PROS / The X4 zooms at over 10 miles per hour yet can still take tight corners and stop in a blink.
CONS / You need to fly it outdoors to get the full experience, but it doesn't handle well in windy conditions.
VERDICT / Once you learn how to orient the Hubsan X4, you'll be blown away by its power and quick responsiveness.
Make no mistake, the Hubsan X4 is fast. It clocked over 10 miles per hour in our speed tests, which is far faster than most people can run. It can swerve around corners or come to a sharp stop at a moment's notice, displaying a nimble responsiveness that outshines most of the competition. It buzzes like an angry hornet and stings like one if you let its rotors graze your skin, but don't let that scare you away – the X4 is one of the best RC helicopters around. For its raw vigor and surprisingly easy controls, it earns our Top Ten Reviews Silver Award.
When we first powered on the Hubsan X4, every head in the office turned. Unlike most of the remote control helicopters we tested, the X4 is unabashedly loud, buzzing with all the ferocity of a trapped wasp. It even stung us during flight – as it turns out, fast-moving rotors hurt when you touch them. Hubsan's quadcopter backs up its ferocity with some impressive capability, powering through the air at a startling 10.1 miles per hour, stopping just as quickly and even tumbling its way through flips.
Despite all that speed and maneuverability, the helicopter is surprisingly easy to fly. Granted, it needs room to move around –the X4's speed puts it squarely in outdoor helicopter territory – although you want to avoid flying it on windy days. If you're outside in calm weather and have room to move, Hubsan's copter can give you an incredible 7.5 minutes of flight. We wish it were longer, but the battery takes 60 minutes to recharge off any USB outlet and is easily swapped out if you want to buy a second cell, so it's not a deal breaker.
The Hubsan's internal gyroscope does a solid job of keeping the aircraft upright. It must be calibrated every time you plug in the battery, so make sure you have a level surface handy before powering up. Once the gyroscope is calibrated, you need to trim the transmitter, which compensates for imperfections in the quadcopter to help it hover in one spot. Fortunately, you should only need to trim when you change the transmitter's batteries.
Like all quadcopters, Hubsan's flier turns slowly. Since it's capable of lateral flight, we recommend practicing with the right stick; it lets you move forward, backward, and strafe left and right without turning, allowing flight anywhere. Once you get comfortable enough with the controls, you can hit the turbo toggle and ramp up the X4's speed and maneuverability.
The X4's 2.4GHz radio transmitter isn't fancy, but it gets the job done. The four AAA batteries powering it aren't as pricey as their AA kin, which provides some welcome financial relief in an otherwise pricey hobby. Its LCD screen is small but still gives you a visual indication of where your trim and throttle settings are. By far, the remote's best feature is its 2.4GHz radio signal, which can control the X4 over 250 feet away – far enough that you'll probably have trouble seeing the RC helicopter before you lose your connection with it.
With one exception, the Hubsan X4 is rugged enough to withstand any impact it might experience during normal flight. Its plastic construction is sturdy but can bend to absorb shocks, which prevents one of the four rotor booms from snapping. All its internal components are housed in the hull, including the four motors. Even the LiPo battery the X4 comes with is soft-shelled; massive falls shouldn't puncture the chemicals within.
The one exception to the X4's ruggedness is its rotors. Since Hubsan's basic model doesn't come with rotor guards, the rotors pop off their respective motors in almost every crash. When we flew the RC helicopter around the office during our testing, we found ourselves on the floor after every crash, inevitably searching for a popped rotor blade.
True, the rotors are designed to pop off – it prevents the X4's motors from burning themselves out in the event the rotors themselves are caught and can't turn. Still, we wish there was an included rotor guard in the basic model.
Tiny doesn't necessarily mean less powerful. Though it's one of the smallest aircraft in our lineup, the Hubsan X4 remains among the best remote control helicopters you can buy. Its raw speed and power are a pleasure to take into the air, and as long as you have plenty of space to fly on a calm day, you won't have any trouble with the controls. If you're interested in RC helicopters as a hobby but don't have much space in your home to devote to storage, the X4 is a sterling option.