It might look like a black box the size of an iPhone, but there's more than meets the eye in the Odyssey Toys Pocket Drone. This neat little quadcopter folds down into a small rectangle that easily slides into a pocket. With the companion controller, which is similarly sized, you can deploy your drone anywhere the urge grabs you, and capture video at the same time.
The Pocket Drone is a Transformer at heart. When you're traveling, it's a simple, black box. When you want to fly, you fold the arms out, then twist the motors to lock them into their upright position. Two bright LEDs on the front (white) and back (green) help you orient the craft in flight; the lights mirror the coloring of the rotors.
It is very simply built, obviously made from two plastic panels that snap together to form the case. I say obvious because there is a big gap between them that shows the interior: When the motor arms are in the flying position, you can see the wiring and electronics inside. While this no doubt keeps the weight down, it also gives the Pocket Drone a curiously unfinished feel.
That impression of flimsiness isn't helped by a cover over the battery compartment that was very loose on the unit we reviewed. To charge the battery, you have to remove this cover, lift out the battery, disconnect the cable that connects it to the drone and connect the battery directly to the USB charger cable. This process is more complex than what you'll find on most other drones, in which the charger cables just plug directly into the drones. Plus, the microSD card slot is poorly designed, making removal of the card awkward.
Unfortunately, during our testing, the rotor blades fit poorly. Each one is held onto the motor shaft by friction only, which means that the blades pop off very easily. This happened most of the time when we crashed. The rotor blade hit the ground first, popped off and flew away, often ending up 10 feet or more away from the quadcopter itself.
One of the spare rotors that Odyssey Toys supplied with our review unit fit poorly onto the motor shaft, and it sometimes flew off midflight, sending the drone crashing. These crashes generally did not damage the rotors, but it was still annoying to have to hunt the parts down after each incident. It was especially distressing when my dog developed a taste for them, grabbing them and running off to chew on them later.
Rotors: 4 2.2-inch
Battery Size: 550mAh Li-ion
Battery Life: 6-8 minutes
Flight Time: 6-8 minutes
Camera: 1280 by 720 pixel, 30 fps
Smartphone Controlled: No
FAA Registration: No
Size: 7.5 x 7 x 1.1 inches (open), 5.4 x 2.6 x 0.5 inches (closed)
Weight: 2.6 ounces
The controller is the same size as the Pocket Drone, and shares the same dimensions (7.5 x 7 x 1.1 inches). To make it more portable, the control sticks can be removed and stored under a panel next to the battery compartment. It's a bit more awkward to hold compared to other small drone controllers: The long shape and small control sticks make it less comfortable to hold than small controllers like the one paired with the Axis Vidius.
Four AAA batteries (not included) power the controller, and a simple switch in the middle turns the drone on and off. We did find that the small control sticks were awkward to use. Longer sticks would make it easier to make fine adjustments.
A somewhat bewildering variety of buttons, 15 in all, cover the controller. That's a lot more than you'll find on most cheap drones, which usually focus on simplicity. Some are labeled with words (including speed and the amusingly labeled start/stop button), but most have a pictogram. Some of these have labels that make the meaning obvious (a video camera and still camera for video and still photos, for instance), but others are a little less clear. The whirlwind button, for instance, puts the drone into a demo mode in which it will fly around, while the button marked with an H makes the drone hover in place. Other buttons (like the trim buttons for the stick controllers) aren't labeled at all. That makes using the controller a little frustrating.
The Pocket Drone is simple to fly. You press the start button, and the motors start running. Easing the left stick up then sets the drone climbing, and you are airborne. It is easy to maneuver, responding well to the controls and turning quickly. It is also quite stable; the large rotor blades and the larger size of the quadcopter make it less prone to tipping out of control than are its smaller siblings.
Compared to similarly priced but smaller toy drones like the Axis Vidius, the Pocket Drone is very stable. It isn't as stable as larger quadcopters like the UDI U818A, but it is nearly as easy to fly, and is much smaller and easier to carry.
That's not to say that it is slow, though. The Pocket Drone can zoom and turn quickly, especially when you enable one of the faster modes with the speed button. It is also agile. The tornado button also makes the quadcopter somersault very quickly, flipping over and righting itself within a couple of seconds.
The Pocket Drone offers an interesting mode called headless flight, as well. Engaged by pressing the top right button on the controller, this mode makes piloting the copter a little easier for new fliers. It orients the controls from the perspective of the pilot rather than the drone. Normally, the controls work relative to the way the drone is pointing, but the headless flight mode reverses that.
Photos & Videos
The Pocket Drone includes a small camera that can take 1280 x 720-pixel photos (about 1-megapixel resolution) and video. That's a little higher resolution for video than you'll find on most cheap video drones, which usually capture 640 x 480. The Pocket Drone can also capture video at 30 frames per second, which is saved as a motion-JPEG file. Images and video are saved onto the microSD card in the drone.
The videos aren't unwatchable, but they do get noisy and jerky in low light. The footage also suffers from the shakes when the drone is moving at anything other than a slow crawl. Video turns into a blurry mess due to the combination of the drone body's shaking and the heavy compression that the camera uses turns. It's no worse than most cheap video drones, though. The video is good enough to capture the fun of the flight, but you won't be making movies with this footage.
The still images have the same issues as video. They are just single frames captured from the video camera, so they lack clarity and detail. This isn't uncommon with small video drones, however.
The Pocket Drone feels like a flimsily constructed quadcopter, but it turned out to be quite tough: Despite numerous crashes, we didn't damage the frame or the motor arms. We did find that the rotor blades popped off quite easily in a crash, though, and one of the spares that came with the Pocket Drone flew off several times during flight. A spare set of rotors is included, and a set of four new blades will cost you only $10, pretty typical for this type of drone.
The Pocket Drone is powered by a removable 550-mAh Li-ion battery, which gives you between 6 and 8 minutes of flight time. That's fairly average for small drones like this. The Parrot Airborne Mini Drones lasted a slightly longer 9 minutes on our tests.
To recharge the battery, you unplug and remove it from the drone, then plug it into a USB port with the included cable. It takes about 35 minutes to charge the battery fully. Odyssey Toys doesn't offer spare batteries, but the battery is a standard size of Li-ion that is easily available for under $10 from Amazon or other online retailers. The controller is powered by four AAA batteries, which lasted for more than an hour of flying in our tests.
The Pocket Drone is a pretty neat idea: a simple, easy-to-fly drone that folds up when not in use. That would make it a good pick for the amateur pilot who wants to do some flying on the road or on holiday, especially as the craft doesn't take up much space in a bag or backpack. The video quality isn't great, but it's acceptable.