Chinese company Ehang, best known for making a splash at last year's CES by showcasing a drone that can fit and fly a human being around, has entered the Singapore drone market for the first time with its latest quadcopter, the Ghost Drone 2.0 VR.
Like the other drones in the Ghost line, the Ghost Drone 2.0 VR doesn't come with a physical controller or joystick. Instead, all piloting and controls are done through your mobile device with the Ehang Play app installed.
It also comes with a set of goggles which lets users see a first-person feed of the drone's camera. The goggles also serve as the wireless communication point for the main drone body through the two antennae that stick out from it.
Preparing the drone for flight is fairly straightforward, if a bit time- consuming. The phone has to be paired to the goggles via Bluetooth, which then connects to the drone.
So if any one of the three devices - phone, drone or goggles - runs low on battery, the flight has to stop, which bogs the flying experience a little as you have to worry about three different battery levels.
There are two ways to control the drone via the smartphone, and both suffer from the same problem: smartphones just do not make good drone controllers, no matter how polished the flight app is.
The first is Avatar mode, which uses the phone's gyrometer.
Tilt the phone left and the drone zips left; tilt it forward and the drone goes straight. It took a bit of practice to ensure precision, though. At first, the drone went hurtling away even though I didn't think I flicked the phone too much, but I quickly learnt to control the speed of my tilt.
The other mode, Touch-to-Go, generates a joystick on the touchscreen. However, the lack of tactile feedback makes it extraordinarily hard to control as there is no physical response to how hard you are pushing the virtual stick.
This led to, once again, some frighteningly quick acceleration to the sides before I got used to the controls. I found myself constantly taking my eyes away from the drone in the sky to check where my thumbs were on the phone, which felt a bit unsafe as a pilot should always be aware of where the drone is in the sky.
In this mode, the screen is filled with convenient shortcuts, such as buttons for the drone to return and land, and camera and video buttons.
The 16-megapixel camera takes decent photos and videos. These don't stand out, but they aren't terrible either.
Touchpad issues aside, the Ghost Drone 2.0 flew very steadily and was very responsive to the controls.
I would have liked an option to do away with the goggles fully and connect to the drone directly from the phone, as they are more of a gimmick than anything else.
The livestream is choppy at times, which breaks the immersion of the aerial view. Furthermore, given the complexity of piloting a drone with a touchpad, the last thing the drone pilot wants is to be unable to see his drone controllers.
There is a button on the goggles to switch to front-facing mode, but toggling between so many buttons can be a hassle when keeping the drone safe in the sky is a priority.
It can be fun to pass the goggles to someone else while the main pilot focuses on flying the drone but, like watching a video game second-hand, it can be a nausea-inducing experience for the viewer.
Verdict: Ehang's virtual-reality gimmick falls a bit flat. The flying experience is marred by tricky touchscreen controls, even though the drone flies steadily and is responsive.
PRICE: $1,548, including VR goggles and additional battery
CAMERA: 16-megapixel, with 4K video at 24fps and Full HD video at 120 fps
LENS: FOV 120°, f/2.8
BATTERY LIFE: 4/5
VALUE FOR MONEY: 3/5
This article was first published on Feb 08, 2017. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.