While Apollo 11 astronauts were swiftly heading away from the surface of the Earth, NASA was also involved with another unprecedented voyage travelling in the opposite direction.
Autel Robotics is a fairly new player in the world of aerial photography (AP) platforms. They currently offer two multi-rotors in their product line, the X-Star WiFi ($700) and X-Star Premium ($750). Both of these ships have a 350mm plastic airframe, brushless motors, and a 4K-capable camera. Power comes from a 4-cell 4900mAh LiPo battery. The whole thing is factory assembled. You only need to go through a few setup and calibration steps (and read the manual) to prepare for flight.
This review covers the X-Star Premium. You can view a comparison chart for a summary of the differences between the two X-Star models. There are actually more similarities than variances. But there are two features found only on the premium model that make it the better value in my opinion.
The X-Star Premium includes a hard-shell case that is useful for storage and transport of the quad and its accoutrements. The package comes with one battery, but there is room for a spare inside the case. If you use a tablet to view the video feed, that will also fit inside the case. If you’ve ever tried to individually schlep all of the gear necessary for an AP flight, then you know how much of a benefit a carrying case can be. The other factor that tips the scale for the premium model is the video downlink system. The X-Star Premium uses a 900MHz system that routes the signal to the quad’s radio transmitter (which effectively makes it a transceiver…semantics). This signal then gets to your phone or tablet screen with Autel’s Starlink app and a hard-wired USB connection. The X-Star WiFi uses a 2.4GHz WiFi signal directly to your device.
I’ll admit that I’ve never tested the video system on a standard X-Star. I have, however, flown numerous other AP multi-rotors that used WiFi-based video systems. I’ve had a few good experiences with WiFi video. Some systems, however, suffered from chronic connection problems and they all had some degree of signal latency. As far as I’m concerned, when there is a non-WiFi option, you should take it.
X-Star Premium Overview
The first thing that people comment about when I fly the X-Star Premium is its orange color. Aside from being a little different, the bright color provides a very helpful benefit…it’s easy to see. When you’re flying an AP quad, you tend to split your time between looking down at the video screen and spotting the quad in the sky. There are always a few tense moments when you look up to see your ship and it isn’t quite where you thought it would be. White quads disappear on cloudy days. Black and grey quads blend in with trees and mountains. But orange isa different story. It is easy to spot in just about any condition. You can actually buy either model of the X-Star in white or orange. But really, the orange is a good thing. Get the orange.The included transmitter is uncluttered and functional. I like that the buttons on the face of the transmitter are very clearly labeled with their intended function. You don’t want to have to decipher ambiguous icons when you have an in-flight emergency. Knowing exactly what each button does could mean the difference between a safe landing and a bad day. An adjustable mount on the top of the transmitter can be used to hold your smart device. It will fit a wide array of devices ranging from phones to a full-size iPad. The transmitter gets a top-heavy feel with larger devices attached, but it’s tolerable.