R/c Cars, Boats, Planes
HPI Pulse 4.6 Buggy
The good thing about nitro-driven RC vehicles is that they will go on running all day simply by topping up the tank. They also make a lot of noise and smoke, just like the real thing. HPI’s Pulse 4.6 is an 1/8-scale, four-wheel drive, off-road buggy with a scarily quick top speed of around 50mph. Although it comes ready to rock straight out of the box, you will first need to carefully run the engine in before letting it loose at full chat. For older teens (and dads who enjoy a bit of tweaking), this 4.6cc parkland rocket is nothing short of a scintillating riot.
Flying a radio controlled plane is an absolute hoot but there’s always an underlying dread that its first flight will almost certainly be its last. All you can think about while it’s up there gliding among the seagulls is how you’re going to land the damn thing. Well here’s a revolutionary glider that makes the whole experience a little less fraught. The Spyhawk has an auto pilot on board that automatically adjusts the ailerons mid flight, leaving you to make minor adjustments to the radio controller’s two joysticks (one for propellor speed, the other for steering). Because everything unfolds in slow motion, you’re given plenty of time to take avoiding action. It also has a camera in its snout that streams live images to a 3.5-inch colour monitor and saves it all on an SD card mounted in the nose cone. Despite being made of polystyrene, the Spyhawk is a surprisingly tough bird. And yes, we did land it successfully and without incident on a number of occasions. Until one of us crashed it inches from an occupied park bench. Whoops.
Hubsan Spyhawk V3 RC Glider
You know those cool little polystyrene gliders you used to play with as a kid? Well here’s the 21st Century edition. The clever bit is that this little bi-plane doesn’t just glide, it actually flies under its own power. And you control it using your iPhone. The SmartPlane is as light as a feather which means it’s an indoors-only flyer. But because it flies so slowly, you can use it in even a modest sized room. It’s easy to master, too. Really, even the most cack-handed pilot will get a handle on the controls. The SmartPlane flies for around 15 minutes on a single charge, which is impressive for an RC plane. We like it. A lot.
This is no ordinary battery-powered, 10th-scale, 4WD monster truck. For starters, it hits 50mph with absolute ease and goes on driving for about 25 minutes on a single charge. Stats like that were an impossibility only a few years ago. The cars, while fast, rarely attained that kind of speed and the NiCad and NiMh batteries they relied upon rarely ran longer than a measly 12 minutes. Today’s cars, like this Hëlix Vaterra, use Lithium Polymer batteries which are four times more energy efficient so last a lot longer. Nevertheless, batteries and speed are not the main reasons why this car is so different to others on the market.
If you’ve ever tried steering a powerful RC car you’ll know how difficult it is to control when under half to full power. Too much throttle coming out of a bend and you can be sure the car will squirrel all over the course before rolling off into a tree. Similarly, lining up a jump requires the gentlest of input or you’ll simply miss it completely. The new Hälix Vaterra doesn’t do that because it has full stability control fitted as standard. It’s called AVC (Active Vehicle Control) and it works by automatically adjusting both steering and throttle output based on the vehicle’s driving attitude. You can tell it’s working because it drives straight as a die no matter how rough the terrain, it’s suddenly much easier to line up for jumps and is more stable in the air (AVC adjusts the steering automatically so that the car lands at the correct angle). Oh, and it corners much more predictably.
Granted, the turning circle is increased with AVC on full so it’s not ideal for very tight circuits (thankfully it allows you to adjust the amount of driver aid, from 0-100%). But everywhere else it’s worth its weight in repair bills. Pros will doubtless balk at AVC (in much the same way Jeremy Clarkson will lambast a super-car’s traction control system) but for the beginner who just wants to be able to drive quickly without crashing all the time, it’s the most welcome innovation in years. The Hälix Vaterra comes out of the box fully built and read to run; all you need is a 2S LiPo battery (or 3S if you want to go even faster) and a suitable AC or DC charger.
Hälix Vaterra 4WD Monster Truck
When we first saw this new iPhone-controlled slotless racing car game being unveiled at one of last year’s Apple keynote presentations we were blown away and couldn’t wait to get our hands on a sample. Well now we have and, well, let’s just say it’s a wee bit disappointing. Sure, it’s a fantastically innovative alternative to Scalextric and very, very high tech. But after about 10 minutes of driving not very fast cars around its roll-out vinyl track while blasting opponents with various virtual weapons, we found ourselves becoming a little bored. There are six different cars available, each with their own unique abilities. For instance, some cars have bigger weapons but are slower on the track while others race around at a faster pace but are hindered by weaker weapons and less effective armour. You can have up to four cars on the track at any one time and the whole thing links seamlessly with the free and extremely slick iOS app which keeps track of scores and makes sure everything is running tickety boo. Anki Drive is unquestionably one of the most inventive uses of the iPhone and iPad but the cars need to be faster and the whole thing needs to be a bit more engaging.
In-car connectivity specialist Parrot hasn’t been sitting on its laurels since introducing the world to the impressive AR Drone quadcopter. No siree. The Jumping Sumo is a smartphone-controlled, two-wheeled insect-type thingamajig that dashes around the house like Roadrunner and can leap from floor to kitchen worktop with ease, destroying priceless ornaments in a flash. And because it has a gyroscope and accelerometer built in to it, it’ll always lands on its wheels, negating the need for you to leave the comfort of the armchair. The Jumping Sumo is out very soon.
Parrot Jumping Sumo
FTX Banzai Drift Car
Make like the dudes in ‘Fast & Furious’ and commandeer the local car park for a spot of snazzy drifting. The 10th scale FTX Banzai is equipped with a shaft-driven 4WD system and shiny slick tyres to help it produce smoking tail-out powerslides and balletic spins. It takes a little practice finding the optimum balance between power and steering – finesse is key – but once mastered, you’ll be running rings round your mate’s sorry little Tamiyas.
How does 30mph of spectacular water-skimming derring-do grab you? The battery-powered Outlaw Jr comes ready-assembled with a resilient 72cm, ABS deep-vee hull – handy for those obligatory log-bashing episodes – that cuts through wavelets with aplomb and steers with the precision of a dragonfly. Its water-cooled brushless motor delivers oodles of power for bombing up and down canals or round the local park lake, and you’ll get a good 20 minutes out of the LiPo battery before you need to think about getting your cozzie on.