Holy Stone F181 Universe Explorer (with HD Camera) Quadcopter Drone Review @ ModSynergy.com
The word drone has become a popular one worldwide, and they were selling like hot cakes this past 2015 Christmas season in the USA alone. According to a top FAA official, Rich Swayze, the government expected there could be as many as one million of them sold during the 2015 Christmas season.
I saw a bunch of Twitter, Vine, and Instagram posts after Christmas where a bunch of people who got them as Christmas gifts managed to get them stuck in their hair, caught high up in the trees or buildings, and were basically in over their head in operating one. It was quite funny, at least to me, seeing their reactions and when chaos happened. The problem with these people were that they didn't read the instructions properly, and were far too brave pulling off moves like they were seasoned veterans but had no flight experience. If a beginner, you have to take it slow the first couple of times just to get used to the movement, can't be off flying sky high with less than 10 minutes experience.
We live in an exciting generation where innovative technologies such as these are available to regular consumers to use and the technology just keeps getting better and better. I am thinking we are going to see some amazing things in 2016. Take for instance this past CES 2016 in Las Vegas, these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) were in full display and there were drones that could fly themselves without user interaction and track and film you with its onboard camera while you're off doing some mountain biking action. The more the industry evolves, the better it will be for us customers as prices will eventually have to come down when popularity becomes saturated. I can't wait for the things to happen in this industry within 2-5 years time!
The word drone is quite a general term that has been misused. Drones down to its basic form are multi-rotor aircraft. Just as helicopters utilize a single motor, drones in the same way can utilizes as many motors as its design calls for and therefore makes them more flexible and complex. I call them a hybrid combination of airplane and helicopter giving the best of both worlds. The most popular form today is called the Quadcopter (quad meaning four, copter meaning a type of aircraft). You've probably heard of this type of drone, which is a worldwide sensation in the RC (Radio Control) toy market and unbelievably fun for the young and older.
More or likely you are familiar with the one that costs over $1000 and has an onboard HD camera that has created all the commotion regarding privacy laws. That's not exactly the one you'll be reading about today, but we have something similar for a fraction of the price. You might even want to purchase and experience one for yourself as it can be easily purchased on Amazon.
Today I will be reviewing a Quadcopter that will be my first introduction to new comer Holy Stone, whom was founded in 2014. It is the new Holy Stone F181 Universe Explorer Quadcopter Drone! Read on to see it in action with onboard video footage and photos, along with videos of my experience with the Holy Stone F181.
About Holy Stone
"Holy Stone was founded in 2014 and is a professional retailer of high quality products and toys for all age groups. We're dedicated to offering our customers only the highest quality and most unique and distinctive items. At the same time, we strive to do so at very competitive prices. We then back all of that up with excellent customer service.
We’re constantly striving to find and introduce the best-selling, best-made and most highly sought-after products, all based on paying close attention to customer insights and opinions, as well as current trends. We're quite proud of the relationships we’ve built with many manufacturers and distributors, and that enables us to continue offering only the newest, most exclusive, and most innovative products to our customers.
Our Service Commitment: Holy Stone is 100% committed to providing its customers with exemplary service and the best overall shopping experience.
We want your visit to our website to be fun, hassle-free and enjoyable.
Thoughtful Service: Personal and customized answers to your questions. You’ll never receive a blanket, “one size fits all” form letter from us."
Holy Stone F181 Universe Explorer Quadcopter Features
Holy Stone packages the F181 Universe Explorer Quadcopter in large and very nicely designed corrugated box. The box has a carrying handle up top, which helps make transport easier n the customer. On the box we are attracted to the bright red and yellow Holy Stone company logo, and then towards the F181 Universe Explorer Quadcopter drone. I haven't even taken it out of the box and I can definitely say the Holy Stone F181 is the most sexy Quadcopter I've ever come across on review.
Holy Stone F181 Universe Explorer is a ready to fly (RTF) package meaning it comes with both Quadcopter and transmitter (flight controller). F181 is also 99% factory assembled so very little customer assembly is needed, none if you don't want to fly with the propeller guards or landing legs. Just take it out of the box, insert the battery, insert and screw down the landing legs, possibly the propeller guards if you are a beginner, and start flying.
If you've read my LiteHawk Quadcopter reviews, you've remembered that they implemented a philosophy of red color propellers and lights in the rear and white propellers and lights in the front to help with orientation when in the air. Well with the Holy Stone F181 the setup is a little different, but still very much distinguishable for orientation in the air. Though all of the propellers are a single color, black, the bottom of the Holy Stone F181 contains bright LED pods which illuminate red in the rear and blue in the front. This is still logical for flight in the sense that red lights remain in the rear, what helps even more is the design of the F181 having a large front blue headlight. That front blue headlight alone helps you differentiate front and back very easily. Oh yes I have to bring up again how visually appealing the styling of the Holy Stone F181 Universe Explorer is, I love the way it looks. Let's hope it flies as good as it looks...
The suggested age for operation is ages 14 and over, probably because of the larger footprint the F181 takes. Holy Stone F181 contains all of the high tech features commonly associated with Quadcopters such as 4 channels, 6-axis digital stabilization which uses 3 accelerometers to control and maintain its orientation and 3 to main stability despite vibrations of the motors and outdoor elements like the wind, trying to throw it off. This helps ensure that anyone can pick up the controller and fly with relative ease. F181 can do 360-degree flips with a push of a button (and nudge of directional stick), it operates under the 2.4GHz digital RF spectrum, and the box claims that it has up to 300-meters of range which should mean you can fly this really high up and take onboard video footage with the technically HD camera (1280 x 720 resolution) the F181 Universe Explorer contains. The "HD" camera onboard the Holy Stone F181 should be the best Quadcopter camera I've ever tested, we'll see how it looks later on with real flight footage and pictures from the camera.
Two other new features I've never seen in a Quadcopter that I've reviewed previously is "one key return" and "headless mode". The manual states that with a push of a button on the flight controller, the F181 will return in the opposite direction it was first flown. It'll be interesting to see how this performs as there's no GPS unit on this Quadcopter. The second new feature I've yet to experience is "headless mode" which when enabled, will allow you user to use the pitch and roll stick to navigate left, right, forward, or backwards regardless of its current orientation in the air. Sounds like a neat feature on paper, but ideally you should already know or at least learn how to navigate in the air without headless mode, this is something very important for every person to know from the beginning how to orientate and navigate no matter what direction your Quadcopter is presently in.
As stated earlier, the Holy Stone F181 Universe Explorer is a camera Quadcopter. It features an "HD" camera outputting at 720p resolution making it the best camera on a Quadcopter we've ever tested aside from the LiteHawk QUATTRO SNAP which shot in Standard Definition 640 x 480 resolution. We'll see how it does in real world testing and make judgment then but on paper its really good. The F181 video is shot in Motion JPEG Video codec (MJPG) at 30fps. Files are saved in the .AVI video container. Audio is recorded in 16-bit Mono and makes use of a lowly 8000Hz Sample rate. The camera module is of a Generplus chipset. Because the Holy Stone F181 Universe Explorer has an onboard video camera, Holy Stone is generous enough to bundle a 2GB micro SD card and USB card reader to help you get up and running.
A great reason why I love the camera module that comes with Holy Stone F181 Universe Explorer is because the lens can be tilted to whatever angle you desire. In my LiteHawk QUATTRO SNAP review I hated that its camera lens was at a fixed and downward angle so you had a lot of downward shots and had to fly up so high to get a shot you actually wanted and with the small physical nature of the SNAP it couldn't handle the wind. With the larger physical body that the Holy Stone F181 possesses, it can handle the wind better than the SNAP could ever manage. So with the HD camera module on the F181 I point the lens straight to the horizon and I get shots that I am happy with.
Opening the box we find the following items and let me tell you it's the most complete bundle I've seen. The internal plastic clamshell inside the corrugated box does a great job protecting the Quadcopter and all components from any damage during shipping. Directly from the factory in China to Canada, nothing was broken.
Holy Stone F181 Universe Explorer comes with the most generous bundle that includes two 3.7v 750mAh rechargeable batteries and two USB charge cables. So you can charge both batteries at the same time and fly one after the other. More flight time is always a bonus. I suggest waiting at least 10 minutes in between battery changes to give the motors a chance to cool down though.
I love the fact that Holy Stone bundles a full set of replacement propellers with the Quadcopter, this is something that should be included in every Quadcopter purchase and is a godsend for beginners who will surely crash. I've not needed to use any of the spare propellers yet, but always great to have for those just in case moments. A small screwdriver is included as well to help in replacing those propellers, a nice addition.
Holy Stone F181 Universe Explorer is the first Quadcopter ModSynergy will review that is driven by a brushed geared motor setup. Our other two Quadcopter reviews have been smaller physically and of the direct-drive variant, so this brushed geared motor setup should offer a bit more power and offer less friction when spinning the propellers.
Holy Stone F181 Universe Explorer Visual Overview
Measurements Per Configuration: To date this is the largest Quadcopter reviewed on ModSynergy.
Weight Per Configuration: To date this is the heaviest Quadcopter reviewed on ModSynergy.
The propeller guards on the Holy Stone F181 are designed well, they offer proper clearance to protect the propellers if you happen to bump in a wall, and they protect just enough of the propellers up top if you were to hit the topside. They are super easy to install and remove as they are secured by two tabs and one screw. Having more flight experience, I usually fly without propeller guards off, however, for sake of review I put them on to simulate the configuration that most beginners will fly. Beginners should be careful with propeller guards mounted on, if involved in a crash around trees and branches they can be used to make your Quadcopter an ornament hanging on a tree. If you sense a crash is about to occur, take note and cut off throttle completely to your Quadcopter so you don't kill your motors.
With the Everything ON configuration (138 grams) I flown in for this review, my first ever flight outdoors in front of my home was interesting to say the least. The Holy Stone F181 Universe Explorer is really targeted as camera Quadcopter drone and this quickly became apparent to me while flying for the first time. It's like flying a boat, flying something large like a cruiser, aside from the pitch speed being pretty quick in the highest mode, the F181 is far from being a sporty flyer. The turning radius is very large because the Yaw rate (spin rate) and pitch speed in the lower three modes is slower than what something sportier would provide. I was not accustom or prepared for how wide the turning radius really was so I managed to get caught in branches in front of my home three to four times, something I never really do! So if you plan to do banked turns like I do, do not fly the F181 indoors.
I'm happy the Holy Stone F181 Universe Explorer is actually slower like this, because as I mentioned in my LiteHawk QUATTRO SNAP Quadcopter drone review, that little guy had an identity crisis. It has an onboard video camera such as the F181, but it was far too sporty and too little to film anything decent being prone to vibrations with its small size, while too fast for panning shots, and too fast in general for video. So with the LiteHawk QUATTRO SNAP, it was me asking the question of 'what are you? are you supposed to be a camera Quadcopter or Sport flyer? It can't be both".
With the Holy Stone F181 Universe Explorer, I was realizing very quickly that it did not suffer this same identity crisis of what it was, it knew exactly what it was, and that is strictly a camera Quadcopter. It had all the right characteristics you would expect from a decent camera Quadcopter, something that is slower like a cruiser, somewhat floaty in the air due to its size and weight, but has stability for filming video, and gentle enough for those panning shots. I really like that the Holy Stone F181 is not trying to be more than it is. So in this regard I totally understand the Holy Stone F181 Universe Explorer.
So now that we know that this is not a sporty flyer, what's funny is that it still has 360-degree flip function. So it can do them, but because of the size and weight with everything on configuration (138 grams), the flips are admittedly sloppy at times as F181 has all that weight to recover when ascending back up again from a flip. I even notice that this Quadcopter gives a bit of extra throttle automatically before a flip, however, with the weight it doesn't really make much of a difference. Some flips are decent, some flips are sloppy and shaky as you'll see on my video.
Just for the fun of it, I removed everything on the F181 and brought it down to 113 grams by taking off the propeller guards, taking off the landing legs, and taking off the camera. This really made a huge difference in terms of how the F181 flew, flips were now better, it was more lively and quicker in most aspects. I noticed that it could cut into wind better in this configuration. With everything on configuration, I noticed the F181 had a hard time cutting into wind because the propeller guards, landing legs, and camera likely created some drag when hitting the wind.
Just to give you an example of how much weight affects a Quadcopter, with everything on configuration (138 grams), the flight controller told me it was at 70% just to hold a steady hover. With everything off configuration (113 grams), the flight controller told me it was at 55% to hold a steady hover. Because of the reduction of weight, the Quadcopters' motors doesn't need to work as hard, and in turn you actually get longer flight times, I was getting up to two (2) extra minutes for flight times switching between these configurations. But since this is really a camera Quadcopter, my typical configuration consists of propeller guards being removed, but landing legs and camera is mounted on (126 grams). I do have to admit for a camera Quadcopter drone, you need to find the right balance, because being heavier actually helps out for stability which in turn is translated into better video. This is why the camera quality on the Holy Stone F181 is much better than the one on the much smaller LiteHawk QUATTRO SNAP that I reviewed before.
In terms of construction, the F181 body is fully plastic and has a smooth feeling paint job that was well done. I like the 6-Axis Gyro emblem on top of the F181, it makes it really stand out. The arms have vent holes on them which I believe is for internal cooling and also allows the LED's to partially shine through the top. That or it's for some visual flair, but I believe they were for mostly function.
On the bottom side of the F181, the arms have colored plastic lenses so the LED's can shine through and they really are plenty bright for night flying. One of the features the Holy Stone F181 allows and I've not seen on any of my previous Quadcopter drone reviews is the ability to turn off and turn on the LED lights as you see fit, an excellent feature that saves you a little more battery power and therefore a bit more flight time.
In terms of fit and finish, the F181 Quadcopter drone is generally very good overall, however, it has some funny and minor faults from the factory, but thankfully none of these have any real negativity towards the F181's flight operation and performance. These fit and finish faults are mostly cosmetic blemishes. But my point in bringing them up is that these all could have been avoided and or improved from the factory through better processes...
One fit and finish fault is in front of the F181 where it reads CHASER, just below the bright blue headlight, the factory completely forgot one Philips screw on the bottom side that tightens the bottom to the top canopy, so my sample has a small gap opening at the front. A second fit and finish issue is in regards to the some of the propellers in the package having left over plastic shavings on the edges that haven't been either sanded or peeled off properly from likely being made inside of a plastic injection mould. These shavings on propellers can actually affect the F181's balance in the air, so you're best served making sure the propellers are completely smooth as possible by peeling off the shavings yourself. The third fit and finish issue I noticed is the metal casing that houses the power ON/OFF switch on the underside of the F181 has rust stains. I'm not sure what is going on here, but how does a switch have rust stains other than coming in contact with liquid? Maybe the factory has a parts bin that had been in contact with water and therefore rust was formed on the switch housing. The fourth and last fit and finish issue I clearly noticed is in regards to the aesthetics of the 2.4GHz flight controller. At first, I thought the whole controller looked used or second hand, however, upon further inspection I came to the conclusion that the flight controllers plastic injection mould had gone terribly wrong. The entire flight controller's plastic construction is riddled imperfections that show uneven plastic texture throughout, blotches of plastic that you can clearly tell are defects, and some scratches too. Furthermore at the back of the flight controllers LCD screen, I had to peel off a few pieces of residue that likely was of some hot glue gun that was used to close up the LCD screen. You can see in the photos of what I'm referring to, but thankfully these are all superficial aesthetic issues that have no bearing on the flight controllers performance or operation. The factory where the Holy Stone F181 needs to improve their processes so that these are rectified and improved upon. Sure these have no bearing on the F181 flight performance, but all of these add up to bring the feeling and experience down a notch.
Two large capacity 3.7v 750mAh Lithium-Polymer batteries are included with the Holy Stone F181 Universe Explorer and for extra measure Holy Stone includes two USB charge cables so you charge both at the same time and use one after the other, though I do recommend letting the Quadcopter cool down for 10 minutes before continuing flight. Having two batteries is a bonus and is very much appreciated. The battery does not specify a C charge/discharge rate. A date stamp on the battery indicates that the battery was made on August 04, 2015 so it's still relatively new. The Quadcopter battery uses a JST connector which is different from the micro-T connectors we've seen in our past Quadcopter reviews. I like that the JST connector on the F181 has an optional black piece that helps for added grip attached.
At the bottom of the F181 we are presented with the 720p HD camera module which attaches on two simple clips on the battery cover door underneath the F181. On opposite sides of the camera we find the camera module 3-pin connector plug, power ON/OFF switch, and an internal JST connector which allows you to charge the battery within the Quadcopter without ever having to pull out the battery which is a neat feature. Some Quadcopters/drones don't have a power switch and it's a drawback in my eyes not to have one.
About the camera module's 3-pin connector cable, unfortunately I had issues with and therefore have to speak out on it. The wires are extremely thin and the connector is so difficult to remove from the Quadcopter since there's really no grip anywhere other than the wires to remove it if you wanted. The only way is to probably use a pin needle to gently pry off each corner of the connector at a time, unfortunately that is quite unusual to perform. My problem happened at one point trying to open the battery door, I accidentally ripped off one of the camera wires from its connector that was still plugged in to the Quadcopter, ouch.
Thankfully I know electronics repair, so I re-crimped the wires onto the connector and all was good. To further improve upon this neglected design, I performed my own DIY which involved draping the camera module's 3-pin wires with hot glue near and around the connector. This modification secured the wires from ever ripping off again and allowed me to have a grip to safely remove and insert the connector from and to the board. It now works beautifully and so much easier. Either Holy Stone implements some easier connector for the camera module or they need to use thicker wires that cannot be stripped off from the connector.
2.4GHz Flight Controller Overview
A gamepad style flight controller comes with the Holy Stone F181 Universe Explorer Quadcopter and uses the 2.4GHz wireless band. This flight controller is different and better than any I've reviewed so far in the sense that it comes with an LCD screen module at the top. So this flight controller not only gives you the standard audible indication of what you're changing and performing like regular Quadcopter drone flight controllers give, but also gives you a visual indication of these settings and features you currently enabling or disabling such as capturing photos, recording video, how much trim you're using in which ever direction, percentage of throttle you're using, enabling and disabling LED lights, wireless signal strength, and battery level indicator. So the Holy Stone F181 Universe Explorer is more advanced than the Quadcopter drones I've looked at in the past.
This flight controller is something I've come to really like because it allows the user the fly with ease. The best flight controllers are the ones that allow you to focus on flying and not focusing on fighting with the flight controller. With a poorly designed flight controller, it takes away from the overall experience of the product. Thankfully with this flight controller on the F181, especially the ergonomics, it's completely comfortable in the hands and the spring loaded tension on the two analog sticks are weighted perfectly to give a smooth range of motion and allows easy execution of maneuvers.
The flight controller with 4AA batteries weigh 232 grams or 0.511 pounds so it's still relatively lightweight and not taxing in your hands for extended periods of time especially with the two Lithium-Polymer batteries that are included with the F181. Construction wise the controller utilizes thick plastic making it feel high quality and stronger than the Quadcopter plastic if you were to ever drop it. I love that underneath the flight controller, it has a recessed area where your middle, ring, and pinky finger will rest and wrap around much like that of the LiteHawk QUATTRO NEON's flight controller which I also enjoyed.
The flight controller has analog sticks that stick out higher making it useful for both thumb flyers and pinch flyers (thumb and index fingers) to use. I like how the tips have cuts in them to make for grip, allowing thumb flyers to use it without fearing of slippage, while pinch flyers have grips on the inside of the stick. The movement of the sticks are excellent offering equal amounts of spring loaded tension on both sticks and the flight controller feels like it has more range of motion to work with making it very linear and very progressive in the way the command slowly ramps up over how far you move the analog sticks. This makes for more precision flights and less touchy throttle or sensitive reactions on sticks with limited range of motion, making the Holy Stone F181 a good Quadcopter to hover. Good flight controllers like this one allows you to find the sweet spot for a good hover where you can essentially take your hands off the flight stick and not have to do much correction and it'll stay in the general vicinity without ascending or descending on its own to a large degree. For example as I stated before, with everything on configuration (138 grams), the flight controller told me it was at 70% to hold a steady hover. With everything off configuration (113 grams), the flight controller told me it was at 55% to hold a steady hover. These are the sweet spots I was referring to.
The top center red "Holy Stone" is the power button. Unfortunately, the LCD screen does not have a back light so night flight is possible just from remembering the buttons and their functions. This is both positive and negative in the sense that no backlit LCD screen means less battery consumption.
Logically placed is the directional pad that sits below the corresponding analog sticks. As usual I'm to nitpick that no one seems to be labeling what their buttons do, so you need to look at the manual and remember what the directional pad buttons do. However, with the inclusion of an LCD screen up top, it is possible not to read the manual and just look at the LCD screen and its symbols to have an idea of what is going on because it's logically done.
The left analog stick is the throttle (up/down) and yaw (spin-left/right) stick. The right analog stick is the pitch (forward/back) and roll (left/right) stick.
At the bottom of the throttle stick is the directional pad in which left controls the enabling and disabling of LED lights, right enters headless mode, up captures camera photos, and down enters video recording mode on/off.
The directional pad underneath the pitch and roll stick is where all of the pitch and roll trims are. If you find the Quadcopter is moving sideways or rolling to a certain side on its own, press once or more times in either direction to make it centered.
The top left L1 button is the speed switch and in the case of the Holy Stone F181 has (4) four speed modes (25/50/75/100%). This is differentiated by audible beeps (1-4 beeps) and percentages indicator on the LCD screen. Obviously the higher mode you are in the faster everything will feel, especially the pitch and roll ability as you'll see the degree of tilt when performing pitch and roll maneuver is gradually greater in each of the higher modes. The YAW rate, or how fast the Quadcopter will spin on its own axis isn't particular sporty rather leisurely, so the turning radius is very wide, but for a camera Quadcopter this is the ideal characteristic you would want for camera recording.
The top right R1 button is the 360 degree flip mode button. This is so much fun to see in action. Simply push once the flip button and select whatever direction on the pitch and roll stick (right analog stick) you want to flip, the Quadcopter will flip on its own. I notice that the Holy Stone F181 firmware gives itself a punch of throttle automatically on its own before entering the flip to help prevent it from descending too low on flip recovery so it's a good idea on their part. Depending on if you have every accessory on the Quadcopter including the propeller guards, the weight of the F181 can cause it to exhibit some sloppy 360 flips. As I've stated before, the Holy Stone F181 Universe Explorer is not a sporty type of Quadcopter drone but strictly an aerial type.
How Does The Holy Stone F181 Universe Explorer Fly? What Are My Thoughts? See My Flights!
Holy Stone targets the F181 Universe Explorer as an aerial Quadcopter so in that regard it does a commendable job overall. It flies like a cruiser would and those characteristics make it a good platform for aerial video recording. The physical size and weight helps a bit with the general stability of the Quadcopter and makes for pretty decent video, much more usable video than what you could do with the LiteHawk QUATTRO SNAP I reviewed. I very much enjoyed my time with the F181 because it was easy to pilot and has a very comfortable flight controller.
Again the Holy Stone F181 is NOT a sport flier and you will be very disappointed if you purchased the F181 for sport flying. It's too slow and not agile enough for sport flying so do not make the mistake of it being sporty. It has pretty quick pitch angle and that is about the only thing that makes it sporty in a way. Turning radius is very large wit F181 because the Yaw rate (spin rate) is too slow and does not match up well with the pitch speed. So if you plan to do banked turns like I do, give yourself more space than you expect to pull off those maneuvers. But as the F181 is an aerial Quadcopter drone, you're not really supposed to do banked turns with it as your video footage will end up dizzying.
I thought in the end the Holy Stone F181 was refreshing in the sense that it was much different than the Quadcopter drones that I've looked at in the past. High up in the sky taking video, the bright LEDs and the F181's colored LED pod lenses really made a difference in distinguishing it in the sky. I had a much better time spotting its orientation because of the bigger physical size than I did with the smallish LiteHawk models I've tested, the Holy Stone is much easier to pilot up high.
In terms of range the box states up to 300 meters of range which looks great on paper, however, I was never able to accomplish that figure. The maximum distance I achieved was usually around 100-130 yards or around 118 meters. I had instances at that extreme distances where I either lost contact with the F181 as it fell onto the ground or I also experienced transmission lag in the extreme of 1-2 seconds before my commands that I was giving the flight controller made its way into being executed by the Quadcopter drone. You'll see in one of my YouTube flight videos where the Quadcopter is high up in the sky and I lose contact with it for about 1-3 seconds until I manage to re-connect and regain control of it mid-flight. 100-130 yards or 118 meters is still pretty darn high up in the sky or down far as much as a soccer field so that's pretty good distance, though well away from the 300 meters claim indicated by the box. As usual your mileage may vary depending on where you fly the Quadcopter drone.
I had one instance up high as you'll see in one of the camera footage samples I've posted on YouTube where I had the motor (or motors, not completely sure what happened) completely shut off on me for about 1-2 seconds while mid flight and high up in the air, and you see the Quadcopter falling slanted, but thankfully I regained transmission with the Quadcopter and re-binded and therefore resumed flying as if nothing happened. In this incident the 6-axis stabilization did its job tremendously well.
One of the compromises when you add on the weight to the F181 by installing the propeller guards, landing feet and everything else is that it becomes heavier and the body being quite larger becomes susceptible to being tossed by the wind. At the time of writing, where I live in Canada is winter and usually very windy for most of the week. The Holy Stone flies better when the wind is calmer and kept to a minimum. The size of the F181 did not like flying in semi windy days where it struggled against 20-40KMH wind gusts and ended up usually being pushed away or had instances of wobble because of wind gusts. Taking off the propeller guards sheds weight and also helps with drag reduction so flights flight more stable in windy environmental conditions with the propellers guards off. Just something to note. Flying this in 5-15KMH winds the F181 manages more better and has enough speed in 100% rates to get out of any gusts, anything more windy you're more likely going to have to fight and navigate your way out of harm's way.
Camera Performance, Quality and Samples
The Holy Stone F181 Universe Explorer comes with technically a 720p HD camera that attaches to the bottom side of the Quadcopter drone with two simple hook arms. Out of the box, and with this sample I was testing, F181 did not exhibit extreme levels of camera shake and shimmering when you're filming at lower altitudes, however, the higher up you go, the more shimmering gets introduced so there's really not much you can do in that department as its camera sensor related. Still overall for a toy Quadcopter drone I was quite surprised and happy with how usable the camera footage turned out. You can eliminate some camera shake with placing a piece of foam underneath the camera while mounting but that only does so much. The shimmering and shake is likely coming from the vibrations of the motors. The Universe Explorer moniker is a fitting name for the F181 and flies like an explorer (not a racer) so I think Holy Stone has done their job.
At the time of writing, the Holy Stone F181 Universe Explorer has the best camera out of the Quadcopter drones I've so far tested. The resolution of output is 1280 x 720 so it's pretty decent overall considering its a basic camera module weighing only 8 grams. You're not going to have video footage quality rivaling that of a DJI Phantom, but again the Holy Stone F181 is 10-15x less expensive so at least you have more money left in your pocket.
The camera module on the F181 is of the Generplus chipset which we've seen a bit of on the LiteHawk QUATTRO NEON but obviously a better model. The F181 video is shot in Motion JPEG Video codec (MJPG) at 30fps and files are saved in the .AVI video container. Audio is recorded in 16-bit Mono and makes use of a lowly 8000Hz Sample rate but the audio is surprisingly better and more usable than one would think looking at those specs. In terms of video bitrate the F181 camera is not going to win any awards, the lens is quite narrow and not wide angle, the colors aren't exactly eye popping, the detail isn't truly HD, but everything is done at a fair quality.
Unfortunately with these toy grade Quadcopters, the camera module is basic in the sense that it's just a plug and play unit without any customization options. You have no options or ways to change saturation, sharpness, colors, or AE metering modes. I would have liked to have at least a way to change AE metering modes because I think this camera module is set at Matrix metering AE mode which underexposed and made the footage darker than it needed to be when facing bright spots in the sky, for example, the sun or horizon. I feel matrix metering is absolutely the wrong AE metering mode such an action camera should be set upon for this type of application, I feel it would be better suited being set at center metering to bring up the shadows and expose more the darker areas of the frame, because when you're flying up high you are more likely going to meet a bright portion of the sky, sun, or bright horizon.
I tried my best to get footage on those days that were brighter and sunnier but it is winter in Canada at this time so I couldn't really get extremely sunny footage. But you get the idea with the sample footage that you'll see. Again I feel the camera is more than useable and for a toy grade Quadcopter drone of this price, the camera footage is pretty decent overall especially for simple YouTube uploads. The camera on the Holy Stone F181 is not a gimmick as the camera was on the LiteHawk QUATTRO SNAP I reviewed.
In terms of photo capturing capabilities of the F181, I would say it's not as good as its video footage quality. The F181 takes better video than it does taking photos. Its photos are decent but leave more to be desired, you can tell they are more compressed than it needed to be, some artifacts here and there, but overall still very much usable. I just think I'd prefer takingvideo with the F181 than photos.
Battery Test and Flight Times
Note: Holy Stone provides really good batteries with the F181 that meet and exceed the specified capacity on the label!
Measured Flight Times
Where Can I Buy One? And For How Much?
The Holy Stone F181 Universe Explorer Quadcopter drone can be purchased right now on Amazon (USA) for $79.99 USD with free shipping! It ships out from Holy Stone and is fulfilled by Amazon.
Why do I like Amazon? They are fast, reliable, honest, and return policy is great. I actually got money refunded back to my account after Amazon overcharged me on duty costs, talk about being an honest company, most others would keep the money and not say anything!
If you are thinking of purchasing the Holy Stone F181 Universe Explorer Quadcopter drone, or anything else for that matter, please use our Amazon link above, it will help us out greatly.
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The Holy Stone F181 Universe Explorer Quadcopter drone gave me my first introduction to the Holy Stone brand and I have to say despite the F181 not being perfect, it certainly is a great camera Quadcopter drone overall! The onboard 720p camera is not a gimmick and can be definitely enjoyed. Can't wait to see what else Holy Stone is offering.
Yes there are negatives that I've observed and experienced with the Holy Stone F181, but most of them were not related to the performance and flight aspects of the F181 Quadcopter drone but more on the lines of fit and finish issues relating to the factory and their processes.
The Holy Stone provides a commendable complete bundle with extra propellers and a pair of batteries and charge cables so that is really good for the user in terms of being able to fly longer. Depending on the configuration you choose to fly in, you can expect around 6 1/2 to 8 1/2 minutes of flight which is pretty darn good flight times.
Overall I can definitely recommend the Holy Stone F181 Universe Explorer Camera Quadcopter drone. F181 is easy to fly, has a sexy design, and comfortable to fly with its ergonomic LCD flight controller. If you're on the market for a Quadcopter drone, have a look at the Holy Stone F181 Universe Explorer Camera Quadcopter drone.