In a world of flying cars and teleportation, the good people of earth enjoy a few old world pleasures. This includes launching a small drone to take high quality photos and videos of themselves doing fun things. Oh wait, that’s today with a quadcopter like the DJI Spark.
We’ll admit there is room for improvement, but overall, DJI has nailed it with the new Spark quadcopter. Small, very portable and easy to operate, this is a drone that we imagine many will incorporate into their lives. Update: Looks like DJI took all of our complaints to heart, they’ve now released the new DJI Mavic Air – combining the best features of the Mavic Pro and the Spark, adding more and improving on it all.
Join us for our full review of the new DJI Spark.
Update: on updates
DJI has made a super smart move, instead of forcing independent updates for the drone and the controller, you now get them both in one. You know what that means? That’s right, with the issues I’ve had with my Spark, I can finally update the remote and can take advantage of all of the flight features again – wouldn’t you know it, the update still didn’t work. I poked around, processed the drone update with the DJI Assistant II program on my PC and the remote via the DJI GO 4 app, I’m up and running, but I’ll have to wait for the next firmware roll out to see if this new update process works properly. Now back to that original review:
In the same way that we credit the Phantom drone line as being an iconic quadcopter in the market, we feel like the DJI Spark, and drones like it, will be around for a while. The small machine, with a fuselage about the length and width of a smartphone, and only a few inches tall, becomes almost pocket sized when the propellers are folded in.
The front camera looks like the FPV camera on the Inspire 2, forward and downward visioning systems add safety to the mix. Most important, however, DJI has included intelligent flight features that roll all of the best gesture and tracking features into one.
That’s right, if you haven’t heard yet, you can launch, fly and land the DJI Spark completely by hand gestures.
In terms of control-ability options, the DJI Spark is the most capable DJI drone to date, that we know of. You can fly by hand, fly by mobile device or opt for the remote control. The remote looks like a scaled down Mavic Pro remote, offering familiarity and a compact size.
Make no mistake, the DJI Spark is not the best drone out there. It serves a role based around the selfie experience, and it performs that very well. However, range and overall flight capabilities are far fewer and inferior to the likes of the Mavic Pro.
Bottom line, if you are looking for a fun and capable selfie camera that flies, there is nothing better in the DJI camp, perhaps in the market as a whole. If you are looking for a highly capable drone, or just 4K video recording, Spark may not be your thing.
The DJI Spark is built of a rigid frame of grey, much like the Mavic Pro, but then has a colored cap on top. Five colors are available for the cap, including white, red, blue, green and yellow. The battery attaches on the bottom, sliding in from the back. Removable, quick-release propellers are a folding design.
As with other DJI drones, two matching propeller motors have white markings on them, the propellers, and optional propeller guards, have white to match.
The front of the craft has a flat cover, much like on a TV remote, that houses the forward facing visioning systems of object avoidance and more. Below that hangs the tube-like camera on 2-axis gimbal. The camera tilts straight down to a few degrees up, it also tilts sideways both directions to keep things level when the craft banks, but it does not turn left or right at all.
In place of the camera gimbal turning left or right, DJI has opted for a software solution. Despite the Spark only capturing 1080p video resolution, it houses a 4K sensor. Utilizing the extra pixels, Spark is able to produce stabilized video in all but the most extreme flying situations.
On the bottom is another small camera and visioning sensors. The landing gear is four little rubber feet, two at the front of the fuselage, two on the back of the battery, which forms the remainder of the body.
Lastly, on the very back of the craft is the power button on the battery itself, just above that is a small door with “SPARK” written on it. flip this up to reveal a micro USB port and a microSD card slot.
Usability and flight characteristics
The power button is an advanced tool on the DJI Spark. Single press to see current power level, press quick then hold on the second tap to power on or off. When powered on, double tap to activate the hand-gesture flight mode. Keep your fingers clear, the craft is about to take off.
Flying by hand is an experience, we’ll talk about it later. For now I’ll mention that you can get up to about eighty feet of range in this mode and you should remain in the clear and in front of the craft the entire time.
The next flight mode is to connect via WiFi to your mobile device. Fire up your phone or tablet with the DJI GO 4 app installed and grab a pen and paper.
Remove the battery of the drone, underneath is a sticker with a WiFi SSID and password, you’re going to connect your mobile device to that to get flying. Power on the drone then press and hold the power button for nine seconds. At each three second interval Spark will beep, releasing the button just after the beep activates the mode. The third beep activates the WiFi hotspot.
On your mobile device you can go through the DJI GO 4 app, or just your normal WiFi settings to connect to the hotspot. Once connected, you should be able to connect to the drone through the app and begin flying. This mode affords a little more range, but not much, but at least allows you to film things other than yourself.
Best of all, using your mobile device enables the new autonomous flight modes, DJI Quickshot. Quickshot includes:
Rocket – the camera faces downward and the drone rockets straight up.
Dronie – the camera faces the subject and flies slowly upward as it backs away from the subject.
Circle – the camera keeps a focus on the subject and the drone flies around it in a circle.
Helix – the camera keeps focus on the subject and the drone both flies outward, upward and circles around. Basically, it combines the Dronie and Circle functions.
Update August, 2017: DJI has updated the Spark firmware with direction control over the Circle and Helix modes, greater distance on the Dronie mode and better stabilization on the Rocket mode.
Once your video is captured, enjoy fast and easy editing. Tap the button in the DJI GO 4 app and your footage will be automatically edited down to as quick and fun video, music included.
Last, and most capable, there is an optional remote control for the DJI Spark. We had to fidget with it to get the remote, phone and drone to communicate before we could fly, but once connected, this is the best flying experience, hands down.
To best use the remote control, you’re going to connect your mobile device to the remote, then the remote to the drone. You can connect your mobile device to the remote either by WiFi, look for the credentials on the back of the remote, or just grab a USB cable to connect.
This setup allows you to control the drone’s flight from the remote control then watch the FPV video stream and activate automated flight modes from the mobile device. In this way, you have access to all of the features and settings.
Once in the air, the DJI Spark is a stable machine. It is small and the propellers are quite small, so you will notice some instabilities, especially if there is any wind, but it’s more than stable enough to capture video in most situations.
Flying by hand
Hand gesture controls are not new to drones, there have been ‘follow me’ actions for a while, but mostly a gesture to activate the camera. DJI has taken things all the way, you can launch the Spark from your hand by double tapping the power button.
Once airborne, use two hands to imitate a box in front of your face to snap a photo. Wave with one hand to send the drone out about ten feet. Hold a flat palm out to the drone and it will move around, tracking your hand. Finally, wave with two hands to call the drone for landing, then hold your hand out, palm up and keep your fingers clear of the props.
Gesture controls can be tricky, I found that if I let my thumb stick out from my palm, Spark would take a photo instead of tracking for movement. A minor thing. Just be ready to use up a full battery testing and practicing, that’s about all the time you’ll need to get the hang of it.
DJI has released the new Mavic Air, which, for all intents, is a beefed up version of the Spark. For a few hundred extra dollars you get a more capable drone, with a more capable camera and additional hand gestures and Quickshot modes. Worth checking out if you are looking for a little more.
Update August, 2017: DJI has updated the Spark firmware with even better connectivity and controller responsiveness.
Please note, I had some issues at first, and so I worked closely with DJI with my first Spark. We determined it to be a faulty unit, unfortunately. The positive is that the replacement Spark fixed all of my concerns.
From the box, I had a hard time getting the drone and remote all connected to get the Spark into the air. I put the general process in my Spark unboxing and setup article. It turns out that I was following the wrong steps. My process worked, but there was an easier way. We don’t all have a DJI rep to walk us through, but hit that link for the unboxing to get the details that I received. Straight from the horse’s mouth, as they say.
What I did not describe in the setup piece is that I found the first Spark spotty in terms of a GPS connection. It would connect to a dozen satellites, inform me I am ready to fly, but the moment I took off most of the satellites dropped off. More than once I had the drone completely lose all GPS connections.
Beyond the GPS issue, which puts the craft into ATTI mode, I had a few remote connection issues as well. In the event that GPS drops and the remote disconnects simultaneously, I had the Spark take off on me. Again, that was the faulty Spark. The new machine is proving a solid device. I am finding that magnetic interference is more prevalent than on the Mavic Pro when flying in the same places, but I have not had any disconnects or fly-away situations with the replacement drone.
Update: Oct. 6, 2017, I am having more troubles. I am trying to process the firmware update to the remote control, but it keeps locking up. Unlike the Mavic Pro controller, which you can update via the DJI Assistant program on your PC, the Spark controller is updated through the DJI GO 4 app. The app identifies that an update is required, downloads the update, then gets stuck at 5% of the actual update process.
While the remote update is processing, (or not processing, as the case may be,) the remote beeps. It’s loud, it’s super annoying, I usually bury the remote under a blanket or something in the other room. It is so loud and incessant that my neighbors have asked me to keep it down. DJI, you need to fix this, it is unacceptable. Beeping should be reserved for warnings, not for normal operation – updating the remote should be considered normal operation. But that’s just my two cents.
Enjoy below some simple photo samples taken using the DJI Spark. Unedited images showing some of the capabilities of the camera on this little drone. We did not mention above, this is a 12MP shooter.
The images originally captured at 3968 x 2976 resolution, but we shrunk and cropped to 1920 x 1080 for this article. We did not adjust colors, this is what you get with full automatic shooting from the DJI Spark. All shots taken on sunny days.
Video is what every drone pilot goes into the air to capture, right? If that is what you’re thinking to do, let’s see a few unedited samples of video from the DJI Spark. Footage is recorded at the highest available resolution, 1080p, and has been unaltered in this short video. We recorded with the preset and default settings, in full automatic mode, what you see is what any first time Spark pilot will see before learning to capture better video. Stay tuned for a full camera review, as well as a camera shootout with the Mavic Pro, coming soon!
Fly more combo
The base purchase of the DJI Spark is for the drone. That’s it. The Fly More combo includes an extra battery, a charging hub, extra propellers, propeller guards and a carrying bag. This is familiar to the Mavic Pro Fly More bundle as well, however, the Spark bundle is required to get the remote control.
You can buy the remote and an extra battery for the same cost as the bundle, but for the few extra tidbits, we think it’s worth it.
Looking for the nerdy stats on this flying machine? Here is a table of some of the most relevant specifications of the DJI Spark.
|Size||6.69-inch (170 mm) diagonal without propellers
143 mm x 143 mm x 55 mm (5.62 x 5.62 x 2.16 inches)
|Weight||0.66 lbs (300 g)|
|Max speed||31 mph|
|Max service ceiling||13,123 feet (4000 m)|
|Max ascent/descent speed||9.8 ft/s (3 m/s)
9.8 ft/s (3 m/s)
|Battery||1,480mAh Lithium Polymer - Removable.|
|Battery life||Max 16 minutes
Ensure safe landing: 12 minutes
|Range||Max 1.2 miles from controller
100 yards from mobile phone
|Camera||1/2.3" CMOS 12MP
Image resolution: 3968x2976
|Video recording||FHD - 30fps (1920x1080)
We expect support for lower resolution and other frame rates, but nothing is listed yet.
|Storage||Up to 64GB micro SD|
|Remote controller||2.4GHz range
Max 1.2 mile operating range
2970 mAh rechargeable battery
Up to 7-inch tablet
microUSB, Lighting and USB Type-C
|Mobile support||Fly by Android or iOS device
use mobile device as FPV attached to optional controller
|Mobile flight range||Up to 80 m (262 feet) distance, 50m (164 feet) height at max speed 9 mph (14 km/h)|
|Flight modes||ATTI, GPS, Visual
Follow-me: behind, in front, circle, side
Tap to fly map navigation
Return to home
Rocket, Dronie, Circle and Helix
|Hover accuracy||Horizontal: 1.5m GPS, 0.3m Vision
Vertical: 0.5m GPS, 0.1m Vision
Final thoughts on the DJI Spark
There is not much more to say about this new drone, at least on the surface of it all. We have plenty more coverage on the way, further exploration into what makes the DJI Spark great, or where we see room for improvement. Stay tuned for that.
One opinion I had before the Spark launched, an opinion I still believe in, I think the Spark is overpriced. I think five hundred dollars should get you the full package, including two batteries and the remote control. It was my opinion that DJI could entirely crack into the mainstream market with a machine under three hundred.
I underestimated the cost to build, obviously. I know that DJI put a ton of time and effort into not only this drone, but the tech behind it, including new flight features we hope to see roll out to other drones. The overall package is a worthwhile purchase, scoring you a solid drone with some fun features, great photos and, dare I say, good enough videos from the sky.
You’ll need $300 to grab the DJI Spark. Bump that up to $544 for the full Fly More combo. We do recommend the you invest in the remote control, it is $150 alone, but that bump to the Fly More combo makes sense at that point. Regular price is $499 and $699, but recent sales have seen the remote for $120, the drone alone for as low as $300 and the Fly more combo as low as $525. Keep your eye out for sales.
Is the DJI Spark worth the price to you?