Walkera Tali H500 (Review)
In August 2014, Walkera released the Tali H500 — a sub US$2000 hexacopter aimed at consumers who are looking for professional aerial video in an affordable Ready-To-Fly (RTF) kit with First-Person-View (FPV) capabilities. Prior to its release, Walkera had already started shipping the 350-size QR X350 Pro quadcopter which was a huge improvement over its predecessor the X350. The X350 Pro proved Walkera was serious in innovating and improving its products and although it took relatively good video, it was still a quad and Walkera had nothing in the hexacopter category for serious aerial video users who wanted more stability.
The Tali H500, which is a 500-size drone as its name suggests, was designed to address this demand. Before the H500, anyone who wanted to buy a drone in the 450 to 550-size range had to choose among the various open airframes that were available such as the DJI S500 hex or F450 quad. These multicopters were fine so long you’re comfortable with the open airframe concept with all those exposed parts and wires sticking out.
Although this approach is the preferred choice for hardcore multicopter enthusiasts, not everyone is adept at soldering and assembling complicated electronic parts, using a multi-meter, understanding servo motors and such. Some companies have attempted to make the open airframe concept less painful to embrace by building RTF kits utilizing various airframes but this approach still required the user to have a sound understanding of every system and component in the drone — a rather steep learning curve if you compare it to owning a DJI Phantom 2 Vision+. Walkera understood this problem and hence the Tali H500 was born.
With that said, the Tali H500 is probably the world’s first true plug-n-play RTF kit in the 500-size category and is aimed at mainstream consumers who want to jump into the action of flying an FPV hexacopter in Phantom-like style and convenience. Below are specifications of the Tali H500:
- Main Rotor Diameter: 233mm
- APM flight controller
- Diagonal length (without rotors): 500mm
- Length: 471mm
- Width: 536mm
- Height: 270mm
- Brushless Motor: WK-WS-34-001
- Brushless ESC: WST-15AH (R/G))
- Receiver: Devo-RX7053
- Main Controller: FCS-H500
- Battery: 6S 22V 5200mAh lithium polymer
- Flight Time: 25 minutes
- Compatible with most brushless gimbals
The most obvious thing that tells you the H500 is a true consumer RTF kit is its sleek body which hides almost all of its wires and electronics neatly under some really nice curves. If there was an award for the most good looking 500-size hexacopter in 2014, it would probably go to the H500. Initially, the H500 was available only in white but now there is also a black version with carbon fiber finishing (not real carbon fiber, though) which looks seriously sick.
Retractable Landing Skids
One key feature that’s worth mentioning here are the retractable landing skids which come as standard on the H500. In the past, drone enthusiasts used to install third party retractable skids on their Phantoms just to get those legs out of view when panning the camera. It’s nice to see this feature offered as standard on the H500. In case you damage the legs, they are easily removed individually so you can quickly replace a broken one in less than a minute. Just unplug the damaged leg and insert the new one in like you do with a USB cable. Each leg comes with its own servo motor built-in which explains why you can replace one so quickly.
The retractable legs may sound like a neat feature to have but I guess it serves not much use unless you pan your camera often when flying your drone. I personally do not pan my camera much when flying. Retractable legs may be a liability too for pilots who might forget to deploy them before landing. This can also happen if you have an equipment failure which prevents the legs from lowering. Either way, having your H500 land on its camera and gimbal or on its belly is going to be an ugly sight.
Battery and Flight Time
The H500 comes with a 22V 6S 5400mAh battery which gives it a flight time of about 25 minutes when not carrying a payload. With a camera and gimbal attached or when flying in windy conditions, the flight time is reduced to about 15 minutes. In designing the battery, Walkera seems to have taken some design cues from DJI’s Phantom. The battery has a brick-like appearance with 4 green LEDs at the rear that tell you how much power is available. It also has a power switch and a red power check button.
To install the battery, insert it into the battery bay until you hear a click. To remove it, simply squeeze the two latches at the rear of the battery to pull it out. Such features were once unheard of in the 400 to 600-size category which used to be dominated by mostly self-build models that required users to strap their batteries onto the airframe with velcro straps. Turning a drone on meant connecting the battery terminals and vice versa so it’s nice to see Walkera give the H500 such a well-designed battery.
Like the QR X350 Pro before it, the H500 also uses the open-source APM flight controller by ArduPilot. If you’re not familiar with multicopters, a flight controller is essentially the software brains of a multicopter and dictates what it is capable of doing and how it flies. To configure the flight controller in the H500, simply connect it to a computer via a USB cable and you can start tweaking around with it.
Among the interesting features APM provides is mission planning with waypoint navigation using Google Maps. To begin planning your missions, just download the free Mission Planner software and you can start plotting your waypoints for your mission.
Below is a summary of key features of the APM flight controller, as taken from the ArduCopter website:
- High quality auto-level and auto altitude control – fly level and straight. Or fly the awesome “simple flight” mode, which makes ArduCopter one of the easiest multicopters to fly. Don’t worry about keeping an eye on your multicopter’s orientation – let the computer figure it out! You just push the stick the way you want to go, and the autopilot figures out what that means for whatever orientation the copter is in, using its onboard magnetometer. “Front”, “back”…who cares? Just fly!
- No programming required. Just use an easy-to-use desktop utility to load the software with one click and set up ArduCopter with quick visual displays, a point-and-click mission planner and a full ground station option.
- Hundreds of GPS waypoints, free (the exact number depends on the memory of the hardware you’re using; APM support 127 waypoints, but platforms based on PX4 can accommodate many times that). Just point and click waypoints in the Mission Planner, and APM ArduCopter will fly itself to them. No distance limits! You can script entire missions, including camera control!
- “Loiter” anywhere. Just flip the toggle switch and your copter will hold its position using its GPS and altitude sensors.
- Return to launch. Flip a switch to have ArduCopter fly back to the launch location automatically.
- Do all mission planning via a two-way wireless connection option. Waypoints, mode changing, even changing the gains of every control parameter can be done from your laptop, even while the copter is in the air!
- Automatic takeoff and landing. Just flick a switch and watch ArduCopter execute its mission completely autonomously, returning home to land by itself in front of you when it’s done.
Since the APM flight controller is rich in features, mastering it requires a rather steep learning curve. It is advisable to read all important info on the ArduPilot website before you attempt to tweak your multicopter with Mission Planner. Messing about with your multicopter settings has the potential of creating a lot of problems and headaches if you’re not sure what you’re doing. It may also cause your multicopter to crash when flying, resulting in expensive repairs and damage.
Walkera typically ships the H500 with a Devo F12E transmitter, G-3D gimbal, iLook+ camera, 1 battery and charger. For best aerial video quality and performance, I’d recommend pairing the H500 with a GoPro Hero 4. This setup provides the best aerial video experience you can get from the H500 but also comes at a higher price. To establish a video feed to your FPV screen, you will need to attach a VTX video transmitter to the GoPro.
There is, however, a serious flaw in the H500’s FPV feature — it does not transmit telemetry readings if you’re using FPV goggles plugged into the Devo F12E. Telemetry only appears on the Devo F12E screen so if you plan to fly with goggles, this can be a problem. I believe a simple firmware update for the transmitter can solve the problem.
It is also important to note that the H500 is now facing stiff competition from the newly-launched Yuneec Q500 which offers a more attractive and well-rounded kit at a slightly lower price point. If you’re in the market for a 500 to 600-size multicopter now, it may be a hard decision to choose between these two very competitive models, especially if you already own a gimbal, camera or transmitter that you want to use on your new purchase.
Walkera Reliability Issues
If you scroll down to the bottom of this review, you will notice the low reliability rating of this model. This is a general problem that affects all Walkera GPS drones that were made in 2014. The issue revolves around Walkera’s half-baked attempt at customizing ArduPilot’s open-source APM autopilot for the Walkera X350 Pro, Scout X4 and Tali H500.
For the uninitiated, Walkera uses a customized version of the APM autopilot for these 3 popular drones. However, in its haste to release products quickly to maximize on sales profits and keep up with its rivals, Walkera has failed to ensure the reliability of its flight controllers.
Like any other open-source software, a manufacturer is free to use them in their products for free as long as the codes have been customized with a certain number of modifications. Using the software in its original form without any customization means a manufacturer is forced to pay a certain fee for every unit of their product that carries the original and unaltered software. Walkera chose the former and includes a “boot loader” to alter certain APM parameters in their flight controllers thus sidestepping the need to pay ArduPilot any fees.
I am not against companies trying to maximize profits if they’re done ethically but Walkera’s customization of the APM autopilot is a half-baked attempt that lacked proper testing and research. To make matters worst, Walkera’s boot loader cannot be disabled or modified. Due to this, Walkera drones are known to fall out of the sky like bricks thanks to the infamous LVC issue which is caused by Walkera’s poor implementation of the APM autopilot. Fortunately, LVC can be manually disabled. If you’re not familiar with Low-Voltage-Cutoff (LVC) or how to disable it, I have covered it extensively in my long-term review of the Walkera X350 Pro here.
LVC has caused countless Walkera owners around the world expensive repair bills and catastrophic crashes. Walkera drones are also known to fly improperly if tweaks are done via Mission Planner thus making Mission Planner useful only for waypoint navigation if you own a Walkera.
To overcome this issue, many Walkera owners have chosen to replace their flight controllers with more reliable ones from DJI or use the APM 2.6 flight controller which allows the full ArduPilot experience without any boot loader problems.
However, those who are not technically-inclined are often left in the dark and many do not know why or what caused their Walkera to crash or fly erratically. To make matters worst, Walkera is known to have very poor customer service so if you purchase a Walkera product, you’re literally on your own. The only places where you can find help are RC forums such as RCGroups or the various Walkera support groups in Facebook.
Walkera drones are really fun to fly, that is, when they fly properly. And in order to make one fly properly, you need some technical understanding and be prepared to make some modifications to your Walkera to ensure it does not fly away or crash.
Walkera products are really not for people who do not want to know the inner workings of their drones. They are meant for those who are prepared to tune their drones for optimum flying performance. For that purpose, they are really nice affordable drones to fly and own.
If you’re looking for something that does not require any tweaks or modifications, I’d suggest purchasing a Yuneec Q500 or a DJI Phantom 2.
The Walkera Tali H500 is one of the best consumer RTF hexacopters in the 500 to 600-size category but faces stiff competition from the Yuneec Q500 which is in many ways a very attractive option if you’re new to multirotors. It also suffers from some reliability issues. For those who are upgrading from a smaller drone and already have parts that they hope to use in their new upgrade but are not compatible with the Yuneec Q500, the H500 offers an affordable solution since a Bind-And-Fly (BNF) H500 kit costs only US$750.
If you’ve already set your mind on the H500, rest assured that it won’t disappoint if you are willing to do some modifications to it to make sure it won’t crash unexpectedly. If you can forgive its telemetry flaw and reliability issues, the H500 is a nice drone to have. It not only looks good but is easy to fly as well and is one of the best GoPro platforms in the consumer RTF category that costs less than US$2000.
Walkera Tali H500
Features and performance8/10
- Impressively smooth and stable flight performance thanks to 6-rotor hexacopter platform
- Looks great (especially in black)
- Retractable landing gear
- Waypoint navigation
- iLook+ performs great and is durable
- Botched implementation of APM ArduPilot
- LVC not disabled by default (can cause crashes)
- Flexible and flimsy arms can twist and damage internal wiring
- No telemetry when using FPV goggles
- Expensive batteries