DJI Tello drone review: A $159 drone from Ryze using DJI and Intel tech

Wish you could be the owner of a DJI drone, but not ready to fork over more than $200? The Tello is easily your best bet. Here’s your complete DJI Tello drone review (and why it’s the best drone for kids, STEM programs, indoor flying and more):

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 $159 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!

On the other hand, it’s excellent for indoor flying. It’s small so it can easily navigate through doorframes. Prop guards can protect your stuff in the event of a crash. In fact, it’s actually considered my No. 1 top indoor drone recommendation.

This drone is tiny — and not windproof!

Tello drone review: video and photos

The video quality is not amazing, but for me that was somewhat expected given the drone only costs $159. 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 for STEM: 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.

Given all that, the Tello also clocks in as my top pick for best educational drones to use in STEM programs.

What about the Tello controller (or lack thereof)?

One of the biggest noticeable differences between the Tello and most other DJI drones is that there is no controller included. But don’t fret: you’ll still get to control it — just not with the standard joysticks.

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 a controller isn’t completely surprising given the drone’s low price tag.

That said, if you prefer a traditional RC transmitter feel, the Tello does work with other third-party joystick-style controllers. Ryze recommends using the GameVice controller, though I didn’t test this option myself.

The Tello drone in the box

Do you have to register the Tello drone?

The FAA’s small unmanned aircraft rule (Part 107) requires registration for drones that weigh over 0.55 pounds (250 grams). The Tello drone weighs 80 grams, so it is exempt from registration.

The fact that the Tello drone weighs less than 250 grams is a pretty big deal, as it means it’s far less onerous to get into flying — and an annoying barrier to entry has been lifted.

However, even though you do not need to register the Tello drone, it’s still good practice to follow the FAA’s rules and regulations for flying drones, such as staying away from airports and restricted areas.

The DJI Tello drone: discontinued?

Now for the bad news: it appears that Tello might be discontinued. In late 2024, the Tello drone was listed as sold out on DJI’s site. On third-parties such as Amazon, quantities are limited (mostly to used versions only). At one point, there was even a limited edition Iron Man version of the Tello drone (also out of stock).

The Drone Girl reached out to DJI for official comment, and only got a vague answer.

“Currently, the Tello series is still being sold in the United States, and we will continue to provide technical and after-sales support to the customers,” a DJI spokesperson told The Drone Girl. “We have been working hard to provide global users with drone products that meet different needs. We will continue to launch new products that are accessible, easier to use and meet entry-level or educational needs, so stay tuned.”

What to do if you can’t get your hands on the Tello drone

Given that Tello seems to have been put out of production, move fast. They’re already sold out from major retailers like Adorama and DJI itself. Even big retailers like Amazon or resellers like eBay have very few left.

If you’ve missed the boat on getting one from a standard retailer, your best options include buying a used drone. Just know that if you go this route, there are some risks of buying used drones.

The best Tello drone alternatives

And if that still doesn’t work consider the Tello drone alternatives. Luckily, there are a fair amount of great replacements on the market these days. My recommendations for the best alternatives to Tello are:

DroneBlocks Crazyflie Nano Drone

For the best educational drones for a STEM program, you’re best off with the $399 Crazyflie Nano drone made by DroneBlocks.

At just 27 grams, it’s tiny enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Like Tello, they’re actually better indoors than outdoors, as even slight wind can make them tough to control.

And like Tello, the Crazyflie Nano has a strong, educational component. Students can use this drone to learn block-coding. More advanced students might do their own Python programming to send this drone on its own autonomous drone missions.

Check out the Crazyflie Nano drone for $399.

Robolink CoDrone Mini Programmable Coding STEM Educational Drone Kit

The Robolink CoDrone Mini Programmable Coding STEM Educational Drone Kit wins as the most affordable runner-up to the $399 Crazyflie Nano drone.

For a lower cost, acknowledge that you are getting a more basic drone. It uses a simple programming language Blockly, allowing you to code the drone to fly in patterns, do flips, or flash lights. It doesn’t have all the full-fledge features of the Crazyflie Nano, but it’s tough to beat its $99 price tag.

DJI Tello drone review: is it worth it?

In all, the Tello drone is a great little drone for someone looking to get an introduction to drones — assuming you can get your hands on it.

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.

Especially now that it’s not in production, Tello certainly is not the “cheapest” drone on the market, and it’ll require a fair amount of effort to come by. 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 shaped school STEM programs. It served as a fantastic gift for parents who wanted to give their kids an education gift — and get them hooked on drones at the same time.

While it seems that the DJI Tello drone is no more, it’s something special. Luckily, it set a precedent for all sorts of new, excellent STEM drones.

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