Tech Tools review: 3DR Solo smart drone

Great drone built for photography but not cheap and you will need extras

3DR Solo smart drone: you will need to add a Go Pro and the optional gimbal to hold it if you want to use the drone to capture steady footage

Product name: 3DR Solo smart drone

Price: €1299.9

Where to buy: www.harveynorman.ie

Website: www.3dr.com

Thu, Mar 17, 2016, 13:00

   

“Is it supposed to do that?” The 3DR Solo drone was indoors, because we didn’t want to take it to fly in public just yet. High winds – one of the many storms that hit Ireland in recent weeks, coupled with a desire to stay the right side of drone legislation meant that indoors was the safer option.

Or so I thought. On starting the device, it somehow managed to flip itself over, where – with the propellers still spinning – it stayed, sort of like a turtle on its back. A really noisy turtle, trying to wear a hole in the floor. Which prompted the question. And no, it’s not supposed to do that.

The casualties: two props. Luckily, they’re the two easiest things to replace. One shopping trip later and we were ready to go again. (The retail pack includes two spare props, by the way).

That one mishap showed one important thing though. The 3DR drone has a clever way of stopping the props in an emergency: pressing all the buttons at once. It’s the equivalent of a panicked hand-mash on the controller. Which when you think about it, is probably what most people would do in the same situation.

The 3DR has its own controller you see, rather than relying on your smartphone. It has space for you to attach your smartphone or tablet, but it’s purely an extra rather than a necessity. The controller is simple to figure out. There’s a fly button and a return to home button, both of which do obvious things.

After the initial mishap, I haven’t been able to recreate the gymnastic flip the 3DR Solo performed on that first outing, which is probably a good thing.

The world of drones has gone from niche hobby to being the technology of the moment, which means there are fairly strict regulations about where you can fly a drone and what you can do with it. If a drone is over a kilo in weight, it has to be registered with the IAA (the 3DR Solo is). You can’t fly it in crowded areas, more than 300m from the person operating it, or over 120min the air. You also can’t fly it within a certain distance of people or vehicles not in your control, or do anything daft with it. You also have to be careful if there’s a camera attached, as there are privacy issues to consider. The IAA has the full list of regulations on its website.

That aside, what is the 3DR like to fly?

The 3DR Solo drone is designed to be smarter than your average drone. Most will have some sort of emergency system that, should you lose control of it, will land it safely. In theory. Of course there are always exceptions, and there have been stories of drones crashing into buildings or bridges. The 3DR has a dual computer to ensure your drone won’t go awol. There’s a 1GHz computer in the drone and a second in the controller; if they stop communicating, the drone will hover while the computer reboots, or if it fails to reconnect, it will return back to where it started.

So that’s a plus point. In fact, 3DR is so confident that its system works, it will replace your drone if it gets lost – assuming you haven’t done something daft with it.

Controlling it isn’t too difficult, although you will need some practice runs if you aren’t familiar with drones.

One thing you will need to add though is a Go Pro and the optional gimbal to hold it, if you want to use the drone to capture steady footage. That puts you into a whole other area of regulations though, depending on what you want to do with the footage – if you plan to use it commercially, you need a permit.

It also has an effect on battery life; the extra weight will shave a few minutes off the flight time.

If you add the camera, you can operate the camera from the controller, with two buttons to control smart shots and paddles on the shoulders to control the camera angle. This drone is built for shooting video. Those shots can be anything from a 360-degree wraparound “orbit” to options made for action footage, such as “follow me” or a virtual “cable cam” you can set to follow a certain path automatically. There’s even a good old selfie shot (duck face is optional). The end result is great photos and video.

The good

The controller is self-explanatory, so there is no need for lengthy training just to switch it on. Turtle impressions aside, of course.

The not so good

It’s expensive. Almost €1,300 without the GoPro and the gimbal, this will put it out of reach of most casual users.

The rest

The Solo has two Linux computers that will keep control of your drone, and prompt it to return home if it loses communication.

The verdict

HHHH This drone could transform even the most inexperienced drone user into a decent aerial photographer – for a price.