Griffin Technology has been around for quite a few years, specializing in making accessories for computers and digital entertainment. In the last few years they have shifted over to the mobile market with various accessories for just about every popular mobile platform available.
Along with their line of mobile accessories, comes the Helo TC (pronounced hee-lo) a remote control helicopter that is controlled by a compatible smartphone or tablet device.
In the box with the Helo TC: The control deck, 2 main rotor blades, 1 rotor tail (although ours came with two), a USB charger cable and a flight manual with the steps to set everything up. The only thing else needed is the Helo TC app to be installed on your smart phone or tablet, the app is free to download for both iOS 4.0+ and Android 2.3.3+.
The design of the Helo TC is very basic as you would expect for a helicopter, it has the cockpit, main rotor, tail rotor, the tail boom and the skids. It is no AR.Drone for that matter, but for its small size it packs a punch. When it is turned on there are a few multicolor lights all around that will blink, which you do have the option of turning off. Located on the left side is the charger port and the on/off switch.
The flight deck requires four AAA batteries, then you must charge the helicopter itself with the included USB charger cable. Even though it is USB, on the other end is a proprietary plug specific for the Helo TC. The required charge time is about 35 minutes max.
Setting up the flight deck is a straight forward task. It has built in clips to keep your phone in place, and then just connect the headphone cable from the flight deck into the headphone jack of the phone. The flight deck itself has its own cable management system to keep everything neat and the cable is long enough to accommodate just about any Android or iPhone regardless of the headphone jack location.
After the flight deck is connected, once you open the app you will be prompted with a pop up that verifies the flight deck is connected, and then tells you to set the volume to 100% if it isn’t already.
The control deck gives proper a tactical feel for a remote as you would expect for an RC. It feels much better in the hands than holding the phone or tablet itself, especially if you do not have a case with good grip. With the added weight of a phone and the batteries, you won’t have any trouble keeping it in your hands.
Directly on the screen you will be presented with controls for the throttle, joystick, trim, recorded flight plans, emergency stop, settings and the LED on/off.
When expert mode is enabled you have full control of the throttle. But you have to be careful to not raise the throttle too high too fast or else the helicopter will go out of control and crash.
You have the choice of using the on screen joystick or the motion controls via the gyroscope of the phone to give a tilt-to-steer control. The extra options allow you to set it your preference, you can change the layout of the throttle to be on the right as well as invert the pitch control/joystick. In the settings there are also 3 channels to select from; A, B & C which gives you the ability to control more than one Helo TC model with one remote.
Once the Helo TC was fully charged, it did not take long to get it in the air. But of course it eventually crashed – the controls are easy to use, but are a challenge at the same time. It is not a steep learning curve but it will take time to get the basics down. It would have been nice to have maybe 15 minutes of flight time on a full charge, but with this model’s poly-lithium fuel cell of 3.7V@ 180 mAh you only get 8 minutes max. So it may take a couple charges to get used to controlling it.
This is designed for indoor use only, with its ultra light body it is best to not use it outdoors because with just the slightest breeze will set it off course. It is best to use it in a room with high ceilings and or also things surrounding that is okay to crash into.
You do have the option to record up to three flight plans to perform pre-programed routes. So if you wanted to replay exactly what you just did and show it off to somebody, that allows you to do so. There is an auto land / emergency landing button, which works nicely if you have it in the air. But when in a out of control situation to avoid hitting something, the response is slow enough to where it will be too late.
Just for fun, Dave Curlee and I recorded a video of the Helo in slow motion.
The Helo TC comes with a 1 year warranty against defects. It is not invincible, so replacing parts is bound to happen. It does included spare rotor blades, which are installed by “00” Phillips head screws.
If you ever need to buy extra parts or components, Griffin sells a spare parts kit for $9.99. As well as the usb charging cable for $3.99, and a replacement flight deck for $19.99 right in their online store.
Overall, this was a interesting one to play around with; the combination of a remote control vehicle and a smart phone just brings the inner geek out of me. It is always fun mixing different gadgets together. As I already mentioned, it takes time to learn the controls. For me, getting the controls down took longer than expected – I kept having adjust the trim or make an emergency landing to avoid hitting anything in the studio.
But otherwise, when everything is set correctly, it is a fun toy to play with, even though you will only get a few minutes of fun before you have to charge it again. For the price it’s definitely worth checking out, if you have tech savy friends and family it makes a great gift.
The Helo TC is available from Amazon for $37.99.