Drones 101: The highs and lows of this year’s most unique toy

Look up in the sky! They are buzzing around, filming, flying and flipping their way into our lives. The year of the drone is here and if you’re thinking about giving one as a gift to your favorite little pilot or buying one for yourself, here are a few that I have been “testing.” By testing, I mean flying, smashing into walls, ceilings, sidewalks and trees, and making one colleague who had a drone land in her coffee, after it bounced off her head, very unhappy.

When you are looking for a drone, it’s best to stick to the hobby shops or online companies who make these and stay away from the big box stores. Though a hobby shop may seem a little foreign, they are there to help and can guide you to the right drone for the right price and the right user. I have become a regular at Hobby Town in Northbrook and they are always willing to help a confused DAD out. Beyond that, when you break your drone (yes, you will break something on your drone), they can help you with parts and can usually snap on the new doodad or thing-a-ma-jig that you need.

Speaking of breaking your drone, you should know that every single drone I tested, I broke. The difference between a drone from a hobby store like the Dromida Ominus – the most sturdy of the drones we tested – and the “toy” RC drones (RC is remote control for cool drone guys like me) is that the Dromida Ominus is repairable. You can replace just about any part.

After smashing the Dromida Ominus into a parked car, a tree, a house, the sidewalk, a jogger and a chimney, the frame on the Dromida Ominus cracked, but only after we had it up at 200 feet, killed the engine and let it free fall onto frozen grass. What would seem like a big deal, is easily fixable for about $7 for the new frame and 10 minutes of screwing and unscrewing things together.

I am not handy at all, but these things are pretty simple to figure out and easy to fix up.

Now, price. You can spend upwards of $10,000 on a drone. These are drones used for filming TV shows and movies and are also available at a hobby store. The drones I tested all fall between $40-$150 in price.

Dromida Ominus

– The workhorse of the drones, $80

They market this as the indestructible drone, and it’s pretty darn close. It took a severe beating to disable this bad boy. It’s a great first-time drone for kids or parents, because it is so darn sturdy. It is almost ready to fly out of the box, with some pretty simple instructions.

Dromida Ominus can do flips in mid-air, you can fly it indoors or out (though all I did when I flew it indoors was smash it into the ceiling) and it comes in several cool colors to choose from.

It has a pretty good range on it, however it includes no GPS tracker, meaning, if you ditch it out of sight, it may be gone for good. With all of the drones I tested, that problem is easily fixed by flying it in open field and keeping things low and easy while you learn.

Dromida KODO

– Ominus’ little brother, $60

Like many little brothers, KODO is tough, scrappy and tries to keep up with his big brother Dromida Omnious. KODO is about half the size of the Ominous and cheaper – about $60 at Hobby Town.

What makes KODO cool is that you can capture video and still images while you are flying! I flew it over our house, over a fire pit (about 15 feet above), over the dog and down the hallway, filming and taking pictures all the way. KODO comes with everything you need to fly and film: batteries, a 2GB mini-SD card and extra blades that are easily replaced … for when you smash into the microwave. Unlike the bigger, fancier drones that film, you can’t see what you are filming as you are doing so. It’s a little bit of a crap shoot, but, that being said, the camera is on the front of the drone and points at what you are filming, so it’s not that hard to figure out. For $60 you get a $3,000 experience and a good entry into the world of drones.

Proto X SLT

– The itty bitty drone, $40

The Proto X SLT falls into the category of a “nano” quadcopter, or as I call it, “itty bitty drone.” It can fit in the palm of your hand, has itty bitty rotor-blades and is a handful of fun to fly. You can fly it indoors or out, it has cool looking lights and makes a pretty rad sound when it’s flying.

There are no cameras or a GPS, but it does have easy-to-use controls and a very quick start up time.

The Proto X SLT is also a tough little drone. Having only flown it indoors, we have smashed it into just about everything at varying speeds and altitudes, and the only thing that has broken on it were the rotors (they fell off), which is no big deal because they pop back on again.

The Parrot Rolling Spider

– $100

This is the one we flew indoors a lot and did the least amount of damage. Why? The Parrot Rolling Spider, flies like a spider crawls: on the floors, on the walls, on the ceiling. This drone goes just about any place you can think of and doesn’t get into much trouble.

The Parrot Rolling Spider is an ultra-compact flying drone with impressive agility. What makes it so agile are two attachable massive spinning wheels on each side of the actual flying drone part.  The wheels let it roll on the ground like a RC car, but then it can take off into the air as well! This is where it gets cool. If you are not so good at flying, like me and my six-year-old test pilot, the wheels give you the ability to fly and “roll” on the walls, ceiling, side of the couch and up your baby brother’s back, like a champ. It flies indoors and outdoors with great speed and stability.

The Parrot Rolling Spider and the Jumping Sumo (the next drone I am reviewing) both have a “smartphone” remote control. This means you don’t use a traditional remote control. You can download a free app and then you can operate the drone from your phone or tablet. Cool, because you never have to worry about breaking or losing a remote. Not so cool, because your kids will always be using your smartphone.

The Parrot Jumping Sumo

– $160

Best name ever! The Jumping Sumo doesn’t actually fly, it jumps! The people at Parrot call it a robot insect drone, because it rolls like a tank and then with the push of a button it takes off into the air like a jumping bug! It doesn’t go super high and has soft cushy wheels, so you aren’t going to do too much damage to the floors, walls, kids, pets, etc.

The Jumping Sumo also has a camera attached to it, so you are able to record video or take pictures as you travel and jump your way across the house, yard, ice rink and the mall. It doesn’t come with an SD card, so you will need to purchase one separately.

If you are still learning and want to look “cool,” it has an “animation” button that, once pressed, does several cool moves and jumps. This does have a travel along feature, so you can actually see what the Jumping Sumo sees while driving around, which is pretty cool and a feature you normally get in much more expensive models.

There you go. You have now passed Drone 101. You can now enter the hobby store, throw your shoulders back and speak drone this holiday season.

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