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Hands on with the Griffin Helo TC iPhone-controlled toy helicopter

We first told you about the Griffin Helo TC Helicopter ($50) back in August when the device was first announced, but we’re back with a hands-on look at the tech toy after giving it a whirl in the confines of the DT office. At first glance, the Helo TC looks like just about any small remote control helicopter. What sets this one apart from the pack is that instead of controlling the ‘copter with a special remote, all you need is your iOS device (iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch) and you’re ready to fly. 

The twin-rotor helicopter has a black polycarbonate body and comes with a flight deck module that plugs into your iOS device’s headphone jack, which then beams infrared commands from your device to the helicopter. Users must download a free app that goes along with the helicopter so that they can use their iOS devices for control. Users have two different options for flight control. In the Touch control mode, users control the helicopter by using the throttle and joystick on the app’s multi-touch display. In the Tilt-to-Steer mode, users direct the helicopter using the accelerometer built-in to the iOS device. As an added bonus, the app can record up to three different flight plans so users can fly their favorite paths over and over again. A built-in battery recharges via USB port and 4 AAA batteries keep the flight deck module alive and running.

We gave the Helo TC a hands-on test drive, and other than a few downsides, the small recreational helicopter was fun to fly inside and lived up to its promises. The helicopter is smaller than we had imagined, and we’re betting that it wouldn’t work if you were outside and a small gust of wind came through. We’d recommend keeping this little guy secluded inside when you get the urge to fly. When we flew the helicopter on a fully-charged battery, it flew to eye-level height and performed solidly, despite our somewhat clumsy controlling attempts. We particularly like the light-up LEDs in different colors that users can turn on while flying the toy.

The two biggest downsides to this toy were the control from the iPhone and the battery life. While using a regular remote control with a physical joystick gives users a very tactile experience guiding the toy, the app on the iPhone makes feeling where the helicopter is going rather difficult. We’re sure users would get used to the different control style after some time, but we initially found it somewhat cumbersome to get used to.

The other con with this fun toy is that the battery life is incredibly short. We could only fly the helicopter at good heights for a few minutes before the battery started to wane. After two or three minutes of high-flying fun, the helicopter would only fly 6 to 12 inches from the ground for a few more minutes, and then we were out of luck. Considering the battery takes about 30 minutes to fully recharge, that’s not very much time to play. We wouldn’t recommend this little guy for helicopter enthusiasts who are used to a longer-lasting flying experience, but the novelty of using it with an iOS device makes it a fun toy and a great stocking-stuffer or gift.

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