The year 2012 seems like decades ago but it was the year in which Traxxas announced that they were going to enter into the radio controlled helicopter market with a couple of newly designed helicopters. I was really enthralled to get to know that they were about to set their feet in the world of radio controlled helicopters since they had built quite a bit of reputation for themselves in the domain of RC cars and trucks. We all expected them to make a seamless shift to the realm of radio controlled helicopters. As fate would have it, Traxxas went through a bad patch at the initial stages when their quadcopters came out. So naturally when Traxxas launched LaTrax Alias, we had our inhibitions and fears. Blade had released the Blade 180QX HD that was a machine almost similar in size and also loaded with an inbuilt camera. Since Blade had a better history and track record to support them, consumers opted to go for Blade 180QX HD instead of the LaTrax Alias despite being more costly.
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We enjoyed ourselves with the Blade 180QX and in fact, we still have it with us. The price range was something that turned out to be a bit of a turn off for the fans since it prevented them from buying this machine. Moreover, some features such as navigation lights were also not present in the quadcopter. All these facts, made us take a second glimpse at the LaTrax Alias just to confirm if Traxxas had improved upon the deficiencies that had so outrageously infected their first batch of radio controlled helicopters. Let’s discuss with you what we found out.
First Impressions While Unboxing LaTrax Alias
LaTrax Alias includes everything you need to send your drone whizzing through the air in its original packaging. The user manual is a fundamental one that does not incorporate a lot of colorful offerings as is the case with other Traxxas documentation. The quick start guide is a cool one that introduces the users to the basics. In addition, the packaging includes a battery, USB charger, AAA batteries, a transmitter, additional blades, an Allen wrench and finally the quadcopter.
The LaTrax Alias is a typical Traxxas product. In contrast to the QR-1 that was its predecessor, the Alias’ chassis is made up of the same high quality nylon composite material that is used in the Traxxas trucks. It gives quite a sturdy outlook and is quite formidable. The feet of the quadcopter are lined with rubber dots that serve the dual purpose of providing ample grip for landing and protecting the motors. The gears are sufficiently protected as well although I would have preferred a direct drive configuration since it does not produce a lot of noise. The propeller shafts are positioned ingenuously as there are no e-clips to bother you and we have just a simple pin and screw assembly. The hardware is of decent quality overall. In fact, Blade should try to get a few tips from Traxxas regarding good quality hardware. All the components bear labels so this will make things easier while doing the repairs. The motor plugs are easily accessible and the overall design of the quadcopter is free of any complexities and appears to be efficient enough. In addition, there are also the typical Traxxas touches such as the clip to hold the ESC plug in its place which reminds us of the VXL-3S speed control for the 1/10th vehicles. This is obviously a product that the manufacturers gave a great thought to during the research and development stage.
The battery is a single cell 3.7V 650mAh LiPo battery and has slightly more capacity as opposed to the other quadcopters of the same class. Moreover, the battery includes a JST connector which is the common plug used in the industry. If you possess a multi-chemistry charger, you can comfortably get a charge lead for this battery which is quite nice since the battery has a charge rate of 2C. You can have a look at the guide to understanding LiPo batteries if you are not familiar with the charge rate.
The charger that comes in the original packaging is the USB charger since these are the most popular ones out there these days. We all know that all of us have USB adapters at our homes, but I wish that the charger was the more conventional AC powered device. I have so many devices in my armory and I am running out of high-output USB ports. The user manual asks the users to make use of the USB port rated for at least 1 ampere for the best results. As far as the charger is concerned, it is extremely simple to use. You just have to insert the battery into it and the light gets illuminated. Once the battery gets charged, the light is switched off. Isn’t that simple?
It is pertinent to mention here that as is the case with all the included chargers, this one does not have the LiPo storage feature, which renders it difficult to keep track of the health of LiPo batteries over the course of time. This makes the case for investment in a good quality LiPo charger in the future.
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The radio transmitter fits appropriately in the palm of your hands and is a great fit for the players of video games. Once you get it out of the box, the sticks boast a wide, concave pad at the top and pointy teeth to ensure that your thumb remains in the right place. The antenna is present in the transmitter’s case so it won’t get broken. My only issue with the radio is that it uses AAA batteries instead of the AA ones and while LaTrax includes batteries in the original packaging, if you want to get them replaced in the future, it would mean that you will have to make a special excursion to the shop for a component that won’t be used in pretty much anything else other than the LaTrax Alias transmitter.
I employ both my thumb and forefinger to fly the quadcopter but the transmitter has thumb pads that have not been designed to cater for this style of control. Having said that, the engineers have incorporated a more conventional stick configuration that can be swiftly swapped out. I have flown the LaTrax Alias using both the methods but I would rather go for the more conventional sticks. The beginners might actually fancy the styled thumb pads so I appreciate the fact that LaTrax have gone for a one-size-fits-all approach.
One thing that renders the Latrax Alias different from the rest of the pack is that once the batteries have been inserted, you will have to arm the motors by pushing in on the left stick while the throttle is at zero. The propellers (yes, they are propellers and not blades since blades have only one side while propellers have two sides) would not spin before the motors are armed. According to the user’s manual, if the throttle stick is left idle for more than five seconds or in case the helicopter detects a collision, the motors will be disarmed again. I expect a lot of consumers asking for customer support in this regard.
Now, let’s fly this damn thing!
LaTrax Alias’ Flight
The LaTrax Alias handles the same way all quadcopters are expected to do. The flight characteristics are pretty much the same as is the case with all the other machines falling in this class. This is quite nice since I do not like eccentricities where basics are involved. For those looking for a formidable quadcopter that provides an exhilarating flying experience, LaTrax Alias is a pretty decent way to go.
The radio transmitter is a mixture of both good and bad things to be honest. As far as the thumb pad is concerned, I believe that the sticks were not as good as I wanted them to be. The throttle stick, for example, was not up to scratch since I had to keep on adjusting it from time to time much more than I usually do with other quadcopters or helicopters of this category. Loose controls in turn yield a loose helicopter but for the beginners, it won’t matter much and they still will get plenty of fun out of it; that’s pretty much guaranteed. But for the experienced folks out there who have flown a few helicopters in the past, I presume it will take some time before they actually get used to the controls on the transmitter.
I was able to control the helicopter a lot better with the help of conventional sticks. I still had a few issues with the throttle stick which I guess was linked to another issue but we will get to that later. Other than that, I think Alias was a pretty cool gadget overall. The new sticks are much more lengthier which tends to give you a lot more leverage thereby letting you make more subtler movements and controlling the quadcopter with more precision and accuracy.
As discussed above, the helicopter motors get disarmed whenever the throttle remain idle for five seconds or so. It was quite frustrating to be honest and that was only because I was trying a few things out, landing, taking off, checking a few things and then getting into the air again. It is a decent feature for the hobbyists who are not much experienced but for the veterans, it will take some getting used to.
The telemetry feature is also a good one but I am not really sure about its accuracy. The indicator for the flight battery pack goes from full to zero just after launch and then I am left with no indication or alert to ascertain the battery levels mid-flight. The low-voltage cut-off was quite handy though and it certainly is something that I would ideally want other newbie-centric quadcopters and helicopters to incorporate.
Flying in the most basic difficulty level, the Alias is not that hard a nut to crack but it definitely is a lot slower to react when you want it to stop abruptly, in case it was heading towards a wall or some other obstacle came in its way. The Alias auto-corrects itself well and is steady enough in its basic flight mode. There aren’t any additional embellishments but on the whole there are some exceptionally handy features for the beginners.
Once you get to the second difficulty level, things become a bit more tough for the pilot. This level also features an envelope limiting system that automatically returns the LaTrax Alias to steady flight when the pilot lets go off the sticks. In contrast to the level one, a pilot can pursue a more belligerent flight, adding more pace and trying out a few more manoeuvrability tricks of trade such as flips, barrel rolls and even other pro stunts that are worth a video or two to be published on YouTube and other popular video sharing platforms.
The final level is the most difficult of them all since the self-steadying system is no more available and the user is forced to return the machine to level flight on his own. As discussed earlier, this is the most demanding of all the flight modes and will definitely test your flying skills and acumen. But I would suggest you not to try it out right out of the box if you are a newbie since the LaTrax Alias can comfortably get out of control. I am personally in love with this mode and I think I’ll be spending more time trying to master it.
There was an issue that cropped up during the test flights. On my second test flight, I encountered a sort of power drift; a situation in which the throttle stick remained static but the throttle output was not constant. On a few occasions, it would be at 100% throttle but the machine would not take off. A swift swipe of the stick to the left or the right and off goes the Alias. The two sticks should not interact with each other in this fashion. I also faced sudden losses of throttle which led to crashes. The overall power did not go down but it was only the throttle that became zero all of a sudden. What’s really surprising about this issue is that it occurs very rarely and despite having searched the web in an attempt to find out what had gone wrong with the quadcopter, I found no similar issues with other dronies. Quite odd, ain’t it?
To determine the average flight duration for the LaTrax Alias, I flew by device for five flight tests straight using my fully charged battery until the time the low-voltage cutoff feature brought the helicopter down. In my first test run, I carried out some minor hovering and nothing extravagant other than some simple plain flying. The second test run included a mixture of plain flying and some aerial flips and other manoeuvres. The third flight constituted flips, barrel rolls and other spectacular aerial stunts. The fourth flight had the spectacular stuff exterminated and replaced with some sane flying. Finally, the last test flight had a blend of plain flying and aerial stunts. Once the flights had been completed, I averaged the times out and was quite satisfied with the flight durations alongside the average flight duration which came out to be 11 minutes. Believe me, this is quite a huge flight time duration for this category of machines. The 650mAh battery pack is a great feature indeed.
Quite surprisingly, I had to face the above discussed flight related issues in the first three minutes of the first flight test and none of those issues rose during the remaining flight tests. The flights two to five were event-free which is quite eerie. I was even more perplexed when I had to take my device out to a local gym for an eFly event where my flight was marred by the power drift issue again. I then got my hands on another Alias and discovered that not all LaTrax Alias had been plagued by those issues. My second device worked pretty well for five minutes consecutively as I did some spectacular stuff in addition to plain flying. I will definitely talk to Traxxas to get our demo unit fixed as soon as possible but I am confident that the issues discussed above were only the case with our demo Alias and all other devices should be fine.
The Alias is quite a durable machine as my device had to face collisions with walls, chairs, tables and virtually anything that came its way. Not even the propellers were damaged a little. Another great feature that the Alias has is the over-current protection which enables the machine to shut down itself to prevent damage to circuitry in case the system detects an overload on itself. This is most likely in case of a crash or in case the propeller got stuck in a chair during flight. This feature is a good one to save your electronics from getting fried in case of overheating.
Competition VS LaTrax Alias
We believe that the Blade 180QX HD is LaTrax Alias’ prime competitor. However, both of them have been designed for varying target audience so it is not at all easy to compare the two kinds of quadcopter against each other. As far as the flying capabilities go, the Blade 180QX is a more refined proposition but when it comes to the Alias, it becomes quite difficult to ensure a steady hover in its case. It appears that the engineers have built the Alias in a way that they want it to keep moving rather staying static.
You can use a variety of Spektrum radio transmitters to fly the fantastic Blade 180QX HD. I prefer to use a conventional radio transmitter for my quadcopters so I am quite satisifed with the fact that I can couple the Spektrum DX7 transmitter to the Blade 180QX HD. You have to stick with the included radio transmitter in the original packaging when it comes to the LaTrax Alias. Yes, you can buy a new one but you cannot make a transmitter of some other brand work with the Alias.
On the whole, the Blade 180QX is a more sophisticated machine than the Alias and that fact is manifested in the price range in which the Blade 180QX falls. Moreover, the Blade 180QX also comes with an integrated camera which is also lacking in the Alias. But I guess all these things do not make any real sense since I believe that the target audience mapped out by Traxxas does not include the passionate dronies out there. As a matter of fact, the Alias has been designed especially for the radio controlled car consumers who are more attracted towards speed and agility rather than sophistication. The Alias oozes speed with the lights and flips and rolls endeavoring to grab the attention of people who would otherwise not be attracted towards a drone. If you are new to the world of quadcopters and helicopters, then the Alias is a marvelous machine for you. But if you are someone who likes to have something more sophisticated and pristine, then the Blade 180QX is the way to go for you. But overall, both of them are quite good choices depending upon your personal preference.
Conclusion on LaTrax Alias
To be honest, I was not expecting wonders from the LaTrax Alias. We had plenty of issues witht the QR-1 quadcopters by Traxxas and so it was important that the Alias included some really astounding features to grab our attention. In fact, we had to wait for several months after its release to write a review on one of them. But I am happy that I finally did!
If you are expecting the Alias to be a perfect machine, then I am afraid that it is not! But as far as its target audience is concerned, it is perfect for them. It has been designed to introduce a new perspective to radio controlled flying quadcopters and I am of the view that the manufacturers have succeeded wonderfully to build a machine that is great to serve the purpose its has been designed for. If you want to spend some quality time while flying drones, then the Alias is a good choice. Plus, along with the great customer service and parts support that is a trademark of Traxxas, the Alias provides a great prospect for someone making a transition into the world of quadcopter flying from radio controlled cars. I am not really sure if there will be someone who can come out and challenge the Alias, but currently, LaTrax Alias is here to stay!
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