Category Archives: Reviews

DJI Spark Review: An amazing, low-cost drone (90% of the time)

Looking for a good-quality camera drone that costs less than $500? Without a question, it’s the DJI Spark.

But hold on. Is it a perfect drone? No. But is it the first major step in an extraordinary era of ultra-smart sensors in drones? Absolutely.

The $499 Spark was announced in May 2017 as DJI’s smallest drone to-date — addressing concerns (much like the Mavic), that drones like the Phantom and from non-DJI competitors are just too cumbersome to tote around.

See related: DJI Mavic vs. Spark — which is better?

The Spark is notable for two reasons: 1. It’s incredibly small — (it’s small enough to fit in a large coat pocket) and 2. It’s operated primarily via gesture control, meaning a sensor can recognize hand and body patterns, and fly in sync with your movements.

And then for the bad news (as we get to the not perfect aspect of the DJI Spark): that gesture control. The drone’s sensors are supposed to detect its user’s body movements such as raising and lowering your hands or waving them, as pictured in the video above. It then can interpret those gestures to follow commands such as flying up and down, or taking a picture. Continue reading DJI Spark Review: An amazing, low-cost drone (90% of the time)

DJI Mavic Pro vs. Spark: which is better?

The new DJI Spark is the drone maker’s first step into lower cost, strictly consumer-targeted drones.

See also: my complete review of the DJI Spark

With the new DJI Spark, DJI fans will be able to purchase their first drone priced at an initially cost of less than $500. There’s only one other sub-$500 DJI drone out there on the market right now; currently users can also buy the DJI Phantom 3 Standard for about $500, though it was initially priced closer to $1,000.

But it seems the debate is: which is better? The DJI Mavic Pro? Or the DJI Spark? Here are the specs:

 DJI MavicDJI Spark
Takeoff Weight1.62 pounds0.66 pounds
Max Speed40 mph31 mph in Sport Mode
Max Flight Time27 minutes16 minutes
Diagonal Distance13.26.7 inches
Cost of extra battery$89$49
ControllerRC controller or smartphoneRC controller, smartphone or gesture control
Sensor1/2.3” (CMOS), Effective pixels:12.35 M (Total pixels:12.71M)1/2.3" CMOS
Effective pixels: 12 MP
ISO RangeVideo: 100-3200
Photo: 100-1600
Video: 100-3200
Photo: 100-1600
Image Size4000×30003968×2976
Video ResolutionC4K: 4096×2160 24p FHD: 1920×1080 30p

There are some obvious differences between the two, like size. The Mavic was revolutionary for its ability to fold up to the size of a soda can — making it much more convenient than something like the Phantom to tote around. But the Spark is even smaller.

And with the smaller size, it also means the Spark is a lot quieter, and a lot less annoying.

Here are some other differences: Continue reading DJI Mavic Pro vs. Spark: which is better?

Flybrix review: using Legos to build a drone

Yes, it is possible to fly a bunch of Legos through the air. Are Legos the most optimal, aerodynamic material? Definitely not. But they sure are fun — and an awesome learning tool.

San Francisco startup Flybrix developed a kit consisting of Legos, a preprogrammed board, propellers and motors for kids and kids-at-heart to build their own drones. The kits start at $189.

It’s intended to be a tool to teach its users a variety of skills, from the principles of flight to computer science to the basics of electrical engineering.  It’s an awesome tool for the classroom, for kids and their parents, or just for any drone user looking for a fun weekend project.

Flybrix: what’s in the box

Continue reading Flybrix review: using Legos to build a drone

PowerVision’s new PowerRay is an underwater drone

In PowerVision’s world, UAV can stand for unmanned aerial vehicle — and unmanned aquatic vehicle.

Chinese drone manufacturer PowerVision announced the new PowerRay drone — a drone that works underwater rather than in the sky. Much like how photographers use drones to get a new aerial perspective, this drone could be a game changer in underwater exploration.

Photographers might want to use it to photograph underwater worlds. Scientists might use it to conduct research in real-time, without having to go underwater themselves. Fishermen might use it to detect where fish are.

The drone, which starts at $1,488 operates very much like most consumer-level drones you’ll see on the market today. The whole thing is controlled with an RC controller. Much like how the left stick controls altitude on an aerial drone, the left stick controls the depth of the drone in the water. The right stick controls the direction that the drone swims. A mobile app allows you to livestream what the drone sees directly through your smartphone or tablet. The app also allows users to adjust camera settings. Continue reading PowerVision’s new PowerRay is an underwater drone

Star Wars drone review: Propel’s collectible $200 battle drones

For those of you Star Wars nerds out there, there’s a drone for you too.

Propel’s new line of Star Wars battle drones are essentially a basic 4-ounce toy drone that is operated via remote controller — but there’s a whole lot more to it than justthat. These highly-deta iled, hand-painted (and very pricey) drones are a perfect gift for the Star Wars fan in your life, and an incredible keepsake item for the collectors in your life.

The drones cost $199 each and come in three different designs, the 74-Z Speeder Bike, the T-65 X-Wing Starfighter and the Tie Advanced X1.

propel star wars drone battleStar Wars drone review: The packaging

I had so much fun simply opening my drone from its box, which was the Tie Advanced X1. Each drone arrives in a wax-sealed box that, much to my surprise, actually plays Star Wars music and lights up when it’s opened. It’s mounted on a fancy stand inside a clear plastic case, for display in my home, rather than packed in a closet (which unfortunately most of my drones are!). Continue reading Star Wars drone review: Propel’s collectible $200 battle drones

Why are all of these enterprise drone packages terrible deals?

Bebop dronemaker Parrot this week announced a modeling bundle, targeted at professional real estate and building professionals.

The $1,099 Bebop-Pro 3D Modeling bundle claims to be “a high-performance tool to develop innovative marketing content like commercial videos and 3D interactive models, or to capture measurements for cost estimates or 3D model printing,” according to a news release. The product will be made available in May 2017.

Essentially, it’s a Parrot Bebop 2 with Skycontroller that also comes with a Pix4D license, some spare batteries and a backpack.

Here is the thing: the package doesn’t actually save you that much money. For $1,099, you would get:

Do the math, and the whole setup minus backpack costs $1,090 if purchased separately. Basically, this deal is netting you a free backpack. Nothing against free backpacks, but that’s essentially what this whole new product offering is. Continue reading Why are all of these enterprise drone packages terrible deals?

This might be the tiniest camera drone you can buy

Scroll to the bottom of this post for a 10% off special offer!

Looking for an ultra-miniature FPV drone?

The Skeye Nano 2 FPV drone, made by TRND Labs, weighs about a half an ounce and is just slightly larger than a paperclip. It’s fun to fly, but the neatest thing about it is that it also records video and live streams  it via Wifi to your phone so you can get a first person view of what the drone’s camera is seeing.

At $129, the Skeye Nano 2 FPV is an awesome solution for someone who wants a super tiny drone that shoots video but won’t burn a hole in your wallet.skeye nano 2 fpv review

Inside the box:

  • A charger (which charges through your computer; battery life is about 10 minutes)
  • The controller (which requires AAA batteries, not included)
  • A set of replacement blades
  • A crash cage (definitely use this to protect your blades!)

Continue reading This might be the tiniest camera drone you can buy

Parrot Disco review: incredible technology — if you can figure out a reason to use it

While most drone manufacturers are focusing on making compact quadcopter drones, Parrot is taking a completely different approach.

Parrot, known for making one of the first ready to fly drones back in 2011 with the AR.drone and most recently the light, foam Bebop drones, has now created a ready-to-fly fixed-wing drone — the Disco.

The $889 Parrot Disco (price reduced from $1,299) is an autonomous fixed-wing plane. It flies just like a plane — moving forward at all times. (That’s in contrast to most drones you would think of which are multicopters — typically four propellers that allow the drone to hover and move in all directions).

It can land and take off, maintain altitude and stick to a flight path autonomously. It can fly for up to 45 minutes at a time at 50 miles per hour — and sometimes even longer if you are flying with the wind. Flying into the wind? It can resist windspeed of 24 mph. It has a 1080p camera with 3-axis digital stabilization to get smoother video.

Parrot recommends that you have at least two football fields of space to safely operate the drone.

And that leads me to my big question with the Parrot Disco. Why would you use it?

parrot disco flying
Four baseball fields = too many potential lamp posts in the way of my flight path.

You need A LOT of open space to fly this drone. I flew it over a series of four baseball fields. Even still, my drone crashed when I turned it and it hit a huge stadium light.

It’s a fixed wing drone. So, unlike a multicopter, it can’t hover, rise straight up, or navigate into tight spaces.

We’ll get back to that later. For now — let me tell you everything that this drone is about.

Parrot Disco Flight Control

Flying the Disco is certainly an interesting experience. You press the takeoff land to get the motor started, and then you throw it like a baseball into the air. However, the throwing took a couple of tries to nail down. The first time, I threw it way too low and the drone basically took a nosedive right into the dirt. (Protip: aim high!)

Once in the air, the drone climbs up to altitude (164 feet) on its own. The sensor technology here is super impressive.

When the Disco is in the air, the drone flies in “Loiter mode” — basically a 196-foot diameter where it flies in circles until the pilot overrides that by moving the joysticks. (Both the diameter and altitude can be adjusted on the Parrot Freeflight app).parrot disco drone girl

This makes it pretty easy to control once you get the hang of it — and it’s quite fun to fly! Something about flying a plane vs. a multicopter has this exhilarating feeling.

The one major issue about flying the thing is you need open space — a lot of open space. You can’t make sharp turns, so if you are flying into a patch of trees and don’t realize it soon enough to turn (the Disco makes fairly wide turns) well…

Parrot Disco design 

The structural design of the Parrot Disco is truly incredible.  At less than 1.5 pounds, it’s super lightweight.  It is made from EPP (expanded Polypropylene) which feels like foam and and is reinforced with carbon tubes. The wings pop on and off super easily. That’s excellent for if (okay, when!) your drone crashes. Rather than the wing breaking, it more than likely will easily pop right off — which means that when you’re ready to fly again, you can pop it back in. This was very brilliant design, and something I hope more drone manufacturers will incorporate to eliminate damaging the drone during crashes.

It’s also ideal to have easily removable wings for storage.  While the Parrot Disco wingspan is nearly four feet (45 inches), the whole thing can be compacted into a much smaller box for storage.

parrot disco wingspan
Wingspan! Almost as tall as me.

Parrot Disco Skycontroller 2

The controller for the Parrot Disco is an update on its former Skycontroller — this time called the Skycontroller 2. The controller allows you to connect to your smartphone with the FreeFlight Pro app, so you can see what the drone’s camera sees in real-time. The Skycontroller 2 range is slightly more than a mile, according to Parrot.

Just like most  multicopter RC transmitters, the Disco controller has two joysticks — though for multicopter users, they’ll have to get used to the joysticks controlling different flight patterns! The controller also has features like geofencing (this is software that puts a virtual fence in the air) — useful for making sure your drone doesn’t travel too far away.

parrot disco takeoff controller
A neck strap for the controller could have come in handy here.

Parrot Disco Camera

The Disco has a 14 megapixel, HD camera and 32GB of memory. It’s pretty high quality. Check out my YouTube video to see what the video actually comes out looking like.
Because of the aforementioned turning radius and need for open space though, you’re going to need to be flying fairly high — over treetops/light posts/other obstructions to fly this, unless you have very precise piloting skills. That means you’re going to get soaring, wide shots from your drone. They are cool, but they also get old.
With my multicopters, I’m able to get incredibly precise, tight shots: flying underneath the pier and panning up over the waves, hovering over a uniquely designed fountain and then flying straight up, or following me as I bike along a windy trail. You won’t get any of these shots with the Parrot, which makes me wonder what sort of use case a photographer would have for this drone.
I do like that the videos appear instantly in the app on my phone, which means I can upload them instantly to my social networks or text them to friends without having to mess around with uploading the contents of an SD card to my computer.
Parrot Disco FPV headset
The Parrot Disco drone also comes with a FPV headset, dubbed as “Cockpitglasses”. I love that they also work with the Bebop 2 if you have one!  The FPV headset allows you to see what the Disco sees, following the Disco’s flight path with a display of radar and telemetric data. I never used these myself because I wanted to be able to see the drone in my line of sight while controlling it. But, if you had a third person beyond yourself and your spotter, it would be fun for them to be able to wear them and be a part of the drone flight!
Parrot Disco Review: final thoughts
From an engineering standpoint, this is one of the finest pieces of technology I’ve ever reviewed.
The app works wonderfully, and it’s a very cool experience to pilot an unmanned airplane.
However, for $889, I cannot understand why someone would buy this, unless they lived on a huge parcel of flat, open land and had a good chunk of disposal income.parrot disco
Flying the drone takes a lot of effort — it’s not something you can zip around your backyard (unless it’s huge). Parrot’s press announcement for this product was at a golf course in Palm Springs — and it makes sense. You are going to need a lot of wide open space. Even a light pole in a baseball stadium could be enough of an obstacle to crash your drone. So if you live in the desert this could be great — otherwise it will be difficult to find a place to fly.
The video possibilities are certainly cool, but they won’t provide the versatility of shots if your primarily purpose for getting a drone is photography.
And while the drone is relatively easy to fly once you get the hang of it — it is still significantly harder to fly than a multicopter. This drone really is for someone who loves to fly (and not just take pictures).parrot disco review
But at that point, I would rather just have a traditional RC plane, which you can buy for a lot cheaper than $889. (Most good quality, FPV RC planes range in price from $100 to $300).
While I had so much fun flying this drone for review, I’m not sure what type of customer I would recommend this for purchase.
If you have one (or want one!) let me know why in the comments. In the meantime, happy flying!