Wish you could be the owner of a DJI drone, but not ready to fork over more than $100? The DJI Tello is easily your best bet.
Ryze Technology, a Shenzhen-based tech company that launched in 2017, announced its first-ever drone a year later in 2018. The drone is Tello, a $99 kid-friendly drone that combines DJI flight technology and an Intel processor to create a budget camera drone that also can be used to teach newbies the basics of programming.
It’s a great little drone for people looking for a low-cost introduction to stunt flying and shooting videos, as well as people looking to learn how to use drones how to code.
The Tello drone, which weighs just 80 grams, can fly for 13 minutes and shoot 5 megapixel photos. For context, DJI’s other especially-small drone, the DJI Spark, weighs 300 grams, can fly for 16 minutes and shoots 12 megapixel photos. The drone doesn’t come with an RC transmitter, but can be controlled via a mobile app (or an external one can be purchased separately).
Tello drone review: how does it fly?
The main thing that sets the Tello apart from your typical “toy” drone is the Intel technology inside.
Because the Tello drone uses an Intel Movidius Myriad 2 VPU, which handles object recognition in DJI drones, the drone can also respond to hand gestures — just like DJI’s more high-end drones like the Spark and Mavic Air. It can even land in your hand and take off by being tossed in the air. For $99, that’s pretty incredible.
When flying in windless conditions, i.e. indoors, the Tello is incredibly stable and holds its position, making it easy for a newbie to learn how to fly.
However, the drone does not succeed in windy conditions — not even in mildly windy or breezy conditions. I made the mistake of flying Tello on the roof of my San Francisco apartment — do not try this!! It almost blew away!
Tello drone review: video and photos
The video quality is not amazing, but for me that was somewhat expected given the drone only costs $99. It is better than most under-$200 drones, but don’t expect to be winning any awards for your high-quality footage.
Here’s a video clip I took in my living room:
The drone records video directly to your phone. The con of that is you won’t have it stored on a memory card, but it’s nice to instantly have video on your phone so you can upload it online.
Tello drone review: programming Tello and learning to code
The standout feature of Tello is the fact that you can program it to perform specific routines. This is the first time DJI has formerly gotten into the “drones for education” department, something competing drone companies like Parrot has been doing for years with its AR and Mambo drones.
The drone utilizes Scratch as its coding platform. Scratch is a programming language targeted at children. Essentially, you can program the drone to fly certain directions based on the “code” you have written.
As someone who has very minimal experience coding, I did find that figuring out how to program Tello was a bit complicated at first. There is no instruction manual that comes with the Tello. Luckily, the Internet is a fabulous place, and I did find some really excellent tutorials online to help me out.
(Thank you, creators of this video!):
Once I watched this video, things were super easy to execute, though I likely wouldn’t have figured it out myself without the external research.
Tello drone review: the controller
If you opt to use Scratch to control the drone, then you can actually just control it with your computer.
If you want to freestyle fly, you’ll either have to use your smartphone or purchase an additional controller, since there isn’t one included. I don’t love controlling the drone with my phone — it just feels clunky — but the lack of controller isn’t completely surprising given the drone’s low price tag.
Ryze recommends using the GameVice controller if you prefer a traditional RC transmitter feel, though I didn’t test this option myself.
Tello drone review: final thoughts
In all, the Tello drone is a great little drone for someone looking to get an introduction to drones. The video quality, stability and flight time makes it enjoyable to fly. Add in the teaching component with the Scratch integration, and you truly have something special.
The Tello certainly is not the “cheapest” drone on the market, and if you’re just looking for a fun, party trick, then don’t bother shelling out the cash when you can get a toy drone for half the price.
That being said, the Tello probably does knock a lot of toy drones out of the market, since it has that incredible gesture control, a decent quality camera and the programming component.
The Tello could become an integral component to (well-funded) school STEM programs, or just as a fantastic gift for parents who want to give their kids an education gift — and get them hooked on drones at the same time.