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PowerUp 3.0 – smartphone controlled paper airplane gets a pilot upgrade [Review]

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You can stick a bit of tech just about anywhere you can imagine. Kitchen? Check. Bathroom? Check. Car? Double check. The list goes on. But for sheer innovative thinking, it takes some gumption to come up with the idea of combining a smartphone with a paper airplane. But the makers of PowerUp don’t think it’s a big deal.

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The PowerUp 3.0 kit is an upgrade to the original product from the company, which let you attach an electric motor and propeller kit to a plain vanilla paper airplane to get a longer, more satisfying flight time. The new version adds wireless smartphone control, which means theoretically much more piloting FUN. We put it to the test to see if this was true.

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First impressions
The product comes in a neat little package, which features the prop unit sitting on top and inside a set of accessories to make your life easier. The whole thing is nicely put together, which is a nice touch from a relatively simple toy affair. As well as a spare prop, you get a very nicely done user guide, plus a number of templates you can use to help build your paper plane. Nice. Check out our video below to see how we fared as paper pilots [hint: not great!]

In use
We followed the instructions to build the simple plane, and once we’d done that properly (they recommend testing the plane without the motor in it first, which is very sensible advice) we moved on to download the app onto the phone, and charged up the motor unit itself. Once done, you pair the phone and the motor via Bluetooth and you’re set to go.

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It’s not easy to fly. There, just a bit of warning. The front is very heavy because of the wireless module electronics, which means that it’s very tricky to set up the balance of even the simplest plane properly. Maybe we were also hampered by the fact that we were flying outside, but it’s kind of mandatory unless you live in a mansion house with a huge hall for a living room.

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Don’t get us wrong, with a lot of practice we can see this being a really fun toy to play with, but the learning curve is at least as great as with quadcopters, perhaps more since you don’t have GPS stabilization to rely on. But that said, we loved the app a lot. It has all the information you need on-screen, plus a really easy to use functionality, just point the phone up or down or side to side to steer. Great stuff.

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The problem as we said lies in coordinating the phone and the paper plane balance to keep thing aloft for a decent time. The expert videos on the manufacturers site demonstrate how to do it properly. Our video demonstrates how a newbie will manage first off. You decide.

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The other nice thing about the product is the support. There are a number of paper plane templates available on the website, and even a plane stand you can build out of paper, and tons of videos and flight guides to help you get the most out of your plaything. It’s good stuff if you’re the patient type.

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Conclusion
The PowerUp 3.0 smartphone controlled paper plane kit is really well designed and built, and we can see it giving a huge pay-back to those dedicated enough to devote time to learning how to build and fly their craft properly. If you’re at all impatient, however, you’ll likely shove the product into the nearest cupboard after a few hours of frustrating fly and crash sessions, and start looking again at low cost quadcopters as an alternative. But you’re probably missing out. Where else can you build your own design of aircraft and get to see if fly in an instant?

Price: $49.99 / £34.99

Nigel is the managing editor of the Red Ferret, as well as a freelance columnist for the Sunday Times newspaper in London. Loves tech and fancies himself as a bit of a futurist, but then don’t we all?

Nigel – who has written posts on The Red Ferret Journal.


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