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Review: Helo TC micro-copter for iOS devices

The iDeal Christmas present for Apple device owners?

We’ve all seen them; those little micro-copters available from most high street stores around this time of year.  Those that have never tried one will scoff at how they’ll break after five minutes and then sit in the cupboard, while those that own them are usually pretty amazed that they haven’t broken it yet, and probably still pull them out of the desk drawer every now and then for a quick flight around the office.

But how to improve on something which has already been in most gadget-lovers Christmas stockings for the past couple of years?  Griffin have had an idea…

The Helo TC might look like any other RC helicopter, but this one is controlled not by a joystick or traditional twin-stick arrangement, but by a clip on accessory for any iOS based device (except the AppleTV):

The way it works is quite clever.  The controller itself is powered from 4 x AAA batteries (not included) and communicates with the helicopter using the same infra-red communications as most other devices of this size.

But, to get that information from the user, the controller connects to the headphone socket on your iDevice.  The controls that you input via the free app are then converted to audio signals, passed out through the headphone jack and interpreted by the controller as directions for what to do to the helicopter.  Pretty nifty, huh?

Though surprisingly complex, it does work reasonably well.  There’s slightly more of a delay that with using a traditional controller but we were still able to run rings around the TME office with relative grace.

The app itself has two modes.  You can either use on screen controls for throttle and pitch/yaw, or you can simply have an on screen throttle and use the motion sensor in your iOS device to control the movement of the helicopter.

This second option is a great idea, it’s much more intuitive than even a traditional joystick and makes it incredibly simple to control the Helo TC.

The on screen controls?  Not so much… We managed to crash a fair few times (ok, loads of times) while attempting to use them.  We’d pick motion control every time.

If, like us, you’re a bit of a threat when taking to the skies, you’re in luck.  Griffin include an additional pair of rotor blades and a tail blade to replace the original ones should they become shattered somehow.  That being said, as with most of these helicopters, they’re surprisingly hardy.  We crashed our review model a lot and we didn’t need to break out the replacement blades at any time.

Charging for the helicopter comes in the form of a proprietary USB lead.  Just connect it to a PC, laptop or mains USB charger and you’ll have a full charge in about 30-40 minutes which bought us about ten minutes of flight time on average.

You can extend that time a little by turning the flashy LED lights off via the iOS app, though we have to admit they look surprisingly catchy in the dark.

Conclusions.

The Helo TC might not be entirely original, and many will scoff at the idea of using your iPhone as the controller, but it actually works really well.

Maybe not so much with the touchscreen controls, but the motion sensor option works incredibly well and will give you hours of fun (in nicely spaced ten minute intervals).

As well as this, it’s not that much more expensive than the traditionally controlled micro-copters available on the high street.  At a penny under £40 it’s the ideal Christmas present for any iOS toting relatives on your shopping list.

The Griffin HeloTC is available now from HMV, priced at £39.99

Author

Matt

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