First impressions of the DJI Spark drone: gesture controls in the palm of your hand, but no 4K video

Easy to use, with built-in obstacle avoidance and a 3D camera, this mini-drone puts flying in the hands of the masses. A few video-related downsides fail to mar the overall experience

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 June, 2017, 8:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 June, 2017, 10:43am

Measuring 143mm ×143mm × 55 mm and weighing 300 grams, DJI’s mini drone Spark is the company’s latest attempt to make the hobby more accessible to the masses. But as with all things small, something’s got to give. We gave the new Spark a quick spin to see if any features have been sacrificed or compromised for the sake of its size. These are our first impressions, partly due to the short loan period of the test unit (a weekend), but mostly because recent bad weather has prevented us from doing a full test.

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Hardware and design

The Spark’s body is lighter than most smartphones today, and apart from its propeller arms protruding from its body, it is not much bigger than a phone. The drone and its propellers (and spare batteries) can be carried in a small case and easily reassembled.

Features

The best new feature has to be the gesture controls, which makes use of its obstacle avoidance sensor and a 3D camera.

To operate the Spark in “gesture mode”, you don’t need a controller or a smartphone. You just use your palm or hands to give instructions. To take selfies, simply use your fingers and thumbs to create a frame in front of your face. To land the drone, place your hand below it while standing in front of the camera. As long as you keep your palm reasonably flat, the risk of the drone tumbling to the ground is lowered (but this also requires practice).

Camera

The gesture control is amazing when it works. The main issues I had with the Spark are all gesture-related. The first and biggest being the inability to trigger video recording via gesture. It’s a wasted opportunity and a massive omission but probably easily fixable via future firmware updates.

Controlling movement using your palm is cool, but can be erratic at times. Wave your hand a little faster and the Spark loses track and returns to hovering instead.

What Spark lacks – something that cannot be fixed with a firmware update – is 4K videos. So you will have to make do with the 1,080p videos, which look perfectly fine when played back on smaller screens.

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Colour accuracy is good and the gimbal-assisted stabilisation works well as you can see in the video sample taken under mildly windy conditions. The 12MP camera, however, lacks detail in still shots.

Conclusion

Spark is by no means a dud (hello GoPro Karma) but a few refinements are necessary. Kudos to DJI for coming up with a great concept and packing this much technology into something this small.

The gesture controls is a true selling point and if they can plug those missed opportunities then things will start looking rosy.

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Surprisingly being a Wi-Fi only (versus radio signals) drone, connection was solid in a signal saturated residential area and provided roughly 10 to 15 minutes of nimble flying fun. Touch screen controls via the phone won’t do it justice but you would have to shell out extra if you want that physical controller that’s not included in the box.

All things considered, it is reasonably priced for what it offers. If you want 4K videos and 3-axis gimbal you should look at the Mavic Pro.

Price: HK$3,899