As drones get more advanced, these aerial cameras increasingly require less piloting, handling the flying and filming for you. We got our first taste of these capabilities a year ago, when we raced a car through the Nevada desert against a prototype of Hexo+, a French drone that ditches the remote control and simply follows your cell phone. The company is now shipping units to its Kickstarter backers and preorder customers. We were back in Las Vegas recently and got the chance to go hands on with the finished version.
The Hexo+ is built for action sports, following a snowboarder down a hill or a surfer riding a wave. You use the app to select its position, orientation, and movement. It can follow you, track you while hovering in place, or perform maneuvers like a 360-degree orbit or pan from left to right. For times when you want to make adjustments to the drone’s position, the company also wanted to show off a upcoming feature it’s calling the Magic Wand, a new gesture control that allows you to fly the drone with the wave of your phone.
The Magic Wand is crucial because the Hexo+ isn't sold with a remote, although it is RC compatible. Before, your only choices from the app were take-off, landing, choosing the camera movement, and adjusting the orientation. Now you can have total control over the drone's position without needing an additional device. The feature is very cool, giving me the sensation of a sci-fi falconer in charge of a hunting drone. But it is also fairly buggy, so we’ll see if that gets cleaned up when the feature is officially released.
I felt like a falconer commanding my mechanical bird of prey
The Hexo+ had no trouble keeping pace with a biker or a minivan, and as you can see from the video above it kept us nicely in frame. That was pretty unique last year, but in the time since that feature was first introduced, it has become more commonplace, now offered on almost every high-end camera drone on the market. And the Hexo+ doesn't have any of the sense and avoid technology now arriving on consumer grades units like the Yuneec Typhoon H. At $1,349, it's more expensive than the high-end model of our favorite drone, the Phantom 3, and that price doesn't include a camera — you need to supply your own GoPro.
In its favor, the Hexo+ does have one of the more nuanced implementations, with lots of detailed choices for setting up your shot in the app. And the company claims it’s the only one that can keep pace with serious adrenaline junkies, delivering a top speed of 45 miles per hour, while also adjusting to changing altitude on a downhill run. We’ve requested a review unit, and will be report back on how well these claims hold up after we’ve tried it on the slopes for ourselves.