So here we go again, another 6 months goes by and DJI announce another new drone. This time round its the Spark, an all new ‘pocket sized’ craft. The company seems to be busting at the waistline with the number products its trying to push out. But unlike some of the other innovations DJI have brought to market, I haven’t been following this one with bated breath.
The all new DJI Spark
I guess the first thing I should address is the specs – we all know geeks love a good spec rundown, I’m no different.
At 300g and 170mm diameter, the craft is tiny. It puts the Mavic to shame here, and to be honest, most mobile phones. The main body is smaller than an iPhone 5 (who?) and easily fits in the palm of your hand – good thing too as thats going to be its take off and landing pad from now on. It can fly up to 31mph too in sports mode so its no slouch! DJI says it will fly for 16 minutes, but in real word times, that’s going to be more like 10-12 when allowing time to return to home. This seems a little bit on the short side considering the Phantom 4 Pro will do 30 minutes uninterrupted, albeit a much bigger battery.
The camera is roughly 12mp and it shoots video in 1080p (again who?). It is mounted on a 2 axis gimbal which will stabilise pitch and roll but not yaw. The transmission can be done either through your phone, or from the optional controller. However, if you want to fly more than 100m away you need the fly more combo package with the controller which will cost you an additional £120.
On the front, above the camera is the Spark’s equivalent of the obstacle avoidance system called 3D Sensing system and will most probably work identically to the system on the Mavic or Phantom 4.
And thats it, to be honest theres not much more to the Spark. It really is just a small drone with a medium flight time, a 2 axis gimbal and a small but functional camera.
Casey Neistat showing just how small the Spark is – Watch his review here
So lets get into the crux of the review, why should you buy the Spark?
To be honest, at the moment I’m struggling to see who this is aimed at. The quality of the camera and the lack of 3 axis stability makes the drone about as useful as a chocolate fireguard to the prosumer and professional markets. So if its not designed for people with filming or photography in mind, who is it for? To understand that you need to look at the competition and the closest contender is the Parrot Beebop 2. It commands a similar price but comes better equipped, (fpv goggles and controller) and it has a much longer flight time (25 minutes). Yes, the Parrot is not what you would call pocket sized but its not huge. The Spark has a number of other advantages over the Beebop 2 – weight, size, and folding props all make the Spark more useable, and the notoriety of the unreliable transmission signal on the Beebop still weighs heavily on its credibility as a decent drone.
With those facts in mind, who is the Beebop aimed at? It is marketed as a fun, fly from the box, ”have a go” drone and in that respect I can see some parity with the Spark. The choice of colour looks like something out of the retro apple iPod adverts from the mid naughties but it creates a clear break from the bland grey Mavic and the everlasting (and ever impossible-to-see) white of the Phantom series. The size of the drone makes it easy to fit in a jacket pocket and the apparent lack of need for a controller means that it will be a hit with people wanting to take it as an accessory on walks, days in the park and just a toy to play with friends. And therein lies the problem.
Who in their right mind would spend an average of £600 on a toy? Thats bordering on brand new iPhone price. At £600 you need to have a seriously hefty chunk of cash burning a hole in your pocket to buy something which will only see the light of day every so often. It has no commercial value so businesses wont be buying it, and its too expensive for every parent to get one for their kid at Christmas. I can see it being a fun accessory for back packers, everyone knows they constantly need new ways of showing to the world how amazing life on the road to finding themselves is, but beyond that I am at a loss.
The biggest problem with the Spark, is not competition from other makers, tech specs or target audience… The biggest problem is the DJI Mavic. As stupid as that sounds, the Mavic was designed with both portability and prosumer use in mind. It is well used by freelance creatives and production companies world-wide. It has an above average camera, recording in 4K with 3 axis stability and it comes equipped with a controller. In the UK, second hand prices of the Mavic are just a touch under £900 which is only 22% more than the fly more combo of the Spark. Ironically, the Mavic actually folds up narrower than the Spark making it easier to fit into jackets, bags and jeans. Additionally, the Mavic has a flight time of nearly double the spark and the software is more sophisticated.
A demonstration of the fold up size of the Spark (left) vs the Mavic (right)
So lets conclude this review here. I haven’t flown the Spark yet and I guess it would be good fun to have a go. But therein lies the problem. This new drone is firmly set in the ”have a go” realm. A toy, an expensive toy, or a pretty basic film and photography tool. Its well equipped for its size, although you need to pay more for the controller. It beats the competition from other manufacturers on size, weight and camera quality, however it loses out to in terms of flight time and value for money. It’s biggest flaw is comes from its own manufacturer which is the price has pushed it too close to its much better, and well established older sibling in the shape of the Mavic pro.
DJI have set out to capture some of the market share which sits below the Mavic pro on the price range, an admirable business aim and one which may very well succeed. But one has to ask the question of how big is the market? Why is there limited other options in this price range and the only reasonable answer is that it is a limited commercial market.
I may look back at this review in a few months and think ‘I was completely wrong on this’, but right now I can’t see any reason as either a commercial flyer and a hobby enthusiast, why I should be placing a pre-order of the DJI Spark.
If you enjoyed this review, have a read of our DJI Mavic Pro vs Phantom 4 Pro vs Inspire 2 review.