We’ve been seeing leaked photos and renderings for months, and finally DJI has officially announced the Spark to their line of drones. This is easily the most hyped and wildly rumored drone DJI has produced, keeping the quadcopter community on edge. Fortunately for us, we got our hands on one to check out and share an up-close look. [Update: Read the DJI Spark v. Mavic comparison here]
How small is it?
First off, the leaks that we saw were pretty accurate; the size and shape are dead on. The fixed-arm drone is a baby even when compared to the already compact Mavic (full comparison review to come), coming in at 5.63” x 5.63” x 2.2” with a weight of 10.58oz including the battery and props. This thing is smaller than my Galaxy S7 end to end, and the fuselage is just a little over half as wide.
The size of the Spark price tag is smaller than the Mavic too, at $499 ($699 for the Fly More combo) vs. $999. Granted, you are sacrificing some key features for that reduced cost, but DJI is targeting a wider customer base with an approachable platform. That theme is shown in their multiple color offerings. We landed a Sky Blue model but they also come in Meadow Green, Alpine White, Lava Red, and Sunrise Yellow. Currently only the Alpine White is available in the standalone drone package, while the other colors come only in the Fly More kit. This comes with the remote, propeller guards, battery charging hub, shoulder bag, 2 extra batteries, and extra props. Compact portability with ease of use is the driving force behind the Spark, which deviates slightly from the boundary-pushing development of their previous models.
The Spark’s camera is capable of shooting 1080p video at 30fps and 12MP stills, with a 1/2.3” sensor. I know we would have liked to see 4K resolution, but they needed to trim the cost somewhere. This isn’t really much of a surprise considering the “follow-me-drone” focus, and the need to differentiate from the Mavic specs; however the camera should be more than capable of quality imagery.
DJI opted for a 2-axis mechanical gimbal, and the lens is a 25mm (35mm equivalent) f/2.6. It will be interesting to see how the combination of a smaller form and one less axis stabilization play into the overall video quality in various conditions using their Ultra Smooth electronic balancing.
The Spark has a max flight time of 16 minutes, which is the longest of any small-form drone of its size. The 1,480mAh LiPo 3S battery takes about an hour to fully charge from dead and only brushes the scales at 96g.
Topping out at 31mph in Sport mode (without wind), the Spark’s aerodynamic form compacted all the power into motors no larger than my thumbnail.
New sensory skills
Going for the “everyday drone,” DJI kept some of their key sensory traits while adding a few new ones. There are three downward-facing vision sensors on the underside of the aircraft that help with the standard obstacle avoidance and positioning.
The major sensory addition that makes the Spark magical is their new 3D sensing for Gesture Control, which is housed behind the rectangular panel on the front of the drone. This is by far the coolest feature the Spark brings to the table, where we can pilot the drone by simply turning it on and making hand movements.
Tapping the power button twice and holding the drone in the palm of the hand, the Spark recognizes the human face and takes off automatically, hovering in place a few feet away. Using a palm-up gesture, you can direct the drone to move left, right, forward and backwards with its camera trained on the pilot. If the drone is too close, another hand gesture sends the Spark into the air, 10 feet away, for wider shots. By making a “frame” gesture with your hands, you can snap a photo and even land the drone back in the center of a palm without ever picking up a phone or remote. 24 computing cores keep all the systems operating in sync, while processing pilot commands.
This new gesture piloting is purely directed towards the selfie and follow me crowd, with some pre-programmed shooting techniques baked into their Quick Shots suite. If you want to take the drone to the 1.2 mile maximum range though, you will need to opt for the Fly More kit which includes the physical remote and runs $699.
There is plenty more to discover as we dive into all the Spark has to offer. Stay tuned for a more in-depth review to come in the next few days, and Pre-order the DJI Spark for $499 here.