Welcome back to Just Cool Tech, our column dedicated to tech that exists outside the PC space but that is just plain cool. We were recently contacted by Holy Stone to see if we would want to take a look at its new flagship (yet affordable) HS720G drone. It features 4K video recording, a 2-axis gimbal with electronic image stabilization, and an array of GPS recording modes at a surprisingly accessible price of $299 (and a number of other non-GPS models available for less). If you’re a content creator on a budget or are just looking for a fun gadget to explore your area this summer, this is definitely one you won’t want to miss.
- Current Price: $299 (use code 6SCAXTYA for 10% off at Amazon)
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Just Cool Tech – A Re-introduction
It’s been a while since our last edition of Just Cool Tech, so before we begin, it’s worth taking a minute to revisit exactly what this column is and its place here at MMORPG.com. This also gives me a unique opportunity to give you a peek behind the curtain into how and why reviews come to be.
If you’ve been following our site for any length of time, then you’re probably already familiar with the type of content we cover. Most of our reviews center on PC-based technology: gaming keyboards and other peripherals, audio gear, content creation equipment, monitors, components, and so on. Gaming is the core of MMORPG.com, but tech content is a pillar and we want that content to come at a regular cadence, and we’ve done that over since 2015 when I took over as Hardware and Technology Editor.
Sometimes, we’re contacted by companies asking us to review things that aren’t under our purview. Often, that’s just a polite decline. (You wouldn’t believe the amount of robot window shades and electric toothbrushes we’ve been pitched). But sometimes we’re given an opportunity to look at something that’s genuinely pretty cool and represents a neat opportunity to explore it with you. That’s what this article is for.
For the Holy Stone HS720G, this would certainly fall under the content creation category, but is also, well, cool. That drone technology has advanced so much that you can get 4K video with physical and electronic stabilization, 30 minute long distance flight time, and live video feed for under $300… that’s certainly worthy of an entry in this series.
With that in mind, I approached this review as a complete newcomer. I had never flown a drone before, but do like photo and video creation (and RC cars/planes) so fall right into Holy Stone’s target audience. As such, this column is less about comparison and more about experience!
Holy Stone HS720G – What Is It?
The Holy Stone HS720G is simultaneously entry-level and high aspiring. At $299, there are certainly cheaper drones out there, but it promises a lot for its price, putting it (on paper at least) in competition with the likes of the DJI Mini series. With that in mind, Holy Stone specializes in delivering great drones for newcomers to the hobby, so you shouldn’t expect the same kind of quality as a professional left quad-copter that costs three times or more as much. The HS720G is a mid-level drone, then, that will give you similar features and an easy on-ramp to the hobby.
The HS720G is surprisingly tiny and follows the design inspirations of the DJI Mini well. It has a similar 4-rotor design with foldable arms for easy storage. With the arms folded in, it measures only 6.4 x 3.5 inches and extends to 12 x 9.1 inches when unfolded and ready to fly. It comes with a very nice hard shell storage case that will keep it, the controller, replacement propellers, and battery safe during transport.
On the front is one of the killer features of the HS720G: a full 4K camera mounted on a two-axis gimbal. If you’re new to the camera world, a gimbal is one of the best features any kind of moving camera system can have. Its mechanical arms react to the movement of the drone in real-time, providing you with much more stable footage than you would otherwise be able to attain. The gimbal action can also be paired with electronic image stabilization for even smoother footage.
Specifically, the camera is able to record at 4K resolution and 30 FPS (the DJI Mini SE uses a 2.7K camera, for comparison) or 1080p at 60 FPS for slow motion. 4K is limited to SD card recording. It also features a wide 130-degree field of view, so you can capture a very wide scene. Even if you don’t plan on saving your videos at 4K resolution, I would still recommend recording at this resolution to provide you the greatest flexibility with any editing you would like to do.
The HS720G features a generous flight time and a reasonably long transmission range. The included controller supports 2.4GHz and 5GHz signals, and Holy Stone quotes a distance of 1600 meters. I found it to fall short of that and was closer to ~1200 meters (estimating) but still felt long for first-drone experience. Flight time comes in at 26 minutes quoted and I found that to be fairly accurate when flying in low wind.
The controller has a cradle for your phone to accept a live video feed from the drone, allowing you to navigate by eye. There’s also a small screen below it that displays important information including: drone and transmitter battery, distance and altitude from your home point, GPS status, satellite count, and the signal strength so you can tell if you’re approaching your maximum range.
The drone also has a number of other features that make it feel high-tech for the money. There are a number of automated flight modes to make capturing video easy while you take part in the scene or continue to explore. Using your phone, you can identify a target and have the drone follow it. You can have it circle a target. Using the GPS function, you can tap out a series of flight points for the drone to cycle through, which is great for scouting out areas you may not be able to get to on foot or capturing specific B-roll. The drone can hover in place to capture a stabilized photograph. There’s also a useful Headless mode that automatically aligns the drone based on its position to you, making flight easier.
There are also some safety features that reassured me on my first flights. A built-in Return to Home feature causes the drone to return to its take-off point if it loses signal or flies out of range, or if you just want it to fly itself back to its starting position. If you’re coming close to something the drone absolutely shouldn’t hit, you can engage the emergency stop, which kills the motor (and causes it to fall, probably breaking, so use with caution). There’s also one-button take-off and landing, the latter of which I was particularly worried about. If you do lose sight of the drone or it fails and falls, the GPS records the location of the drone to assist in finding it again.
Holy Stone HS720G – Time to Fly (Performance)
As someone who has never flown a drone before, but who has worked extensively with video, I approached the HS720G as a newcomer. One of the first things I learned is that, at least here in NY, you have to register your drone and take a pre-flight educational course. Registration was only $5 and the course was free, fast, and impossible to fail, so it wasn’t a big hindrance, but be sure to check your local regulations so you don’t run afoul of the law!
With that in mind, getting up and running isn’t difficult, but does require a few important steps. You first have to pair the drone with the controller. If you forget to complete this step, you won’t be flying anywhere. Next, you have to calibrate the compass. I also made the mistake of forgetting to turn GPS on, which is required for full functionality.
With all of that set, taking off and learning to fly is surprisingly easy. With enough altitude, it’s hard to really do it wrong, though it did take me about 10 minutes to feel like I had a grasp of how to fly. It’s surprisingly capable in moderate winds, as the brushless motors and propellers seemed to do a good job of holding its position in small gusts.
Accessing the different modes through the app is easy. I was particularly impressed at the follow and circle modes. The drone locked onto me well and didn’t have trouble holding me. The route-tapping was also very cool if I wanted it to slice out over the woods and return back to me. The drone is also surprisingly fast even on its lower speed and is downright zippy when turned into sport mode.
There is something undeniably cool about recording video with a drone and then watching it back later. It’s a perspective you would never normally see and motivated me to get out there and record in new places (again, check your local regulations!). That said, while the different flight modes perform well and are genuinely fun, I think video is where you can tell the difference between the Holy Stone and some more expensive models.
While the video quality is decent, even at 4K, it doesn’t have the same high level of detail as more expensive camera drones. The jump to 4K, to my eye, is less about clarity (though there is an increase), and more about having a bigger scene to edit from. Colors were similar, and looked alright, but not great and benefited from touching up in editing.
Stabilization is much the same. Compared to a drone without stabilization, the HS720G can deliver satisfyingly smooth shots. But, you’ll still pick up on some shaking and jittery movement. I fully admit that this is probably a result of my inexperience as a pilot, but the same is visible in Holy Stone’s video above. That’s where 4K comes in, as it’s quick and easy to apply a Warp Stabilizer in Adobe Premiere Pro without cropping into important parts of the shot. But, doing so, you’ll lose 1080p60 video recording and any kind of slow motion capability.
Now, with a price of $299, the HS720G may be a good value beginner drone, but it will still be more drone than many people need for their first. Holy Stone sells an array of drones with fewer features and lower prices to target beginners who may want to start more modestly or just have a drone as an RC toy for summer. Some of the other options include:
Editor’s Note: As of publication, the above links are all showing as unavailable but were available previously. We do not expect this to be a permanent status.
As a first drone, the Holy Stone HS720G exceeded my expectations. The different shooting modes gave me lots of versatility in capturing video of my town and the park near my home. More advanced pilots may find other qualities to nitpick, but early reviews all seem to be landing in a similar place: this is a great value for the money. You’ll need to spend a little extra time in editing to push its footage to its potential, but if you do, you can capture some great video that will inspire you to get out there and fly more.
The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.