”Hubsan’s first release into the semi-professional market just shattered the dynasty that used to be under DJI’s rule.”
Initially announced in 2018, Hubsan’s Zino is a mid-range foldable GPS drone aimed at beginners and enthusiasts looking for semi-professional features in a cost-effective package. On paper, it promises enormous specifications, most notably 4K video recording, 3-axis stabilization, long battery life, and a host of advanced flight modes. Yet, it comes at a price point that directly matches the DJI Spark, the current consumer giant.
However, in specs, it looks to outperform the Spark in virtually every regard and closely matches DJI’s pricier Mavic and Parrots Anafi. Hubsan is an acclaimed manufacturer in the consumer drone space. But, most of their releases so far are below $200. And it wasn’t until recently that they began to enter the more semi-professional mid-range market. And the Zino marks their first entry into this very competitive space.
On paper, it competes with DJI’s Mavic Air, Autel’s Evo, and Parrot’s Anafi. But, in price tag, it competes more closely with DJI’s Spark and Xiaomi’s FIMI A3. And it’s a drone Hubsan aims as a cheaper alternative for users looking at the Mavic Air, but lacks the budget. In today’s post, we address its strengths and weaknesses. And we also answer whether this drone is now worthy of leading the class in the sub $500 drone market. Is this the Mavic Air killer, people claimed? Let’s find out.
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What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Hubsan Zino?
Build Quality & Design
Many drones on the market today offer a similar foldable and collapsible design mimicking the principles of DJI’s Mavic. And this drone, in particular, is no exception. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing—the exact opposite. Its collapsible design makes it easy to store in small backpacks. And, at first glance, you’ll immediately notice how little it is. In size, it’s roughly the size of an iPhone 11 when collapsed. But, unpacking the drone makes it about the same size, dimensions, and form factor as the Mavic. Weighing just over 700g, it will require registration with the FAA before a flight. But, overall, it’s relatively lightweight and compact.
It uses brushless motors, which are more powerful, more stable, and adds longevity to flight. Plus, it has a dedicated MicroSD slot to capture footage and a Micro USB slot for direct connections to a computer for file transfer. Hubsan also includes a protective cap, which covers the camera during transportation to protect it from damage.
Overall, the build quality of the drone is good for the price point. It feels reasonably well made, durable, and sound. Plus, the jet white coat and stark charcoal finishes give the drone a nice modern edge and a professional appeal.
Hubsan also provides a full suite of replacement parts on their site. So if damages occur, know you can surely get replacement parts. They also include a set of spare propellers in the box.
It features a 4K Ultra HD camera with 3-axis mechanical stabilization. And a wide-angle 89º lens with a fixed aperture of f/2.2. For video, it shoots 4K UHD (3840 * 2160) up to 30 fps using the MPEG-4 codec to the highly-compatible MP4 format. And it offers a bitrate of 60 Mbps, which is quite good for the class. For stills, the camera produces 8MP JPEG images. Overall, the image quality this drone produces is excellent. The footage is sharp, well-exposed with outstanding color rendering in the Auto Setting. And it provides a level of detail that’s quite on par with the Mavic Air. The drone also does quite admirably during lower light conditions. And overall, low light performance is also excellent.
Hubsan has equipped the drone with some manual control over the footage, including ISO and exposure settings. But, by making the saturation levels higher, it’s clear they’ve geared the video capture with beginners in mind. And they want new users to get deliverable results without any post-processing.
In terms of stabilization, the stability of the 3-axis gimbal system easily rivals DJI’s Mavic. It does an excellent job in stabilizing footage, even in windy conditions exceeding 15 Mhps. The footage is incredibly steady, which makes it well suited for those looking to shoot cinematic work.
Hubsan rates the drone for 23 minutes of flight time per charge. That represents a 30% improvement over DJI’s Spark 16-minute maximum. And it surprisingly outpaces even the Mavic Air’s 20-minute maximum as well. Overall, battery life is excellent for the class, and arguably class-leading.
The battery housing itself is also quite robust. The battery is held in by clips, which are well constructed and durable. And the clips are also easily removed without much hassle. Great design.
Hubsan includes the HT106 foldable remote controller with the drone. The controller features dual antennas and a simple but functional layout. The controller communicates to the drone via 2.4 GHz to 5.8 GHz bands for a fast and responsive connection. The controller provides a phone mount, which supports phones as large as 7-inches. And the holder is quite sturdy, so no worries there.
From an overall ergonomics and handling standpoint, the controller is quite comfortable to hold and use. And its two control sticks offer a fair bit of resistance for tactile control during flight. The controller also provides dedicated function buttons, which are pre-labeled for ease of use. These include a Sport/Normal Mode toggle switch, Photo and Video modes, gimbal pitch control, and one-click Return Home. A nice bonus is that the controller charges the connected smartphone, preventing the phone from dying during use when connected directly.
For connection, it uses onboard Wi-Fi to transmit video back to the device, which is mostly lag-free. This transmission gives the drone FPV capabilities, which allows you to see a live stream of its footage directly to your phone. And the quality of the video streamed is good. Of note, Hubsan doesn’t require that you use an 802.11ac compatible phone, even though the controller does have a 5G repeater.
However, if your phone supports 5G, you can use your phone alone to fly the drone. Though, doing so does limit the viewable live feed distance to 300m. Otherwise, if you don’t have 5G, you can connect your device directly to the controller via the appropriate cable supplied in the box.
Hubsan rates the drone for a maximum flight range of 2500m, without a live video feed, or 1000m with a live feed. Both of which are excellent for this class.
Flight App & Flying Experience
You fly the drone using the X-Hubsan app, which is available on both android and iOS. The vast majority of controlling the drone is done through the connected smartphone using the on-screen display. The app is well designed and intuitive to set up. During initialization, it walks you through pairing devices and both compass and GPS calibrations, which is quite helpful for new users. The overall design is straightforward. The top of the app displays all of the critical flying information, such as battery life, connected satellites, among other parameters. But, overall, the layout here is excellent.
In the settings menu, you can also adjust the drone flight performance (maximum vertical, horizontal, or yaw speeds) and the controller’s responsiveness. And you can also alter the pitch speed of the gimbal, for slower movements. Plus, you can customize the map settings. Overall, these are nice additions and help customize the drone to your particular flying style.
Taking off and landing is easy; press and hold the Return Home key on the controller, and you’re off. The drone uses Dual GPS+GLONASS systems for flight. And with recent firmware updates, it maintains a stable hovering position when idling, even during high winds. It provides a top speed of 37 MHP, which is excellent for the class. The drone is quick to respond to inputs from the controller.
And combined with its 5G connectivity, the transmission and latency are minimal. It’s also light and the controls, making it easy to fly for new users. And none of the movements are particularly fast, so beginners shouldn’t feel afraid and endangered. Overall, the drone delivers an easy flying experience.
The drone features a large selection of Intelligent Flight Modes. These include the following:
- Automatic Return Home Mode: this is a standard option on GPS drones these days, but it’s a critical safety feature. When the drone gets to 20% battery, it will use the remaining battery to safely land. This mode has two options, as well. It can either return to the take-off location or come to your current location. Overall, this feature works incredibly well. Not only does the drone return relatively quickly compared to rivals at this price. But, it’s also surprisingly accurate, shocking considering it lacks landing sensors. It’s able to land within 5 ft of the original landing pad, a phenomenal result considering the standard here is 10 ft. It even has a “Search Parking Apron” option, which allows the drone to recognize the landing pad. And land directly on it through software recognition alone. Overall, this mode is extraordinarily helpful and a godsend for new fliers.
- 360º Panorama Mode: at the tap of a button, the drone rotates 360º, capturing a panoramic video.
- Follow Mode: you’ll use this mode to track subjects. Hubsan has also equipped the drone with ActiveTrack, which allows you to draw a box around the subject, for intuitive tracking. While the drone is a bit slower when using this feature and doesn’t match the DJI competition, it does an extraordinary job for the price. Even when subjects move erratically, run, or their backs face the drone, it continues to lock on. And overall, it’s quite tenacious, possibly even class-leading.
- Orbit Mode: this mode keeps the subject in frame while the drone circles around them. Setting it up is quite intuitive, and the app provides excellent customization over this feature. You can customize the altitude, radius, move the gimbal during the orbit, and set various points of interest.
- Waypoint Mode: this mode allows you to draw a series of points on the map, which the drone automatically uses as its flight path. This feature works well and provides ample customization over altitude, among other settings.
- Line Fly Mode: in this mode, the drone flies in a certain direction. And during its flight, you can rotate it and independently control the camera operation. It’s an excellent tool for more cinematic shots.
The overall build quality of the controller very much matches that of the entry-level competition. The controller is quite plasticky and doesn’t feel nearly as robust as it should. Also, it’s strange to see the functions on the control lack color coding, for easier identification.
The drone lacks any downward-facing landing sensors or obstacle avoidance, unlike its rival, the DJI Spark. Instead, it strictly works through an internal barometer and GPS to determine its altitude and location. Thankfully, the software optimizations in recent firmware updates have stabilized its flight and precision during landing. However, it’s still worth noting that the drone has no way of warning you before crashing into an obstacle without these sensors.
The drone doesn’t support FPV goggles for a more immersive flying experience.
The controller doesn’t have any built-in warning detection when it’s low on battery. So if you’re not aware of its battery life, you can quickly find yourself without a controller.
Is this a good beginner drone?
It is an excellent beginner’s drone, minus the obstacle avoidance sensors. For the price, you get a feature set that far outpaces rivals. Compared to the DJI Spark, it offers advantages in nearly every regard. Overall, it’s an excellent choice if you’re willing to take your time mastering the basics of flying a drone.
Is this a good drone for you?
In the end, Hubsan’s Zino is an excellent all-round drone. It delivers a robust feature set, powerful companion app, and an outstanding flight experience. Hubsan is known for its high-quality products, and this one indeed follows suit. For the price, the performance offered here makes it an excellent choice. And it provides exceptional value for money.
While it’s not necessarily the drone that finally kills DJI, it is a strong alternative. Several factors separate it from the Mavic Pro. And competing directly within that class isn’t Hubsan’s goal for this release. However, compared to the competition at this price, it’s arguably the leader of the class. And sure, it isn’t perfect. But, ultimately, the lack of sensors is its only real drawback. So, it’s not surprising to see why it immediately became popular among beginners after its release. And, for anyone looking for a sub $500 GPS drone with 4K capabilities and stabilization, this is the right choice and an excellent alternative to DJI.
Hubsan’s Zino offers quite the feature set for the price. Given its competition, it leads the class in many vital aspects. And overall, it’s an excellent solution for beginners and first-time fliers looking for an affordable option. Yet, one that provides professional-level performance that matches several drones twice its price.