves. Journey and Orbit are likely to be used once or twice and then ignored…selfie photos and videos, especially on a very large drone…are not very useful in our opinion.
We are not big fans of “Follow Me” as our view is that this can often cause accidents with inexperienced pilots.
Curved Cable Cam (very basic waypoints which you fly and then save) can be useful for various tasks such as fence inspection on your ranch or property, etc.
With some reading and some practice, CCC can make some fancy moves due to the 360 degree camera gimbal. This type of operation does require some time in the field so it’s not applicable to quick in and out (stealth) types of flights.
POI is also useful for circling monuments, buildings and prominent landscape features.
At the present there are not any more powerful (mapping waypoints, mapping software, etc.) available either from Yuneec or 3rd parties.
The video below contains samples of 1080/60 video direct from the Typhoon H in various lighting conditions. Although unprocessed we did try to pick out the better parts of the (long) videos we took.
Thoughts on the Typhoon H – Items which may need Improvement
All of the listed suggestions/improvements are readily available in other drones and/or other hardware and represent current technology as of mid-2016. Suggestions for improvements are also presented.
Only the most important items are mentioned.
1. Power System – the Yuneec battery is not “smart”, meaning it does not know its own health and charge level. It therefore cannot auto-discharge and perform other self maintenance. In addition, various low battery warning and calculation features (how far the drone can go, how many minutes, what to do on low battery, etc.) are not available in the Yuneec software.
ST16 battery runs down after as few as 4-5 flights.
Batteries take too long to charge (approx. 100 minutes)
Fixes: develop and implement intelligent batteries – improve Yuneec app (software) with more information and options for battery monitoring and failsafes. Enlarge battery in ST16 and implement power savings on device and app.
Include higher amp battery charger – offer multiple battery changers as extra cost accessory.
2. Switch protection and/or locking into modes – The ST16 uses a number of low quality switches to perform tasks such as switching modes, lowering and raising landing gear and similar tasks. Operators will find themselves accidentally moving these switches – some presenting the capability of causing unexplained events and crashes.
Fixes: Install higher quality switches with either switch protectors or tighter locking into place. Shorten the switch paddles
3. Camera and Lens Quality/Software – The camera in the Typhoon H is OK – but in the current price range of $1100 – $1800+, customers expect better. The settings in the App (on the ST16) are limited. EXIF data is missing or limited and no histogram is shown. The screen view is squashed vertically in Photo mode.
Fixes: Improve hardware and software so that the camera is worthy of a prosumer level hexacopter.
4. Failsafe and Return to Home – The Typhoon Return to Home (RTH) does not allow important settings such as adjusting the RTH height (it is fixed at 32 feet, not tall enough to top many obstacles). You also cannot change the RTH or Failsafe options – such as setting it to Hover in place when losing connection as opposed to RTH. Home is not set as where the H takes off – but rather where the operator with the ST16 control is located.
Fixes: Allow the user to set RTH height and perhaps other parameters.
5. Lack of Maps and Mapping and therefore Flight Path, etc. – this is perhaps the biggest shortcoming on the Typhoon H. Unlike other drones like DJI, Autel, etc. there is no google or apple maps shown on your screen. This would be akin to having a GPS for your car with no map on the screen.
The lack of mapping makes longer, higher and further flights more difficult. It also limits the ability to do autonomous flights (waypoints, modes and similar flights) as you can’t accurately determine the route you’d like to fly.
Fixes: add mapping and build other options upon the mapping or open to 3rd parties.
6. Warranty – Yuneec offers a 6 month warranty – shorter than some others in the same industry. No “crash or flyaway insurance” is offered. (One 3rd party (Neary Aerial) does offer a $279 one year crash warranty)
Fixes: Extend warranty to one year – offer extra cost crash insurance.
While it is simple to list out these shortcomings, it requires almost a herculean effort to engineer, test, produce and include them in the Typhoon. Yuneec could, if they desire, roll out the easier fixes and improvements (RTH height adjustment, better switches, etc.) over the next couple of months, however the Camera, Mapping and other improvements would likely take longer.
At Droneflyers we always caution against buying ANY new drone model in the first 3-6 months. Since the full (as announced and advertised) model didn’t ship until mid-July, 2016, that means the savvy customer may want to wait until the Fall and see how the RealSense model is working and whether some of the needed improvements to both (the base model and he RealSense) have materialized.
Another concern with the H has been confirmed with two expert UAV Pilots – this is not a model for beginners or, for that matter, for any “weekend warriot” pilot. The H is a larger and heavier Drone and requires some serious study (reading and understanding all the manuals and other docs) as well as a careful operator.
Exactly how qualified would a pilot have to be? The answer is quite simple – if you have to ask, then you probably aren’t qualified to properly and safely operate the Typhoon. Those who are experienced – well, they understand the technology and can make their own decisions – no need to listen to our recommendations!
Bigger may be better…for visibility in the sky. However, transport and stealth use of the Typhoon H is harder than that of the smaller (DJI, Autel) craft. The H is effectively double the size.
The most accurate way to summarize the Typhoon would be to grade it along a scale – one that we can make up in a fashion similar to how they set Olympic Scores. That is, perfection in a camera drone (or any complex product) is nearly impossible. Our scale will set 100 as the “highest grade possible using current technology” and then compare some current and former Drone models numerically. Where the “failing” grade is depends on the particular consumer, but IMHO it would be 35 or below. Drones rated there or lower may not be adequate for their stated purpose. Our grades, of course, are for a fixed point in time – mid-2016. They also take value (price) into account – although not as heavily as reliability, safety and functionality.
And so, without further ado, here is some of our take on the current state of the consumer (under $2000) drone market.
Walkera Tali Hexacopter – 15
Parrot BeBop 1 – 20
3D Robotics Solo – 25
Parrot BeBop 2 – 35
Yuneec Q500 4K – 40
Yuneec Typhoon H – 45
Autel Robotics X-Star Premium – 55
DJI Phantom 3 Pro – 70
DJI Phantom 4 – 85
As an independent web site we have no allegiance to any one manufacturer – rather what we seek is to be delighted in the capabilities of these amazing flying cameras. Unlike other Drone review sites we don’t subscribe to the “every drone is great” line of thinking. One model might be great while another may be a complete waste of money and time. Our mission is to use our many decades of technology experience to accurately portray the fact and specs as well as our take pros and cons of various models.
If it sounds like the Yuneec Typhoon H meets your needs, you can pick one up at the Amazon links below. Don’t forget – whichever model you choose, start slow and devour all the available documentation and other instructional offerings. You shouldn’t be attempting to “get the shot” until you have at least 6-10 flights on the Typhoon…or any other Camera Drone.
Yuneec Typhoon H (base mode)
Yuneec Typhoon H (Pro model with obstacle avoidance)