DJI Spark review
- Simple gesture controls work well
- Well priced
Could be better
- Firmware upgrade process is frustrating
- Fairly short flying time
- No propellor guards in the box
Opening up drone flying for the masses, the Spark is possibly the most accessible drone ever produced.
DJI has already built its reputation as the brand to beat when it comes to aerial drones. But while older models like the Phantom 3 may be affordable for larger audiences, most of the newer drones are serious investments reflecting the impressive amounts of technology packed inside their lightweight bodies.
For this reason, the DJI Spark is a game changer. The drone is incredibly compact, making it small enough to pack away in your carry-on luggage. It also comes with new gesture control functionality that makes it more accessible to everyone.
There’s still a bit of a learning curve though, but that is balanced out by a more comprehensive control system for more advanced users.
The DJI Spark can comfortably rest on your hand. In fact, one of its unique selling points is the fact that it can take off and land in the palm of your hand.
At 300 grams, the Spark is incredibly lightweight. The central body is surrounded by four diagonal arms which house the rotaries that make the Spark fly, with the overall effect being that of a small “X”.
The propeller blades all fold back on each other for easy storage, helping the Spark become even more portable. Out of the box, there are no guards for those propellers, which is one of the more surprising elements of the package, especially given the recommendation that the guards are used for handheld flying.
But while the compact size and range of colours make the Spark appealing to the masses, what’s most impressive is that the budget model in DJI’s drone range also manages to incorporate some pretty impressive technology.
For instance, there’s obstacle avoidance, which leverages sensors on the front and bottom of the drone to identify its location at all times. Then there’s the gimbal mounted camera that records 1080p video and 12MP still photos using the included 1/2.3-inch sensor.
When paired with the onboard processor, that camera also enables face detection, which is a critical component of the Spark’s gesture control.
Around the back there’s a subtle case that hides the MicroUSB charging port used to power up the batteries as well as the MicroSD card slot for storing your footage. The Spark has 2GB available on the device itself, so you’ll want to throw a MicroSD card in there pretty quickly if you actually plan on using the drone.
If you like to see what you’re flying, users can control the Spark out of the box using the DJI Go app on their iPhone or Android device. For more advanced users, DJI also has a dedicated controller, which drastically increases the range of the drone to 2km and uses your phone’s screen to beam a 720p stream of the Spark’s camera to your device.
Setting up the Spark can be a bit of a nightmare. It’s not that the process is overly difficult. It’s more that there are so many different components you need to try and tackle, and it’s not always 100% clear what step is next in line.
For example, getting your phone connected to the Spark requires you to connect to the Spark’s Wi-Fi network. Aside from the fact that the SSID and password are hidden underneath the battery compartment, the process was a little hit and miss.
Firmware updates are mandatory. The drone simply won’t fly if you don’t run them. Actually updating the firmware requires switching between an active Wi-Fi network and the drone.
What’s more, the Spark’s batteries have firmware, so you’ll need to repeat the process with every battery you purchase for the Spark. And again if you have the pro controller. Basically, it can take a long time ensuring everything is up to date before you start flying.
Once you do though, the Spark is incredible to use.
The gesture control is straightforward enough, though it does lack that immediate sense of feedback you get from using your smartphone or the DJI controller. If you just want to take a quick group shot or selfie, then the gesture control will work.
To operate gesture control, you simply turn on the drone (via a single then long press of the button on the battery) and then double tap the power button again. Holding the drone flat on the palm of your hand with the camera facing you, it will take off and hover.
Holding out your palm and moving it slowly in a given direction, the Spark will follow instructions. Wave your hand back and forth and the drone will pull up and back for a more aerial shot. You can then make a frame from your fingers and draw them apart to take a selfie.
In order to land the drone, you simply hold out your palm underneath the drone and it will land, so long as the camera is pointed at your face.
For the most part, the controls work pretty well, though I had some struggles to get it to move vertically using the palm controls. But having a drone land on your hand with seemingly nothing more than the power of your mind is real Jedi mind trick stuff.
Controlling the Spark with your phone’s touchscreen can be a slightly more difficult process, especially when you’re trying to control the drone across three separate axes.
Fortunately, DJI has packed some easily accessible simple shot modes to help you get the best footage with the minimum of effort.
Among these are Active Track, that will follow a target you specify on the screen (great for action sports footage); Dronie, which pulls up and away but keeps your subject in frame; Circle, which maintains height and distance while orbiting a subject; and Helix, which flies up and around in growing circles and finally Rocket, which shoots the drone straight up while looking down.
When you use these QuickShot shooting modes, the DJI Go app will automatically create a short, 10-second highlight video for you to browse and share easily to social media.
Battery and video performance
DJI claim about 16 minutes of flight time with each of the Spark’s Smart batteries, and that’s pretty close. Technically, it’s a little bit less because the drone retains enough juice to ensure it can return home.
The photo and video quality out of the Spark are pretty remarkable, especially given the bright, challenging lighting situations that it can face. But it is definitely better for either a unique look on a fixed subject or stunning vistas from a high altitude.
You do get some manual settings in the app for your photography, though there is a real sense of urgency to take the shot when your drone is flying 100 metres above you and you’re trying to get the right framing as gentle gusts of wind move the drone around.
The dedicated panorama mode is an awesome inclusion, allowing the drone to stitch together either a vertical or horizontal panorama with a single button press.
If you’re keen on experimenting with the world of drone flying, the DJI Spark is one of the friendliest drones to cut your teeth on.
With its gesture controls, you can fly the drone out of the box with nothing but your hands, while more experienced users can take advantage of more complex flying modes.
Its light weight means that it gets blown about a bit in gusts of winds, and DJI’s setup process of pairing between mobile device, drone and controller is a little frustrating.
But the Spark offers a convenient and portable flying solution to get some incredible photo and aerial video with next to no experience.