If you are looking for a solid trainer, a toy drone to get some inexpensive practice, Syma produces a long list of varying sizes and shapes of flying machines. That said, the X5C-1 Explorer Edition, is one of my favorites. You may find it labeled as just the X5C.
Make no mistake, this is a toy class drone. It does have a camera, but it is not a great camera, and it does not have FPV streaming, this is a craft to fly, enjoy, crash and repeat.
The Syma X5C is a familiar looking machine to anyone that has scoured Amazon looking for an inexpensive craft. Let me be honest, I do not know who first developed this exact design, but you will see it with a number of brand names etched on it.
This is, if you are new to the game, what we can consider a generic drone design pumped out by a Chinese factory that anyone can then brand and market. A white label product. For your premium purchases in life, do not buy these generic products, for this toy purchase, however, I hope you are as surprised and impressed with the result as we were.
Some of the places you’ll find this drone:
On a slightly windy day not long ago, I was using my X5C as a trainer to teach a friend how to fly. As a measure to stay clear of some people that walked into our flight area, the drone went up into the air. As you may know, this machine only has a range of about 100 feet. Normally when this drone reaches the ends of connectivity it just drops out of the sky. Not this day. Instead, the drone hovered in place. Problem is, there was just enough wind that the drone began moving sideways off over some trees. With no control and it moving faster than I could manage on the ground… We never did find it.
I purchased the Syma X5C-1 originally for $31. I then purchased extra batteries and some extra propellers. When considering total flying price, add in the microSD card for a total cost of $52 and change.
Make no mistake, there are many, many alternatives out there for this amount of cash, but as far as bang-for-the-buck goes, this is a smart purchase. Do not expect flight assistant features, you’re just flying a basic machine. We’ve found a handy combo with extra batteries and more for about $50.
Decent battery life
The Syma X5C provides about an hour of flight time (with all seven of my batteries.) Attach the prop guards and camera, then fly hard, however, and that drops to as low as half hour. With a single battery, you’re looking at little more than 4 minutes in the air – as I say, remove some weight, including the camera, and you can bump that to near ten minutes. It takes about 90 minutes to recharge each battery.
The six pack of batteries I picked up were about $16, and came with a multi-port charger. A great way to get so much more out of your drone.
Crash! Oh no, we’re in trouble now… Wait, there is no damage, at all.
The Syma X5C was my trainer drone. I crashed it absolutely every time I flew it. Sometimes spectacularly. It’s had the battery die while it was about 100 feet up in the air, it’s hit trees, I even let my young niece and nephew fly it a few times.
I purchased a set of replacement propellers and even replacement motors, but you know what, those replacements are still in their packaging. The X5C has never broken.
Heck, mine has big teeth marks in it from a bird hunting dog that took it for a bird. No real harm done.
It would be an absolute lie to call this a tough drone, but it offers enough flex to avoid damage and aerodynamically reduces fall damage – let’s talk about that on its own:
The Syma X5C, as with most non-self hovering drones, allows you to control propeller speed all the way down to zero. This sounds silly, but consider your Mavic Pro or similar drone, you can control the throttle, but you cannot easily, or effectively, spin down the propellers to a stop while the machine is airborne.
The X5C allows you to gradually reduce the speed, taking you from acceleration, to a hover, to the point that your drone is coming down out of the sky. At low RPMs, your propellers are still trying to propel the drone upward, when you throttle right down, power is cut from the motors. The propellers don’t just stop, they’re allowed to spin backwards.
As the drone drops, the natural air resistance spins the propellers faster and faster backward. This is not great for the motors, and you can burn them out if you stomp on the throttle from here, but the propellers are now acting as a parachute.
Related reading: Fall safety and disaster recovery – science of flight
I mentioned that this drone has dropped out of the sky on me, I mean it. I had a complete power loss at nearly the full altitude this machine can handle. I watched it fall, but it fell impressively slow and level. I admit that concrete may have had different results, but the X5C bounced off the grass with no damage at all.
I have no fear of this drone breaking when it falls. None at all.
If you are flying for pay, or any other form of compensation, you must operate under a different set of rules and possess a commercial drone license. We call it the Part 107, it’s not too hard to get, but it will take some time to learn all the rules. We want to help you learn the rules and get your commercial license, check out our drone pilot training material.
Not to be mistaken with a compact or folding drone, the Syma X5C is still very portable. It weighs so little that you’ll barely notice if you tie it to the outside of a backpack or carry by hand. The remote control is larger and more cumbersome, that’s another story, but the drone itself is pretty easy to manage.
Parts and accessories
When it comes to a popular style of machine like this, you are bound to find accessories and, more important, replacement parts for repairs. The compatibility list of machines is great, which can get confusing, but at least the parts exist.
When I went looking for those spare batteries earlier, I got to choose between several vendors with different options. Competition usually makes for competitive prices, no complaints here.
One small screwdriver
Need to swap batteries on the remote, how about add or remove the camera and propellers. No problem, they are all secured by the same type of screw – you need just one small screwdriver to repair and maintain the X5C.
Admitting that I love the quick release propellers of some higher-end machines, I can absolutely accept the simplicity of a single screw system.
I often promote this drone as one of the best beginner drones around. One of the main reasons this is true is the two speed operation. This setting is for the navigation controls more than for the throttle. The easy way to explain this is that on the default normal mode, you can navigate full tilt in any direction and the drone will not try to roll over.
Fast mode is another story. In this mode the drone can tilt faster than it can accelerate. We’ll save the physics of flight for another day, just know that the drone can tilt far enough that it may not be able to keep aloft. Great for high speed maneuvers, not so great when at a hover.
I think we’ll call it here for today, folks. The Syma X5C is a fun little drone to fly, but also large enough you’ll want to keep it outside. It’s fast enough to create challenge and slow enough to learn the basics of flight. It’s inexpensive and easy to repair, but resilient, you may never need to repair it.
As an all around solid beginner drone, please hit the comments below if you have more to say on this machine, either good or bad.