Why do we always have to be so serious about everything? Nearly every time I visit the Target or Toys R Us toy aisles, I (for the most part) resist the urge to buy a new Nerf gun, or a small inexpensive drone. I resist because, as much as I love being a kid again, I know the generally overpriced slab of plastic is only going to make me happy for the 10 minutes immediately following opening it, which of course is in the car on the way home and no later. (Side note: this is why you only make those purchases when you’re with someone else, so they can drive and you can get that quick toy fix).
Cell phones, tablets, routers, the latest wireless headphones…they’re all great, but they all have one big thing in common: practicality. Sure, the iPhone X is an expensive gadget, but it’s an expensive gadget that serves some useful purpose in your life. So too will a new whole-home wifi solution, so too will those nice Bose earbuds you picked up on the cheap (no, but seriously, Best Buy has some lovely Black Friday deals coming up). Practicality is the one thing that makes shelling out your hard-earned cash for another slab of plastic and metal ultimately justifiable, or at least partially justifiable.
Where practicality starts to break down, or at least this is what we tell ourselves, is when the thing we want that serves some practical purpose replaces, in part, another thing that serves a practical purpose that does the job in an ever-so-slightly less pleasing way…like getting rid of your 2015 MacBook Pro and upgrading to the new 2017 MacBook Pro. Was it necessary? Certainly not. Was it awesome nonetheless? Of course!
But fear not, this isn’t a review on anything so useful. Instead, this is about a $200 radio controlled car.
All joking aside, hobbyists have been collecting, building, and modding RC vehicles for years…some of my favorites (that I heard about on Youtube that one time) are small gas-powered cars that do 40-60mph and are legitimately wrecked when they crash. That, like an RC plane, is something that I could never get into, for fear of losing so much money so quickly. If you’re like me, then the Redcat Cyclone XB10 might be worth a look to you.
The car itself is a 1:10 scale vehicle, entirely electric, and is rated for speeds in excess of 20MPH. For those doing the math, the full-scale equivalent vehicle would be doing 200+ MPH…and the exhilaration of that speed is definitely something that translates down into the smaller scale. But before we get into performance, a few details about the setup: Unboxing this was very similar to unboxing any new RC toy (or any other toy you get for your kids, where the packaging is more for theft prevention than it is for anything else). The car comes fully assembled with one battery physically installed, although not actually connected to the car’s battery wires, and the controller comes with four AA batteries. Also included is a second NiMh battery that doubles your play time.
The chassis of the car is largely plastic, but does have some impressive adjustable shocks (with springs) on the rear and front wheels. The car is 2-wheel rear driven, the rear wheels equipped with a fair amount of grip for a quick start on most terrain. Both batteries arrived mostly (if not completely) charged, and the plastic chassis is covered with a light plastic shell, held in place with small pins. The act of removing all pins and accessing the battery takes less than a minute.
As far as actual performance is concerned, let’s just say this car is probably best used exclusively outdoors. It was raining when I opened it, so taking it outside wasn’t an option for me—but regardless of how long my kitchen is, I really didn’t get the full experience until I ran this on an open road. A parking lot or cul-de-sac would be a good place to get started.
It. Is. Fast.
Keep in mind, my experience with RC is limited to that of a child’s (remember when there was a wire between the controller and the car?). The controller has an onboard alignment adjustment to which the car’s front wheels are very responsive, and the steering control is reversible (if you’re one of those terrorists who happens to like inverted controls). The range on the 2.4GHz controller is farther than I remember RC controllers ever reaching, still fully controlling the car at 200-300 feet away. Honestly, I ran out of street and couldn’t push the limits much further than that in my own neighborhood…needless to say, range is not an issue for this guy.
“Play time” averaged 10-15 minutes of constant running the battery, racing the car up and down a side street that had a fair amount of leaf-covered and clear surface. Also, thanks to its knobby rear tires, it was particularly good at getting itself unstuck in most cases. And, the all-plastic construction makes for a pretty durable ride, one that I was appreciating just as much as the sloped curbs in my neighborhood that make wonderful ramps. Every now and then it would land on it’s roof, but aside from a handful of scratches it stayed operational in spite of my not-so-skilled maneuvering. And, the buggy form factor made it impressively difficult to flip or roll.
From a performance perspective, I have exactly zero complaints about this thing. It was fun, fast, and took me back to a time when I could just play around. My neighbors looked at me a bit funny, which just added to the fantastic experience. Yet, it’s a $200 toy, one that is entirely non-practical, and for that reason it would be a difficult thing to justify. But before you write it off—think for a moment about drones.
The drone market has expanded rapidly over the last few years, and drones are getting easier and easier to operate and maintain—and simpler to maintain without a bunch of extra expense (like when I crashed my daughter’s drone she got at Christmas last year in the park behind our house and bent one of the motor pins, rendering it useless without repair). And, a decent entry-level drone from a reputable maker is going to be at least $400. So, in that sense, is something that stays on the ground but is still incredibly fun to operate, at half the cost, really that far out of the question?
I’d say no. The price is $200 retail, but you’ll see deals on this at Best Buy come the holidays (it is a Best Buy exclusive product, at least for now). For that, you get a fully usable, ready to go out-of-the-box toy that gives you 30 minutes of “play time” in a single run, thanks to the spare included battery, plus a fast charger that will get you running again in about 90 minutes. The controls are easy, the car is durable and easy to maintain, and in spite of the instructions limiting use to those over the age of 14, my 6 and 8 year old kids both took this for a spin without any harm done.
There are few products that I consider “5-Star” products, but this is definitely one of them. At the $200 price point, but likely less at most times throughout the year due to limited demand for this kind of product, it’s hard to go wrong if you’re looking to have some good old-fashioned childhood fun.