First Flight with my Tello & Kallang Riverside Park

By now, I’ve flown my Spark around 70km which is not too bad, considering this is about 500,000 times the length of my Spark! Let’s go for the next 70km which will bring this comparison to 1 Million!

However, most of these flights have been planned very well, as described in one of my previous posts. It’s always a good idea to have a good place to fly & the time to fly there. But, some days, I just want to Fly! My! Drone! What if, in any such situation, there isn’t enough time, space or what if the rules are actually against flying certain unmanned aerial vehicles?

The Spark is an awesome drone in many respects and packs technology that punches way above it’s weight. However, 300g takeoff weight actually is above the weight for unregulated drones in most countries (e.g. Canada or US). Most of the time, it’s 250g, which makes some people wonder how to get rid of 50g weight for the Spark (notwithstanding any discussion that actually centers on “approved” takeoff weight, as any modifications may revoke the airworthiness certificate!).

In addition, what I’ve found is that apart from planning, rules and regulation, it’s also quite a bit of prep that’s necessary to get even the Spark in the air. For perfect aerial videos, it’s necessary to

  • Unfold the controller
  • Unfold the drone propellers
  • Add the OTG cable
  • Add the Wi-Fi Range Extenders
  • Switch on drone & RC
  • Connect everything

And – takeoff. Not considering any packing/unpacking from shoulder bags/backpacks etc., this can take around 5 minutes before I’m even ready to fly. Add in any necessary pre-flight checks (battery, GPS, No-Fly-Zones, Compass Calibration, etc.), a lot of time could have passed & I might have missed the perfect moment, or I might be late for whatever I was actually planning to do apart from drone flying!

I think I might have found an option for this kind of situation! DJI is now selling a new drone, called “Tello” which is actually manufactured by a company called “Ryze” that was founded in 2017 with a start-up’y kind of mission to disrupt the ‘toy-drone’ market. And, being situated in Shenzhen right next to DJI, they were apparently able to incorporate some of DJI’s advanced flight tech into this 80g wonder that’s capable of way more than many of it’s apparent competitors.

Tello_Spark
Direct comparison of my new DJI/Ryze Tello to my DJI Spark

Let’s start with the list of what this drone is lacking to be very (!) clear about the distinction to the Spark and why this won’t be my primary drone anytime soon:

  1. no GPS positioning – this is the big one! There is no return to home, so if you lose connection, be prepared to run after your Tello
  2. no SD card – if you lose WiFi (or fly too fast), you’ll get skippy/choppy video that you can do nothing about but throw away – fly with caution and plan your manoeuvres in advance
  3. no “fly more” kit – there’s one battery included in the drone packaging (though you can buy more) and there’s also no first-party charger (a third party charger is ordered & I’ll update you on it a bit later), there’s also no bag, no RC, no anything!
  4. no brushless motors – this one, only time will tell. Brushed motors actually degrade in performance and/or burn out completely after some time. Obviously DJI & Ryze can’t afford to lose based on poor parts quality, but it’s a matter of when not if!

Now, these are some very heavy negatives and you need to be aware of them. If you are, though, you can see the Tello for what it is – a fun drone that you might let your friends/colleagues/even kids fly without much worry. And it’s way below most regulations – you could even fly it legally in US national parks (Singapore national parks, of course, are no issue anymore due to updated regulation from 2018).

The list of positives includes:

  1. Super low take-off weight – 80g means that you’ll be able to carry this drone anywhere in your bag. I’ve packed a day-bag and don’t even notice the drone compared to what I’m usually schlepping around!
  2. Immediate flight from your phone – Compared to complex start-up and take-off procedure for the Spark (and/or other DJI drones), the Tello is ready with just one click of the “on/off” switch, and opening the App on your phone. (*)
  3. Easy recharging – no need to bring the charger and/or battery hub, just bring a single USB-micro cable and connect to any standard USB charger. The Tello will usually recharge in less than 60 minutes (although max. charging time is given as 90 minutes)
  4. Super-long flight time compared to estimate – the Tello’s official site shows 13 minutes flight time for one of the 1.1 Ah batteries. And in my first 2-3 flights, I’ve been consistently getting between 12 to 14 minutes of actual flight time out of the battery! Compared with usually 10 to 11 minutes of flight time for the 16 minute rating of the Spark, this blows away any reasonable expectation!
  5. Obviously, the price! This drone is 109 USD shipped (by DHL with next-day service nonetheless). For this price, you could buy around 3-4 before you reach the price of the Spark’s body-only configuration. (Note that the drone is also worth buying together with the Fly-More combo, and the Tello incurs further cost when you add in a WiFi repeater, further batteries, etc. etc -> but the comparison still stands, it’s only about 15-25% of the price of a Spark).

The actual measure for performance of a drone comes from the images/video produced though. I’ve had one opportunity for a flight comparison eye-to-eye with my Spark so far, in Kallang Riverside Park last weekend:

 

I’ve managed to be there on a relatively windless day (apart from a sudden rainfall that caught another Spark pilot unawares – although he was luckily able to land his Spark and run to the relative safety of a changing/showering area in the park). First off, I flew my Spark for two batteries (as the third battery had somehow degraded over ~1 week of non-flying). You can view my video here:

Kallang Riverside Park Flight (2018 May 6) from Flo on Vimeo.

Once all the batteries were done, I decided to go to a more “safe” area, away from the river and any wind that might blow my Tello away (remember – no RTH, and if the connection fails above water… well, no more Tello).

I’m impressed by the way the Tello handled above known territory as long as sufficient contrast was there (I believe that the sensor distinguishes patterns based on “large” areas of different colours/brightness). E.g. when flying over a large homogeneous patch of grass, I got a warning message that optical ground sensor may be impaired. However, there were no fly-aways, no unexpected movement and the only time I flew into something (yes – there’s also no collision avoidance/forward sensors like in the Spark), was when I didn’t estimate my distance to a tree correctly.

I’m slightly saddened that the video is impaired by tons of digital artefacts whenever moving quickly which almost made the “fast” mode provided in the Tello app useless, but I’m hoping it’ll improve once I utilise the WiFi repeater.

Have a look for yourself:

First Flight with my new Tello (2018 May 6) from Flo on Vimeo.

My wish for the future is to fly the drone in many places where it would be impractical or impossible to fly my Spark and also to reduce the downtime in flying days to improve my techniques.

Look out for my upcoming travel reviews where I’ll definitely be taking my Tello with me!

And as always, thanks for watching/reading & subscribing to my blog!

See you next time!

Flo

(*) Caveat – for perfect video & vastly improved range, many people recommend connecting a WiFi repeater (most commonly the Mi WiFi Repeater 2 – beats me, why the official store seems to be only available in India. In Singapore we have dedicated “Mi” stores e.g. in Suntec City). I’ve not been able to fly with it yet, but I’ll update you in one of my next posts!