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Lifewire / Jonno Hill
Small and portable
Short flight time
Difficult to control
Easy to lose
The HS170 Predator Mini RC Helicopter Drone offers beginners and budget-conscious shoppers an opportunity to get a foot (or maybe just a toe) into the door of the world of drones for a fraction of the cost of brand name drones.
We purchased the Holy Stone HS170 Predator Mini RC Helicopter Drone so our expert reviewer could thoroughly test and assess it. Keep reading for our full product review.
The HS170 Predator Mini RC Helicopter Drone is an entry-level drone in a very different class of device than its more technologically advanced (and leagues more expensive) brethren. As long as buyers temper their expectations with the HS170, they should have a pretty fun time. Just keep in mind that you won’t get any of the advanced video and photo recording features found on more expensive products, and most noticeably, you also won’t get the computer-assisted flight control and sensor-laden object avoidance technology. All this to say that it can be far more difficult to fly a budget drone like the HS170 than a more expensive drone.
Let’s take a closer look at what the HS170 Predator Mini RC Helicopter Drone does well, and where it comes up short, so you can get a better picture of what purchasing and owning one of these pocket-sized drones will be like.
The HS170 Predator Mini RC Helicopter Drone is a small, lightweight quad-rotor drone equipped with basic flight control from an included 2.4Ghz remote. It definitely feels a bit cheap and fragile due to its construction, but it’s right in line with what anyone should reasonably expect from a sub-$40 drone.
The one area where the HS170 Predator Mini RC Helicopter Drone really shines is in weight and portability. At 5.3 by 1.6 by 5.3 inches (HWD) and 13.6 ounces, there are few places you wouldn’t be able to bring this little drone. This can be both a blessing and a curse though, as experienced drone pilots will already know, because such a small and light drone will be extra sensitive to wind. During our outdoor testing, this became immediately apparent.
In the marketing materials and product information associated with the HS170 Predator Mini RC Helicopter Drone, the drone is described as a good choice for kids, and for drone training. We found this to be an honest assessment. It’s light enough to not be able to do any real damage in the hands of kids, and cheap enough to not lose any sleep should it break.
As for those buying it for drone training, we can attest from our experience that if you can fly the HS170 Predator Mini RC Helicopter Drone smoothly and without incident, you should have absolutely no trouble flying a more expensive drone with better stabilization and flight control. Users who take their time to learn the ins and outs of flight control on this relatively unstable, challenging platform should breeze through their experience with a DJI Mavic, for example.
The most noticeable, but unsurprising, omission is the lack of any kind of camera. To be perfectly honest though, we don’t want a camera on this device. Any cheap camera they could cram into the tiny body probably wouldn’t take photos or videos worth capturing anyway.
The first thing we noticed about the HS170 Predator Mini RC Helicopter Drone out of the box was just how gargantuan the remote control is compared to the drone. Once you overcome the initial shock of this hilariously large controller, the rest of setup is a breeze.
The one area where the HS170 Predator Mini RC Helicopter Drone really shines is in weight and portability.
Unpack the Quadcopter, remote controller, battery, additional blades, USB charger, and screwdriver from the box, and make sure you’ve bought AA batteries because the controller requires six (yes, six) of them and they’re not included.
Users should make sure the rotors are attached in the right position before flight, noting the “A” or “B” printed underneath each propeller and matching them to the correct motor position. After this, the guards need to be installed, which is where the tiny included screwdriver comes in handy. Following this, the included drone battery will need to be charged using the included USB charging adapter (about 45-60 mins). Once it's charged, this battery is inserted into the rear of the drone body by pulling down the white tab, slotting it into the device, and connecting the power headers.
Once these steps are completed, pair the drone with the controller by following the steps outlined in the user manual, and then calibrate the drone before flight by doing the same. Users shouldn’t need to repeat these steps again unless something goes wrong (such as a crash). And that’s it—you’re ready to fly the HS170 Predator Mini RC Helicopter Drone.
If your experience was anything like ours, everything should have been relatively pain-free up to this point. Next, we’ll talk about flight control and some of our experiences operating the drone, which is where things get a bit more interesting.
To the manufacturer’s credit, they are very upfront about the intended use and limitations of the drone right up front, describing it as a good drone for kids, and a good choice for drone training. Buyers would be wise to head all of the warnings and stay within the limits outlined in the manual if they wish to own and use this quadcopter for more than a few flights. Often these types of recommendations can be a little too cautious, but with the HS170 we found them to be downright necessary, as you’ll discover below.
If you can take extraordinarily good care of this drone and only fly it in ideal settings, you will get amazing value out of it.
Holy Stone recommends flying the HS170 Predator Mini RC Helicopter Drone in open areas, away from obstacles, and below 50 meters (164 feet). You should really listen to this advice. This drone is as light as a sheet of paper levitating above the ground. The mild breeze outside when we initially flew the drone was enough to make our efforts to keep the drone out of harm's way a monumental undertaking.
After dutifully following the calibration instruction, we attempted flight with the drone, when it almost immediately careened off towards a wall. We stopped, double-checked the instructions, and calibrated the drone again for good measure.
Our next flight went slightly smoother—we were up in the air and the drone wasn’t darting in any unexpected directions. This is where you will notice the next biggest departure from more advanced drones. The throttle control on the left joystick must be continually held up to maintain the same elevation, as distinct from the control of drones with elevation control, where users can adjust this joystick up or down to increase or decrease elevation, at which point the drone will stabilize and maintain that altitude. This means that users need to guess the right amount of throttle at any given moment, and must avoid throttling up and flying too far, or removing too much throttle and sending the drone directly into the Earth.
This is the part of the HS170 Predator Mini RC Helicopter Drone that makes it paradoxical as a recommendation for beginners. This drone is far, far more difficult to pilot than a professional drone—you’ll either learn very quickly or crash very quickly. Really, the only part of the HS170 that makes it so good for beginners is the fact that it’s so inexpensive you won’t be upset when it inevitably gets damaged beyond repair.
The HS170 Predator Mini RC Helicopter Drone comes with three speed modes (Low/Medium/High) togglable by depressing the left stick, and a flip mode, which will let the HS170 perform a flip in any given direction. Headless Mode does make the drone easier to pilot for beginners and kids, allowing the directionality of the drone to remain constant to the orientation of the pilot instead of the drone, meaning left is always your left, and right is always your right. This is useful for amateur control, but also teaches bad habits for those who wish to graduate to a more capable drone in the future.
Finally, the HS170 Predator Mini RC Helicopter Drone features a One Key Return button that attempts to bring the drone back to the pilot using a single press. It does sometimes work, but we had mixed results, and found this option to be somewhat hazardous given the complete lack of obstacle avoidance.
Our brief time with the HS170 Predator Mini RC Helicopter Drone came to an end, when the drone lost contact with the controller during flight, and flew off into the sunset. Or at least it attempted to, before turning upside down and falling a hundred feet into a patch of grass. We managed to retrieve the drone after a bit of searching, but one of the motors no longer functioned and replacing the blade didn’t seem to fix the issue.
The battery on the HS170 Predator Mini RC Helicopter Drone is rated for 6-8 minutes of flight, and during testing we found it to last somewhere on the lower end of 6 minutes. This is about what we would expect from a drone of its size, so it more or less lived up to expectations. Honestly, you’ll probably have a hard time even keeping the drone airborne without incident long enough to run out the battery between charges if you’re flying it outside.
Our brief time with the HS170 Predator Mini RC Helicopter Drone came to an end when the drone lost contact with the controller during flight, and flew off into the sunset.
Operating range is rated at 50 meters (164 feet), and again, you should really keep it within that range if you ever want to see your drone again. We were flirting with the edge of the transmission distance when the transmitter lost contact with the drone.
At usually under $50 on Amazon, the HS170 Predator Mini RC Helicopter Drone sits firmly at the very bottom of the price spectrum for quadcopters. If you take extraordinarily good care of this drone and only fly it in ideal settings, you will get amazing value out of it. We weren’t as lucky, but perhaps you can heed our warnings and do a better job keeping the HS170 in the sky.
There are a few quadcopters we came across in our experience that were even cheaper still, running from about $15-$30. Most of these were so flimsy and feature such rudimentary control that they couldn’t be seriously recommended.
One of the closest rivals to the HS170 Predator Mini RC Helicopter Drone in our testing was the SYMA X5C RC Quadcopter, at a roughly $10 premium over the HS170. The XC5 is significantly larger than the HS170 and comes equipped with a small, and somewhat poorly performing camera.
The main advantage to the XC5 over the HS170 is that due to a larger body and larger rotors, the XC5 is a lot more stable and easier to control in flight. With the proper precautions taken, we imagine most users will own the XC5 a lot longer, and will probably get more flight time out of it. This comes with the burden of a less portable design that will be harder to take anywhere, and a slightly higher price point.
A fun toy, for as long as it lasts.
The HS170 Predator Mini RC Helicopter Drone is, all things considered, a lot of fun in a pretty affordable package. We have no doubt that buyers (and gift recipients) of this drone will enjoy it for however long it lasts. While you will forgo a lot of the more advanced flight features that make modern drone piloting so accessible, this drone does provide a wonderful platform to learn the basics. Just be warned that there’s a steep learning curve.