A couple of drones on Amazon have been catching my eye lately, the Holy Stone HS100 (about $250) and HS100G (about $280). It hasn’t been the specifications of these drones that have been grabbing my attention. Rather, it has been the stellar Amazon reviews (4.6 stars) and the number of Amazon reviews (over 1,300) that I have noticed. The question is, “can you trust these reviews?”
Spoiler alert, you should check with us first. Here is a list of our favorite drones, it is updated monthly.
A quick glance at Holy Stone’s products will show that all of their products have 4 or more stars. So what’s the story here? Are the HS100 and other drones from Holy Stone really amazing products, or is something else going on? I’ll take a detailed look at the Holy Stone HS100 to see if I think it deserves 5 stars. I will also take a look at the world of biased and fake Amazon reviews.
If you want to see this drone in action, check out the YouTube video I made. You’ll see that it does fly well, but it also has some important shortcomings.
Who is Holy Stone?
Holy Stone is an Amazon seller that rebrands products made by other manufacturers. Unlike big brands (DJI, Parrot, and Yuneec), Holy Stone doesn’t actually make any products as far as we can tell. Instead, they contract low-cost Chinese manufacturers to provide a custom logo on a drone that already exists. Then Holy Stone puts the drone up on Amazon at a significant markup. We have inside information that indicates the markup on some of their products approaches a price increase of 300% over the manufacturer’s wholesale price. More on that later.
Every single Holy Stone drone has over 4 stars. What’s up with that?
Holy Stone HS100 or SJRC S70W?
The Holy Stone HS100 and HS100G are both rebranded versions of the SJRC S70W. The only places to buy the Holy Stone versions of these drones is on Amazon and on Holy Stone’s website. SJRC (also SJ R/C) is the brand of the original manufacturer. According to my source, the manufacturer is a Chinese factory called Apex.
The Holy Stone HS100G, available from Amazon
While the Holy Stone versions of the S70W on Amazon are currently priced in the range of $250 to $280, the SJRC version can be purchased elsewhere for $107 to $140! Extra markups of about 20% to 50% on Amazon are common because selling on Amazon successfully isn’t cheap. A markup of 130% is another story. If you want the same drone at less than half the price then you need to skip Amazon and check it out on TomTop, click here.
The SJRC S70W that we tested. Does it look familiar?
Great Amazon reviews, terrible drone?
You might think that I am going to totally trash the HS100 as a terrible drone. I’m not going to do that. I have tested 100s of drones, many of which are pretty bad. For the most part, the HS100 (SJRC S70W) does what it is supposed to do. That’s more than can be said for many of the cheap toys you can find on Amazon and elsewhere online.
The Holy Stone HS100 and HS100G are basically the same drones. The newer HS100G has a higher-resolution 1080 camera while the original HS100 records only in 720. These two drones are some of the first popular low-cost drones on the market that have GPS stabilization and other GPS-enabled features.
The Holy Stone HS100/HS100G (SJRC S70W) is a much better drone than the Syma X8 Pro
While I may not trash the HS100, there is a similar model that is truly garbage. The Syma X8 Pro is the same size as the SJRC S70W and has a lot of the same functionality. The SJRC / Holy Stone drones can be flown with good control and pretty good GPS stabilization. In contrast, the Syma X8 is a threat to anyone and anything near it. The Syma’s GPS function seems to be on the fritz at all times, leading to random behavior. It’s a shame that the X8 Pro is so terrible. The original X8 models are some of our favorite products for beginner pilots.
So the Holy Stone drones are not junk, but that doesn’t mean they are worth the price either. Let’s take a closer look.
Forget the Amazon review, here’s the DroneDJ Review
I don’t really trust Amazon reviews anymore. I have been curiously watching this drone and wondering if there was something I was missing. Is it possible that this drone is as good as the reviews suggest? So I was happy when Bangood said they would send us one to test. Let’s see how it performed.
The camera on the S70W / HS100G is far from professional. It is supported on a 1-axis gimbal.
The camera on the S70W is nothing to brag about, but I have seen much worse. I have the 1080 version, and the drone does indeed record onboard 1080 video at 25 frames per second. Somehow this camera avoids the excessive shakiness and jello in its recorded video that is common from inexpensive drones. That doesn’t mean the camera comes anywhere close to the 1080 video you get from drones like the DJI Spark ($399).
The camera on the S70W is wide angle and suffers from massive amounts of distortion. The horizon can be extremely rounded, and that’s not the curvature of the Earth you are seeing. The field of view is also wide enough that you can see the bottoms of the motors in the view of the camera. The color and sharpness of the SJRC can’t compete with the Spark either.
The tilted and distorted view from the SJRC S70W. I know the world is round, but it’s not that round.
The best part of the S70W camera is the remotely-controlled 1-axis gimbal. The gimbal allows the pilot to adjust the camera from a horizontal view angle to looking straight down. The gimbal uses a servo motor and it does nothing to stabilize the footage.
The biggest drawback of this camera is the lack of stabilization. Unlike other 1-axis drones, like the Breeze and Mantis Q from Yuneec, the footage from the S70W will be shakey. The footage follows the motion of the drone, and even the smoothest pilot will be subject to the effects of wind. Even if the camera were top-notch, most pilots would still find the footage a major step down from the stabilized video provided by better drones. Even the $100 Tello has more pleasing electronically-stabilized video.
Another shot from the SJRC S70W. I know I need a tan, but the dynamic range on this camera could clearly be improved.
Features of Amazon’s best-reviewed drone
[pullquote]…the Amazon review for the Bebop is currently at 3.6 stars, one star less than the HS100. Something is not right.[/pullquote]In my testing, two of the three bare-bones GPS features functioned as they should. In Follow-me mode the SJRC S70W stayed with me by tracking the GPS location of my connected phone. Unfortunately, the drone won’t turn to face the pilot. The SJRC maintains its original heading.
The second GPS-enabled feature that sort of works is a map-based trace or tap-fly function. Unlike many second-tier drone apps, the SJRC app actually does pull up a GPS map of my location. I was able to choose the spot on the map where I wanted the drone to fly. Unlike a typical waypoints mode, I could only select one location to fly to. Once I told it to go, the S70W beelined for its destination at max speed.
I found these GPS functions to work, but to be pretty much useless. The most useless function was return-to-home. Pushing the in-app return-to-home button or the button on the remote produces the same result for me – the remote beeps and the drone stays put.
Is the Amazon review correct?
The Holy Stone HS100/HS100G could be much worse. That said, it can’t stand up to other similarly-priced drones. Today you can buy a Parrot Bebop 2 ($299) for only about $20 more than the HS100G. Parrot is a French drone manufacturer that has been one of the top 3 or 4 consumer brands for years. The Bebop produces stabilized video, has a range that is about 10 times that of the HS100, and has about double the flight time. The comparison isn’t even close. After all that, the Amazon review for the Bebop is currently at 3.6 stars, one star less than the HS100. Something is not right.
The Bebop 2 (right) is a far superior drone and costs only $20 more on Amazon at the time this article was published.
Some of my favorite low-cost drones can’t get nearly as many reviews on Amazon as the HS100 or maintain a rating over 4 stars. These are drones that I also know to be far more popular in Facebook groups and among other YouTube reviewers. Make sure you first check out the DroneDJ list of best drones. It is updated monthly and we have tested every drone on the list.
Spotting fake Amazon reviews
Luckily, there are two websites that can help. Fakespot and Review Meta are two websites that review Amazon reviews. Below are the ratings from Fakespot for the six different listings of the HS100 on Amazon.
Yikes. That is a lot of failing grades for the Amazon review of the Holy Stone HS100 and other similar listings.
You can see that only two of the listings have a grade above an ‘F’. One of those with a ‘B’ rating is the only listing that rates the HS100 below 4 stars. In other words, it is the only listing that has honest reviews, and it is not a Holy Stone listing. The second listing with a grade of ‘B’ is the original listing from Holy Stone and it has more than 1300 reviews. What gives? I personally believe that somehow Holy Stone is able to game the system beyond what even Faskespot can detect. A DroneDJ source confirms that Holy Stone uses “black hat” techniques to game the system.
Among other tricks, Holy Stone is likely getting 100s of reviews from people who were provided product in exchange for a promise of a good review. These reviews pass the test as original reviews, but not the test of being unbiased reviews. I also think Holy Stone must be doing something to appease unhappy customers in exchange for not providing a negative review. It’s just too good to be true. Just 6% of reviews of the HS100 have 1, 2, or 3-star rating. That’s unheard of for drones. Unheard of unless you are looking at a Holy Stone drone.
Just one of the products that I was asked to review.
I get solicited for Amazon product reviews all the time. Sellers on Amazon are always eager to provide me with free product in exchange for a favorable review. This practice is against Amazon policy, so I turn away countless iPhone cables, action cameras, and the occasional adult stimulation product. That’s not a joke.
Should you buy the best-reviewed drone on Amazon?
The HS100 and HS100G from Holy Stone are two of the best-rated drones on Amazon. As we have pointed out, these reviews can’t really be trusted. Furthermore, the lower-rated Bebop 2 is a much better drone according to the specs, my testing, and thousands of enthusiasts.
The SJRC S70W from TomTop is a whole other story. It is the same drone as the HS100 but at almost a 60% discount from the Amazon price. At about $120, you would be hard-pressed to find a better GPS camera drone. The features are far less buggy than much of the competition and it flies pretty well. Our insider tells us that the wholesale price of the S70W is about $70-80. At $107 to $140, you are doing pretty well, especially with free shipping! Click here to order the SJRC S70W from TomTop.
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