Today the Tello remains the only drone on drone-giant DJI’s website that isn’t branded as a DJI-built drone. The feature-packed mini-drone arose from a partnership between Ryze, Intel, and DJI. Their goal was to create the ultimate beginner drone. When you hear names like “DJI” and “Intel” you immediately think, “this drone must pack the latest technology and be really expensive”. The Tello does indeed have a lot of incredible features. This little drone sports an HD camera, intelligent flight modes, image stabilization, and a handful of sensors for stable flight. What it doesn’t have is a high price tag. Just under $100, this small drone is worth every penny.
Little Tello, Big Camera
Arguably, the most impressive part of the Tello is the 5 MP camera that is capable of recording 720p video. Most drones under $100 have grainy, low-resolution, 0.3 MP or 2 MP cameras. No drone under $100 other than this one has electronic image stabilization (EIS). Bigger drones like the Mavic or Phantom use a gimbal to stabilize video, but a small drone like the Tello does not have room for a bulky gimbal. Instead, the footage is stabilized electronically. We found the EIS on the Tello to work extremely well. The EIS turns otherwise unwatchable shakey video into smooth footage that you will be happy to share with your friends.
The Tello camera is the best in its class.
Tello Flight Modes
[pullquote]Without hesitation, I said that the Tello was the drone he wanted.[/pullquote]Something else that sets the Tello apart from the competition is its various flight modes. The flight mode are called “EZ Shots.” I have tested 100s of drones, and I have yet to see another sub-$100 drone with the variety of flight modes that are available on the Tello. The “Up and Away” mode, for example, is a classic dronie. The Tello flies away from you while slowly gaining altitude to keep you or your preferred subject in the center of the video.
The most impressive mode has to be “Circle.” In this mode, the Tello performs what other drones call a “point of interest” or an “orbit.” The mini-drone will circle its subject, always keeping it in the frame. This is a feat not performed by any other drone that doesn’t have built-in GPS.
The Tello is incredibly stable in flight.
There are a handful of other fun modes like 8 different flips (most similar drones can only flip in 4 different directions), “Bounce”, and “360.” You can also “Throw and Go” the drone rather than take off from the ground. It can perform palm landings with ease, so it never needs to touch the ground if you are flying over tall grass.
You can see the two IR sensors as well as a downward facing camera on the bottom of the Tello.
The stability of the Tello is the most impressive I have seen from a non-GPS drone. It utilizes multiple sensors and cameras to help keep the drone where you want it. Infrared sensors, a downward-facing camera, and an altimeter all combine to keep the Tello stable. It works particularly well indoors and under 10 feet, where the cameras can pick up patterns on the ground. You will have to watch for yourself to believe just how stable it can be.
The Tello also boasts an impressive flight time of 13 minutes. Most drones this size will only stay airborne for about half that time. The 3.8v battery and newly-designed propellers both aid in giving it a longer flight time. There was a lot of thought and engineering that went into this small drone.
The propellers are efficient but are tied to brushed motors.
One limitation of the Tello is that its range is only 100 meters (330 feet). That is because the it is flown with an app on your smartphone rather than a stand-alone remote. The drone connects to a smart device via WiFI. In most cases, you will be lucky if you can fly more than 30 meters (100 feet) before the video feed gets choppy. The range can be extended over 100 meters with this inexpensive range extender by Xiaomi. I tested it myself, it is impressive what this little extender can do.
The height of the Tello is limited to 20 meters (66 feet) by software but there are free apps you can use to extend that. I don’t recommend changing this setting, however. At altitudes above 20 meters, the downward-facing sensors won’t be helpful and the drone will be harder to see. At higher altitude, the wind tends to be unpredictably fast. The small Tello cannot handle high winds very well, so flying high is a recipe for losing your Tello.
Controlling the Tello
I normally do not like flying a drone using my smartphone instead of a physical remote. Physical remotes typically give you a lot more control and sensitivity than touchscreen controls. In contrast to most on-screen controllers, the Tello app has self-centering controls that are extremely precise and responsive. The Tello app has the best smart screen controls that I have ever tested.
Fly your Tello with the smartphone app or use a game style Bluetooth remote.
You can connect your Tello to a Bluetooth game-style remote if you must have a remote control. I have tested the MadCatz remote as well as the GameSir remote that is recommended by DJI and Ryze. Both work well, but I would give the edge to the GameSir remote since it doesn’t interfere with the video signal. Not all GameSir remotes are compatible, so we recommend you buy a GameSir from DJI.
The Tello is an excellent drone for under $100 but it does have some limitations. The biggest shortcoming is the lack of onboard memory. All video is streamed directly to your smartphone. That means you’ll have to keep the drone reasonable close to the controlling smart device if you want good video quality.
The Tello has been know to drop video frames if you are flying in a “noisy” WiFi area. Hopefully, DJI and Ryze include SD storage on the Tello 2. The good news is that you never need to wait to download a video – your recording is always immediately available on your smartphone. It is easy and quick to share and post with friends.
You’ll get everything you see here when you purchase a Tello.
The Tello does not come with a charger, presumably to save some money and help keep this feature-packed mini-drone under $100. You will need to provide your own micro-USB cord and charger. They recommend you use a 5V USB charger with at least 1.5 amps of current. I recommend you use at a 2.1 amp charger, this will help bring the charging time down from 1.5 hours to closer to an hour.
Program Your Tello
The Tello is an excellent drone for a beginner and one could even argue it is educational.
One of the unique features of the Tello is that is can be programmed to fly autonomously. I have used the MIT-based program Scratch and the app-based Droneblocks to get my Tello to fly preplanned missions. It is a neat trick and a lot of fun for anyone into coding.
The Xiaomi MiTu is the closest thing to the Ryze Tello, but it isn’t quite as nice.
There are a lot of drones you can buy for under $100 and I have tested dozens of them. The Xiaomi MiTu, MJX Bugs 3 and Syma X8 are all solid options under $100 but I’d still give the edge to the Tello for most people. The MiTu is the most similar to the Tello, but it falls short in almost every way. The MJX Bugs 3 is a beast of drone for a beginner. The brushless motors on the Bugs 3 make it more of an intermediate level drone. The DJI Phantom-sized Syma X8 can carry an action camera like a GoPro, but like the Bugs 3, it isn’t nearly as portable as this one.
The polished design, long flight time, small size, and advanced features of the Tello make it our top pick for most first-time drone buyers. It also makes and an ideal gift for kids of all ages. A friend asked me the other day, “I have $100 to spend, what drone should I buy for my nephew’s birthday?” Without hesitation, I said that the Tello was the drone he wanted.
Ryze Tello or the DJI Spark
The DJI Spark is a fantastic machine and worth looking into as a second drone, after your Tello of course.
A lot of people assumed that the Tello would be a smaller version of the DJI Spark. This certainly is not the case. Both are excellent drones in their own right, but they are completely different. Ultimately the Tello is a toy, a really nice toy. The GPS, advanced flight modes, 2-axis gimbal, and 1080 HD camera put the Spark in a whole different class than this mini-drone. No, you aren’t going to take Hollywood-style videos with your Tello, but it is an excellent beginner if you want something fun but you don’t want to break the bank.
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