Syma X11 Hornet Review

Quick facts:

Battery: Removable 200 mAh, 3.7 volt
Flight time: 7 min
Charge time: 50-60 min

Transmitter rates: 2 (fixed yaw speed)
Transmitter compatibility: Syma X5, DeviationTX

Competitors: Hubsan X4

Video review:

Transcript:

You know it, I know it: This YouTube channel does not offer 100% coverage. For one, the channel – even though it sometimes feels like it’s been around forever – has only been in operation for about a year and a half, leaving everything released prior to that un-reviewed. For another, considering the high rate with which new models come out and the not-so-high rate with which I make these videos, a lot is bound to slip by. I always try to pick the most interesting, noteworthy or anticipated new multirotors to review, but what about the not-so-new and still great?

In order to provide these an opportunity to shine, I propose a new spin-off show. Let me present to you “RCview Classics: Noteworthy and Not Previously Covered”!

…and what better candidate to start with than the Syma X11?

Released in November of 2014, this micro quadcopter is one of the smaller multirotors released by Syma, a manufacturer otherwise known – then as well as now – for bigger models such as the X5 and X8. The X11 comes in two variants, with and without an integrated 2 megapixel camera, and three colors, black as well as Syma’s trademark white and red. On the surface, it admittedly doesn’t look especially exciting, in fact it looks a lot like the original and – at the time – very popular Hubsan X4, and lacks many features we’ve come to expect today, but also sports some surprises which really sets it apart.

Chief among these is how the X11 propels itself. Syma, coming from a background of bigger multirotors where this is more commonplace, has always been big on gear reduction (with the exception of their, the X12, I believe every one of their models uses it) so it made sense that if anyone was going to attempt a geared micro quadcopter, it would be them.

The purpose of adding gears between the input (in this case the motor) and output (in this case the propeller) is to change the latter’s speed and torque (which can be thought of as rotational force), depending on the relative sizes of the gears either reducing speed and amplifying torque or vice versa. In big toy grade multirotors it’s common to use this principle to run larger propellers with smaller motors. Large propellers are more efficient (though not necessarily better suited for fast, acrobatic flying) and smaller motors are lighter. It’s a no-brainer!

Not quite. Gear systems are not all roses, they’re also fragile contraptions that wear out faster and are more prone to breaking, which is why – I suspect – you seldom see them on anything smaller than the mini size class of multirotors and also the reason why the X11 – a micro quadcopter – is such a rare bird.

I’ll talk more about how this affects things like flight time and characteristics in the flight test portion of the review. Suffice to say for now, thanks to its efficient configuration the X11 is able to run off a small 200 mAh LiPo battery, whose light weight in turn contributes back to the efficiency. Syma really got a positive feedback loop going here!

The transmitter that comes with the X11 is of the video game variety; in fact it’s a pretty unmistakable clone of the Xbox 360 gamepad. While I’m not saying Syma intentionally phoned this in (build quality feels good, resolution is passable and there’s even a rubbery finish to the sticks to prevent your thumbs from slipping), I can’t – even as an avid gamer – fully embrace it either, though I can’t pinpoint exactly why. It might just be a matter of getting used to it…

Lucky then that the X11 uses the same protocol as basically all Syma multirotors, which mean it’ll bind with – for example – the much nicer hobby-like X5 transmitter, if you happen to own that. Nicer still, it’ll also bind with any Deviation enabled transmitter with an NRF24L01 module, like this modified Devo 7E which I’ll be flying with.

The X11 also comes with a removable prop guard, 4 spare propellers (2 white, 2 black), a USB charging cable capable of charging the included battery in a little over 50 minutes and a slightly more comprehensive and well-translated instruction manual than usual, an positive side-effect of Syma being a slightly more reputable toy grade multirotor manufacturers. Note that to replace the propellers, a tiny Philips screwdriver is also required but not included.

Being a slightly older model, the Syma X11 lacks most features that have become popular in toy grade multirotors over the last couple of years: Headless mode? Heh, no. Return-to-home? No! Altitude hold? Nooo. What it does offer, on the other hand, is a very good flight experience distilled to its purest form: Impeccable responsiveness, stable hover and overall well balanced flight characteristics.

As other Syma multirotors, the X11 doesn’t follow the established low/medium/high three rate convention and instead offers only two, though very different options. “Low” is a gentle affair, not docile but definitely not crazy either. Great for indoor flying or for a beginner to learn the ropes with! “High”, on the other hand, is a true high rate that puts whatever doubts I had about Syma being able to pull off a sporty quadcopter to rest with its deep pitch and… fast yaw?

Sadly no, the yaw speed is the weak link in the otherwise solid chain of flight characteristics of the X11. On the low rate it’s completely consistent with pitch and roll, but it doesn’t change at all to accommodate for the seriously dialed-up settings of the high rate. How much of an issue this is depends largely on what type of flying you’ll be doing. In a cramped space this can become a real headache as it prevents you from avoiding obstacles in time, but outside in a wide open environment it’s likely not going to be a major annoyance.

Surprisingly, when flown with the Deviation alternative firmware (as seen here) the yaw is noticeably faster, meaning the limit must reside in the transmitter and not the protocol or flight controller. Weird.

Thanks to the already discussed miniaturized gear system, the flight time of the X11 is very good. Coming straight from Tiny Whoops and Tiny Whoop-alikes, 7+ minutes off a 200 mAh battery is mind-blowing and – importantly – it doesn’t feel like it comes at the cost of crippled flight characteristics. The gears also give the X11 a different, possibly quieter but definitely different sound than its direct drive competitors.

On a final note, it should be noted the X11 isn’t completely devoid of extra features. It does actually do automatic flips, reliably if somewhat clumsily.

Compared to the competition, the Syma X11 is narrow in scope. It’s focused on one thing, getting the basics just right. With great flight characteristics and – thanks to an unusual design choice – impressive flight times it very nearly succeeds, but is ultimately somewhat held back by the wonky – if compatible – transmitter and its fixed yaw.

Even taking this into account though, the X11 makes a largely positive impression. Its two very distinct rates manages to offer something for both beginners and more experienced pilots and its common protocol and extra room for both bigger batteries and more payload lends itself nicely to modifications should the novelty wear off.

With this and many other reviewers positive opinions and nearly 200 pages of discussion on the RC Groups forum, I think the Syma X11 can be considered a classic of the toy multirotor world.

Summary, Syma X11

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