When I was offered a chance to play with (er...review) a pair of Sky Duel helicopters from Swann, I jumped at the chance. You probably have figured out by now that I simply cannot resist gadgets and toys, and these fall squarely under both categories.
It doesn't matter how old you are; the idea of playing with RC toys inside the house never loses its childhood appeal, am I right? I felt like I was getting away with something the entire time we were battling, especially since I wasn't at my house, which meant the possibility of breaking someone else's lamp added a whole new dimension to the risk of getting into trouble. I had always known Swann as a company that makes excellent security cameras and was pleasantly surprised to learn that they have a line of toys as well.
Let's see what we've got, shall we?
From the box, they appear to be just like any other RC helicopter you might see, with the exception of there being two rather than just one included. But when you start reading the description, you see these are so much more. These aren't meant to just be flown around outside, which while neat can get boring after a while. Swann has specifically designed these for indoor use. And in addition, each one is fitted with an infrared "laser" as well as a sensor, so you can shoot each other's helicopters out of the sky. These are recommended for age 14 and above.
The two helicopters are different colours, which trust me comes in very handy when you're in the heat of battle. The controllers can be used for either helicopter, as each is equipped with an A/B switch. Just grab a controller and pair it with a helicopter, and you're good to go.
Also included in the package are two landing pads (described as a "bonus landing pad game"), so you can practice takeoff and landing skills. If you're anything like me, you're going to spend the vast majority of your time playing that game, perhaps to the frustration of your partner. You also get two USB charging cables, a full set of spare rotors (in case something goes horribly awry and you break some), and a small screwdriver. It also comes with a full instruction booklet in several languages, but that's no fun, is it? I have to admit I glanced through it when I first opened the box, but then just learned by trial and error, which is how I learn best.
You can charge the helicopters with the included USB cord through your computer, or you can charge on the go with the charging lead hidden away in each controller. A full charge should take about an hour, and will give you approximately seven minutes of flying time before needing to be charged again. I can attest to the fact that repeatedly crashing does not affect how long a charge lasts, since my helicopter remained charged about the same length of time as the one that flew with very few crashes.
One of the drawbacks I noticed right off is the charging port for each helicopter is situated on the bottom. Which means while you're charging, the helicopters must lie on their sides. Not really a huge problem as the rotors will lie flat, but still it seemed awkward to me. Each one is equipped with an on/off switch, so you won't waste your batteries. Another thing I wasn't so fond of is while the USB cable has an indicator light for charging, the helicopter itself does not. I finally figured out that the indicator only lights up when it is actively charging and goes out when it is done, but I couldn't find that in the directions anywhere. It does say if you're using the controller to charge, the light will turn off when charging is complete, so perhaps I should have applied that to the USB cable as well.
If you're using the USB cables, you'll find they measure about two feet (61cm) long, while the charging lead in each controller is just 5 inches (13cm). The charging lead is barely long enough so you don't have to actually put the helicopter on top of the controller while charging. Whenever you're charging the helicopters, make sure they are switched off, or they won't take a charge. If you're using the remote control, make sure it is turned off when you attach the lead, then switch the controller on in order to charge the helicopter.
As you can see, the controllers are modeled after a standard video game controller, if a little old school. The signal is infrared, sent to whichever helicopter you've paired it with. Speaking of pairing, it is recommended that if you're using both helicopters, you pair them in separate rooms (or at least out of line of sight from each other) so as to not confuse them. We took ours into separate rooms just to be safe, and they paired up without any issues. We also switched controllers after a while, and they again paired up quickly.
The joystick on the left controls throttle (all the way forward is full throttle, all the way back is idle) and moves just two directions, while the joystick on the right controls direction and can be moved 360 degrees. Above the on/off switch on the center left is an indicator light for power, while above the A/B switch on the center right is an indicator light for charging. On the front of the unit below the direction joystick is the fire button, while on the top closer to you is a rocker switch for left and right trim. Hidden between the labels at the top back of the unit beneath a panel which slides out is the charging lead.
Flying and Aerial Duels
Now that we've gotten all the boring yet important stuff out of the way, let's get to the fun part! Because the main reason you're looking at these is because you want to be King or Queen of the skies over your living room, right? I have to admit, I'm going to require a LOT more practice before I can claim a crown. Probably that has more to do with my being an absolutely inept gamer than with the helicopters being hard to control...the friend I was battling seemed to have no problems whatsoever maneuvering and shooting me down.
The first thing I noticed was that the joystick controlling throttle is very touchy. And by touchy I mean that it goes from zero to zooming straight up and crashing into the ceiling in about 2.4 seconds. I'm guessing that's because the first few times I took off, I completely forgot I also had to use the joystick to control direction, because alternately it would spin out of control and fall on the floor. Again, this is my ineptitude rather than a design flaw. My friend had no such issues.
Once I finally got the hang of the controller (sort of), we were off and flying! I do not have any pictures of them in flight, however, because it was all I could do to keep mine in the air, and he was laughing at me so hard he kept shaking the camera or missing the shot entirely. Our first duel found me shot down within about 45 seconds, so we had plenty of time on the charge to try again. The second time took about 90 seconds, which he still made fun of me for but which I considered a 100% improvement. The third time I actually remembered to shoot at him, and even scored one hit before I crashed yet again. We started a fourth round, but then the batteries were dead and we had to charge the helicopters again.
After recharging the toys and also ourselves, disaster struck. In an effort to avoid being shot down immediately, I thought I would try a cool evading maneuver. Luckily, the only thing I ended up knocking over was a glass of water (narrowly missing the lamp I mentioned earlier), and also luckily it landed on the carpet instead of dumping all over the 100-year-old end table. But that was when I was informed that while the box may say these are indoor toys, the indoors in question would no longer be his house until I learned better how to control them. I now owe him dinner to make up for it. What he doesn't know is that I was planning on making him dinner soon anyway, so for me it's like I got off without any consequences. We did have a huge amount of fun, even if a great deal of it was at my expense. And he really wasn't that mad about the water...it was a convenient excuse to stop so I could get the review written.
MEGATechie Aerial Awesome or MEGATechie Shot Down?
If you're looking for something fun to play with that won't set you back too much money (these retail for about $80.00 US), a pair of Sky Duel helicopters from Swann would be an excellent choice. If I, the original inept gamer who had never before in my life used anything RC, can learn how to (mostly) fly them in a relatively short span of time, then pretty much anyone can. They were an awful lot of fun, and even though it was frustrating for me to get shot down constantly, that is how the game is played. If I was rating these on a scale of one to five, I would put them at a solid 4.5. I would recommend removing all breakable objects from your playing field before you get yourself in trouble though.
And now I'm off to practice my takeoffs and landings, in the hopes that when I head to his house for dinner, I will be allowed to bring them again. Maybe next time I'll actually manage to shoot him down once, and unsuspecting glasses of water and table lamps will remain unscathed.