Saturday, November 24, 2012

Air Hogs Heli Repeat Review

In the future remote control helicopters won’t need us. They’ll glide effortlessly upwards, perform a series of tricks and fly through the air automatically. It will possibly be called Skynet and scientists will try to pinpoint the moment when remote control helicopters started to fly on their own without live human input. Today is that day and it’s thanks to the Air Hogs Heli Repeat.

Sure the Heli Repeat starts of innocently enough. It comes bundled with a chunky controller than fits nicely in the palm of your hand. It’s a 2 stick setup with the left stick for taking off and landing which actually stays in the position you put it in until you move it. A great touch for new pilots. Then there’s a right stick which offers a 3d range of movement, unlike some sets that simply have an up / down motion so that in itself makes this a nice set for those wanting to pull off more complex moves than the standard two axis controllers.

The Heli Repeat doesn’t have any built in weapons, although you could argue that its greatest weapon is its mind. Alongside the controller the Air Hogs team have also included an infra-red antenna that can be plugged in to the headset jack on a smartphone. We tested it with an iPhone but an Android or iPad version is available too (check the box to see if your make / model is compatible though). You then download a free app and this is where things start to get interesting.

At first glance the app is very similar to the Lightspeed Helicopopter we reviewed last year with the same two modes:

Control mode: This version includes a slider that controls your height and a 3d stick that allows you to go forward / backwards and left / right. It’s a liberating setup that is more natural for those of us who grew up with video games – although remote control aficionados may not like it as much as the lack of tangible buttons to press means having to learn a new way to fly.

If you do miss tangible input this is a cool video that explains how to make a joystick really easily that you can stick on top.

Tilt mode: Here you hold your phone at a 45 degree angle (so not directly up or down) and then point up or down until the phone is straight up or pointing away from you. This dictates the forward and backwards motion of your helicopter. You can then tilt left and right to make your heli do the same. There’s a slider for vertical controls that you can reach with your thumb (on an iPhone at least) and that stays in the last place you put it so you don’t lose focus too much from your tilting.

Using tilt mode is certainly the most fun way to fly (and to watch other people play with). Moving your arms and body to fly the plane happens subconsciously and it becomes a game in itself. Much like the Wii the thrill of tilting to control another object is very fun.

Compared to the Lightspeed Helicopter both of these modes are superior. The visual display is clearer and it helps that the slider for vertical movement is wide (making it easy to find and move with your thumb) and also the thumbstick is more responsive.

One more great thing to mention is that you can move the controllers in either mode to a left handed set up. This flips the controllers around instantly, something that would only be possible thanks to the app.

The app mode is so good that I wondered why the Air Hogs team included a handset – as there’s already so many other good Air Hogs helicopters out there that have handsets it can be a bit of a wasted expense if you are only buying this for the app support – but if nothing else it does mean you’ve got a choice and that anyone in the family can fly the helicopter with whatever handset they feel most comfortable with.

There’s a third feature tucked away as well and this is something the Lightspeed Helicopter lacked, at least at the time we reviewed it; a record feature. This is the Skynet stuff I warned you about at the start.

In record mode you can input any command you want in the same time you’d like them to be played back by the helicopter. If your helicopter is turned on it plays out live when you record so there’s no worry about inputting minutes worth of commands and then seeing them fail. However if you are feeling daring you can also record plans with the helicopter turned off although that’s even harder to get right but a nice test to see how good you understand your heli and environment.

You can record up to three different goes, so if you record something amazing and want to do more tests then you don’t have to delete your best run. You can also record a few minutes worth of air time, more than enough to get a nice long run within the battery life of the helicopter.

All in all it’s a nice set that has something for everyone. As the main reason to buy this kit is for the app support – frankly there’s a ton of other Air Hogs helicopters to get if you aren’t fussed about the app – then I’d definitely recommend it. The tilt controls and record mode are two unique ways to fly that you can’t get with the standard controller and that’s where the real value lies.

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Every product on this site has been received for free, and given to me by the product manufacturer or their associated PR organisation in return for a review.

I have no other personal or business association with these companies, and all reviews are written truthfully and based on my own experience. If I hate a product I will say so (and have done on many occasions!).