tello vs syma

Tello Vs. Toys – How Does DJI’s Tiny Tello Really Stack Up?

On January 8, 2018, DJI and Ryze changed the market for inexpensive quadcopters forever with the release of the $99 Tello. Our first reaction was “oh snap, the toy drone makers are screwed.” There are plenty of good quadcopters under $100 but before the Tello, they all had one huge problem holding them back – none of them had a good camera. With a real camera on a drone for under $100, the Tello stands to put a lot of smaller competition out of business.

the DJI tello camera

Take a look at the camera on the Tello. It may not have a gimbal, but it does have digital image stabilization.

Cameras – Tello Vs. Toys

We have looked at hundreds of toy drones and analyzed the image quality they produce. What we found is that you just can’t buy a camera drone with notable image quality unless you are willing to pay over about $250. The resolution on toy drones ranges from 0.3 to 2 megapixels and frequently the quality doesn’t even live up to the resolution. Problems with these cameras include poor focus, vignetting (dark corners), distortion (fisheye effect), and bad rows of pixels. And that’s just the start of the issues we see.

Image quality of toy drone compared to DJI mavic using Half Chrome test target

Two pictures side-by-side taken of the Half Chrome image quality test target. Toys just don’t typically have good cameras.

There is just no comparing between a high-end drone and a toy. The Tello is the first drone under $100, heck under $200, that can take a picture worthy of sharing. Not only does the Tello shoot 5-megapixel pictures, but it also includes image stabilization. The upgrades you get with the Tello don’t stop with the camera, let’s take a look at what else DJI did right.

Big Props

The 3-inch props on the Tello are the biggest we have seen on a direct-drive brushed-motor drones. This means that the Tello will be faster and more responsive than the competition. Most toy drones with bigger motors will have gears to run much larger props at much slower speeds.

best DJI Drone

Take a look at the DJI Tello from above.

Downward IR Sensors

Downward IR sensors are a first for a drone under $100. It’s actually the first for a drone under $300. The closest thing is the sonar on the bottom of the Parrot Mambo. The IR sensors on the Tello help with smooth takeoff and landing as well as palm launch and downward obstacle avoidance.

bottom of DJI Tello

Optical Flow

There are a few inexpensive drones we have tested with optical flow including the Cheerson CX-OF and the FY919 Reaper. This feature helps keep the drone super stable as long as the wind is minimal and the drone is relatively close to the ground. To be a big hit the Tello needs this feature and it has it, so they checked that box. We expect the Tello to be exceptionally stable. We tested the Parrot Mambo and it is really fantastic.

CX-OF

The CX-OF features optical flow in a truly tiny package

Wide(ish) Field of View

The 82.6-degree FOV on the Tello is reasonably wide, it is similar to other higher-end DJI drones like the Mavic and the Phantom 4 Pro. It is wider than a smartphone but much more narrow than a GoPro. We measure Horizontal FOV (HFOV), not the full diagonal FOV. The Tello comes in around 69° which will make it great for pictures but a little hard to race using goggles. It is much wider than most toys, which frequently measure in the 35° to 50° range. We thing DJI and Ryze settled in on a pretty good number.

DJI Tello FOV compared to other cameras half chrome

The Tello’s field of view is wider than an iPhone and most toy drones but a little more narrow than the cameras on the DJI Phantom drones.

Programmable

There are very few drones that you can program to perform specific routines. Parrot was the first to do this with their AR Drone and more recently the Mambo, which uses the coding language Tynker. The Tello includes this capability in the form of the programming language Scratch. We have not experimented with either, but people have suggested that Tynker is better suited for younger children while Scratch is better for tweens and teens as well as adults.

Scratch programming

Scratch is a programming language developed at MIT that is easy to learn.

Flight Time

The flight time on the Tello is 13 minutes. That may not sound like much compared to the 30 minutes you can get on the Mavic Pro Platinum, but trust us, that is a long time! Most toys can only fly about 7 minutes before tapping out, the Tello is almost twice that. The Tello excels because of efficiently custom props and a huge battery. Ryze did really well with this aspect of the design. Some toys, like the larger Blue Heron from Force 1 can approach 15 minutes of flight time, but that is on a much larger drone.

RC quadcopter with camera

Both the Red and Blue Herons have a 15 minute flight time. The Blue Heron adds live FPV video and some smartphone control features.

The REAL Price of the Tello

OK, So you get a ton of capability for less than $100, but what is the real cost of the Tello? The price only starts at $99. For that price, you’ll get the drone, two sets of propellers, propeller guards and one battery. An extra battery will cost you $19, another set of props runs $3 and if you want a Bluetooth remote you’ll have to provide your own. According to DJI’s site, you’ll need a GameSir or an Apple MFi certified remote if you want to go beyond touchscreen control. The GameSir T1s costs about $40.

tello bluetooth controller

The MiFi apple compatible controller from PXN on the left and Android compatible GameSir on the right

For goggles, you will want to pick up a set of Google cardboard or equivalent smartphone-compatible VR goggles. You can pick up a decent set for about $20. Wrapping up the total cost, you are looking at about $140 to $180. You think the Tello may still not be such a good deal? Think again. Even if you spend $180 on your Tello and accessories, the Tello knocks the socks off of the closest competition, the Parrot Mambo. The Mambo is priced at about $180 including a remote, camera, and goggles. Read our complete comparison of the Mambo and the Tello for more details.

Parrot Mambo and DJI Tello

The Parrot Mambo next to our model of the DJI Tello.

Order a Ryze Tello from DJI

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Learn More…

If you want to learn more about taking great pictures or flying FPV then check out our comprehensive guides on those topics. Also take a look at our articles on how to choose the right drone for great aerial photos or for getting started flying race drones. Learn more about drones and how to get the most out of them in our Drone Academy. In the Academy we also detail some of the advanced testing we do, including our recent addition, drone thrust testing.

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Half Chrome • January 26, 2018


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