One of the few interesting trickle-down technologies that have made their way into cheap toy drones this year is GPS navigation. Just two years ago, GPS was a feature you’d find only on drones that cost at least a few hundred dollars. Now it’s possible to get a sub-$100 toy drone with GPS that actually works.
One such toy drone is the FEILUN FX176C1 which costs just $65 shipped at GearBest. The FX176C1 has all the staple features of a GPS drone and this includes:
- Position hold
- Return-to-home (RTH)
- Waypoint navigation
- Flight trace
- Point of interest (Orbit)
- Low voltage RTH
The FX176C1 comes with a 1MP WiFi FPV camera and can be flown using either the supplied RC transmitter (remote controller) or by using the FL Drone 2 app (available on Android and iOS) on your smart device.
It also comes with a 2MP camera as the FX176C2 which is priced at $87. Both models are identical except for the camera that they carry. The sample FX176C1 featured in this review was kindly sponsored by GearBest.
- Dimensions: 350 x 350 x 120mm (without prop guards)
- Platform: Quadcopter
- Diagonal motor distance: 285mm
- Flight features:
Auto takeoff / landing
2 flight speeds (Medium and High)
- GPS features:
Point of interest (Orbit)
Low voltage RTH
- Propulsion: brushed motors / 145mm 2-blade propellers
- Weight: 210g (with battery / without prop guards)
- Camera resolution: 1MP stills (960 x 720) and 640 x 480p video
- Battery: 7.4V 700mAh Li Po
- Charging time: 210 – 240 minutes
- Flight time: about 7 minutes
- Control distance: about 200 meters
The FX176C1 has a rather cheap and plasticky feel to it and that includes the transmitter that it comes with which looks awfully outdated in terms of aesthetics. In other words, it simply feels like a cheap toy but for a sub-$100 drone that features real GPS navigation of this size, I guess such build quality is acceptable.
If you’re willing to look beyond the cheap exterior, the FX176C1 actually offers plenty of value. As mentioned earlier, it has all the basic GPS features for a drone with a WiFi FPV camera thrown in. All that for just $65 shipped.
Since the FX176C1 has GPS, a WiFi FPV camera and fly-by-app capabilities, it has a longer list of flight features compared to your average toy drone. Flying it isn’t as simple as binding the transmitter and punching the throttle up (or pressing the take-off button). This is one toy drone you’ll need to fully understand first before your first flight with it.
Fortunately, the FX176C1 comes with a well-written user manual that is easy to understand and explains its many features very well (not all cheap Chinese toy drones have user manuals written in proper English). Reading this user manual before your first flight is something I strongly recommend. I also recommend performing a compass calibration since an improperly calibrated compass can result in erratic flight performance.
The FX176C1 flies like any other brushed toy drone of its size. It has altitude hold, headless mode (referred to as Easy mode in the user manual) and two flight speeds — Medium and High. It also has automatic take-off and landing. Flight time with the supplied 7.4V 700mAh battery is approximately 7 minutes. Even when there is no GPS reception, the FX176C1 can still be manually flown like any other ordinary toy drone. It is when you have GPS reception that things get interesting with the FX176C1.
With a solid GPS lock, you can use some of the FX176C1’s GPS features. By “solid”, I mean the drone is receiving GPS signals from at least 8 to 10 satellites. The number of satellites can be seen on the transmitter’s LCD screen. When there are not enough satellites (6 or 7, for example), you can still fly the FX176C1 manually but you won’t be able to use GPS features such as Position Hold.
When attempting to fly the FX176C1 with GPS, make sure you’re flying at a location that does not have obstructions such as tall buildings, large tree canopies or right next to a tall hill. Such obstructions can cause GPS signal to be weak and result in the drone being flown manually.
When there is good GPS reception, some GPS features on the FX176C1 work very well. The full set of GPS features were designed to be used only when the drone is flown using the FL Drone 2 app. When flown using the transmitter, only Return-to-Home and Position Hold are available. This is because a smart device is needed when drawing out waypoints for GPS navigation or to function as a GPS beacon when using the Follow Me feature.
GPS Position Hold and Return-to-Home are two GPS features that seem to work very well with this drone. Another interesting feature is Follow Me which uses your smart device’s GPS as a beacon for the drone to follow. Take note that when using Follow Me, any input to the app’s virtual joysticks will deactivate the feature.
Unfortunately, I’ve had no luck in the FX176C1’s other GPS features such as Waypoint Navigation, Orbit and Flight Trace. These features do not seem to work at all and I suspect it may be due to the app’s flawed map feature. When you switch from FPV view (refer to the image above) to map view (shown below), all you’ll see is a blank map although the Google logo is clearly visible at the lower left. So far, no amount of tweaking around with the app’s settings has helped me solve the blank map problem.
I suspect that the app can only be used to display the map of China and not other countries. This is a problem that I’ve encountered with other apps that were developed for cheap Chinese gadgets such as GPS fitness trackers. Since the map of where I live cannot be displayed, I’m not able to test the drone’s Waypoint Navigation, Orbit and Flight Trace features as these features simply cannot be activated at all if there is no map being displayed.
There are also other issues that I’ve experienced with the app. One issue is that I cannot disarm (turn off) the FX176C1’s motors although I can arm them via the app. If you encounter this problem when the drone is within your reach, simply grab it by its landing legs and tilt it 90 degrees to shut off the motors.
Although somewhat buggy, the app’s other features work reasonably well. It tells you the drone’s battery level, its distance from you, speed and altitude. It can also be used to control the camera for taking videos and photos.
The FX176C1 features a 1MP WiFi FPV camera and the FPV feed can be viewed by using the FL Drone 2 app. You can also tilt the camera manually by about 30 degrees. Being a sub-$100 toy drone, the image quality on this camera isn’t something to shout about. Not only that, the field of view on the 1MP camera is narrow which makes flying this drone using FPV alone very challenging.
In some ways, the toy-grade camera on the FX176C1 just doesn’t do its GPS features any justice. It would have been nice if FEILUN equipped the camera with some good optics like what we’ve seen on some of the newer selfie drones such as the Lishing L6059W but then again, this is a sub-$100 toy drone with GPS. Below is a gallery of sample images taken using the FX176C1.
The FEILUN FX176C1 is a great toy drone for those who want an affordable introduction into GPS drones. It has some of the GPS features commonly found in much more expensive GPS drones such as the Phantom 4. However, the camera that it comes with is a big letdown and some of its GPS features such as Waypoints, Orbit and Flight Trace do not work as advertised (at least if you’re living outside of China).
The accompanying FL Drone 2 app is also somewhat disappointing. Despite this, the future of toy drones looks very positive as more and more trickle-down technology make their way into cheap and affordable toy drones for the masses.
For those who want to know how it feels like to fly a GPS drone without parting with a lot of cash, the FX176C1 is an excellent choice. GPS drones cannot get any cheaper than this, at least in the near future. Just don’t expect it to have the same flight, GPS and camera performance as a brushless drone such as the DJI Spark which costs at least five times more.