The result of an interesting partnership between Shenzhen-based Ryze Technology, Intel and industry-leading drone manufacturer, DJI, the Ryze Tello quad-copter may be the cheapest and most sophisticated mini-drone available today.
Straight off the bat, the Tello is not a DJI drone. DJI sell them and they use DJI technology, but it is not in the same class as even their entry-level Spark, nor is it intended to be. At NZ$199 the Tello is more of a starter drone, it's designed so that kids can use it without issues, but it's also something that anyone can have fun with.
Don't let the size and price fool you, though, the Tello my not be a Mavic Air, but it is still a very sophisticated bit of kit. It's only 170mm long and weights a measily 80g, which is great in Australia, as it is exempt from CASA drone flying regulations. Unfortunately, the NZ CAA does not seem to have the same exemptions for mini drones.
Housed in the body of the drone is a removable 1100mAh Li-on rechargeable battery. It's charged directly by plugging a USB cable into the side of the drone. The USB cable isn't included, but chances are it'll be the same as the one for your phone (unless it's a iPhone or one of the new Android phone using USB-C). Ryze says that you'll get thirteen minutes from a charged battery. In practice that's more like ten minutes of normal use.
Despite the Tello's light plastic construction, it's fairly robust. It comes with detachable propeller guards that I'd suggest you keep attached. There's really no performance improvement to be gained in removing them. The drone's light weight means that even if you lose power at altitude (which is unlikely) it won't drop like a stone.
The drone is easy to fly, offering an option for slow flight and limiting the little aircraft's max attitude (the angle when moving forward). This makes it a perfect starter drone for beginners.
The drone is controlled via a direct Wi-Fi link to a mobile phone running the Tello app. The stated range is 100m, with a max height of 10m. I think that the 100m range is a bit optimistic, I only managed a quarter of that before I lost the signal. The 10m height is probably about right. I manage to get a look at the roof of my two-storey house, but I was a bit too nervous to go any higher for fear of losing the thing.
The Tello is not a GPS drone. Its stability is determined via optical sensors on the underside of the device. Providing the light is good, the drone will hold its position very well. In low light things get a little tricker. The same goes for tight spaces, where the device starts to behave erratically. This is a drone that really only suitable for use either indoors or when there is zero wind.
The on-board camera can capture 5MP images and 720p video at 30fps. Whilst the camera is fixed (there's no gimble), electronic image stabilisation does a reasonable job of delivery some decent footage. The lack of adjustable gimble means that your shots are limited to what is in shot directly in front of the camera. It goes without saying that there aren't any focus options. Captured .mp4 video and .jpg images are stored on your connected Android or Apple mobile device.
The kit does not come with a controller as standard. An optional controller is available and if you want to get the best flight performance out of the drone, you'll want to invest in one. Control Mode 1 and Mode 2 are supported but, unfortunately, no Mode 3 (for all you first person shooter gamers out there).
The Tello comes with some special flight modes that are selectable from the app. Throw and Go spins the rotors at an idles speed giving pilots five seconds to throw the drone into the air to launch it. Up - Away gets the drone to record video whilst flying backwards whilst increasing altitude- perfect for video selfies. Circle has the drone recording a video whilst flying in a circle. Bounce Mode makes the drone fly up and down between 0.5m and 1.2m above the surface beneath it. 360 records a video as the drone rotates on the spot.
The 8D Flips mode is perfect for show off the drone to your friends. Whilst most tiny drones will flip side-over-side and front-over-back, the Tello can flip in eight directions. A swipe of your finger will have the drone flipping in the direction of your swipe, over the front, back, left, right and over all four diagonals. In the correct light, due to the precision of the optical sensors, it does all this without losing altitude or shifting position.
Once you have a handle on the built-in features of the app, you can have bash at coding your own Tello choreography via the Scratch 2 visual coding app. The Tello can be interfaced with the MIT-developed Scratch programming tool. Downloading some special Scratch libraries from the Ryze website allow sthe drone to be controlled via customisable scripts and keyboard commands on your Windows PC or Apple machine.
The Tello is no replacement for one of the more refined (and more expensive) camera drones out there, but it's robust construction, light weight, precise control and relatively cheap entry price make it the perfect training drone. Anyone considering purchasing something like a Mavic Air or Mavic Pro would do well to pick up one of these first to see how you get on with it.
Whilst the Ryze Tello is not a DJI drone, it's flight performance, great design, snazzy looks and value-for-money make it a credit to the DJI and Intel technology that powers the little aircraft.
The Ryze Tello is available in stores now and via the DJI online store with an RRP of NZ$199.