In the world of drones there are now A LOT of options. Prices ranges from $20 into the thousands. Spend too little and you’ll just get annoyed, spend too much and you’ll wonder why it cost you $2,000 to shoot video of your kids in the backyard. Where is the sweet spot? The DJI Spark might just be that sweet spot with some pretty cool features that let you fly it without touching the controller at a price that won’t break the bank.
The DJI Spark is surprisingly small. I'm not sure it technically falls into the "pocket drone" category but it's pretty darn close. Without the battery attached it seems to weigh nearly nothing. Clearly aiming at the consumer market, the Spark comes in 5 fun colors. The Spark we tested was "Sunrise Yellow." The Spark has the standard body and props that stick out on all 4 corners. The built-in camera is 12 Megapixels and has a 2-axis gimbal. The gimbal is the electronic stabilizing mechanism that makes that video silky smooth. More expensive drones have a 3-axis gimbal but most people won't notice the difference. The Spark uses software stabilization to compensate for only having 2-axis stabilization. Pros will demand that 3-axis gimbal but the rest of us will be happy with what the Spark offers.
Flying the Spark
The Spark sells without a controller. This keeps the price down but means you will have to use your smartphone (iPhone or Android) as the controller for the Spark. It uses your Wi-Fi connection to communicate with the drone. In my testing it worked but not well. Once the drone got more than 100 yards (roughly) away from the phone the connection was hit or miss. Luckily, the test unit we demoed also came with a remote. You'll need to buy this separately or purchase the "fly more" combo. This made a world of a difference. The controller allows the Spark to fly over 1 mile away from you! The controller connects to your smartphone which clips nicely into the bottom of the remote. You can see video live from the camera on the drone. Recording video is as simple has tapping a button. Controlling the drone takes a little getting used to but it's easy enough for many kids to figure it out. The Spark uses GPS, a compass and other sensors to help stabilize the drone. Under the right conditions if you take your hands off the controls the Spark simply floats in place. This is no toy drone!
Follow my hand
One of the fun selling points of the DJI Spark is that you can fly it with hand gestures! Forget the smartphone or the controller, just wave your hands. Sort of. First of all, hold the Spark in your hand and double tap the power button on the back. This tells the Spark that you are ready for it to fly itself and it will take off from your hand. At that point it hovers in front of you. You can hold your palm in front of the drone, it will recognize it and then follow your hand up, down, left or right. Wave at the drone and it flies away from you and starts recording video. It will then track you as you walk around, ride your bike or go for a jog. Finally, raise your arms and the drone will come back and hover in front of you. Place your hand under the drone and it will land in your palm. It's almost magical!
Truth is - after playing with this a few times I think most people will grab the controller and use the drone in a more typical way. The gestures are cool but most of us will want more control.
The Spark is cool. It's the perfect starter drone. It's not too expensive and you get a ton of DJI technology packed into a small affordable drone. If you want a drone that nearly does it all for under $600, this is the way to go.
DJI Spark is currently on-sale on various sites for $349.
FYI - Controller is a MUST BUY
You can fly the DJI Spark directly from your smartphone (using Wi-Fi) but I wouldn't recommend it. In my testing it lost connection pretty easily when I started flying the drone away from me. Your best bet is the DJI controller. It gives you MUCH better range (over 1 mile!) and your smartphone clips into the controller so you can use the screen on your phone. I would recommend either buying the controller separately or buying the "fly more" combo that includes the controller, extra batteries, a multi-battery charger, propeller guards and extra propellers. It really is better deal and the controller is a MUST HAVE.