Category Archives: Reviews

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!

DJI Mavic Pro review: everything a perfect drone should be

I must make a confession: I don’t fly drones nearly as often as someone nicknamed “The Drone Girl” should. Here’s the reason why: they are just too obtrusive to incorporate into daily life.

Want to take it on vacation? That’s an extra suitcase you’ll have to pack.

Want to go backpacking? You’re not going to want an entirely separate backpack to haul your drone as you’re scaling Half Dome.

Want a drone to follow you during your long walks on the beach? A massive drone carrying case is going to make it significantly less romantic.

Finally, the $999 DJI Mavic Pro is the perfect solution. It’s everything a drone should be. It’s high quality aerial video, in a small package that will have you wanting to bring it everywhere you go. Continue reading DJI Mavic Pro review: everything a perfect drone should be

Want a drone for Christmas? These drones cost under $200

** WIN THIS DRONE! Scroll down to the bottom of this post for details on how to enter.**

Looking for a drone for Christmas and looking to spend between $100 and $200? The drones on the market this year are better than ever — and they keep getting cheaper.

If you can’t have the new Phantom 4 Pro, and even want something cheaper than the $450 Phantom 3 Standard, there are great options out there that still shoot video!

UDI RC has a solid lineup of drones that let you see what the drone sees through your smartphone or tablet while recording video. I tested out the UDI Blue Jay and the WiFi FPV drone with VR headset, and here’s how they stack up:udi rc blue jay
U45 Blue Jay WiFi FPV drone

The Blue Jay drone costs $129.99 and is incredibly light and easy to fly. You charge the drone’s battery via USB, insert your own AA batteries into the controller, and download the UDI app for smartphone. You also have to screw on the legs and propeller guards, but it’s very minimal assembly.

The drone has an altitude hold function, which makes it very easy to fly at first try (and gather some decent footage). There’s also a takeoff and landing button, so the drone will automatically hover at a preset altitude after you press the takeoff button.

As far as video quality, the Blue Jay captures 720p high definition photos and videos with a 2MP camera. While it IS “high definition” (this is a criteria many people have when asking me for drone recommendations), keep in mind it is often the megapixels that matter. I’ll let you be the judge — check out my YouTube video! — on whether that is sufficient quality. For context, the significantly more expensive, $450 Phantom 3 Standard shoots 12 megapixel video.

The smartphone app lets you see what your drone sees.
The smartphone app lets you see what your drone sees.

The video records to your phone and a micro SD card, which comes with the drone.

It also can do flips, which is a pretty fun party trick. The drone’s battery life is only about 8 minutes so hopefully your party doesn’t last too long — but the really great thing is it comes with 2 batteries (nice touch!) and a portable USB charging bank, so technically you have more flight time than just the 8 minutes.

I absolutely loved playing with the Blue Jay, and for $129 it’s a perfect gift for someone getting into drones!udi rc discovery fpv

U818A Wifi FPV Drone 

The U818A Wifi FPV drone is the slightly more advanced version of the Blue Jay.

In many ways, it is quite similar. It has all the features I love about the Blue Jay, including the altitude hold, FPV view through the smartphone app, and an extra battery and power bank.

It also shoots the same video quality — 720p high definition photos and videos with a 2MP camera.

You don’t have to screw on any prop guards or legs with this one — the drone already comes with them built in. Other than that, both drones really fly the same.

This drone comes with VR goggles!
This drone comes with VR goggles!

The main difference with this drone is that it comes with a VR headset, so you can fly like you have FPV goggles on — like the drone racers do.

It was pretty nifty, and a cool experience for people who wouldn’t have the opportunity to try the “real deal” that drone racers use such as Fatshark goggles. However, I felt like the VR headset was cheap — it’s basically goggles with a mount for your iPhone — and thus a little difficult to see clearly and use. I gave up pretty quickly and reverted to flying line of sight with the drone, while referencing my smartphone to occasionally see what the drone’s camera sees.

fpv headset
Insert your smartphone in the mount of the VR goggles to fly with a first person view.

Both drones have the ability to fly in headless mode (basically a flight mode where you don’t have to worry about which way the drone is facing in order to maneuver the direction of it). While I don’t condone headless mode as a means of learning how to be a better drone operator, it is very handy to shoot selfie videos — I used it myself when shooting this YouTube video.udi rc blue jay

The verdict?

The main difference between the two drones is the VR Headset. If you have an interest in getting into FPV drone racing, it would be worth paying the extra $30 for the U818 and getting the more expensive drone with goggles. However, if you are looking for a cool party trick and some basic aerial images, I would save the $30 and get the Blue Jay, since the FPV goggles felt cheap.

But on that note, this drone is low cost, but an incredible value for what you get. The FPV goggles were the only item that felt a little cheap, and the rest of the drone was truly fantastic for just about $150.

The main factor to consider when investing in one of these two drones is they won’t be of the video quality you can expect to get from a significantly more expensive drone — hence why they are so much more expensive! But as far as the experience of drone flying goes, both of the UDI drones were incredible easy to setup, use, light, portable and fun. Happy flying!

*CONTEST TIME!*

UDI has partnered up with me to do a FREE DRONE GIVEAWAY! To win one of these two drones, simply subscribe to my YouTube channel and comment on my UDI Video with your favorite place to fly a drone. You must have set your YouTube settings to allow users to contact you via YouTube. I will randomly select the winner on Friday, 12/2 at 9 a.m. PT. The winner will have 72 hours to respond before another winner is contacted.

 

 

Brother AiRScouter headset combines FPV and VLOS for drones

For those situations where drone pilots need a ‘FPV’ first person view  (that means seeing what the drone’s camera sees) while maintaining visual line of sight (VLOS) with a drone , the Brother AiRScouter might just do the trick.

Japanese electronics company Brother is breaking into the drone industry with a headset that’s a mashup of Google Glass and FPV goggles. The AiRScouter is a headset with a screen on one eye that displays exactly what your drone’s camera sees. That leaves your other eye to maintain visual line of sight with the drone.

Smart glasses like the AiRScouter could become the new trend in the drone industry. This year Epson announced a partnership with DJI to create a similar set of smart glasses called the Epson Moverio BT-200 Smart Glasses. Those sell for about $700.

In the box you’ll get the goggles, which pretty much remind me of Google Glass, and are very easy and quick to set up. You can adjust the goggles to go on either eye; you’ll typically want to place the glass over your stronger eye. You’ll also get a control box, which powers the headset and can tuck into a larger pocket. Continue reading Brother AiRScouter headset combines FPV and VLOS for drones

Drone filters: how they can improve your drone photography

Do you use a drone for photography or videography? One of the best investments you can make is a set of drone filters.

Neutral density (ND) filters are coin-sized l pieces of semi-transparent glass and have long been used by videographers . Their purposes is to reduce the amount of light your drone’s camera receives. An ND filter allows you to slightly slow your shutter speed down or (if your drone’s camera allows it) use a wider aperture than you would otherwise be able to use.

ND filters fix common problems you see in any photo — but particularly aerial photos — including glare, overexposure, harsh shadows and other issues.  That means you can get those shots of silky soft, flowing water, or maybe just shooting straight down on a bright day, without worrying about harsh shadows.

Additionally, aside from DJI’s Zenmuse X5, most drones have a fixed aperture, which means the only variables for correct exposure are ISO and shutter speed. On a very bright day, the camera has no other option than to increase shutter speed to properly expose a scene, which results in shaky footage. polarpro drone filters

I tested out PolarPro’s 3-pack of filters for my Yuneec Typhoon H, which includes ND4, ND8 and ND16 filters. The 4-gram filters are easy-to-attach and drastically improve the quality of my shots.

The Typhoon H does come with a stock filter, but the PolarPro filters are a huge improvement.

  • The ND4 2-stop neutral density filter should be used for filming on mild days or during the golden hour (the first and last hour of sunlight in a  day) and reduces highlights and lens flare.
  • The ND8 3-Stop neutral density filter should be used on bright days to help prevent lens flare and mild rolling shutter.
  • The ND16 4-stop filter is the darkest shade and works well on very bright days and creates the smoothest cinematic look to your videos of all the filters.

Here’s a guide on what filter to use, when:

polarpro filter guide

If you do end up getting a set of PolarPro filters, I also recommend getting the Polar Pro 3-pack filter case, which is just $4.99. It’s a small price to pay to protect your glass!polarpro drone filter case

PolarPro makes a variety of filters for many drones including the DJI Phantom and Zenmuse camera.

 

Yuneec Breeze review: an easy-to-fly selfie cam drone

Yuneec’s Breeze markets itself as a drone that is easy to fly without any experience, a claim that certainly holds up. It’s probably the easiest drone I’ve ever flown, as it took off in my living room and hovered, allowing me to control the direction of the drone.

It has a few different modes: Pilot mode is what traditional drone pilots wold be used to. There is also Follow, Orbit, Journey and Selfie mode.

Yuneec Breeze Size and Packing

The Yuneec Breeze is super light at just 0.81 pounds. I was impressed with how the propellers and legs fold up into about the size of an iPad (though of course slightly thicker). Every Breeze comes with a compact hard case, making it easy to travel with.

The battery took about 45 minutes to charge. You do get two batteries, which is a necessary addition since the flight time goes up to just 12 minutes. Continue reading Yuneec Breeze review: an easy-to-fly selfie cam drone

DJI Osmo Mobile review: bringing smooth video to your smartphone

DJI’s Osmo was an impressive piece of technology when it was first announced — bringing that silky, smooth drone like footage to the ground. Priced initially at $649, it was a huge cost-savings for people who wanted to ditch their $1000+ SteadiCams, but it was still too pricey for most hobby photographers to justify.

DJI is fixing that with the launch of the $299 Osmo Mobile.

For under $300, smartphone photographers can get the footage they are used to from a drone, but now with their smartphone camera.

It’s easy to use — set-up is simply taking it out of your purse (it’s about 6 inches tall) and turning it on. It uses Bluetooth to connect with the phone, and relies on the DJI Go app (the same one you’re used to using on your Phantom or Inspire) to control the settings. Continue reading DJI Osmo Mobile review: bringing smooth video to your smartphone

GhostDrone 2.0 review: too many gimmicks, not enough function

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.

Drone Girl Ghost Drone
Firmware updated, and ready to go!

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. Continue reading GhostDrone 2.0 review: too many gimmicks, not enough function