Spektrum iX12 Review

January 29, 2018 19:16 | By | Add a Comment

The Spektrum iX12 combines the RF backend of the DX9 with an Android-powered user interface. Will it revolutionize RC radios?
Spoiler: No.

It’s perhaps the most ridiculous, underpowered, unfinished and overpriced products Spektrum has released to date. Read on for a detailed breakdown.

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Sometimes a product comes along and changes the world forever. Something radically different, or fundamentally better than anything out there. As I’m typing these lines, I’m anxiously looking at the clock to see when the post office opens. Not because I’m awaiting a parcel but to return it, for you see, this is no such world changing product.

Far from it.

But let’s start on the outside. This is a slightly modified DX9 case with some nice improvements, like the ability to change springs and ratchets from the front panel, without the need to open this transmitter. The gimbals feel solid as ever, though they are sadly still resistive and not hall based. But that’s the least of this transmitters problems.

The transmitter body feels sturdy and grippy. The rubber pads at the back are glued on with some doublesided adhesive tape that has an intense chemical stench to it. They also came detached when the transmitter arrived. But again, no big problem. The problems start as soon as the TX is turned on for the first time: The boot time is enormous, and we are greeted with a shocking sight:

Android 5, baby!

 

It’s been a while since I’ve seen this kind of app drawer…

This is Android 5. As in, about the same version of Android running on the Hubsan H7000 that came out in 2015. And back then, this was already old software. Of course it could be that Spektrum did their homework and streamlined this to work really well on this dedicated RC transmitter.

Unfortunately, no. It’s not just the load times of, well, everything. Apps constantly close and running even small tasks in the background make the main RC app shut down to conserve RAM. How much is there anyway? Let’s see…

1 Gigabyte, of which the RC app uses a large portion of. Running chrome? Sure, but you’ll wait almost a minute for the RC app to load again should you want to do anything other than moving your control sticks. No voice outputs, no warnings, nothing. Timers stop, mode switches are no longer announced. This is, quite frankly, unacceptable.
Now you may be tempted to say, wait a minute, this is an RC transmitter, you’re not supposed to browse the web while flying. This may be true, but the same applies to running apps like spotify. And this is specifically mentioned on the website as something you can do while flying. While technically true, they should add a little asterisk and a disclaimer that reads: “Provided you don’t need to do anything other than basic control inputs”.

What’s in that box anyway? The google play updates included something that didn’t make me particularly hopeful:

Have you ever had to play with a chinese OEM tablet? You know, those weak, slow 50 dollar tablets? Especially ones based on the Allwinner OEM designs always came with chinese input installed by default, no way to remove it. The same is here true. Perhaps in an attempt to make the CPU look better than it is, Spektrum chose to obscure the processor make on the system settings page.

QuadCore-A33 sure sounds better than “Allwinner-A33”. Which is what’s really in there:

Now, running Android comes with benefits of course, like being able to use all kinds of images, load up PDF files, and more. Spektrum have included the manual (well, not really, it’s downloaded on first use) and formatted it to fit the screen:

The RC application itself is functional if very basic. This transmitter is definitely not finished yet. At least importing the models from the DX9 worked fine – but only after a reboot with the SD card in the transmitter.

Do you have many models to fly? The iX12 is not exactly your best choice then, because for reasons, switching models takes an insane amount of time. Sometimes it’s done within 20 seconds, sometimes it takes almost a whole minute. For switching from one model to the other. Really.

Everything on this transmitter is slow. And I mean everything. Want to enter a menu? There’s up to a second of pause. Did the RC app close down on you (which it sometimes does in the middle of idling)? It can take between 30 seconds and 1 minute to start up again. It’s the combination of a terrible CPU and way too little RAM that makes this concept fall apart at the seams.

Sure, an RC transmitter doesn’t need to be a powerhouse. But it should be fast enough. I certainly can’t speak for everyone, but I don’t have time to wait a whole minute to switch to another model. Or have the main screen go dark on me and drop me to the main screen, losing all telemetry, timers, and voice prompts I had set up. Even worse, the rcgroups forums are filling up with problem reports: Model data loss, reboots, and even reboot loops (!). The long boot time can be somewhat mitigated by putting the transmitter into sleep mode (via a double-press of the power button and a screen confirmation), but users report batteries draining even in sleep mode.

To add insult to injury, Spektrum silently dropped support for DSM2 on European models of the iX12. Why? Because, as I’ve maintained for years, DSM2 is not legal to transmit at 100mW within the EU because it violates ETSI EN 300 328 V1.8.1 and therefore would have to operate at 10mW. Spektrum tried to argue that they “listen” on all channels in a hopping sequence, but the regulations are crystal clear that this is about transmitting: If you don’t hop a certain amount of times per second, thus spreading your spectrum instead of hogging one or two channels (like DSM2), you must only transmit with 10mW. So the iX12 is a DSMX only radio in the EU, and a DSM2+DSMX radio in the US.

This is a 600 Euro radio that does not even have enough power to run the usual ground control software for pixhawk without closing your main RC control app. Sure, the actual radio is separate from the pathetically weak android tablet, but you are really reduced to the core flight controls. Telemetry, battery or timer warnings will go silent at the most inopportune times. The software is barebones and unstable, the OS is ancient and all performance issues aside, is actually the biggest problem: Android 5 won’t be supported by app developers forever. In fact, many new apps already require Android 6 or higher and simply won’t run on this transmitter. And with this CPU and RAM combination, an Android upgrade will most likely not happen, ever. The Spektrum software does a decent job of hiding the true uglyness for a while via a cleanly designed UI, but it simply can’t hide the fact that this is the cheapest chinese OEM android tablet built into a DX9 case.

 

Bottom line: This is not a good radio. Not for 300 dollars, and certainly not for 600 dollars. And that is putting it mildly. I don’t normally tell people what to buy and what not to buy. But in this case I can really only recommend to stay away as far as possible, and if you have a preorder waiting that hasn’t shipped yet, I’d cancel it while you still can. This radio doesn’t need a software update, it needs a complete rethink and replacement of both the software and the hardware.

 

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