Is The DJI Spark A Drone For Everyone?

The Selfie Drone

DJI was clear on the marketing right from the start. The DJI Spark was meant to be the first drone to break into the mainstream consumer market. Even it’s official launch presentation focused mostly on the gesture modes which allow you to fly the tiny drone without the need for a controller. It looked simple, un-intimidating , and fun.

As much as we are all mesmerized by a birds eye view, drones have a tendency to intimidate most consumers. Flying drones has mostly been reserved for professionals and the most hard core tech geeks. DJI wants to change that.

Why It Works

DJI has been pushing drone technology forward at an incredible rate. The ever growing list of sensors and computer aided safety features in their products continue to make it easier, safer, and more reliable to fly a drone without flying your expensive toy into a building or tree on its first flight. The Spark is the beneficiary of all of that technology, and it ads some new tricks of it’s own.

The Spark’s big selling feature, aside from its small stature, is the gesture control mode. This simplified flight mode allows the drone to take off from your palm and hover just a few feet from your face. From there it awaits one of several gesture commands you can use to position the drone where you want it. Holding your palm out in front of the camera for a few seconds sets the drone to follow your hand position. With a waive, the Spark will fly back away from you a few feet. Make a picture frame shape around your face with your hands, it will take a photo. All of this is incredible, easy, and smart…when it works. More on that later.

You can also fly the drone via a WiFi connection to your smartphone and the DJI GO 4 app. This gives you more direct control and allows you too shoot video as well as taking photos. Using the app, you can access various settings and automated flight modes. Active track will lock on and follow your selected subject wherever it goes. The “tap to fly” mode allows you to tap on your screen where you want the drone to go and it will set off on its own.

Then, there’s QuickShot modes. Selecting one of the QuickShot modes will send the drone off on one of several automated flight paths while recording 30 seconds of video. These shots would be fairly difficult for most of us to pull off manually. For example, Dronie will have the drone pull away and slowly gain altitude while keeping your subject in frame. It’s a great way to show off your surroundings for posting to social media. There’s Circle which as the name suggest, flys around it’s subject in a circle. Helix spirals outward and upward, and Rocket flies straight up while the camera points straight down.

All of these features combined with gps positioning, obstacle avoidance sensors and cameras, provide a relatively worry free way to capture aerial video or photography, or just take the ultimate selfies.

The Flaws of New Technology

Unfortunately, it’s not all smooth sailing. As with all new tech, there are some problems. Any small issues or bugs are compounded when we are dealing with something that is so intimidating when things go wrong. And they will go wrong.

For starters, learning and memorizing all the gestures needed for gesture mode takes some time. Even once you have that part down, you have to constantly switch the Spark between the different control modes holding the power button down for the corresponding length of time. You have three flight modes to choose from. Gesture, WiFi, and RC, for use with the controller. It can be hard to remember what mode the drone is in and and some trial and error is often involved to get things set up the way you want.

A quick google search reveals another common problem. Many users have reported video streaming issues when using the Spark with the optional RC controller. I have found that to avoid this, you need to turn on the controller first, then connect it to your phone via your phones WiFi settings. Once it’s connected, you can then power on the Spark. It’s an easy fix, but one that is not apparently obvious and could easily frustrated the average consumer looking for simple, hassle free flying.

I had a few instances where the gesture mode would not initiate which required rebooting the drone to correct. Again, not a disaster, but annoying enough to to mention. I haven’t had any major problems with actual flying and the one time I did lose signal, the Spark thankfully went into Return To Home mode and changed coarse back to where it took off. Crisis averted.

So Who Is It For?

The Spark is an interesting product for so many reasons. I know who DJI wants it to be for, everyone. Spark definitely goes a long way to lowering the barrier for consumers interested in drone photography. It is at the same time incredibly powerful, and wonderfully simple. It can be used in it’s simplest and safest form as an entry level drone for beginners or those not willing to take the time to learn the more complex features. When paired with the optional controller, it becomes more advanced and allows for much more freedom, range, and precision. As an advanced RC pilot and drone user, I still found it too be an effective tool for getting some great video and photos from a above.

The small size makes it far less conspicuous to pull out and fly in some places you would normally not want to fly a larger drone. It is smooth and stable, even in moderate wind. It takes beautiful photos and video, even though it’s only 1080p. With a little effort I am sure I could teach my mother or grandparents to use it, at least in gesture mode. I’m just not sure I would want too.

Conclusion

The Spark get’s many things right, and I am sure it will get better with continued software updates from DJI. I love the effort they put in to making it more accessible to more people. I think it will probably convince far more people to try their hand at flying a drone than any drone has so far. Still, I am not convinced the Spark can do for the drone industry what the iPhone did for the smartphone becoming a mainstream product. I don’t expect to suddenly see people whipping drones out every time they want to take a selfie, or dads around the world filming their daughters soccer game from above. Maybe that will come with the Spark 2.


Shawn Alfenito

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