In an era where everyone is trying to be the next hot drone maker, many companies it seems are falling into the trap of a “cool, distinguishing” feature that turns out to be a marketing gimmick and nothing more. Ghost Drone 2.0 VR is no exception.
I was initially really excited about the Ghost Drone 2.0 VR given the hype around its maker, Ehang. (You may recall them wowing audiences at CES 2016 with a human-sized drone).
The $899 Ghost Drone 2.0 calls itself the easiest-to-fly drone in the world, requiring only an Android or iOS device to fly, and comes with a set of VR goggles.
GhostDrone 2.0 Setup
Setup was extremely easy. All I had to do was screw on the self-tightening propellers. I also had to do a software update on the drone, which could not have been easier. No cords or plugging anything into a computer involved! I had to simply log onto the app and everything was done wirelessly. Easy! Time to go flying.
GhostDrone 2.0 Flying
Flying is where things went downhill. I live and work in downtown San Francisco, so I typically fly in smaller parks that are sprinkled throughout the city. I chose one near my office, which is a block long and surrounded by buildings on all sides. I’ve had no problem flying other drones there in the past — very few people are around that area on weekends which is ideal for testing new drones.
I did wonder how the GPS would handle being around all buildings, but thought I would give it a try.
I turned on the app, which is used to control the drone and the app told me it had connected to GPS. Then, since there are no RC transmitter “sticks,” you simply press a button titled “takeoff.” You set the altitude you want the drone to take off to, so I chose the lowest setting. It took off — and then immediately started flying to the right. I hit a button on the app that said, land, but the app did not respond and instead the drone kept flying. It ended up going so far to right that it crashed into a wall. Yikes!
This goes against my fundamental rule when teaching beginners on an RC transmitter. If you’re flying and feel like you’re losing control (or just nervous), drop the sticks and let the drone fall to the ground. It’s always better that you break the drone than fly into something like the White House or worse, a person. I tried to drop the drone to the ground, but with a third party device (in this case my iPhone) being unresponsive, there was nothing I could do but watch it crash.
I tried flying again and successfully took off, but this time it starts flying to the left — into a tree at the park. Crash number two! Yikes. Suffice it to say, that was the end of that flight.
I did contact a representative from Ehang who was very friendly and explained the situation. He agreed with my hunch — the drone had problems because there were buildings nearby and he suggested I head to a park with buildings more than a block away.
Suffice it to say, he was right. It worked after I moved to a very wide open area. But suffice to say, my trust has been broken, and I’ll explain while later.
GhostDrone 2.0 VR Goggles and Controller
The drone is controlled via the phone. Tilt forward to send it forward, left to send it left, and so forth.
This is nice — it saves on costs because the company doesn’t have to manufacture and RC transmitter, and you don’t need to carry an RC transmitter.
But, unless you are very skilled, it’s hard to maneuver the drone in tight places, like between trees, which is something I enjoy doing with a traditional drone controlled by an RC transmitter.
You can also put on the VR goggles (you may know them as FPV) to see what the drone sees.
There are pros and cons to this. I’ll start with the pros.
Pro: The VR goggles actually control the camera angle. You can control the drone’s on-board camera with head movements and thus see what the drone sees in real-time. This is a neat feature. Competitors DJI and Autel offer a FPV view by putting a drone’s eye view on your smartphone app, which plugs into the RC transmitter. Another competitor, Yuneec, has a FPV camera built directly into the RC transmitter. But on none of these can you control the camera angle as easily as you can via simply turning the camera with your head, the way GhostDrone does it.
Con: The major con is that you need to be able to still control the drone. FPV pilots keep both hands on the sticks at all times while controlling the drone. With the Ghost Drone, unless you know precisely wear all the buttons are on your smartphone (which I’m guessing you don’t), you won’t be able to control them, because you can’t rely on feeling to find them, assuming your smartphone is a touchscreen. Thus, I wasn’t able to use the VR goggles myself while flying, because I felt it necessary to be watching my smartphone controller at all times. You can hand the VR goggles to a friend, but that’s really it.
GhostDrone 2.0 Verdict?
The primary reason why I’m inclined to say “skip” to the Ghost Drone is my first experience of the drone crashing.
My two key metrics for reviewing drones is 1. safety and 2. ease of use, both of which I felt these did not have. I couldn’t take over control and drop the drone when I felt it losing control. Luckily I flew in an enclosed park with no one else there, but I could easily have hit a person and not a pole. Also, needing to fly that far away from buildings is unrealistic. What if I wanted to do a roof inspection of my garage? This is not the drone to do that.
Finally, having to control the drone via a smartphone was really not ideal. Having a camera drone to me means getting those great shots that are too high to get from a ground camera, but low enough that you couldn’t get from a helicopter. That means flying through trees, flying, in tight circles around sculptures or under tunnels.
For a drone that touts itself as something easy to fly for photographers, you won’t easily get any sort of truly excellent shots, especially given the price tag.
It seems to me like the Ehang Ghost Drone is a toy with “cool party trick” gimmicks. The goggles aren’t really that useful since you can’t safely control the smartphone while wearing the goggles. And the cost -aving feature of removing an RC transmitter to me doesn’t seem worth still paying a price tag above the base Autel, DJI and Yuneec products that also offer 4K video, while giving precise flight via a real RC transmitter.
While I appreciate Ehang’s innovation by offering VR goggles (something the aforementioned competitors don’t offer), the GhostDrone lacks in execution.
It’s time drone makers offer new and innovative features that truly make the flying experience better. With this drone, the unique features are gimmicky and make the flying experience worse.