Like pretty much every other drone company in the industry, Yuneec has been living in the shadow of DJI for the past few years — but don’t let its lack of popularity or name recognition fool you. The company has more than 15 years of experience in making RC aircraft, and currently offers some of the most advanced multi-rotor drones on the market.
Earlier this year, Yuneec quietly released the Q500 Typhoon 4K — one of the first 4K drones designed for amateur pilots. Priced just under $1,300, this new-and-improved Q500 promises a boatload of advanced features designed to simplify aerial video capture. So to get a true sense of just how well these “smart” features and 4K camera perform in the wild, we took Yuneec’s top-flight Typhoon for a spin.
Features & Specs
Yuneec’s Q500 had us feeling like a kid on Christmas morning as we unpacked it. Roughly 16.5 inches long and standing just over 8 inches tall, the Q500 weighs just under 4 pounds with the battery and payload both attached. Out of the box, the drone comes with two sets of rotors, all necessary plug-ins and adapters, a 16GB SD card pre-loaded with tutorial videos, the ST10+ Personal Ground Station controller, and a built-in 4K-capable camera.
Easy to use yet sophisticated, the Q500 grants even amateur photogs the ability to produce professional-grade images and video. The fully controllable 3-axis gimbal camera can shoot straight ahead to capture the horizon, or pivot up to 90 degrees down to capture overhead footage. Though many newer drones are beginning to add this feature, it’s still relatively new to the field, giving the Q500 a leg up on its competition.
Aside from its optical fortitude, the drone packs two unique autonomous modes to give beginner pilots a hand. “Follow Me” mode essentially tethers the craft to the pilot (the one holding the controller), allowing it to operate completely on its own. “Watch Me” mode fixates the camera directly on the pilot, continuously keeping the operator in the frame of view and in focus regardless of which way the drone flies. In other words, Yuneec makes life very easy on you, if you want.
The ST10+ Personal Ground Station controller, included with all versions of the Q500, houses all the necessary joysticks, buttons, and settings necessary for everything from flying and landing the drone, to activating its features and capturing photos or videos. Outfitted with a crystal-clear, 5.5-inch color touchscreen, the ST10+ gives you a front row seat to exactly what the drone sees as it flies. Though much of the screen is dedicated to a live video feed, pilots also receive constant updates on the craft’s battery life, its altitude and distance from the controller, ground speed, and GPS status, among several others.
Build quality and durability
One of the very first things we noticed after removing the drone from its mammoth of a case was its superior construction and sturdy frame. Outfitted with a strong, sturdy body and heavy-duty arms, even the drone’s legs prove to be incredibly stable which isn’t always typical with crafts of this kind.
After logging several hours of flight and executing landings on various terrain, the Q500 still looks like it’s brand new and right out of the box. Over time — as expected — the four foam pads fastened to either end of its legs will surely accrue some wear and tear, but even after 20 to 30 of our own flights, these remain perfectly intact.
Considering the Q500 costs anywhere from $1,200 to $1,300, its top-tier build quality is a welcome sight.
Battery life and charge time
For our tests, we reviewed the $1,300 Q500 model, which only really comes with one huge addition over the $1,200 version: an extra battery. A single 5,400 mAh lithium-polymer battery grants roughly 25 minutes of sustained flight time, something we documented while keeping the drone hovered in just one position. After giving it more of a workout by moving it around and shooting video, flight time sank slightly to roughly 20 to 21 minutes. Furthermore, when flying consistently in “Follow Me” or “Watch Me” mode, the battery lasted just shy of 20 minutes.
Among the many things the Q500 gets right, flight performance is possibly where it shines brightest.
As much of a downer as it is to have to stop enjoying the Q500 after just 20 minutes, an extra battery allows you to get the drone right back up into the air. Luckily, the included controller spells out current battery voltage, remaining capacity, and gives several alerts when it starts to get low. Though it’s ideal to begin landing the craft once the initial low battery warning appears, you don’t need to really start panicking until it dips below 10.7V.
When it’s time to actually charge the batteries (which, sadly, must occur right out of the box), expect to wait roughly two hours before it reaches its full charge capacity. Because waiting two hours to enjoy just 20 minutes of flight time can’t possibly excite anyone, the two-battery option of the Q500 is highly recommended. An included car charging adapter gives the drone some added flexibility, if you can’t make it home to use the wall charger.
The included ST10+ Personal Ground Station requires a bit more patience when its juices reach zero. It took us nearly five and a half hours of charging before the controller displayed full capacity. You can use the AC adapter, or a standard USB power source with the included micro USB cable.
Flight performance, control, and autonomy
Of all the things the Q500 gets right, flight performance is arguably where it shines brightest. Not only do its smart modes allow for some of the simplest flying we’ve ever experienced, but we also found the controller’s easy-to-use dual joysticks make even the free-flying Angle mode incredibly natural — especially for novices. Because of this, very little prior experience is needed to get the Q500 into the air after unboxing.
Simply push up on the left stick to begin. After a couple seconds, the Q500 takes off and ascends for as long as you have the stick pressed up. When you release the controls completely, the drone’s GPS system allows it to effortlessly hover in place and rarely (even with a strong wind) does it get knocked very far from its position.
Flying the drone is also very straightforward, as the right joystick moves the Q500 forward (up) or backward (down), and left (left) or right (right). After just a couple minutes, piloting the craft starts to feel like second nature. As responsive as any drone we’ve flown, each flick of the joystick registers almost instantly on the drone itself, moving it ever so slightly in the desired direction (or further, depending on the applied pressure).
Both smart modes are perfect for amateur operators to learn the ropes. Our tests showed “Follow Me” to be incredibly adept at following the controller while staying roughly 20 to 25 feet away from the ST10+. “Watch Me” was an even better representation of the Q500’s autonomy, as no matter what direction we attempted to fly the drone, the camera remained keenly fixated on us the entire time.
Piloting the Q500 in either of its smart modes allows the drone to really flex its autonomous muscle.
According to Yuneec, the Q500 4K maxes out at roughly 17 miles per hour when in “Angle” mode and 22 miles per hour in “Follow Me” or “Watch Me” mode. Our tests put the actual ground speed in line with these on-paper specifications.
The Q500’s features are undeniably impressive — but there came a time when its autonomous smart mode was perhaps a bit too smart. After taking it out for a quick spin and switching the ST10+ to its Dynamic Return Home function, the drone began its typical, autonomous descent. It’s supposed to actively fly to a safe distance from the pilot, but it worked so hard at getting away from us that it flew right into the base of a nearby tree. Ouch.
Obviously, a crash of this nature is easily avoidable by simply understanding your surroundings better. Still, it’s something to keep in mind. The drone’s smart mode is incredibly adept at avoiding the pilot holding the controller, even if that means crashing directly into a nearby obstacle.
Camera, accessories, and upgradability
With the term 4K part of this quadcopter’s name, it should come as no surprise that the Q500 boasts a hell of a camera. Mounted directly underneath the craft, the CGO3 packs a 115-degree field of view, 1080p full HD, and 4K ultra-high definition at 30 frames per second. The ST10+ controller allows for advanced tinkering with the camera’s video settings, or novice flyers can rely on automatic settings. During our trials, this mode proved more than capable of capturing stellar video.
After flying the Q500 some 150 or so feet into the air, we proceeded to record a sweeping panorama of downtown Portland and its surroundings to get a feel for the scope of the CG03. Not only does the camera’s lens capture a distortion-free horizon, but the level of detail it picks up while recording is astounding. Moreover, a simple adjustment of the camera’s pitch angle on the ST10+ controller allowed us to go from shooting directly ahead to straight down in a matter of seconds.
If shooting 4K video isn’t quite your speed, the Q500 also allows users to capture 1080p/120fps slow motion video, granting videographers added flexibility. Switching to slow motion on the ST10+ controller requires minimal navigation, and makes it a snap to switch modes when the need arises.
In terms of available accessories or upgrades, the Q500 already comes with everything you need right out of the box. Outside of spare rotors, extra landing gear, or a set of decals, there’s simply no reason to desire anything other than the stock version of this quadcopter. This is yet another incredibly crucial selling point which assures little to no extra money is required after buying the Q500.
After spending roughly three weeks pushing the Q500 to its limits, we just couldn’t get enough of this impressive quadcopter. Put simply, it has just about everything you look for in a drone. With smart controls designed to ease the learning curve for beginners, an intuitive control scheme, and one of the best built-in cameras we’ve ever seen on a similar craft, the Q500 is head and shoulders above its competition. If it weren’t for the 20-minute limit on its batteries, we’d have had a hard time ever bringing this aircraft down to land.
If you’re looking to capture professional-looking aerial video without the professional price tag, the Q500 should definitely be on your radar. The built-in 4K camera easily rivals some handhelds, and the simple controls allow you to focus more on filming and less on flying the drone. All things considered, this is one of the best quadcopters you can get for $1,300.
- Incredibly responsive controls
- Built-in 4K-capable camera shoots gorgeous video
- Smart modes making flying a breeze
- Strong, durable body
- Long battery charge time
Available at: Amazon