Hands on: Ryze Tello

The smartest toy drone you’ll ever fly

What is a hands on review?
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Our Early Verdict

Even from our brief time with the Ryze Tello, we can tell its going to be one of the best drones of 2018 with a ton of smarts and surprisingly ample performance for its small size.

For

  • Incredibly affordable and fun
  • Phone-based POV mode
  • Motion-controlled flying still makes you feel like a Jedi

Against

  • Light enough to be carried away by a breeze
  • Not designed to be flown outside

There’s never a shortage of drones at CES 2018 these days, but if you look past all the hexacopter and quadcoptors designed for extreme performance, Ryze unveiled something uniquely simple with the Tello. Priced at $99 (£99, AU$169) Ryze Tello is more of a tiny flying toy to help kids and starting filers into the air.

On top of that, the Tello is brings some fun features including mid-air flips, livestreaming and the ability to program your air frame. Furthermore, the drone is packing some smart tech courtesy of Intel to make it safe and easy to fly indoors.

And in case if you haven't heard of Ryze before, they're a Chinese startup. At the same time DJI is closely partnered as a supplier providing its flight stabilization technology and selling the tiny flier on its online store.

Design

The Ryze Tello really is a little dinky thing when you first see and hold it. Whereas we could hold the DJI Spark in an outstretched hand, the Ryze Tello neatly fits into just our palm. Measuring just 98 x 92.5 x 41mm and weighing 80 grams, it’s an incredibly small drone compared most of the air frames we've seen released so far.

Tininess aside, there’s it's clear the Tello and takes inspiration from the Spark. Both drones share a similar two-tone look and body shape. That said, the Tello gets rid of redundant landing gear and instead extends the bottom of its rotor arms to act as its feet. The result is an even shorter, more compact air frame that should be easier to fly indoors.

Features

The Tello is essentially a smaller DJI Spark in every way. Both drones even pack the same flight stabilization technology and Intel Movidius Myriad 2 VPU, which means you can launch it from your palm and control it with hand motions.

Unfortunately, shrinking things down has led to some downgrades. The drone’s camera utilizes a 5MP sensor that can only record 720p videos – the Spark has a 12MP camera capable of capturing Full HD 1080p footage.

Flight time also cuts off at a maximum 13 minutes, compared to the Spark's 16-minute battery life, although it’s astonishing that a drone this small can fly for so long. You won’t be going anywhere quick with this drone either – its max speed tops out at an 8m/s, and you’ll only be able to fly it outside when there's no wind at all.

On the plus side, the Tello pulls off a few tricks you won’t find even on DJI's drones. For one thing the control interface includes a flip button for being fancy in the air or dodging any Nerf darts at a party. There are also several flight modes, including ones for shooting a quick 360-degree video and having the drone fly away and upward from you in one smooth motion.

Ryze Tello owners will also be able to program their own flight patterns at home, using an included coding tool called Scratch. We haven’t had a chance to try this out ourselves, but we’ve been told it will be simple for anyone to plot their aerial maneuvers.

With an Google Daydream VR-like phone holder, Tello owners will also be able to jump into a POV flying experience.

Early verdict

It’s easy to write off the Tello as a $99 (£99, AU$169) toy drone, but it brings some serious performance to the world of tiny drones. With 13 minutes of flight time and motion-based controls, it’s a much more accessible option than buying another cheap toy drone that you’ll crash-land within minutes of getting airborne.

The Tello isn’t just one of the smallest and cheapest drones, it’s also looks like a ton of fun – the abilities to flip with a single tap and quickly pop into a POV mode with your phone can’t be discounted. We can’t wait to give this drone a full review when it arrives this March.

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What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.