The Darwin 69 - also called “Baby Ape” - is DarwinFPV’s next super cheap release - as the name suggests, it only costs $69. That is very little money for a basically complete 3” micro quadcopter. But at this price point, is it even worth getting it? Usually such super low price quads only have one up-side: the price.
I have had a couple of DarwinFPV products and I generally am really surprised at what they can put together for such a low price. When buying at this price point, one thing has to be clear: You will not get the newest, brand named components. DarwinFPV probably buys older parts in bulk and then throws something together that will match a certain price point.
A big thank you to DarwinFPV who sent me the copter as a thank you for letting them “get inspired” by one of my frame designs.
The AIO is flight controller an ESC in one board. This is Darwins own development. It is basically 2 boards - one for ESC and one for FC but they are cleverly stacked and soldered on top of each other so that it seems that it is just one board. I really like this concept, especially since they can re-purpose the flight controller part on different ESCs.
The flight controller comes flashes with Betafllight 4.2.5 - although not being the latest version, it is at least somewhat up to date, which I appreciate a lot. At least you do not need to re-flash just because you want to run RPM filters. The settings and tune are pretty much Betaflight defaults.
The flight controller is nothing too special, 2 UARTS, no Blackbox. The pads for the peripherals are mostly on the edge of the board, have a decent size and are easily accessible - so no complaints here. In the included manual they mention, that pin resource S5 (PB3) can be used as soft serial - unfortunately this is not set up and I would have really liked to see this set up and attached to SmartAudio - leaving one spare UART for the user.
The ESC is capable of pushing 15A continues or 17A burst and is rated for 2-3S. Unfortunately the ESCs do not come flashes with Bluejay, but BLHeli_S instead. I wish they came with Bluejay and hat RPM filtering enabled, this would have been such a nice touch, without any additional costs. I recommended this to DarwinFPV earlier this year with a previous model I bought from them.
The ESCs have a S-H-50 layout, so the dead-time is not super low, but still on the lower side.
The flight controller is soft mounted with grommets and secured with nylon screws to the bottom plate. This is something I would recommend everyone to change: swap the nylon screws for metal ones - this way they will not break during a crash. Although the stack is not high, and thus the risk of the screws breaking is minimal anyway, I prefer to run metal screws from the get-go.
Unfortunately the USB port died on me. Maybe it needs a bit more clearance to the frame. It seems that some of the contacts got lose, since I could sometimes still connect when holding the cable at a slight angle, but at some point it stopped working completely.
The video transmitter is actually a pretty chunky board. I am surprised that they did not use anything nano size here. But it mounts very nicely to the frame and can be controlled via SmartAudio which is already set up properly. The video transmitter can be switched between 25, 100 and 200mW. Although I have no way of measuring it, the 25mW setting seems to be way lower than specified, at least I can’t go nearly as far on it, as with my other micros on 25mW
The antenna is a linear antenna and is held in place by a 3d printed bracked. The 3D printed bracket also has mounts for RX antennas.
The quadcopter does not come with a receiver, so you will have to run your own. I used a BetaFPV branded ELRS receiver with custom printed antenna mount.
I like the frame - I mean, I should, since it had one of my designs as inspiration. Clark of DarwinFPV saw my design in the Bluejay Discord and asked if he could re-use it, I said sure, go ahead. Although telling him I had a V2 that is much more rigid, he liked the V1 better, made some adjustments on his own, and here we are.
The arms can be changed - which is nice. I told him that this was one of the weaknesses of my V1 design, so it’s really nice that he improved on that.
The frame itself is pretty stiff and sturdy, the carbon has been cut in the correct direction - at least if you can trust the outermost decorative layer.
The camera is an unbranded cam, it has 700TV lines of resolution and is unfortunately not a common form factor - so if you want to swap in a different camera you should go with a Nano sized cam but you will have to add some kind of spacers to both sides of the cam - the slot for the cam is 16mm wide.
I really do not like the camera. Bright areas are completely blown out, transitioning from dark to bright can be quite a challenge, also the FOV is very small.
Out of the box, this is probably the biggest issue with this quad - I wish it had at least a Caddx Ant or some other Nano sized camera.
The manufacturer is listening: Before publishing this review I sent my feedback to DarwinFPV to give them a chance to react. They now offer an upgraded version with a better camera - the Caddx Ant.
Motors & Props
The motors are unbranded 1104 4300KV motors. The bell is completely closed - very unusual design at least in comparison to the motors we have seen over the past few years.
I had an issue with 2 of my motors where the bell would separate after a (rather mild) crash on concrete. In one instance it was not too bad, but in the other instance the whole motor seized up. I had to take the bell off and press the bell back together with a vice. I might just have bad luck…
The included props are Gemfan 3016, but you can run any other 3” prop with 1.5mm hole.
The props are friction fit to the motors, screws are not included, but the props stay on tight, I had no issues with props flying off at all.
The Motors are connected to the FC via race-wire which also has some LEDs on it. I personally don’t really fancy the LEDs on the top of the arms and would either prefer plain race wire or simply normal motor wires.
The recommendation is to use 2S or 3S, 450mAh batteries. At first I thought the KV were a bit low for 2S, but actually it is not too bad. It will not be a super punchy on 2S, but you will have a lot of throttle control making it perfect for larger indoor spots like garages for example.
With both, 2S and 3S 450mAh you can expect a bit over four minutes of flight time, which is actually pretty decent.
The battery is mounted to the frame with a rubber band. Unfortunately the rubber band broke after a couple of packs. I would recommend you get small velcro straps instead. Or use bigger rubber bands that go around the whole frame. There are a couple of rubber bands included though.
As mentioned before, on 2S it’s not an absolute rocket, but definitely fun to fly. Just be aware that it does not cope with wind all too well. The tune is betaflight defaults. I enabled RPM filtering with Bluejay and ran some tuning flights with an external blackbox. Unfortunately I can’t really share my final tune since I can no longer connect to the flight controller as mentioned above.
So - is it worth the $69? It depends: I don’t think it can get any cheaper and still be flyable. Is it a great quadcopter - No. But for this price point I don’t think anyone was expecting this. I would highly recommend you to get the “Pro” version with the Caddx Ant, or buy a Nano sized camera you like if you decide to get one.
I really, really wanted to like the Baby Ape, but with all the problems I had, I can’t recommend it with a clean conscience. Maybe I just have had bad luck with mine, but I don’t want anyone to have half the bad experience I had. Should you get one, be prepared to fix some issues along the way. Thus I would recommend beginners to stay away from this one.
It definitely has potential and I could see that a revision would fix all the issues I had - I honestly hope to see that. I provided my feedback to DarwinFPV and they seemed to understand and assured me to improve on it - so that’s a good start.