Autel robotics, a somewhat lesser known company than some of the heavy hitters, provides a good entry into the camera drone market with the X-Star Premium. Its video quality rivals that of the lower end Phantoms, and it has a great user interface. Autel also provides the best customer service that we experienced. While the X-Star Premium is a great drone, spending just a little bit more will get you behind the controls of one of the best drones in our review, the DJI Phantom 4. For most people that are serious about capturing great footage spending a little more on the Phantom 4 will likely be a much better choice, but if you find the X-Star on sale it could be a great value.
Autel robotics X-Star Premium Review
Pros: Great customer service, good video quality
Cons: Can be unsteady during takeoff and landing, drifts in turns
Manufacturer: Autel Robotics
Our Analysis and Test Results
The X-Star Premium was s mid range performer in our video quality testing, scoring a 7. Gimbal models scored between 6 and 10 in this metric, while non-gimbal models both scored 3. The X-Star Premium has a high quality 4K camera that produces crisp images. However, it seems to have some minor color saturation issues, as it lent a slightly cool, blue tint to many shots. The gimbal does a fair job of keeping shot stable while on straight flight paths, but there is some noticeable shake when turning or flying more aggressively. The X-Star Premium's design is very similar to that of the DJI Phantom line, thus it has very similar issues with propellor intrusion. Any fast or aggressive flying that tilts the drone will most likely put propellers within sight of the camera. This most likely will not be an issue for the vast majority of shots people want to capture, so it is by no means a deal breaker. There are models that are better designed to avoid propellor intrusion, however.
Ease of Use
Autel provides a great user experience in the X-Star Premium. It shared the score of 8 in this metric with a number of other models, putting it just off the top score of 9 and well ahead of the bottom score of 3. Setup out of the box was easy and straightforward. Autel's Starlink app was slightly harder to find then some of the other manufacturer's apps, but once it was downloded the drone, control, and third party smartphone easily paired and worked well. The provided controller feels comfortable to hold and has a solid mount for your smartphone or tablet. The joysticks feel fairly nimble, but we still have a slight preference for DJI's controllers. The controller does have a prominent "pause" button that will automatically stop the drone and make it hover in its current position. This is a nice option to have for newer, more nervous pilots. It also has a small LCD display for important flight information, which frees up some space for the video downlink on the onscreen display.
First flight with the Autel X-Star Premium feels easy and intuitive, though it is a bit more stressful than other models due to some of its flight stability issues (see flight performance above). Takeoff is achieved by pressing an activate propellers button, and then pressing and holding a takeoff/land button on the controller. This brings the drone off the ground and to a hover at about 12 feet. From here flying with the joysticks quickly starts to feel intuitive fairly quickly, and the bright orange color makes it easy to keep an eye on the drone. Once you fly the drone back to your desired landing zone and bring it to a hover, pressing and holding that same takeoff/landing button brings it down to the ground. We found this feature to be quite finicky, so you'll probably want to bring it to a very low hover (around four feet) before pressing the button, or just slowly bring it all the way to the ground yourself.
Flight performance is one area where the X-Star Premium fell behind the bigger name brands. It scored a 6 in this metric, making it the worst scoring gimbal model. The top scoring gimbal model earned a 9, while the non-gimbal models both scored 5. The X-Star Premium wasn't a particularly bad flyer, but its flying experience just felt significantly less locked in than other models in its class. We really liked the Autel's orange color as it makes the copter easily visible during flight. Takeoffs and landing felt particularly unstable as the copter would often drift side to side and bob up and down. The X-Star Premium tipped onto its side when landing far more often than any other model we tested. While this isn't a catastrophic issue, it very much ups the chance of breaking a propellor (which are cheap to replace, but it's still a pain). The X-Star Premium also had problems keeping a steady, low level hover. When below 20 feet its sensor seem to get confused and the copter randomly loses and gains altitude in 2-5 foot increments. This problem disappeared at higher altitudes, but is incredibly annoying when trying to get a low shot. In the air this model also tended to drift a bit when turning, a problem DJI seems adept at avoiding.
The X-Star Premium was able to produce fairly steady flight and footage using it autonomous flight modes, which include orbit point of interest and cable cam. These features weren't quite as smooth as in the top scoring models, but certainly produced usable footage. Testing the automatic return to home function did not present any problems, apart from the usual unsteady landings. Again, we'd like to remind you that automatic return to home functions should only be used if some problem prevents you from flying the drone back yourself. The X-Star Premium has a maximum flight time or 25 minutes, which is toward the top end of that specification.
The X-Star Premium earned a score of 7 in our video downlink testing, putting it at the back of the group of gimbal models that scored between 7 and 10. For comparison, the non-gimbal models earned 4s in this metric. The downlink provided reasonable video quality, but with somewhat lower resolution. The live video stream remained smooth during our 3000-foot flight test, with just a couple brief moments of pixelation. While this quality isn't as immersive as some of the higher end models, it certainly is workable for framing and getting the shots that you want.
Our experiences with Autel's customer service were exceptional. Accordingly, they earned the leading score of 9 in this metric, well ahead of the low score of 3. The X-Star Premium we bought shipped with a dead battery. When we called we immediately were talking to a real, knowledgeable person. They apologized, stated that the dead battery was most likely due to how it was stored by the third party distributor we had purchased from, and within two days we had a brand new battery in the mail at no charge. All our calls with Autel were of a similar quality, and they definitely provided the best customer service of any of the manufacturers in our test.
The X-Star Premium list for $900. This feels like a fair price given it performance. However, the Best Buy Award for high quality video winning Phantom 4 can often be found online for below its list price. In that case, it is only moderately more expensive than the X-Star Premium, and blows it away in terms of performance. For most people who are comfortable with a slightly higher price tag, the Phantom 4 would end up being a much better value.
The X-Star Premium is good camera drone that produces fairly good footage, though it can be a bit unsteady in the air at times. However, if you're looking for great footage you would be better served spending a little extra and getting the DJI Phantom 4.
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata