The self-flying selfie camera

Because I run a YouTube channel with a moderate number of subscribers (currently around 30k) I occasionally get offered items to 'test'.  

That word is often code for "we'll send you some free swag if you make a video about it and post it on your channel".  

Trouble is, I take this sort of thing seriously.  Usually, I say "No thanks".  I wouldn't have room for all the eBikes I've been offered, not to mention glasses, rear lights and all manner of unrelated items.  This has hugely impressed me.  Just watch this single video and you'll see why.

 To the items that grab my attention, I reply along the lines of, "I will test it and post my honest opinion on my channel.  I won't sign any contract, I won't guarantee the length of a video, and I won't guarantee to only say good things".  Quite a few disappear that that point.  If you'd like to see a list of those that didn't, my full Compliance record of brands that sent me stuff and what I've done with it, is linked from the Resources page of my website Always Another

It was on this basis I was sent the Hover Camera X1 - name subsequently changed to HoverAir X1.  At the time you couldn't actually buy a unit, it was only on Indiegogo as a crowd-funded item, although as I write, people have begun to receive the units they purchased.  (Edit - now on the company website check they ship to your country!).

I'm not into Unboxing videos, but made an exception on this occasion because I wanted to get a feel for how this promising little drone ("please don't call it a drone") performed right out of the box after charging.


Most of that was shot in one day, with a few extra shots done on a quiet road a couple of days later.  Within days I realised I had missed two of the Hover Camera X1's big tricks.

Firstly, the sound.  Loads of people commented the X1 WAS VERY LOUD.  Any drone flying this close to a microphone will be loud, and the X1 seems specifically designed to fly close to you.  So surely, that wasp-in-a-jar is going to be all over your audio track?  Oh no.

I posted a vertical version of this on YT shorts, Instagram and TikTok where someone insisted I'd faked this.  It couldn't be a drone, it had to be a camera on a gimbal, presumably operated by my Border Terrier dog since I was otherwise alone.  

Straight out of the camera the footage was slightly out of sync.  The App has a way of fixing this, but I didn't use it, I just slid the voice track in my edit program.

I said two tricks, and the second one is visible in that clip.  When I shot my first video, I wondered out-loud whether there was a way to adjust the distance away the X1 would Orbit, or do its Reveal move.  I also hoped there would be a way it could 'follow' in-front of me, looking back.  The makers call this latter move a Dolly and yes, it can.  That set me wondering whether the X1 was more than the Social Media Gadget I first thought.  Could it be a genuine film-making tool for YouTube?

Maggie (the dog) and I did a short hill run to test the X1's new-found tricks.  The audio in this video could be better, but I suspect the microphone processing was battling the wind as well as the sound of the rotors.

I shot all of that on the two supplied batteries.  I saw someone tested the flight time in a hover and found it was 9 minutes, but that does not mean you'd get that long in the real world.  Any kind of wind or acceleration will increase the rate of power drain.

You can find out more about the Hover Camera X1 on its IndieGoGo page and there's a Private Facebook Group.  Some people initially called this enterprise a Scam and related it to another Hover Camera which purportedly took people's money and nothing happened - I have no knowledge of this.  

I have no connection to the company whatsoever and can only speak to the product they sent me to review.  I like it.  As firmware updates and App updates come through, and the more I use it, the more impressed I am.

Flying in Custom (ie manual) is not like using a regular controller because the phone App can't have joysticks to 'feather' to control speed, it's an all-or-nothing thing.  I managed to do a classic reveal shot to show it will take two simultaneous inputs, but look at the wind buffering at the start.

I believe programmed flight is possible but I have yet to try it, and probably won't.

The latest (at time of writing) version of the App warns against flying over water or a surface with a reflective or uneven pattern.  

 The X1 has no GPS and relies on its ground sensors to work out what's safe.  

On a couple of occasions it has had brief fly-away moments, usually when over rough ground like on that hill-run.

So is it any good?  

In the early days of GoPro, we couldn't trust those strange little cameras.  Those plastic cases steamed up, so I always took another camera for the main shoot and, if the GoPro shot was clear, that was a great bonus.  I've used every model since the GP2.  Now I shoot almost everything on a GoPro (although if you use them, the cases still steam up).  GoPro cameras defined an entire genre of product, created new ways of filming, saw-off competitors from even big players like Sony, and are now a staple in every camera-operator's bag.  

The Hover Camera X1 feels like the GoPro 3 of its kind.  In time it will gain better battery life, an SD card slot, more power and 4k processing (it's currently 2,7k at 30fps or 1080 with HRD).  Plus who knows what else? 

Who's it for?  If you're into Social Media,  it's the ultimate selfie stick.  It records video and still pictures.  You must obey the drone laws, rules and regulations where you fly, even if it is under 125g.  In the UK this means it doesn't have to be registered but you do - you should have a Operator ID from the Civil Aviation Authority and display this number on the X1.  If you're doing this, get two stickers, one for each battery, but I suspect most people won't bother.

You also have to be aware of flying in restricted airspace, which could pose a problem in the future if drone laws change to require them to be GEO located.  As I said, this one doesn't have GPS, and the makers can't claim it's a toy because the camera takes it out of the Toy category.

I took it on a cycle ride yesterday, just to see if I'd use it.  I did.  I shot two short Dolly moves and posted them from the ride on Instagram.  

That's where the X1 scores.  When a regular drone is just too big to take on the off-chance you'll fly it, the X1 just folds up and tucks into my back pocket.  I can't wait for the X10!