Hands On: Remote Control A Paper Plane With PowerUp 3.0

The original PowerUp kit added a mini powered motor to your favourite paper plane. Now you can remotely control your latest creation using a smartphone to create your very own paper drone.

Gizmodo loves technology. Our product reviews are presented thanks to Dick Smith.

What Is It?

Specifications
  • Flight Time: 10 Minutes
  • Charge Time: 20 minutes
  • Bluetooth 55m Range
  • Speed: 18 km/h
  • Smartphone App Control
  • USB Charging
  • Spare Propeller and Rudder
  • Weight: 9 grams
  • Price: $70

The PowerUp 3.0 is a tiny Bluetooth receiver and battery mounted in a streamlined plastic enclosure and linked via carbon fibre boom with a motor and propeller. It's simple to use - you fold a plane and clip the 3.0 on top to power it up.

No extra controller is needed - the unit syncs with a flight app on your phone to give 55m range. The PowerUp 3.0 takes about 20 minutes to charge via USB and gives up to 10 minutes flight time.

For the accident prone, you get a spare propeller and rudder. Also included in the box are some plane templates to get you started, with more available for download.

Make sure you shop around, but the PowerUp 3.0 will set you back at least $70 online.

What's Good?

Downloading the app and getting it paired up with the PowerUp module is very straightforward – just run the app and let it do its thing. Actual control of your plane is surprisingly good, though it takes a little practice to go from crashing often to not crashing much.

Holding your phone in one hand, you can move the throttle up and down with your thumb to speed up and climb, or slow down and descend. Steering is as simple as tilting your phone - the app tracks your movements with your phone’s accelerometer. It’s never going to be a precision flyer, but the system is simple yet effective.

Despite the inclusion of spare parts we never broke anything at all – and we had a few head on impacts with trees and rocks. The PowerUp unit is light enough (and foam tipped) so you won’t hurt anyone, but it’s worth keeping your fingers out of the spinning prop. In the box you also get a waterproof template, which is super handy if your grass is a little damp and you don’t want your plane to disintegrate.

Keep in mind that your flight experience is highly reliant on your paper plane building skills. If you are one of those people who folds a quick plane and is disappointed when it does not fly straight, then you will be frustrated by the PowerUp 3.0. Those who spend way too long making sure each fold looks perfect, then perform endless flight tests and tweaks until it really is perfect, will have a lot of fun with the unit.

It can’t be stressed enough - you will need to tweak, balance and test your plane if you want it to fly well. That said, it is oh so satisfying when you get it all perfectly dialled in.

What's Not So Good?

With a bit of practice the PowerUp 3.0 is pretty easy to fly, but there is a learning curve so don’t be disappointed on your first mediocre time out. The unit doesn’t have a traditional elevator control, so the only way to go higher or slower is to speed up or slow down. The system works, but compared to more complex RC plane, control feels limited.

A replaceable battery like those in RC helicopters would be nice a nice addition, as 10 minutes of flying goes by too quickly when you have a few plane designs to try.

We also had the very occasional issue where the Bluetooth link seemed to glitch and throttle and steering control lagged way behind our movements. PowerUp suggests turning off your Wi-Fi, which we did find helped with connectivity.

It’s worth noting that you need a large area to fly your plane in - it’s faster than you think. Also don’t expect to fly when it is windy out, as even a slight breeze overpowers the little motor. Keep away from trees, as the rudder and prop like to anchor the 3.0 just out of reach.

Should You Buy It?

PowerUp 3.0

Price: AUD $70

Like
  • Fun and easy to fly
  • Smartphone Control
  • Spare Parts
Don't Like
  • Fairly expensive
  • No removable battery
  • No elevator control

In some ways the relatively high price of PowerUp 3.0 is hard to justify. It’s fun, but ultimately it’s not that great a RC plane and you can get a better model (or a little quadcopter) for similar money.

The real value (and fun) of the PowerUp 3.0 is the trip down memory lane. If you didn’t fold endless paper planes as a kid you may not understand the appeal. But the PowerUp 3.0 lets you regress back to happy days of chucking plane after carefully folded plane off a high building and seeing how long you can get them to fly.

In fact, you will probably spend more time designing and folding new planes than actually flying them. It’s incredibly satisfying to watch a weird new paper plane invention lumber into the air and actually fly laps of your local park.

So if you want to treat building and flying paper planes like a hobby, then the PowerUp 3.0 is worth every cent. If you want an RC toy without all the work, look elsewhere.

For those after a simpler experience, the original PowerUp is a solid buy for around $25. Like a kind of electronic wind up rubber band, it lets you send a paper plane on 30 second bursts of independent powered flight without all the remote control malarkey.

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