Tello, Powered by DJI
- Really, really fun
- Surprisingly good photographs
- Great battery life (especially with Boost Combo)
- Feature packed
- Some limitations
- Not great in wind
Drones are one of those technologies that have rapidly developed over the past few years. Not so long ago it was a novelty to see a drone in the sky, but now they seem to be everywhere. When I go for my sunrise run at Cronulla, flocks of them buzz up into the sky as soon as the first rays poke over the horizon.
The idea of piloting a drone has definitely captured my imagination, but the hard part was knowing where to start. Those things can get expensive pretty quickly, and for an amateur who is just out to have a bit of fun, learn the ropes and hopefully take a half-decent photo, $1500+ is a LOT of money.
Disclosure: The Tello drone was provided to Blog of Dad free of charge, for the purpose of review and inclusion in the 2018 Christmas Gift Guide for Australian Dads. All opinions expressed in this review are based on my experiences with the Tello.
Tello, Powered by DJI
The diminutive Tello is immediately impressive when you open the box. It really is tiny when compared to many of the drones that you would have seen flying around. The Tello weights just 80 grams with propellers and battery attached and the body of the drone is approximately 7cm long. The diagonal measurement from propeller to propeller is just over 20cm – the Tello really is a compact design!
But don’t let the tiny size fool you. The Tello is no child’s toy. It is packed full of features and technology that make it an excellent drone for learning the basics and practicing drone photography.
Learning how to control the Tello is a simple process. The Tello is piloted via the smartphone app. Once connected, the basic control is done through two intuitive thumb pads. It does take a few minutes to master, and I found it best to practice indoors before taking the Tello out into the open.
I’d be lying if I said no family members piloted the Tello into trees, poles or their own beards during their first flights. Accidents certainly do happen when you are learning to fly for the first time. Mostly, they tend to happen when the pilot has turned the Tello and becomes disoriented. All of a sudden, pushing left moves the drone right and forward moves it back. The key thing to remember is to let go of the control sticks, let the Tello automatically stabilize its self (which it does very well, inside or outside), then slowly manoeuvre the drone again. Looking at the 720p livestream can also be a great help with reorienting.
Thankfully the Tello is built tough. It has been able to handle all of the knocks (and tangles in beards) that my family and I have thrown at it. The propeller protectors are a must for any novice pilot – they do a great job of shielding the propellers during accidents.
Control of the Tello is greatly assisted by the inclusion of DJI Flight Tech. These legends in the field of drone technology know a thing or two about keeping a drone in the air and stable.
For such a tiny and budget-friendly drone, the Tello is incredibly feature-packed.
Auto Take-off and landing is a godsend for novices like me. Simply tap a button and the Tello whirs into life, then gracefully takes off into the air and hovers a couple of metres off the ground. Again the DJI-powered vision positioning kicks in, holding the Tello in the one spot until further instructions are given.
The only time a take-off has not gone well for me was during a particularly windy attempt at sunrise photography. It’s fair to say I played a part in the incident as well. I launched the Tello and immediately pressed up on the joystick. The strong wind caught hold of the Tello and before it had had a chance to stabilize, it was off. I brought it down in some small bushes on the edge of the sand dunes. Needless to say I had learnt a lesson about paying attention to flight conditions and proximity to other objects.
Amazingly, that first failed take-off in high wind didn’t stop me from trying again. I moved to the middle of an open field and launched the Tello slowly. I allowed it to hover and stabilize before very slowly edging it skyward. While it was obvious that the Tello was battling the strong breeze, I was incredibly impressed with how well it did at holding its position. It was certainly good enough to allow me to take some pretty great photos!
Throw & Go is one of the many hidden talents of the Tello. It is a way of launching the drone straight from your hand and it is very impressive to watch. Simply press a button then gently toss the Tello into the air.
Likewise, Hand Landings do a great job of making you look far more professional and talented than you really are as a drone pilot. Simply bring the Tello down to a reachable altitude, tap the button then hold your hand under the drone and wait for it to land. I’m yet to meet someone who isn’t impressed by that little party trick!
The Tello also packs a few other tricks. While perhaps not as practical as those mentioned above, they are certainly a lot of fun to play around with. These features include “8D Flips”, which enables the Tello to perform entertaining areal stunts, and “Bounce Mode”, which moves the Tello up and down automatically.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot out of the camera on such a budget-friendly drone. But what I found was that the 5MP camera on the Tello was surprisingly capable. Of course it isn’t in the same ballpark as the brilliant Hasselblad lens on the Mavic Pro 2, but then again it is a fraction of the cost. For a beginner, the Tello offers a lot to like.
Straight out of the camera, the photos can be pretty reasonable. These examples show a few of the completely unedited photos that I have taken with the Tello:
Of course, I rarely leave my DSLR photos unedited, so naturally I wanted to push the Tello photos through some processing and see what the camera is really capable of producing. Needless to say, I was pretty happy with the results. The resolution is a little below what I would normally like, but overall it wasn’t hard to achieve some pretty great results from a few minor alterations:
One of the main things that I had to alter with my photos was to straighten the horizon. That is mainly thanks to the persistent winds that had a habit of messing with the stability of the drone. To be frank, I’m impressed with how well the tiny Tello held its own in some fairly challenging gusts…
The Tello was built with beginners in mind and as such it is packed with safety features. The DJI Flight Tech does a great job of keeping the drone stable and even does a reasonable job of combatting the wind. That makes a huge difference as there is one less thing to worry about and concentrate on.
The propeller protection is a must-have for any learner drone and in my experience it has done a great job of protecting the propellers from damage in the inevitable accidents.
Collision detection does a great job of sensing impacts and shutting off the propellers to minimise damage to both the drone and whatever it has hit.
The lightweight nature of the drone means that if you do happen to accidentally hit someone or something, the chance of damage is reduced.
Low battery protection alerts you when the battery is running low, and automatically brings the Tello down in a controlled landing when the level is critical. It’s nice to know my Tello isn’t going to suddenly drop from the sky.
Failsafe Protection brings the Tello down safely if the connection between the drone and your smartphone is lost.
The Tello has a stated flight time of 13 minutes per battery. I’m my testing so far I have found that to be reasonable accurate. I was sent the Tello Boost Combo and I highly recommend it for extending flight time. The Boost Combo comes with two extra batteries and a battery charging hub. With the Boost Combo I find that I can have an enjoyable morning of sunrise drone photography without having to worry that I will run out of juice.
I have spent a lot of time in this review focussing on the positives of the Tello and with good reason. I am seriously impressed by how much goodness has been packed into such a small and affordable package. However, to produce a drone like the Tello, compromises do have to be made.
Firstly, the camera is only 5MP. While I am thrilled with the results that I have been able to squeeze out of such a basic camera, if I was looking to photograph seriously I would need a whole lot more (I’m looking at you, Mavic 2 Pro). Likewise, video outputs at 720P, which is the minimum you would want.
While still on the camera, it is in a fixed position, which means you are limited in the type of photos you can take. Of course, 3-Axis gimbals are the domain of professional drones and I certainly wouldn’t expect to find anything like that on a beginner drone.
Flight height is limited to 30 metres and max flight distance is 100m. Again, these are specifications that are perfectly adequate in a beginner drone, but that you should be aware of before buying.
As I have mentioned, the Tello can struggle when there is a bit of wind about. Be mindful of flying the drone in anything stronger than a steady breeze. The DJI Flight Tech does a brilliant job of trying to combat the wind, but there is only so much that an 80g drone can do.
It is important to note that these limitations have not reduced my rating of the Tello drone from five stars. The fact is that the Tello packs a huge amount of goodness into a very affordable package. It’s makers should be applauded for focussing on what really matters.
The Tello, powered by DJI is a thoroughly impressive piece of gear that costs next to nothing when compared with some other drones. It has its limitations, but with a bit of patience and practice the end result is something incredibly enjoyable and satisfying. If you have been thinking about a drone for photography, or even just a bit of fun, but have been put off by the high prices, the Tello, powered by DJI, is a great place to start.