I’m coming up on 2 months and well over 300 flights on my Vortex and I think it’s about time to write up a review.
The product page for the Vortex boasts an impressive array of features, some of which are quite amazing, others are vaporware:
EzESC – These are micro ESCs that actually fit inside of the small tubular arms of the Vortex. This notably protects them from damage during a crash and cleans up the airframe by keeping the wires contained and invisible. They have a technology that is (so far) unique to IRC called “rotor sense”, which allows you to program the spin direction really easily. This is ironic because it basically does not get used on an RTF quad unless you blow a motor or an ESC, but it does work well when you need it.
EzOSD – In my opinion, the standout feature of this quad. It offers every OSD feature you could ask for on a mini-quad AND doubles as an in-the-field programmer. I never even plugged my Vortex into the computer until several weeks after I purchased it (to upgrade to Betaflight). This sheer fact will probably amaze most of your mini-quad racer buddies.
ProTunes – A feature that isn’t very well documented but is pretty cool in theory. It is a feature accessed from the OSD that allows you to access the Cleanflight configurations that were developed by some famous quad racers during the Vortex’s development. Out of the box, this feature worked really well for me. I enjoyed being able to load up different profiles to easily see how the pros liked their quads to feel. It is also impressive how different some of the tunes are from each other. Unfortunately, as soon as you update to the latest version of Cleanflight (or Betaflight), the Protunes don’t work as well anymore. Still, this is a great out-of-the-box feature and the interface within EzOSD is extremely intuitive.
Programmable LEDS – Works great out of the box. Color and functionality are configurable straight from the OSD, no computer connection required. Great feature.
7 ARM Processors – Come on guys.. who cares.. J
The nature of mini-quads is that flight characteristics is really only defined by a few factors:
Configuration – The Vortex is an H-qaud, so it is similar to a blackout or ZMR 250 in this sense.
Weight – Since the IRC guys could integrate almost everything into a tight PDB, the Vortex is actually quite light at 350g for its class and featureset.
Flight Controller – The Vortex is using Cleanflight and is compatible with Blackbox. This is the flight controller/software that all the pros are using these days.
Motors – At 2300kV, the Vortex uses the same motor style as practically every miniquad uses these days. It may or may not be able to take the power that cobras can, but you wouldn’t be able to tell anyways because of the 12A ESCs.
Anyhow, the short of it is the Vortex flies great. I don’t think there is any flight maneuver that the pros can do that the Vortex can’t. The only limiter is really the ESCs. At a rating of 12A, you will not be running 6 inch props and 4S batteries anytime soon.
My first recommendation for improving flight performance is to buy the Vortex with an armada of Gemfan 5045 or 5045 Bullnose props. Even if you are a beginner. I initially had some problems with the yaw of the Vortex that were fixed by these props and they just perform overall way way way WAY better than the stock 5030s that come with the quadcopter. The Bullnose variants are also extremely durable.
My second recommendation is to try out Betaflight after you’ve gotten used to the Vortex. The flight control precision you can get with Betaflight is night and day and it runs great on the Vortex. For more information on how to configure Betaflight on any quadcopter, the Vortex included, check out our Betaflight configuration guide.
I would put the ability to survive crashes pretty near the top of my list of ideal miniquad features. If you are looking to get into racing or freestyle, you will be crashing several times every time you sit down to fly the thing. You will bury it into the grass, slam it into rocks, get it stuck in trees, and much much more. The ability of the quad to take all of these beatings and just keep flying makes all the difference between how much time it sits on your bench and how much time it stays in the air.
The Vortex is designed with a few unique features that are intended to help protect it during crashes. The most immediately noticeable of these is the folding arms. During any high-speed crash, the arms will kick back towards the body and absorb a substantial amount of energy in the process. I’m fairly bi-polar on this feature. For one, they have done an excellent job. I have never broken a structural component of the quad in a crash and I think these arms play a huge role in this.
However, almost all of the damage I have done to the quad and its associated components has been a direct result of the folding arms. When I clip a tree branch and the quads arm retracts with the propeller spinning at full speed, that prop tends to hit something. Sometimes it’s an antenna, sometimes it’s a battery, sometimes it’s a radio receiver. Whatever it is, it generally gets broken. My vortex has killed 1 lipo battery so far by cutting far into the wrapping, clipped up the battery connectors on three others and damaged almost every battery I own and use to fly it. It’s also gone through 4 battery straps as of this writing. Finally, and most costly, it has also destroyed an $80 ezUHF receiver and 3 ezUHF antennas.
This problem really just affects how I have my Vortex configured nowadays. I got rid of ezUHF because the antennas are just too long and cannot survive the inevitable crashes. The Spektrum satellite I’m using now sits below the prop-line and it’s antennas are specifically protected from the props by zip ties they are heat shrinked to such that the prop contacts the zip tie before the antenna.
I’ve also gotten into the habit of zip-tying my battery balance connectors to the main plug and routing it in such a way that it is not in the line of fire when the props shoot backwards in a crash.
I purchased my Vortex several months after it was released. Why does this matter? Because ImmersionRC apparently did a several fixes between the first version of the quad and the version I got that have significantly improved durability/crashability.
For instance, early users were reporting that the motor mounts broke fairly often. After easily 100 crashes including everything from hitting concrete walls head-on to dropping nose first into the ground, I have yet to break a single motor mount in flight, and only had one START to crack (which was promptly replaced).
Another issue early users were reporting was the rear arms would rotate around and break the LED boards. IRC has added little retainer clips to the Vortex that stop the arms from contacting the board and thus protecting it.
The bottom line is that you shouldn’t get too scared by people claiming this is a fragile mini-quad. That may have been the case for the earlier versions, but the latest ones are bulletproof. Just watch what is in line with the folding props. I would recommend buying one of the plastic spare parts kits that IRC sells (http://www.getfpv.com/vortex-plastic-crash-kit.html) and you should be good to go.
One gripe I have with the design of the Vortex is maintaining it can be a pain. Almost all modifications or fixes will involve removing the top plate, which requires the removal of no less than 24 small screws.
Another interesting problem I’ve encountered with the Vortex is that it uses many small parts used in its construction that simply are not available for purchase individually. Specific examples include:
- Motors – This was a major problem to me. The Vortex uses custom T-motors with extra long, integrated shafts from the factory. As of this writing, you cannot buy them individually, however. Fortunately, you can buy other 2300kv T-motors instead, you just have to live with the fact that they don’t look the same.
- Rear-arm retention clip – A simple (and ingenious) fix for the breaking of the LED boards in early models was added to the Vortex in the form of a small metal strip that stops the arm from flipping backwards too far. Unfortunately, these clips aren’t included in any of the spare parts kits.
- Front plastic standoffs – These sit in the front of the quad and bear the brunt of most crashes, along with the bottom carbon fiber plate. Mine broke pretty quickly, but they are not found in any of the repair kits. Fortunately, it is easy to source them elsewhere.
- Hardware – The only replacement hardware that comes in the crash kits is the standard screws used on most of the body. There are a few specialty screws, such as the nylon ones used to hold the flight controller down, or the oversized one used on the above-mentioned standoffs, that are not available for purchase. Honestly though, if you are serious about the hobby you should probably buy a spare hardware kit for cases like these.
Despite the fact that these parts are not available for purchase, you can generally get them direct from IRC. This was the case for the retention clip mentioned above for me – I contacted IRC via e-mail and was shipped a replacement pair free of charge within a week. This was my only experience contacting their customer service and I was pleased. I have heard that others have been able to buy spare motors via the same channels.
If you buy spare parts with your Vortex purchase, I recommend that you buy at least two of the plastic parts kits. Ironically, the only part you really need in that kit is the carbon fiber bottom plate that protects the camera. I’ve gone through four of them so far. Generally after about 100 flights then end up looking like this:
Fortunately, the plastic kit is pretty inexpensive so I can’t really knock IRC for this.
ImmersionRC markets the Vortex as an RTF miniquad. This is a true statement in the sense that I had my Vortex flying FPV-only within a half hour of removing it from the box. The majority of the set-up time was digging my ezUHF transmitter and receiver out of the box and updating and configuring them for mini-quad action.
However, within two weeks of flying the quad, I was met with a melted motor which required some soldering work which I have a very hard time justifying as doable for “RTF” users. Since then, I’ve run into several cases which have required me to do some fairly intensive surgery on the Vortex’s internal components which make me hesitant to recommend it to “newbies” to the sport.
The reality of mini-quad racers is that they crash a lot and that they are all made from fairly advanced electronics systems which are all soldered together to save on weight and maximize power output. To operate any of these little gadgets, you need to be pretty adept with a soldering iron and have a good understanding of electronic systems, and the vortex is no exception to this rule.
The ImmersionRC Vortex is a ready-to-fly mini-quad racer that boasts a compelling featureset that outperforms some of the best custom miniquads in performance and capability.
Price-wise it is actually pretty competitive. If you were to try to build an identical ZMR-250 that has all of the features of the Vortex, you would be sitting at a cost of over $350, and you would still have to build it. When compared to “premium” DIY quads on the market, it is actually cheaper.
- EzOSD is amazing. Every quad should have this feature.
- Flies right out of the box, no configuration needed.
- Surprisingly durable.
- Some parts cannot be purchased currently.
- Maintenance is a hassle
EzESCs are limited to 12A, so 6” props are out of the picture.
Of note is a new version of the Vortex on the horizon, the so-called “Pro” model. This version will have fixed arms, a slightly smaller footprint, and higher-rated ESCs which may (or may not) let you run more aggressive props.