travel, thailand, twitterings, drone dairies

The Drone Diaries Part 3…

…Time To Order.

After writing Part 1 and Part 2 way back in January, I bet you thought I’d forgotten about drones.

Nope. Other things intervened, like nice weather and wanting to go tootling. Plus some boring stuff that had to be done.

Last time I said I’d write an article telling you how to fly a drone. Then I figured that was a bit presumptuous given that I’ve never actually flown one. Better I buy one, fly it, crash it, and then tell you how not to fly one.

As I mentioned a couple of days ago the weather right now is not great, so being house-bound, yesterday I made a short list of requirements and then tried to pick a drone to match them.

This is actually my second attempt. The first time – in January – I was 100% sure I knew what I wanted, but the market changes so rapidly, you need to research and then immediately buy, before everything becomes obsolete or upgraded. It’s a bit like buying a computer. There’ll always be a better and cheaper one along tomorrow, so you either wait forever and never buy, or you just say “That’s it. That’s what I want.” And you buy it.

Case in point; when I was doing my first research, I thought I’d found a drone to match my requirements … until I watched a review on Youtube, which claimed the thing didn’t do half the things it was supposed to do. Next day, there was another review of the same drone by the same reviewer, and although it seemed a bit silly to watch it again, I watched it anyways.

It seems the manufacturer had also watched the review and overnight had upgraded the drone’s software and issued a new release. And this time the reviewer was happy.

I think there’s a few morals from this story. Youtube is your friend. There are umpteen reviews of each drone. Don’t rely on just one. Watch them all. And make sure they’re current.



So; briefly, here’s what I decided I was looking for:

  • Cheap: Closer to US$50 than $500.
  • Good Camera: I’m not looking for full-screen high resolution, but also not something that looks like it was shot in 1970 with a Super8 film camera. I have enough of that stuff.
  • A Good Controller: Some are so small and plasticy they look unusable and fragile.
  • Headless Mode: So I don’t get confused as to which end is which.
  • First Person View(FPV): If possible, it would be nice to see on the controller screen what the drone’s camera is seeing.
  • Good Battery: plus spares, plus fast charging.

Re the last item: I think I didn’t mention before that batteries are a weak point of all drones. If you’re lucky – with a cheap drone – you’ll get about eight minutes of flight time from one charge, perhaps less if the camera is on. And, it’s not uncommon for the batteries to take three hours to recharge. Eight minutes of flying every three hours is not my idea of fun. So, I’ll be looking closely at charging time, and the availability of buying spares. Swapping the battery every eight minutes is not so bad.

Here’s my short list…

FQ777-951C

travel, thailand, twitterings, drone dairies
The first question you might ask yourself is: Who makes it? Well, FQ777, that’s who. It seems that’s the company name.

Then you might wonder; Do they make another 950 models given that this is 951? Nope.

I have the impression manufacturers like to make you think they are big with a huge product range, whereas in reality they may only make two, which they call 951C and X333QP. Or something. As far as I can figure model names don’t relate to anything. They just sound good.

I was very tempted to buy one. It checks some of my boxes… headless mode, cheap, very cheap. Did I mention it’s cheap?

Amazingly, it can be bought for less than US$20, and some reviews claim it’s as much fun as flying a $500 drone. Sounds impossible, but that’s what they say. I thought maybe I’d get one just to play and learn.

But, I could see some reasons why I might find the experience disappointing. The camera is only 0.3MP which is far too low resolution to shoot even watchable video. And the thing is small. It would fit in the palm of your hand. I think it would be very easy to lose sight of it. The controller is also small and flimsy. So this one went to the bottom of my short list.

I mention it here, because if you want to play without spending more than the price of a few beers, this is well worth considering.

Cheerson Phantom CX-35

travel, thailand, twitterings, drone dairies
Cheerson seems to be one of the well-known reputable companies. Unlike the drone mentioned above, it’s big. For most purposes I think big is good. Easier to see. More stable flight. And you can pretend you bought a professional model even though you didn’t. 🙂 It retails at around US$100, which is a very good price for something this size and with pretty-much all the features you’d need.

It’s easy to buy spare batteries and propellers, even spare motors if you need them.

Things that I like about it include:

  • 2MP video camera. Could be better, but should be adequate. But the nice thing is, it’s remotely adjustable from horizontal to 45° down.
  • Gimbal camera mount, which has damping. This should improve video quality. It also means you can ditch the standard camera and mount something like a GoPro if you’re rich enough.
  • Auto take off and landing. Great for beginners.
  • Low power and out of range auto-land. Much nicer than crashing from 100 meters up if you fly too far or with low batteries.
  • Good quality controller – at least, it looks like it – with a good resolution built-in display for FPV.
  • Highly recommended for beginners. That’s me.

I put this one at the top of my list. But then, I also considered…

GoolRC T37

travel, thailand, twitterings, drone dairies

Where do they dig up these names? Is there a web page where you can “Click for random and bizarre product name”?

Anyhoo, just to confuse you further, this drone is essentially the same as the Eachine E50 and the JJRC H37 Elfie, except the latter has an inferior camera. See what I mean about the names?

Now, this drone fits in a whole new category of foldable, portable mini-drones. It’s also quite cheap at around US$40, give or take a few pennies.

There are things to like:

  • Foldable and portable, as I mentioned.
  • 720px camera, which is confusing when most cameras are quotes as so many MP, but I think this equates to 1MP
  • Altitute hold, which means in theory you can press a button and it will stay where it is. In practice though I imagine you have to get the trim settings just right
  • Works with any phone or tablet, more below…

It’s unusual in that it has no hand-held controller. You download an app into your tablet or phone, and that becomes your controller. They communicate by wifi – which limits the range to forty meters.

The other advantage is it comes with this cute young lady who shows you how to fly it…

…I wish. 🙂

Is it going to be that easy to fly? I doubt it. But I can see some reasons to buy it. Portability would be #1.

I’m sure I’m going to be in some places when I’ll think “I wish I’d brought the drone.” And this one is so small it will fit in my back pocket or camera bag. I don’t need a controller. Just load the app on any device I might have with me.

travel, thailand, twitterings, drone dairies
The WiFi UFO app screen

Actually, I have already downloaded it to a few devices, out of interest. And one thing that really surprised me is that it runs on my original iPad. Apple, in it’s infinite wisdom has decreed that I can’t load anything later than iOS 5, which means I can’t load any new apps – except for the one that controls this drone. It’s called “WiFi UFO” if you want to take a look.

What you see on-screen is essentially the same as you would see if you were holding a real controller. Except that it has one more clever feature. You can switch the app into a mode where the drone moves in tandem with movements of your phone or tablet. It sounds interesting.

So what did I buy?

Well, I ruled-out the FQ777-951C for reasons mentioned above. The Cheerson Phantom CX-35 and the GoolRC T37 are very different animals that I think will serve different purposes. So I bought them both.

Except that the GoolRC T37 doesn’t seem to be available in Thailand, so I bought the Eachine E50, which as far as I can figure is the same, except for the color. I wanted the GoolRC because it’s a sexy red, whereas the Eachine is plain old white. No biggie.

I ordered them online from a company called Banggood. I think I should refrain from further comment on that. I’d never heard of them but they seem to be big and reputable. And they even offer Banggood points, although I’ve yet to learn what I need to do to earn them!

So now, I have to wait patiently for them to be shipped from China. The order page told me they’d be delivered between April 5th and 20th. If it’s the former, that’ll be pretty impressive since I didn’t place the order until the 6th! I imagine it will be the 20th as everything is closed here from April 13th to 17th for the annual water splashing contests known as Songkran.

In the meantime thumbs will have to be twiddled.

Drone on.

Paul

...has been travelling the world for more than fifty years; having lived and worked in five countries and travelled to many many more. He likes to write about his travels - present and past - along with his other main interests of Information Technology and Motorsport, and he adds a few general twitterings along the way. More info than you could possibly need is available by clicking the ABOUT tab in the top menu line.

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