A few years ago, a totally unknown drone maker took the market by storm with an innovative new drone called Hexo + . Unlike other drones available at the time, it did not require a controller or piloting experience: you could send it into the air with a snap of your finger and it would film you autonomously from the sky.
At the time of its release, it was one of the only drones that could claim this technological simplicity. But today, it is just one drone among a dozen different drones equipped with automatic tracking features. DJI, Yuneec, and other brands have all added autonomous flight modes to their drones.
At a time when the “follow me” mode is almost a standard feature on most drones, what is a drone-like the Hexo + worth? Discover our analysis through this comprehensive test.
The Hexo + has a few features unique to its bow. The first and most obvious is the fact that it is a hexacopter. This gives it a bit more stability in the air, and also means that if an engine fails or an accessory breaks, the drone won’t fall out of the sky right away. This is also good because unfortunately, it does not have a built-in obstacle detector.
The Hexo Plus is also not equipped with an integrated camera so if you do not yet have a GoPro type action camera available, you will have to pay an additional € 300 to use the drone. Technically, you can fly it without a camera, but since it just follows you automatically, there’s no real point.
Being almost completely self-contained, the Hexo + comes without a controller and only provides a small set of basic controls built into the smartphone app.
You can adjust the position of the drone and decide how it will fly when you move.
Right now, the app offers 12 different camera movements, and Hexo claims that “soon you will be able to customize, combine and create movements” to better suit your needs.
What really sets the Hexo + apart from the competition is the depth of auto-tracking technology.
Instead of just following a preset distance or orientation, the drone can glide in or out, pan to follow you from a fixed position, hover more or less far and even fly in orbit around of you as you move.
Meanwhile, Hexo Plus’s proprietary framing and predictive tracking algorithms ensure the camera is always oriented correctly. In theory, you’ll never miss a shot and your videos will have a more professional cinematic rendering.
We didn’t put this drone to the ultimate crash test. However, we accidentally hit it against a tree, but the Hexo + is quite robust.
The arms are strong and well constructed, and the hull clearly appears to be able to tumble down a rocky hill without breaking into a thousand pieces.
We also liked the removable legs underneath. Not only do the legs make the drone easier to store, but the fact that they are removable also means that if you break the landing gear (which is usually the first thing to break in a crash), you can. replace without tools.
That said, a few design cues left us optical. The GoPro mount, for example, cannot accommodate a camera in its protective case and uses a cheap Velcro strip that can easily be lost. You just have no choice but to fly with your GoPro naked, exposed to the elements and secured with a feverish Velcro hook and loop fastener.
BATTERY LIFE AND RANGE
Once in the air, you can expect the Hexo + to stay in the air for 15-18 minutes.
Hovering it flies for about 18 minutes but as usual, if you get it flying full and push the motors to their limit you will only have 15-16 minutes before you start beeping and receiving flashing warning notifications on your screen.
These numbers pale in comparison to the 20, 25 and even 30 minute flight times offered by other drones on the market today.
But what the Hexo + lacks in flight time, it makes up for with a very fast recharge time. The Hexo + ‘s rechargeable batteries can refuel in under 40 minutes, which is actually one of the fastest recharge times we’ve ever encountered.
However, you should plan to buy several batteries if you plan to film for more than half an hour during an outing.
As for the range, the Hexo + can stay in contact with your phone up to 90 meters although this can vary widely depending on the type of phone you are using.
The good news, however, is that since it’s a tracking drone, the range isn’t much of an issue. If the drone does its job well, it will maintain and stay a reasonable distance from you (with a good wireless connection) no matter where you go.
We had a little trouble getting the drone off the ground, but once it took off it never fell out of range once.
With the Hexo +, it’s not really “driving”, it’s more “directing”. Once in flight, the drone is almost completely autonomous: you just have to tell it how to behave with its phone.
This level of autonomy is excellent in theory, but in practice, it leaves a little to be desired. The biggest problem is that when you are ready to fly you have to start the flight sequence in the correct order and then go through a number of automatic preflight checks which is easier said than done.
If you do not pass any of these preflight checks, the drone will not leave the ground. There is no manual start button so if the drone is not oriented correctly, properly calibrated, placed on even ground, or if your phone’s WiFi is unstable, it will refuse to take off. These features ensure that the drone flies safely, but they also make you a “slave” to your flying robot master.
You have to meet all of its requirements before it agrees to take off in the air and unfortunately, the Hexo + is a very demanding little machine. If just one thing isn’t perfect, it won’t fly, and you’ll have to close the app, restart the drone, and try the whole startup process again. This restart process is the last thing you want to do when having fun snowboarding, mountain biking, or whatever sport you hope to film with a drone.
There is nothing worse than stopping in the middle of a hill to get your drone out, then getting stuck for half an hour because the drone refuses to take off.
The idea was that we would be able to fly the drone, film the horses, and do two revisions at the same time while still getting footage of the event.
When the Hexo + failed to get a stable GPS connection, in the middle of the track, the whole operation was delayed.
In the end, we couldn’t get past the pre-flight checklist screen and had to use another drone to film the event.
It wasn’t an isolated incident either. The Hexo + also gave us a hard time on other releases.
If it wasn’t GPS, it was something else.
In a few of our attempts, the Hexo + was unable to validate the “hardware” section of the flight check and needed several reboots, re-pairings, and recalibrations before deciding it was okay to fly.
Once he even passed the checks, lifted himself a few inches off the ground, then immediately decided his compass needed to be calibrated, landed and demanded to be restarted. Frustrating? The word is weak.
When we finally got the Hexo + off the ground, it started to redeem itself.
The different flight modes allow you to go beyond just basic tracking.
In addition to full control of the orientation of the drone, the app’s simple interface allows you to easily switch between flight modes with the push of a button.
Viewing the footage after the fact, these modes seemed to give the movie a more cinematic feel. Letting the Hexo + follow you is certainly easier than trying to pilot it yourself, but using your phone as a controller is a bit tricky in some situations.
CAMERA AND ACCESSORIES
While Hexo doesn’t provide you with a camera or camcorder with its drone, they do provide a decent three-axis gimbal to keep the camera stable.
It’s not the best gimbal ever produced, but it does offer vibration damping along the Z-axis, which is a cool feature that isn’t always standard.
Unfortunately, you won’t find many additional accessories or upgrades. An upcoming app update will allow you to link flight modes and create custom flight paths.
Its auto-follow technology is good and arguably better than what you’ll find with some competitors, but it’s not dazzling enough to make us forget what it can’t do.
First and foremost, Hexo + ‘s flight controls often make it more of a burden than a companion on your adventures. It’s so hit and miss that we honestly spent more time trying to get the drone off the ground than flying it.
To make matters worse, even if you manage to get the drone to fly in the sky, it’s not exactly an ideal videographer. The drone can capture good shots, but its lack of obstacle avoidance technology limits where you can film.
In addition, because it is not equipped with altitude sensors onboard, you cannot take the risk of flying over hilly landscapes. Compared to other drones on the market, the Hexo Plus is rather at the back of the pack. The drone currently sells for € 999 without a camera. By purchasing an additional camera, you are in the same price bracket as DJI’s Phantom 4 and Yuneec’s Typhoon H which both offer advanced auto-tracking in addition to other flight modes and advanced features. And if you already have a GoPro, you’re better armed with the 3DR Solo, another drone that also offers “follow me” and “watch me” modes in addition to manual flight controls. Why ride a pony when you can ride a thoroughbred for less.