The DJI Spark is smaller than a can of soda, making it the most compact and lightest drone from the popular drone maker. However, while it’s surprisingly tiny, we’re far more impressed with how almost anyone could fly it thanks to several new smart features.
With a starting price of just $499 (about £390, AU$670), it’s also priced right to be DJI and the industry’s most approachable drone yet for mainstream users.
It’s no joke that the DJI Spark is as small as a can of soda. Measuring in at a scant 143 x 143 x 55mm and 300 grams (10.6 ounces), the mini drone is something you can easily stuff into any bag or even hang off the back of your belt.
While the Sparks limbs don’t fold into the drone like the and , you can collapse the propellers that lock into place when the rotors start spinning. During our hands-on event, we slipped the drone into its optional charging case and found it was no bigger than a pair of collapsible headphones we would normal put in our bags.
Aside from its size, the Spark is DJI first drone to be offered in a variety of colors: Alpine White, Sky Blue, Meadow Green, Lava Red and Sunrise Yellow. The splash of color is welcome piece of personalization in a world of drones that have thus far been a mix of gray, white and black.
In terms of recording capabilities, the main camera is equipped with an 12-megapixel 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor that can capture Full HD video at 30p and 3,968 x× 2,976 resolution images. In front of the digital sensor is a 25mm lens (35mm equivalent) that captures an effective 81.8-degree field-of-view.
It’s a step down from the DJI Mavic Pro and GoPro Karma Drone, which can all record video at 4K resolution. We would say this is an unfortunate downside of the entry-level price but the equally-priced Yuneec 4K Breeze can also shoot Ultra HD video – admittedly while sporting many fewer features.
We didn’t weren’t allowed to take image samples or video in our hands-on time, so we’ll have to take a closer look at image quality in our full review.
Talk to the hand
The DJI Sparks other biggest hat trick is the way you can completely control it with your hands through a new feature called PalmControl.
You can have the drone take off from the palm of your hand by simply facing it. From there you can wave your hands at it to take control of flying it like Iron Man calling in his armor or a Jedi moving objects with the force. The only catch of this control method is you have to be within 10-feet of the drone for it to recognize your gestures.
Beyond the sheer novelty of it, PalmControl makes it that much easier to get the drone flying in seconds. Not having to deal with a controller and worry about sending the drone on a crash course also makes it more inviting for less seasoned aviators and tech-savvy people try their hand at flying drones.
Smart and quick
DJI has also introduced new four automatic flight maneuvers called Quickshots, which are similar to the ’s Auto Shot Paths. The four modes include, Dronie for taking an aerial selfie, Helix plots an upward spiraling path, Rocket sends the drone straight into the sky with the camera looking down, and lastly, Circle has the drone rotate around the users.
Quickshots then takes your footage and automatically trims them into 10 second videos you can push to a smartphone and further edit with an accompanying DJI GO 4 app – which is also a bit similar to GoPro’s Quik app.
Unlike the GoPro Karma, the DJI Spark includes a full complement of collision detection technology as part of its FlightAutonomy system. The sensor array consists of the main camera, a downward-facing vision system, a forward-facing 3D Sensing System, dual-band GPS and GLONASS and a high-precision inertial measurement unit.
All of these sensors feed into an Intel Movidius Myriad 2 Vision Processing Unit that takes care of the collision detection, gesture recognition and image processing for the main camera.
Similar VPU chips have made their way into DJI’s drones for the last three years, but this is the first to feature a fully built gesture recognition system according to Remi El-Ouazzane, Vice President of Intel New Technology Group and General Manager of Movidius.
Aside from the new features, DJI intelligent flight modes return to the Spark including TapFly to automatically navigate to preset points. ActiveTrack, meanwhile, programs the drone to do its best to keep you in the center for the frame while avoiding obstacles as it flies.
Of course, flying manually is half the fun of owning a drone and the Spark delivers some solid specs despite its small size. In sport mode, the drone can fly up to 31-miles-per-hour – which, when combined with DJI Goggles $450 first-person view headset, could make for an interesting starter drone racing setup.
DJI rates the Spark’s battery life at 16 minutes, which we experienced with the GoPro Karma Drone, so that’s the most disappointing aspect about this drone so far.
There’s no question the DJI Spark is the company’s most approachable drone yet with intuitive gesture controls, a compact frame and low-price enough to compete with other affordable quadcopters. From the PalmControl, Quickshots and deeper smartphone integration, DJI has broken multiple barriers of entry that made drones seem intimidating.
While we love everything we got to try and see so far, we’ll have to see how well the DJI Spark handles in a real life situation. Until then stay tuned for our full review.