R.I.P. Gizmo the Drone: The day my DJI Spark decided to become a submarine.

A few months ago, the Spark was announced by DJI and I was convinced that I had to have it as soon as possible. I had been itching to get into drone photography for a while and at under $500, this was the perfect opportunity.

The Spark is a super small & compact drone that can be controlled with your iPhone. That makes it perfect for traveling and bringing along without adding too much additional weight or bulk.

One of the headlining features of the Spark was it’s Return to Home (RTH) feature. Using GPS, the drone would return to the spot it took off from if the connection was lost for any reason. This is an important part for later.

A couple of weeks ago, my wife & I left for a two week trip to Spain, France, & Italy. Obviously, the Spark, which we had affectionately named Gizmo, came along with us. Surprisingly, the drone went through airport security without a problem at all, but my iPad Pro was pulled out for the first time.

Driving along the coast of France, we had ample opportunities to take incredible pictures and videos of the Mediterranean Sea. This was exactly why we picked up the Spark.

However, the fun would not last very long.

One day, in the coastal town of Antibes, France, I had already flown Gizmo multiple times with no issue at all. Right before we were leaving, I got selfish and wanted just a few more pictures, so I set up the Spark for one last flight.

Little did I know, this would be Gizmo’s LAST FLIGHT EVER.

As always, I waited until GPS was locked in and the RTH spot was marked before taking off. We were on a road overlooking the water and I pushed the Spark back so I could grab some pictures. After about 30 seconds, with the drone only 65 feet away, the connection was lost.

At first, I was not concerned, assuming that the connection would return, or failing that, that the RTH software feature would activate and the drone would return to where it took off. After a few seconds of hovering, however, the drone rapidly began descending without any input. This was unexpected and terrifying. None of the commands that I input were working and I had no control over the drone.

I was not able to connect to the drone while it was descending and it took an unglamorous path towards the Mediterranean. Gizmo had made up his mind and was destined to become a submarine.

Understand, I was standing on the side of a road, screaming and pleading with my newly purchased, $500 drone in hopes that it would not sink itself into the ocean.

With no more than 60 feet between the drone and where we were standing, we watched helplessly as Gizmo paused momentarily then at full speed plunged into the water. Since the water was so deep, retrieving the Spark was impossible.

With all of the flight records saved in the app, I figured we’d have an easy support case for a failure to return home and DJI would replace the drone.

This did not happen.

Though the DJI staff was responsive, after a week of back and forth emails, I got an offer for 30% off a new Spark to replace the one that was lost. That accounts to $149.70 off of the $499 price tag.

That was not expected. The key Return to Home feature had failed spectacularly and I was S.O.L. on a $500 item (plus the additional, now useless, battery and a lost memory card with pictures from this and other trips we had taken.)

I wasn’t planning on writing any of this down, but I’m disappointed in the support that has been provided from what I had been led to believe was an excellent company. Even if 75% off was offered, I am not certain that spending any additional money on a product that failed so drastically in such a rapid fashion is a smart choice. If DJI had not been so confident in their RTH feature, I wouldn’t have purchased in the first place. Now to find out that they don’t even stand by their failed features, I find it risky to back them at all.

However, getting a small taste of having a drone has me hooked, but now I’m torn on what product I should purchase to replace Gizmo. I will have to wait until another company has created and tested software that works as well as DJI says their product would…

I’m still holding out hope that DJI can make this right.

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