First Flight: EHang GhostDrone 2.0 VR – there’s a new drone in town

Not just in for the fight, it's come in swinging

I’d love for everyone who wants a drone to be able to have a drone.  Problem is, there’s a wide gap between the expectations of what a drone can do and the price you need to pay, or more realistically the gap is between what you want to pay and what you need to pay.  Problem solved – enter the EHang GhostDrone 2.0 VR, now available in Australia.

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You won’t find them in major retail stores though, in fact you’ll only find them online at ehangdrones.com.au the reason being the distributor seemed keen to get the device into market at a specific price-point, but retail margins made that difficult.  Plus, many people looking to step into the world of mid to high-end drones are buying online already.

At $1,199, you honestly won’t believe what this thing can do.

Now the true test is in the viewing, and we’ve not had enough flight time yet to be sure about image quality yet – but what we’re seeing is impressive.

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The built-in camera shoots 4K video at 30fps, or 1080p at 120fps.  Stills are 12MP.  While these specifications stack up well against the likes of DJI, the actual lens and sensor quality can have a much greater effect on the output than just the numbers themselves.

At first glance there is some slight curvature of the video – very slight, and also there’s some really stark colour changes in the grass at the park where I had my first flight.  Take note, I was not controlling the camera on this video – so it’s quite erratic, but for quality and colour testing it’s very useful.

Out of the box, you’ve got the drone itself with built-in camera, as well as the VR goggles.  Interestingly, and a touch frustratingly, the Goggles are platform specific.  You need a different set for iOS and Android.  While this isn’t a deal-breaker one does wonder what the hell they were thinking?  (New headset will set you back $199)

This drone is controlled by a smartphone or tablet, yet it has extreme range like a device with a specific controller. EHang does this by using a WiFi connection between your smartphone and the VR Goggles, which then have built-in long distance connectivity via the built-in antennas.

Genius really.  So you need to have the goggles with you at all times, even though they are completely redundant as a solo user.  It’s illegal to fly wearing “FPV” (First Person View) goggles, as the pilot you must have line of sight access at all times.  But the goggles offer a real-time on-board view from the camera.

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For the younger ones with you, or for a co-pilot or camera operator – the goggles also control the up and down movement of the camera gimbal.  Look up, the camera looks up, look down, camera points down.

This is a sensational feature that could easily improve your basic videos – many new pilots suffer from fast pans or tilts and this can fix that with a more specific control.

Setup was ok, I charged everything before I left home.  Frustratingly, once I got to the park, I spent 30 minutes updating the firmware and establishing connectivity.

Once that was done, I was denied a flight because it kept telling me battery must be above 70% for your first flight.  Not sure, but only my smartphone was down on battery at the time.

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I returned later after a full charge and got it going.

However, as an experienced drone pilot, I was again frustrated by the EHang Play app.

Firstly, as I’ve said about other drones – why do you need me to log-in to use my drone? I don’t want to give you an email address or login via Facebook. Just let me fly!

Once I was in, I only had one option, to take the tutorial touch-flight, as someone who knows how to fly, this too was frustrating.

For this reason, I went up, around and down.  I need to have a lot of time to waste to be able to get past that and into other flight modes.

Fortunately I played with one recently that had been passed through these steps and was impressed. Very impressed.

Gone are traditional two stick flight controls, replaced by options like tilt to fly, and advanced click to fly within the app.

The four flight modes are:

Touch to Go – using your smartphone you just touch on the map in front of you and it will fly to that location.

WayPoints – Similar to Touch to Go except passing multiple waypoints.

Avatar Mode – This is the tilt to fly mode – just tilt your phone forward to fly forward, back to go back etc.

SmartShots – These are the big deals, the modes available in loads of the higher end drones.

  • Vertical Lift GhostDrone 2.0 will fly up vertically to a predetermined height to allow you to get a birds eye view of your surroundings.
  • Drone Selfie GhostDrone 2.0 will hover in front of you and take a photograph of your and your friends.
  • Orbit Set a location on your map and GhostDrone 2.0 will fly around this position recording crisp 4K video.
  • Companion mode Want to take GhostDrone 2.0 with you as you move along? Not a problem, hit Companion mode and GhostDrone will follow you along
  • Side track – Your GhostDrone 2.0 will automatically track alongside you to get you beautiful 4K video as you move along.

There is no obstacle avoidance which is almost a requirement these days, but it’s not alone in the market to lack that.

Perhaps most disappointingly, because this has such great camera, the only way to film with it is to be illegally wearing the goggles.  There is no on-screen “view” of the camera, making establishing and setting a shot very difficult indeed.

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The “VR” goggles are a standout and outstanding feature for companions to use while you fly, but they are a pain to have with you all the time if not being worn, and they are required as part of the flight.  Clip them onto a belt or something and turn off the gimbal tracking mode to make this work.

Construction and materials feels slightly lower grade than the DJI Phantom series, though its light weight and very sturdy so no reason to be concerned.

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I think I would prefer a dedicated controller, and I would certainly prefer to just get flying in the app.

But that’s speaking as an experienced drone owner and pilot.

For the new to the market – which is the majority – the EHang GhostDrone 2.0 VR could be the most advanced, capable and easy to fly drone that’s capable of high-quality pictures and video.

It’s $100 cheaper than a Parrot Bebop 2 with FPV goggles, yet a LOT better quality video and a much more stable flight.

At $1,199 it’s a long way cheaper than the Mavic Pro and Phantom 4, but isn’t as simple to set up and use with their dedicated controller.

The advanced tutorials and learning guides set this apart for the beginner at drones, and make it the perfect first drone without any question.

EHang Ghostdrone 2.0 VR
Date Published: 12/08/2016
On price alone, a winner. For beginners it's the perfect step toward the high-end drones. For drone enthusiasts it's a touch frustrating
4 / 5 stars

 

Categories
Tech

Trevor produces two of the most popular technology podcasts in Australia, Your Tech Life and Two Blokes Talking Tech. He has a weekly radio show on 2UE, as well as appearances across the country and regularly provides Technology Commentary to Channel 9’s Today Show and A Current Affair. Father of three, he is often found down in his Man Cave. Like this post? Buy Trev a drink!
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