Drones are here to stay and have a lot of appeal for kids of all ages. Riding them, however, is not without worries or regulations. You’ll be the villain of the family if you don’t let your kids pilot your photography drone, but it might not be wise to let them pilot such a large investment without any practice. In fact, you may need some way to familiarize yourself with the commands.
This is where the toy market can come in handy not only for birthdays and holiday gifts. But what makes a sensible choice? Constraints are usually safety and where you can fly – outdoor drones with bare propellers don’t fare well in an indoor crash. Neither do humans or innocent pets! Safety is therefore a crucial aspect of the design.
The Holy Stone (or is it Holyton?) HS330 is an entrant into this market, dubbed “mini” or “super mini” by some. We don’t know why the brand is ‘Holyton’ rather than Holy Stone, but it’s from the same company. In this review we will see if it meets the requirements of a safe fun and training tool.
Specifications Holyton HS330
Dimensions: 82 x 90 x 27 mm (3.23 x 3.54 x 1.06 inches)
Flight time: 7 minutes per battery
Loading time: 40 minutes
Maximum range: 262 feet (80m)
What’s in the box?
In addition to the drone, the HS330 comes with a controller and three batteries – for a theoretical total of 21 minutes of flight time. It’s ideal if you’re having fun and for dealing with sibling quarrels! A nice touch is a USB charger that can handle two batteries at once (although three clearly makes more sense.) There’s also a set of spare accessories, an accessory removal tool, a small screwdriver in a small bag.
Unlike some of Holy Stone’s photography-focused drones (which are, of course, more expensive), there’s no carrying case. The cardboard box had three thin, molded plastic trays that could, with a simple push, be repacked between uses.
Inevitably, the HS330 is built from lightweight plastics, but it feels sturdy and the glossy top is a definite improvement over many in the category. The front houses a bright white headlight with diffuser that can be tilted to a preferred angle. No doubt it would be a simple job for manufacturers to replace an FPV camera to create a TinyWhoop style quad, but here there is no camera.
Propeller housings aren’t just funnels either. There are guards on the top and bottom made of firm plastic and held in place with screws. The base of each are the landing feet.
The HS330 makes it easy to identify front and rear, not only with the white light and smaller blue on the tail, but with blue and black front props behind. The only downside is that because they spin in reverse, you only have one spare of each if you want to keep the color palette.
On the underside, the power button can easily be mistaken for a vent; it’s a cut in the plastic that bends when he presses a concealed button. The 300mAh battery is housed in a plastic module that forms the rear half of the fuselage and needs to be squeezed, slid back and pulled to remove. It’s much easier to do than the small plugs and almost bare batteries on many mini drones, but it’s also 50mAh than others for good flight time. Since each battery box has a micro USB socket, even if you lose the charging hub you should have no problem.
On each side of the drone is a small LED or sensor – two on the front – which acts as a collision avoidance system. In flight, however, we haven’t seen much evidence of this (later).
The controller is comfortable in larger hands, but a bit more compact than a PlayStation controller, so it’s also suitable for smaller hands. In addition to the control sticks, it has clickable micro-switch shoulder buttons. We didn’t appreciate the three AA batteries powering it – short-lived – but the physical off switch is reassuring to say the least.
When we first turned on the HS330, it took off easily using the one-press take-off button. It clearly had no trouble achieving level flight thanks to its Altitude Hold feature, which means that when you stop pressing the altitude stick, the drone maintains its height. Believe it or not, this isn’t always included in smaller drones, and altitude control can take a lot of mental effort (especially under a ceiling!)
That said, in a room with no breeze, it still drifted at around 0.5m/s – fast enough that you needed to think! We did the startup procedure again – power on the drone and controller, wiggle the left stick up/down to pair, and this time push both sticks down and left to calibrate. This time we slowed down the drift but the drone still seemed to want to move forward a bit
The theoretical solution to this is trim adjustment; push the left joystick then counter the trim with the right. We tried this with some success indoors, but outdoors it didn’t seem like it could help. There, it was clearly important to live off the wind! It’s also worth making sure that when calibrating you’re on a flat surface).
There’s a choice of three speed modes, available via the left shoulder button; one is quite slow to get used to the controls, two are quite chilly indoors and three could even handle a light breeze, giving just enough control to stay within the tight confines of a small garden. We suggest children use a large playpen or stay indoors, at least initially.
The drone offers a flip function, initiated by the right shoulder button followed by the direction of choice. The drone will quickly perform a very neat flip that definitely impresses and works indoors or outdoors.
On the right of the controller is a headless mode button. Headless mode ignores the orientation of the drone so you can always push the drone away or towards you with just one stick. In theory, it’s there for beginners, but we (admittedly experienced pilots) found it more confusing. Headless mode is also supposed to be preferred when the crash sensors are activated.
The crash sensors are supposed to work at 50-80cm (about 2ft) but even when we activated the crash sensors (a long press on the gear switch) we didn’t see much help from them go. Far more important are the strong accessory protectors, which saved us countless times in our testing.
These are better than the soft plastic clip-on type on older mini drones, and have survived a few walls from ceiling height to a hard floor. All we did each time was recalibrate and start from a flat surface.
During the last 90 seconds or so of the flight, the drone will not turn over and eventually land on its own if you don’t press the takeoff/landing button first. There is also an emergency stop, but this is rarely the best solution.
Is it useful for learning?
One question people might have is how similar the experience is to a drone with camera. (opens in a new tab). The default commands are very similar, with the remote reverting to mode 2 each time it is powered up (unless a key is held down). Since the photography drones from Holy Stone to DJI use the same arrangement, the basics are all there. As long as you’re not flying in headless mode, of course.
Thanks also to altitude hold, a key behavioral basis is the same, although a GPS drone – or even one with optical downward flow sensors – wouldn’t drift in the same way. That said, few pro drones have a flip button! Plus, due to the hard-to-remove drift, you’ll quickly become a more confident pilot. Since professional drones are equipped with more sensors, they are actually easier to fly, which will definitely reinforce essential stick skills.
The HS330 is a sold and sturdy little toy that may feel light in the hand, but takes advantage of it to deliver a decent flight time – better than many “toy” sized drones. Compared to competitors with loose batteries, it feels like a generational improvement. It looks the part, too!
The excellent step-by-step guides in the excellent manual make it easy to choose the modes. That’s good, because that also can’t be skipped if you want to try out all the functions. Inevitably, things don’t come completely naturally when the only feedback you get from the mode change is the flash of a light on the drone. This, and the trim-adjustment difficulties, were our only real gripes. We had low expectations for obstacle avoidance and weren’t surprised (although the mere fact that some variant of this tech is there is still amazing.)
The complete set shouldn’t defy the budget and seems like great value for money, whether you want to provide many happy hours for the kids or yourself. It’s clearly the perfect blend of gyro-stabilized flight and safety features to boost your confidence in drone piloting without significant risk as well.