Zerotech Dobby Selfie Drone Review


WhistleOut
25 November 2016

Verdict:
Dobby is a unique drone that makes an interesting travel accessory. It isn't the cheapest drone on the market, nor is it the priciest, but it's one of the few drones you can just throw in a bag when you're leaving house. The small form-factor does however result in a woeful battery life, which means you'll almost certainly have to invest in spares.

Like:

Dislike:

  • Tiny
  • Good tracking performance
  • Reasonable video quality
  • Incredibly short battery life
  • Some camera quirks
  • No video stabilisation

Cost: $599

What Is It?

Zerotech's Dobby is a tiny, lightweight drone that you can control with a smartphone (Android or iPhone). Other than its diminutive form-factor, Dobby is being marketed as a "selfie drone", that is, a drone that can autonomously follow you around and film you.  

Dobby pairs with your smartphone over Wi-Fi, and once you're connected, you'll be using the "Do.Fun" companion app to take photos

What's Good?

Dobby is a tiny camera drone that's so small it can genuinely fit in your pocket. Well, if you're not wearing skinny jeans. Dobby's light too; even with a battery plugged in, the drone is only slightly heavier than a smartphone.

Dobby's small factor is achieved through the use of four propellers that fold away when not in use, resulting in a device that almost looks like a white glasses case.

At $599, Dobby on the more affordable side of the camera drone spectrum. Sure, Parrot's family of MiniDrones start at around $150, but they cameras on those are almost unusable. Video quality on the Dobby isn't exactly amazing either, but it's far from terrible. I'd say it's a step or two down from the quality you'd get on a flagship smartphone these days, but more than adequate for social media. However, I found images were occasionally a bit soft in terms of focus. Depending on the light that you're shooting in, you might see exposure change mid-flight, which can be a bit jarring.

In terms of Dobby's selfie smarts, the drone does a surprisingly good job of face tracking. It can lose sight of you if you get too close or too far away (about 2 metres away is the sweet spot), or if someone else gets in the shot, but in general, Dobby is good at following you. It's not quite a hands-free experience (you should still keep your hands on your phone while flying Dobby), but using the tracking mode is pretty fun and can result in unique footage.

To get footage and photos off Dobby, you can either plug it into a PC or use Wi-Fi to transfer them directly to your iPhone or Android.

One feature that's quite cool (if not at all necessary) is the option to land Dobby in your palm. Select "palm landing" from the app, hold out your hand, and Dobby will gently descend into your open palm. There's a certain magic to having a robotic friend land in your hand. While this process is mostly smooth, you do need to be careful as to how you hold your hand. If you misjudge Dobby's landing, the propellers can clip your skin.

What's Not So Good?

As fun as Dobby is to play with, it's let down by a comparatively short battery life; each battery will only give you about nine minutes per charge. This is cut shorter due to the fact the drone automatically lands itself when you've got about 15% charge left, presumably to prevent it from suddenly falling out of the sky. In some cases, we only got about 5 minutes of flight time before we had to stop flying and swap battery.

This would be a little more forgivable if an extra battery was included in the box, but alas, these are billed at an extra $59 each.

Even with the extra battery in your pocket, the fun is over in about 15 minutes and it's time to take an extended break. Each battery take about 45 minutes to recharge.

While Dobby's camera quality is fine for an entry-level drone, it lacks image stabilisation. When compounded with the lightweight build, this can result in very shaky footage - especially if it's windy. Wind can also make It tricky to steer the drone; it results in trying to move Dobby to where you want it, while also trying to counterbalance the breeze. If you're flying Dobby indoors (or in a less gusty environment), you'll still notice a bit of shake in your footage, but it's much more palatable.

As with most drones, there's a bit of learning curve when you first start flying Dobby. You've got two virtual joysticks in the app, one which controls elevation and pan, and the other that moves Dobby left, right, backwards, and forwards. It's not overly complex, but it's still easy to run Dobby of course, especially if you get your lefts and rights muddled (when Dobby is looking in the wrong direction, for example).

We also found we had to reboot the drone every now and again, and occasionally, recalibrate it's compass, but this tended to be a direct result of a crash landing or dealing with mild wind. Notably, propeller guards (these are an optional extra, sold for $15) protected Dobby admirably, and it survived several collisions unscathed. We did accidentally cut up one of the office plants though; plastic propellers are sharper than you'd think.

Who Is It For?

Dobby feels a bit like a "my first drone". It's not a professional product, but it can still capture reasonable quality (albeit shaky) video.

There are cheaper drones on the market, but it's worth remembering you're also paying for Dobby's portability and its smarts. In a way, Dobby kind of feels like a niche travel accessory. It's a drone that can comfortably keep in almost any kind of bag, that you don’t have to lug around as you would with a bigger device.

The limiting factor is Dobby's short battery life; the portability is somewhat undermined when you're having to carry around a couple of spares to actually make sure you can get those spontaneously drone shots.


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