Battery: Removable 1300 mAh, 7.4 volt
Flight time: 13-15 mins
Charge time: 90 mins
Transmitter rates: 3 (variable yaw)
Transmitter compatibility: ?
No Yes (?), but undocumented
Competitors: Blade 200QX, HISKY HMX280
If you watch my reviews regularly you’ve probably heard me mention “toy grade” and “hobby grade”, terms I often use to denote two opposite ends of the RC – at least multirotor – spectrum. Ironically given the names, I consider both to be part of the same greater hobby.
Going “toy grade” involves buying and flying a ready-to-fly aircraft. The multirotors in this segment are cheaper, simpler and comes pre-assembled. This is the end of the spectrum I’m coming from and any review on this channel to date poses as an example of a “toy grade” multirotor.
Going “hobby grade” involves flying, but to an equal extent tinkering with or even building your own aircraft. The multirotors in this segment tend be of higher quality but also cost more and come either in kits or as individual components requiring assembly.
While not in any kind of conflict, the “toy grade” – “hobby grade” dichotomy represents a schism which would be tempting to illustrate with one of those “how you see yourself – how the other sees you” matrices… but of course this channel is much too classy for that.
One difference, so reliable it could be used as a sort of litmus test for “toy grade” – “hobby grade” distinction, is type of motor. If it’s a brushed motor, it’s with high probability a toy grade product. If it’s a brushless motor, bets are it’s a hobby grade product.
This is why the JJRC X1, a brushless quadcopter from a traditionally toy grade manufacturer, is turning heads on both ends of the spectrum and ultimately why it’s so noteworthy. …but is colliding these separate worlds a good idea and is this the product to do it? Let’s find out (…and let’s see if we can learn something about brushless motors along the way)!
Welcome to this review and flight test of the X1 Shuttle mini quadcopter from JJRC!
For how unique I just told you it is, the X1 looks surprisingly unremarkable. It sports the trademark JJRC look: high gloss black plastic with accentuated details (either green or blue depending on which of the two available variants you get). I won’t complain though, as most hobby grade brushless quadcopters seem to put functionality before aesthetic considerations.
A couple of things to note:
- First off, the faux GPS thing up top is just that: faux. It may spruce up the design, just don’t be fooled this quadcopter has any GPS-based functionality such as “position hold” or “return to home”.
- Secondly, while the LEDs are there, appropriately placed and color-coded, they’re neither very bright nor visible from very many angles. Night flights should be possible, though not entirely trouble-free.
- Thirdly, the battery compartment in the back of the aircraft is a tight fit and getting the hatch closed after connecting the battery is fidgety. The whole thing is made worse by the fact that there is no on/off switch, so you can’t take care of this in advance.
- Lastly, the landing gear aren’t very stable and – at least one of mine – doesn’t quite want to attach securely which is more troublesome than it may sound due to the arming and disarming procedure I’ll explain in the flight test.
…and then there are the motors, the thing that sets the JJRC X1 apart. “What’s the deal with brushless motors?” …is what I asked myself when I began this review. Let me tell you what I’ve learnt:
The brushed motor, found in most toy grade multirotors, have been around for a long time and – regardless of its reputation in RC circles – do carry many advantages, like being inexpensive and simple to wire up. Its Achilles heel comes from the fact that it requires physical contact between its fixed parts (brushes) and spinning parts (axel and communicators) in order to work. This causes friction and heat, which in turn limits its lifespan and torque.
The brushless motor is a much more recent and thus sophisticated invention that doesn’t require the same physical contact between its fixed and spinning parts, making it more efficient, powerful, long-lasting and quiet. The only real downside is that it can’t use the same natural principle to control its speed as with the brushed motor, but instead requires a special circuit, an Electrical Speed Control (ESC), which can be both complex and costly.
Now I normally don’t dwell on technical specifications like motor or propeller dimensions, but in this case I thought it could be worthwhile. For one because this seems like more essential knowledge when dealing with brushless motors, for another to show the extent to which JJRC has followed the prevailing standards and practices with the X1:
Notice how the propellers say “6040” on them? This is a standard measurement, a pair of measurements actually: “60” – or rather “6.0” – being the length of the propeller and “40” being the “pitch”, perhaps easiest explained as the distance the propeller travels with a single revolution. Together these play a big role in the flight characteristics of the aircraft and may be adjusted in order to achieve things like higher speed, increased stability or better efficiency.
The only other key measurement you need is the size of the hole in the center of the prop, 5 mm in the case of the JJRC X1.
Examining the motors, you’ll notice they also say something: “D1806” and “2280KV”, indicating size and – with risk of over-simplifying – power respectively. “1806” is a standard size classification. Suffice to say for this conversation, all “1806” motors are interchangeable in terms of dimensions. “2280KV” is – as one may suspect – a measurement in the unit KV, explained as revolutions per minute with 1 volt of power applied. It would be easy to assume a higher KV value equates to a better motor, but this entirely dependent on the intended use.
Regardless if you found all this tedious or interesting, it does serve to demonstrate that JJRC has not fallen for the temptation to reinvent the wheel with the X1, but instead followed the already existing convention with regards to propeller and motor dimensions and workings. This I consider a big positive, as it facilitates repairing and – if so desired – upgrading or fine-tuning the quadcopter.
Before I move on to the flight test, let’s first have a look at what comes included with the JJRC X1:
The transmitter is of the familiar hobby grade-looking, toy grade-feeling type, similar to what the Syma X8 or MJX X600 comes with. It’s serviceable but no-frills, lacking the display otherwise customary in this price range. It might not come across in the video, but it’s actually very big! Also, what’s with these weird secondary shoulder buttons?
The battery uses a 2 cell configuration (thus being 7.4 volt) and has a capacity of 1300 mAh. Charging multi-cell LiPos is trickier than single-cell, as you have to keep the cells balanced. This is reflected by the dual wires: one for charging (called balance connector) and one for discharging (called JST connector). Considering the capacity of the battery, it perhaps isn’t surprising it provides long, 13-15 minute flight times.
- A mains charger capable of recharging the included battery in 90 minutes
- Spare propellers (identical to the ones already on it) and tools to mount them
- A set of – arguably superfluous – prop guards and tools to mount them
- An – unfortunately not super-clear – instruction manual in English and Chinese
I’m gonna come clean here: This is the only brushless quadcopter I’ve ever flown, so my frame of reference (and comparison!) is admittedly limited. That being said, I’m quite impressed with the JJRC X1’s flight characteristics. It is a shift from flying a brushed multirotor – most noticeably the increased thrust capacity – and certainly takes some getting used to if that’s where you’re coming from, but also feels like a definite step up, especially if you happen to be in it for the speed and agility.
The included transmitter provides three rates:
- The first one, called 10%, is very manageable. This is the one I would go for if I were to use the X1 for aerial photography, which I – by the way – have no doubt it would be perfectly serviceable for.
- The second rate, called 25%, is my go-to rate as a beginner to brushless quadcopters. This makes it faster than most other quadcopters I own, while still allowing me to maintain a reasonable degree of control.
- The third rate, called 45%, is for experts and daredevils. This makes the X1 almost scarily agile (again, by my standards) and I get a little bit nervous every time I have to cycle through it when changing from the mid to the low rate.
Though there is great variety on offer here regarding pitch, I do find the yaw rate on the slow side on at least the first two settings: Somewhat so on the middle one and painfully so on the lowest one, making it harder rather than easier to fly with if you ask me.
I guess because of the bigger propellers and more powerful motors, JJRC have opted to work arming and disarming procedures into the X1 in order to avoid accidents. To arm the quadcopter, move both sticks to the bottom outer position then move the left stick right – left – right. To disarm the instruction manual says to leave the throttle in the lowest position for 10 seconds?
This in combination with the already mentioned instability of the landing gear could’ve been a serious concern. If the quadcopter falls over on the ground without any way to quickly shut it off, there’s a high risk of damage to both propellers and motors. Luckily, I did discover you can also use the throttle trim to turn them off, which resolves this problem.
Keeping in mind my previous statement that I am overall impressed with the flight capabilities of the JJRC X1, there are some reservations I think warrants mention:
- There is – to my knowledge – no way to perform flips with the quadcopter. No designated flip button and no agility mode or alike which allows you to manually pull ‘em off. This seems kind off arbitrary, lacking any real technical reason for it.
- Similarly, there’s no headless mode than I’m aware off. This may be interpreted as signal from the manufacturer, and a point I specifically wanted to make, that the X1 isn’t aimed at or suitable for beginners. If you’re new to the hobby, consider learning the ropes with a cheap, easy-to-use toy quadcopter first.
- Lastly, the LVC (Low Voltage Cut-off) warning is – in my experience – very brief and very hard to make out given the weak LEDs, after which it pretty much just drops to the ground. Considering this is a quadcopter you’re likely to fly high, far and fast this is a serious issue and I recommend instead using a timer to keep track.
In conclusion, the JJRC X1 Shuttle is in some ways – as another reviewer put it – “a game-changer”. The execution might not be perfect (things like the lackluster LEDs and substandard LVC warning comes to mind), but for being the first one of its kind: a kind of missing link between toy grade and hobby grade multirotors, it’s still respectable …and those flight capabilities are hard to argue with!
If you – like me – are coming from the toy grade camp, curios about but also a little intimidated by the higher grade stuff, the JJRC X1 is for you!