For neophytes looking to wade into the drone piloting experience, the Ninja Dragon Vortex 9 RC Quadcopter may be an ideal way of taking the plunge. The palm-size unit packs outsize application range, and at a price that won’t put aspiring fliers off before they even begin.

The mini-drone…

The Ninja Dragon is obviously not going to satisfy the appetite of seasoned pilots who demand an ever wider, increasingly powerful array of apps – and are willing to pay for that combo. But the bite-size drone does represent a nifty intro-unit for the uninitiated (and a reasonably slick option for occasional fliers wanting impressive footage to impress friends and social media follower with).

And while the flying squirt (1.4″H x 4.9″L x 2.3″W) costs up to $169 at full cost, there are a few online outfits selling them for between $79.99 to just under $100. Hard to go too wrong with prices like those.

… with (relatively) maxi-apps

What comes with that modest investment is a 4K HD camera whose 110 degree ultra-wide capture lens has two viewing angles. Because the Ninja Dragon is angled for the starter or casual flying crowd, it features an Altitude Hold mode stabilizing the drone while shaky controller hands focus on video or photo shots. A similar logic is behind the Headless Mode, which lets the drone automatically demonstrate for momentarily confounded pilots which way is forward.

One cool feature is the craft’s Wi-Fi connectivity, allowing pilots to used their linked smartphone as the controlling device. That also enables a real-time video feed offering de facto First Person View (FPV) piloting. Another option allows the user to trace a short flight path on the phone screen that the drone subsequently follows.

An additional attraction for beginners (or lazier pilots) is a one-touch automatic return function that commands the Ninja Dragon to immediately fly back to its point of departure. Full controller commands are: up/down, forward/back, left/ ight turn, side flight, LED light, headless mode, one-button auto return, altitude hold mode, and Wi-Fi FPV.

But nothing’s perfect

So what’s the downside?

Besides limited app variety and capacity compared to pricier options, the Ninja Dragon’s obvious weaknesses are battery life and transmission range. Flight time is a mere 15 minutes. The 40-minute recharging period, meanwhile, means an inevitable 10-minute wait if you’re switching the three supplied cells between mini-missions. Maximum radio controller distance is 80 meters, and Wi-Fi FPV range 50 meters. No flirting with any beyond vision line of sight limits with this puppy

But if the expression “you get what you pay for” is usually (and painfully) true, the Ninja Dragon may be an exception in delivering more for the price of admission it offers users into the drone pilot club. That may be just the ticket for droning outsiders dying to get in. And, just possibly, even for old hands at the sticks tired of fending off their kids’ demands to finally get their chance in the air.

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