Star Wars Propel Battle Drone review: Go Rogue with one of the best last-minute Christmas gifts around
Propel’s officially licensed Star Wars Battle Drones have rekindled my long-lost childhood imagination. I fondly recall spending hours recreating the Death Star Trench run and Endor speeder bike chase, but those days are no longer foggy memories remembered through the rose tint of history spectacles. They’ve been nerve-tinglingly brought back to life.
Thank you Propel, you have made my day.
That’s no drone
With a choice of three classic-era Star Wars replica designs, though, you have a difficult decision to make. The Empire’s 74-Z Speeder Bike was my go-to for recreating those blisteringly fast Endor chases, but there’s also Darth Vader’s TIE Advanced X1 and the classic X-Wing starfighter for those nail-biting space dogfights. If you wait a bit, you might be able to pick up Han’s Millennium Falcon in the new year once the next wave of drones is shipped.
This first batch of Star Wars drones comes in a special limited edition box, printed inside with the grid-like interior of an Imperial base and sound effects from the movies when you open it up. It looks very impressive in its clear display case, and will take pride of place on the shelf alongside your pristine, never-opened Jar Jar Binks action figure.[gallery:1]
The drone itself is hand-painted (I wish my Star Wars miniatures were painted with this much attention to detail) and looks great. The only unsightly aspect of the model are the arms the propellers are attached, but they still fit in nicely with the overall Star Wars aesthetic, and you barely notice them when the drone is in the air.
May the (down)force be with you
Getting started is a bit of an arduous task. There’s the usual checklist of charging the two supplied 800mAh batteries, which take roughly half an hour to reach full capacity, and popping on the four propellers, but there’s so much more to do before lift off.[gallery:7]
Once both the drone and controller (powered by four AA batteries) are switched on, you’ll need to push the left stick up for two seconds and down for another two to pair the controller with your drone. Next, you have to calibrate the onboard barometric sensor, which needs doing every time you switch it on, and finally you have to hold down one of the four unlabelled buttons on the face of the controller unit to get the propellers going.
I suppose you could say this is movie-accurate. It almost feels like you’re performing a proper starship launch sequence, but for me it’s just a little too fiddly, and you’re unlikely to remember the sequence the next time it comes to taking to the air.
Once you’ve lifted off, though, you’ll have a blast. This drone is blazingly fast, reaching 30mph in just three seconds and hitting a ludicrous top speed of 35mph. I made the rookie mistake of first powering up my speeder up indoors, scaring the cats and crashing it full speed against the wall. I won’t be making that mistake again.
Outside in my local field, however, I was flying about with gay abandon in no time. I’m no expert pilot and while it was a little tricky to get to grips with at first, I was soon performing Tallon Rolls and other acrobatic manoeuvres. Heck, there are even dedicated clockwise and anti-clockwise corkscrew-roll tricks assigned to the shoulder buttons.[gallery:10]
Battery life isn’t wonderful. You get around seven minutes of flight time per charge, but Propel does supply a spare in the box, so can swap them out for double the flight time. The proprietary charger doesn’t make things easy, especially when others have already nailed the simplicity of micro-USB charging. And, god forbid you crash the thing, there’s a handful of spare parts in the box as well as an extra figure should your original Scout Trooper be unseated and kidnapped by small plastic Ewoks.
For first-time drone owners, there’s T-mode, which helps you get to grips with the basics in restricted spaces. This uses the drone’s barometric pressure sensor to limit flight altitude to between 2m and (roughly) 50cm, so you can practise without worrying about flying too high or low. I’d recommend clipping on the supplied protective propeller cage during your first few goes, too. I snapped a blade after my first nasty crash.
There’s also an Android and iOS app for beginner pilots coming soon, which has you controlling a virtual ship in-game with the supplied Bluetooth controller and its smartphone mount. Perfect for flight training without running the risk of smashing your pride and joy into a tree. I’ll update this review once the app goes live.
Stay on target
Propel’s Star Wars drones both look good and fly well, but the key attraction with these particular quadcopters is battle mode.[gallery:3]
Each drone is equipped with an infrared laser, allowing you to engage in aerial combat with up to 23 friends, complete with IR lasers, movie sound effects and flashes of light thanks to the on-board LEDs.
A life indicator on the face of the controller lets you know how well you’re doing. Each successful hit has the drone rocking side to side, and if you’re knocked out completely (it takes three hits) you’ll auto-land, slowly descending into a downward spiral as you deal with your defeat.
I’ve only got the one drone right now, and haven’t been about to try this aspect out fully, but should Santa get me another for Christmas I’ll be updating this review with my impressions of combat.
Propel Star Wars Drone review: Verdict
With Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hitting cinemas recently, the inevitable deluge of Star Wars-licensed tat has made another resurgence. Propel’s Star Wars drones are no such things, and should make a fantastic gift for the Star Wars fan in your life this Christmas.[gallery:9]
Sure, there are other, better drones available for around the same price, but none match the charm or sense of fun on offer here. And for the Star Wars enthusiast there’s no better flying machine.
For £200 you get a lovingly detailed miniature drone, able to reach impressive speeds with easy-to-perform acrobatic capabilities and the chance to challenge your friends to aerial combat. I just wish these things were around when I was ten; I might have actually left the house.
Now to convince the other half to get me all three for Christmas.