When most people think of the drone industry, companies like DJI, Yuneec, or perhaps Parrot tend to be the first to come to mind. But what about Horizon Hobby? A global hobby company located in Illinois, Horizon Hobby is a jack-of-all-trades RC specialist that’s now trying to elbow its way into the unmanned aerial vehicle fold. Having recently launched its Chroma line of drones, we decided to put its newest release through its paces to see how it stacked up against the industry’s elite.
It is worth noting that as soon as we unsheathed the Chroma and picked up its ST-10+ touch-screen controller (sound familiar?), it was apparent Horizon Hobby has kept a keen eye toward its competition — in particular, Yuneec. Similarities aside, the Chroma is a solid drone that wasn’t just a blast to fly but one that also provides an inexpensive entry point for anyone looking to get into aerial photography or videography.
Features and specs
Immediately after unboxing Horizon Hobby’s Chroma Camera Drone, it was apparent the craft had more in common with other big-name brands than just a simple repurposing of Yuneec’s ST-10+ controller. With a body reminiscent of DJI’s Phantom series of drones, you’d have a hard time distinguishing the two if it weren’t for the Chroma’s mast-mounted GPS antenna, which essentially gives the craft a tail. Don’t get us wrong, this doesn’t do anything to detract from the drone itself, nor does it make actually piloting the Chroma more or less difficult; aside from its GPS function, it’s merely an aesthetic difference.
Aside from its visual similarity, the Chroma does pack a few features that help it stand on its own two feet. For instance, drone pilots of any skill level should have no problem getting it into the air immediately upon unpacking (and charging) it, thanks to the drone’s highly intuitive smart flying modes. The Stick Relativity function is particularly helpful. This flight mode moves the craft in whichever direction a pilot pushes the right joystick, regardless of the direction the drone is facing. We found this to be incredibly responsive, and something that makes learning the ins and outs of drone flight a breeze.
Another useful feature is the Chroma’s SAFE Circle function, which essentially creates a safe zone around the controller, preventing the craft from flying too close to the operator. As if it were running into an invisible wall (without the destruction of the drone, of course), the Chroma halted its progress upon reaching this imaginary SAFE Circle during our trials.
Though Horizon Hobby offers different versions of its Chroma drone, our review model came equipped with an onboard 4K camera attached to a fully adjustable 3-axis gimbal. Capable of capturing gorgeous photos and videos, the camera proved to be the second-best part about flying the drone — after actually piloting the craft. While using the aforementioned ST-10+ controller, pilots simply move a dial up or down to adjust the camera’s pitch from looking out at the horizon or facing straight down to the ground. It’s also from the ST-10+ controller that operators have the ability to see what the drone sees, and monitor its battery levels, as well as what its ground speed and GPS locations currently are.
Build quality and durability
Nearly every component of Horizon Hobby’s Chroma — save the propellers — were among some of the sturdiest we’ve seen in a drone. Before getting too caught up on the propellers lacking unprecedented strength, it’s worth noting literally every drone comes with a set of rotors that essentially crumble if they touch anything — unless they feature some sort of rotor guard. Aside from this general characteristic, the Chroma Camera Drone impresses. With sturdy, removable landing gear and a stout plastic body, the Chroma is built to last.
Over the course of the review, we flew the Chroma for roughly four or five hours, and aside from light wear and tear and a little dirt amassed on the landing gear, it still appeared to be in mint condition. The foam pads glued to either end of the drone’s legs do run the risk of wearing down much quicker than other components native to the UAV, however, these could be easily replaced with spare foam picked up at a store like Michael’s.
Battery life and charge time
Perhaps the bane of every UAV’s existence, the battery life and battery charge time for the Chroma are (refreshingly) a tad better than much of the competition. Boasting around 30 minutes of advertised flight time, our tests showed this estimation to nearly be spot on. A simple test of the Chroma merely hovering in place — i.e., not using the onboard camera, accelerating the UAV itself, or enabling the smart features — resulted in a flight time of roughly 31 minutes. However, when we turned up the intensity and gave the drone a bit more throttle, the battery life showed an expected decrease in performance and lasted just 26 minutes. Our review model came with just one battery, so, unfortunately, once it died, our time enjoying the Chroma was slightly delayed while we patiently recharged it.
All told, Horizon Hobby’s Chroma is a solid, durable drone that’s perfect for amateur and advanced UAV pilots alike.
And what about that recharge time?
Note: The packaged battery we received for our review was labeled as a 5400 mAh when the battery is actually a 6300 mAh capacity pack.
A completely dead Chroma battery required more than two hours of charge time — roughly two hours and fifteen minutes. While not entirely awful, it is a bit of a drag to have to wait over two-plus hours to charge something that only lasts around 30 minutes. Because of this, we can’t stress enough the importance of a spare battery.
While two-plus hours of charge time for the battery can be a bother, charging the ST-10+ controller is a downright nuisance to the tune of five and a half hours. Granted, it doesn’t require a completely full charge for operation, but it’s not entirely recommended to use a semi-charged controller — a dead controller could spell the death of your drone; it’s not worth it.
Flight performance, control, and autonomy
As drone tech continues to advance at a rapid pace, the biggest winner in terms of this developing innovation is no doubt a craft’s relative performance, control, and autonomy. Regarding the flight production of Horizon Hobby’s Chroma, we couldn’t help but yet again compare it to Yuneec’s Typhoon Q500 4K — and this is a good thing. Taking into consideration the fact the Chroma uses Yuneec’s ST-10+ touch-screen controller, it’s not the least bit surprising it reacts in a similar fashion to its aforementioned source material.
The controller’s dual joystick setup made piloting the UAV in its Angle mode incredibly responsive, as the Chroma would bob, weave, and zag instantly for us with a simple flick of one of the sticks. Considering the ST-10+ controller is exactly like the device used to pilot Yuneec’s Typhoon Q500 4K, learning the ins and outs of navigating the Chroma wasn’t necessary for our review. Thing is, even without this head start, any drone pilot (novice or otherwise) could easily pick up the ST-10+ and, within a matter of minutes, they’d feel as though they’ve always known how to fly a UAV; it’s that intuitive.
In addition to it handling intuitively, the Chroma’s agility and speed do put it at, or above, the field. Though the ST-10+ controller allows for quick maneuvers and smooth flight, Horizon Hobby’s UAV boasts speeds of more than 35 miles per hour. For comparison’s sake, DJI’s Phantom 4 (on paper) coasts at roughly 44 miles per hour. In other words, the Chroma can haul, which significantly adds to its fun factor – i.e., an arbitrary scale of how much fun we had flying it.
Concerning the quadcopter’s operating range, the manual says pilots shouldn’t exceed roughly 1,300 feet – or 400 meters. Though we didn’t fly the Chroma to its ultimate max range, we never experienced even the slightest issue of lost connections or dropped video. This even includes a time when we flew it out over the Willamette River, chased a passing ferry, and bugged some cyclists on the other side of the waterway.
Let’s talk smart features. While the aforementioned Angle mode provides an unhinged drone experience, switching the Chroma into Smart mode enables the craft’s suite of autonomous features to spread their wings. As soon as we lifted the drone off the ground in this mode, its brain kicked in and created what Horizon Hobby calls a SAFE Circle around us — specifically, it generates a pseudo force field around anyone holding the controller, preventing the drone from flying too close to its pilot.
Additional smart features include a Follow Me mode, which continuously follows the pilot from a safe distance and altitude, allowing the user to set up precision photos and videos. During our tests, the Follow Me mode worked flawlessly, and the Chroma paced itself behind us as we walked for roughly 100 yards.
While Follow Me gave us free will over aiming the camera as we pleased, the Chroma’s Tracking Mode gave us the opportunity to permanently affix the camera on whoever was holding the ST-10+ controller. Though we didn’t require an explicit need for this feature, it does provide photographers and videographers the chance to accurately set up shots without worrying about consistently piloting the UAV itself.
Last, but certainly not least, the Chroma boasts an incredibly useful Return Home function that has a knack for bailing pilots out of trouble. During our review, for instance, we embarked on a particularly ambitious test run and in doing so, lost orientation for which way the drone was facing. Due in part to the fact that we were testing the drone near a wooded area, simply bringing the drone straight down and walking over to it wasn’t an option. Enter the Return Home function. After clicking the toggle to “Home” on the ST-1o+, the Chroma swiftly navigated back toward where we were stationed, and gracefully landed itself on the edge of its SAFE Circle. As you can imagine, this mode was very useful.
Aside from these useful features, the Chroma does lack in autonomy when stacked up against its competition. Absent are features like Cable Cam or Orbit mode (which have been a part of the DJI’s Phantom line for a couple years now), as well as any collision-detection technology similar to Yuneec’s Typhoon H or DJI’s Phantom 4. Granted, the Chroma checks in at a few hundred dollars cheaper than these other models but it’s worth pointing out that it’s basically “last year’s model.”
Camera, accessories, and upgradability
It wasn’t terribly long ago that drones boasting a 4K camera were seen as the cream of the UAV crop. Today, 4K cameras are more the norm than the exception and Horizon Hobby’s Chroma is no different. Granted, other Chroma models come with either a 1080p camera or GoPro mount, but for our review, we took to the skies outfitted with a full 4K camera and 3-axis gimbal. In other words, not only did the camera allow us to take stunning photographs and video, but controlling the camera was a walk in the park.
Additionally, video from the drone streams directly to the companion ST-10+ controller, which gave us a bird’s-eye view to exactly what the drone’s camera was seeing. On paper, Chroma can allegedly stream live video from just under 2,000 feet away. Due to limitations in space, we couldn’t put this feature to the ultimate test, however, we did fly the drone over the Willamette River in downtown Portland, and the feed continued to stream flawlessly.
In terms of extra accessories, we’d highly recommend purchasing a second battery for the Chroma, as having to pack the thing up after flying for just a half hour is a drag. We’d also recommend buying extra rotors, since even the slightest collision with a tree, fence, or other object will likely shatter one, or all, of the propellers. This isn’t so much a knock on the construction of the propellers as it is a suggestion to always keep extra rotors on hand.
As you could likely tell from our long-winded review, we greatly enjoyed Horizon Hobby’s Chroma drone, even if it was a tad familiar. Despite it sharing a controller with some of Yuneec’s drones — the ST-10+ controller even said Yuneec on it — the Chroma still boasted a few unique features that allowed us to differentiate it from its competition. Be it the Stick Relativity function that allows pilots to steer the drone whichever direction they push a joystick, regardless of the craft’s position in the air, or its suite of autonomous features, the Chroma proved to be an absolute blast to fly.
The DT Accessory Pack
Like any drone on the market, charging the battery takes forever, so it’s almost required to purchase additional batteries if you hope to spend more than 30 minutes in the air. During our tests, we also found the battery charger to be unresponsive periodically, failing to charge the battery despite the fact everything was hooked up correctly. A simple unplug/plug it back in was all it took to fix this issue when it occurred, but at $800, it really should work perfectly right out of the box.
All told, Horizon Hobby’s Chroma is a solid, durable drone that’s perfect for amateur and advanced UAV pilots alike. Its price is competitive with most other drones on the market, and the fact that it boasts a 4K camera (which is quickly becoming a standard) makes it a great entry-level drone for videographers, photographers, and general drone enthusiasts.
That said, it’s also got some stiff competition. For about the same price, DJI’s Phantom 3 Advanced boasts more features and nearly double the range – and if you’ve already got a GoPro at your disposal, you can get your hands on a basic 3DR Solo for roughly the same amount of money. So while budget-minded drone buyers should definitely keep Chroma on their list, it would be foolish not to explore other options.