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DJI OM 5: $159 / £139 / €159
Inside the retail box of the DJI OM 5, you’ll find the gimbal, the magnetic clamp, a removable wrist strap, a USB-C charging cable, a tripod stand, and a carrying bag. The product comes in two colors: Sunset White (used in this review) and Athens Gray. Do note that even though DJI calls it “Sunset White,” the product is basically a very pale pink. See the images above for reference.
There is also an optional accessory called the Light Clamp. This adds a key light to the sides of the magnetic mount, helping you get well-lit selfie footage. This does not come in the retail box and must be purchased separately for $59.
DJI OM 5 vs OM 4: What’s the difference?
C. Scott Brown / Android Authority
There are five main differences between the DJI OM 5 and 2023’s DJI OM 4:
Smaller and lighter: The OM 5 is smaller and lighter than any previous OM gimbal. It weighs just 297g (without the tripod stand or clamp attached) and is about a third of the size of the OM 4 when folded.
Redesigned arm: DJI has completely overhauled the way the device folds up, which is what helps make it smaller.
Extendable arm: We’ve seen built-in extendable arms in other gimbals, but this is the first time we’ve seen it on a DJI product. The arm extends out 215mm (or about 8.4 inches).
New software features: A new feature within the DJI Mimo app is called Shot Guides, which, as the name suggests, gives you tips on how to create cool shots. There’s also a new upgrade to Active Track and a few other tweaks that we’ll discuss more in-depth later.
New color: DJI’s gimbals usually come in just one color, which has been a neutral gray over the past few years. Now, though, Sunset White is thrown in the mix as an option.
Other than those four items, the DJI OM 5 will function similarly to the 2023 version.
Has the DJI OM 5 mounting system improved?
C. Scott Brown / Android Authority
With 2023’s OM 4, DJI introduced a magnetic mounting system to its gimbals. The same system is on the OM 5, but with one major exception: the system does not include the mount that you permanently stick to the back of your smartphone. This was a smart move, as that type of mount was just an all-around bad idea.
Now, your only out-of-the-box option for mounting your phone is to use the included magnetic clamp (shown above). You clamp it around the sides of your phone and then snap the clamp onto the magnetic plate at the end of the gimbal’s arm. Since the clamp goes back to the exact same spot every time you remove it, you’ll only need to calibrate the gimbal once per shoot, which is a huge time-saver.
Timelapse: Your phone sits in a stationary position and records footage for a set period of time. When finished, the software speeds up the footage to create a fast-paced edit.
Hyperlapse: A timelapse shot that adds extra flair by moving the camera from one point to another very slowly while recording.
Panorama: The camera takes photos while it moves from one point to another automatically and then pieces the photos together to make one extra-wide photo. A “Clone Me” option within this feature also allows you to digitally add yourself to various spots within the final photo.
Story Mode: The software instructs you on how to record three or four different shots. You shoot those shots, and then the app edits them all together into a professional-looking video complete with music and even title cards. This is an easy way for anyone to create stunning social media videos without any video editing expertise.
Dyna-Zoom: While you physically move backward, the zoom on your camera zooms in at a similar pace. This creates a slightly disorienting shot that is used for dramatic effect in TV and movies.
There are also two updates to the Mimo app: the updated Active Track 4.0 and the brand new Shot Guides.
Active Track 4.0
C. Scott Brown / Android Authority
Active Track is DJI’s proprietary software system that allows you to auto-track a subject. Using the viewfinder, you highlight a subject you’d like to follow, such as a person, an animal, or even a stationary object. Once highlighted, the gimbal will follow that subject automatically, keeping it centered the entire time. This works even if you, the subject, or both are in motion.
As the “4.0” in the title suggests, there’s nothing fundamentally new here; it’s just better at doing its job. Sure enough, I found this new Active Track system to be better at tracking things, especially when they are not large in the frame. It’s also better at keeping track of fast-moving subjects, which will be helpful for tracking things like kids and dogs.
However, it’s still not perfect. If your subject is too small or too fast, the gimbal won’t track it accurately. It is nice, though, to see DJI constantly improving this useful feature.Shot Guides
At first glance, Shot Guides might make you think it’s a replacement for Story Mode. However, that is not the case. Story Mode is still here and works as it has in previous iterations, albeit with a few more story templates to work with.
Shot Guides is a feature that instructs you on achieving a certain type of shot. It shows you an example shot on the left side of the screen and gives you basic instructions on how to do it. Using the viewfinder on the right side of the screen, you can craft your shot, doing your best to mimic the example.
Once you’ve finished, the Mimo app will show the example shot and the shot you created side-by-side. If you’re not happy with what you got, you can try again.
Battery life: I found battery life to be in line with DJI’s claims, which is about six hours. You can check how much battery life you have left at any time within the Mimo app. However, the three LED dots on the front of the gimbal will also give you an estimate of how your battery is doing without needing to check the app.
Charging: It takes about 90 minutes to charge the DJI OM 5. It uses USB-C connections and comes with a cable, but does not come with a wall adapter.
Video quality: Within the Mimo app, you can choose your video quality. If your phone supports it, you can go as high as a 4K resolution. However, whether you go 4K, 1080p, or 720p, you can only shoot at 30fps on Android. Hopefully, DJI brings 24fps, 60fps, and other options here.
Native camera app: In the promotional materials DJI gave us, it said you can use the gimbal with your phone’s native camera app. This would allow you to bypass DJI Mimo and use the app that comes with your phone. However, this only works on iPhones.
Small phones: Inside the box is a soft sticker that slightly elevates the back of the magnetic clamp. This is ideal for smaller phones that might not work well with the clamp as it is out of the box. Do note that the sticker sticks to the clamp itself — you do not need to stick it to your phone.
Tripod mount: There is a tripod stand included in the box. It’s the same color as the gimbal and gives you an easy way to prop up the device. However, if you want to use the gimbal on your own tripod, the mount is of the standard 0.25in size, so it should fit pretty much any tripod.
Value and competition
DJI OM 5 review: The verdict
C. Scott Brown / Android Authority
With the Osmo Mobile 3, DJI essentially added a folding arm to the Osmo Mobile 2. With the OM 4, DJI essentially added a magnetic mount system to the Osmo Mobile 3. Now, with the DJI OM 5, the company is not only redesigning how it folds to make it smaller and lighter, but also introducing an extendable arm. This makes the OM 5 a pretty big leap forward for the line.
If you’re like me and prize ease of transport when it comes to gimbals, you’re going to truly appreciate the change in size and weight with the OM 5. Likewise, if you own a gimbal and a selfie stick for different functions, you’ll appreciate being able to merge them into one device.
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VPNCity works well. It has a good number of country connections and servers, it works with Netflix, and the price is right at just $48 for a year. This service doesn’t have a lot to offer power users, but for a basic VPN connection at an affordable price, VPNCity is a good choice.VPNCity in brief:
P2P allowed: Yes.
Business location: Hong Kong
Number of servers: 3,000+
Number of country locations: 34
Cost: $48 (billed annually)
VPN protocol: OpenVPN (default)
Data encryption: AES-256-CBC
Data authentication: SHA-512
Handshake encryption: TLSv1.2
Sometimes all you need from a VPN is a selection of countries and the ability to use a good selection of streaming services like Netflix. That’s the niche VPNCity fits into right now. This relatively new service based in Hong Kong doesn’t have the added features that other services do, but there are still some good reasons to recommend it.
Note: This review is part of our
roundup. Go there for details about competing products and how we tested them.
VPNCity on Windows starts with a two-panel interface. The first panel has a connect button, and it displays the location the VPN is currently set to use. The second panel gives the app more of a desktop feel. Here it lists all the various country locations, as well as their respective ping times between you and the VPN servers.
VPNCity’s country locations.
In addition to listing the countries, there’s also a tab for using a variety of geo-restricted (or anti-VPN) streaming services. VPNCity supports Netflix in the UK, U.S., and Australia, as well as Disney Plus, HBO Now, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, and Australia’s ABC iView.
VPNCity’s app is pretty straightfoward and not that remarkable, but it doesn’t have to be. It has a good number of country connections at 34, more than 3,000 servers, and the ability to work with popular streaming services.
Dipping into the settings, VPNCity does the right thing and leaves almost all of its options turned off by default. It has options to start VPNCity at Windows startup, connect automatically when the app launches, and enable the internet kill switch. The latter shuts down all internet-connected apps if the VPN connection drops automatically. The idea is to protect online activity from potential snoops for those who want as little of their activity as possible seen outside the VPN.
The settings also house an ad blocker, also turned off by default, and VPNCity automatically enables IPv6 blocking.
There are also options for dedicated IP addresses that cost an extra $4 per month, and you can use VPNCity with the ShadowSocks Proxy—a tool largely used to circumvent Internet censorship.VPNCity: Privacy and trust
VPNCity is operated by Think Huge Ltd, which is based in Hong Kong, but the company team is based all over the world. Nick McDonald, the founder and director of Think Huge, is based in Australia, for example.
VPNCity accepts payments via credit card, PayPal, Alipay, and a variety of cryptocurrencies via Coingate. It costs $48 for a single year, $72 for two years, $36 for six months, or $10 for month-to-month subscriptions.Performance
In our tests, over three days at three different times of day, VPNCity maintained an average of 31 percent of the base speed. That puts it in the solidly reliable, but not terribly fast category. There were times and locations when the speeds were amazingly fast, but they were never consistently high.
Still, VPNCity should offer enough performance for most use cases.Conclusion
Editor’s note: Because online services are often iterative, gaining new features and performance improvements over time, this review is subject to change in order to accurately reflect the current state of the service. Any changes to text or our final review verdict will be noted at the top of this article.
Wyze Labs, the company behind the Video Doorbell Pro, was started in Seattle, in 2023 by three former Amazon employees. The trio decided to start building smart gadgets after spotting two problems with the smart gadgets already on the market: firstly, they were too expensive; and secondly, they weren’t that smart.
The three Wyze men set out to remedy that by, in their words, making “great technology accessible to everyone”. They began with the Wyze Cam, which they sold in the US for $19.99 (approx. £15) and went on to create a full range of home products, featuring everything from smart light bulbs and vacuum cleaners to smart thermostats and bathroom scales, and this smart video doorbell.
Before we get into the specifics of the Wyze Video Doorbell Pro, I have a confession to make: I fail to see a genuine need for most smart devices, especially when they’re white goods. Call me a Luddite but I don’t accept that the addition of an internet connection necessarily makes any device more useful, least of all a doorbell. And the last thing I need is one that sends me notifications, followed by a video, every time next door’s cat strolls by. All of which is to say that the Wyze Video Doorbell Pro is going to have its work cut out winning me over.
That said, I have, on occasion, come home to find Amazon packages left by my front door, in full view of anyone who happens to be passing by. And while it’s not the end of the world when it’s a few quids’ worth of used books, it’s another matter altogether when it’s hundreds of pounds of brand-new computer or audio equipment.
So, let’s see if the folks that used to work for Amazon have made a device that solves the problem their former employer is largely responsible for creating.Set-up and installation
Set-up is easy and takes minutes (if you opt for the wi-fi installation – it may take a little longer if you want to wire the doorbell into your home’s electricity system). Pretty much everything you need is supplied in the box. except for one key item: a three-pin UK plug. Specifically, one that’s also an adapter for a two-pin US plug.
You need one of these to plug in the Wyze Chime Pro, which acts as a wi-fi extender and the internal chime for the doorbell. The Chime Pro needs to be paired to the doorbell and your home wi-fi system, and plugged in somewhere within nine metres (30 feet) of the doorbell.
Besides that, the only other things you need to do are download the Wyze app (from either Apple’s App Store or Google Play), create an account (which you can do for free), and then sync the doorbell and chime to your phone.
The app is simple enough to navigate and although it does initially appear to insist that you set up a subscription (albeit one with a free trial period), you can override the suggestion to run the basic, fully free, option.
If you don’t like the idea of drilling into your doorframes to hang the doorbell, double-sided adhesive strips are supplied so you can stick it on instead. Beyond that the only other point worth mentioning concerns recharging the doorbell’s battery.
A recharging cable is supplied but it has a micro USB jack on the doorbell end and a plain-old standard Micro-USB on the other end. Which is fine if you’ve got a computer with a spare USB socket, but if not, you’re going to need another three-pin plug – this time one with a USB socket to plug the doorbell and recharging cable into.
Wyze says the doorbell’s battery will last up to six months between charges and it does come already charged (to about 50 per cent if the model I had is anything to go by), so you at least have some time to make arrangements before it runs out and you’re back to relying on people actually knocking on your door (the horror).Design
The Video Doorbell Pro is sleek looking. It’s a nice chunky unit (approx. 140 x 45 x 30mm – although it will stand out a little prouder than 30mm with the mounting plate) that has friendly-looking round bevelled edges (think first-generation iPod but with less chrome).
The more you live with it, however, the more you notice its plasticy appearance. Which is all well and good if you’ve got a modern UPVC front door that’s white, but might clash somewhat if you’ve got a more traditionally styled, and coloured, timber door (especially so if your home has an older architectural style). Some alternative colours or options in terms of materials would be nice.
The Wyze app though is really user-friendly, almost to the point of being foolproof. Once you’ve paired your doorbell to your phone, it appears on the app’s home screen and tapping on it shows you live footage of what it’s seeing, as well as the option to scroll back through the clips it recorded earlier.Features
A blue light, around the bell button, comes on when the doorbell detects movement, letting visitors know where to push to alert you to their presence (and to give them fair warning that they’re on camera).
The camera’s ultra-wide-view lens does a good job of capturing most of the scene around your door, so even if you don’t get a chance to talk to any delivery people, provided they don’t drop the package at the foot of your door (or directly beneath the doorbell), you can generally see if one has been left. There’s also an angled back-plate to give the camera a better view of the area around your front door – useful if your door’s not dead centre or you live in a terrace and you want less of your neighbour’s entrance in view.
There is a little lag on the audio and video, but only enough to occasionally make for a little conversational awkwardness. And as far as I can tell, it takes only 10 seconds for a notification if a doorbell press to reach your phone (notifications of activity can take a few seconds longer).
The footage defaults to a square-view format but you have the option to make it full screen in a vertical orientation (although flip your phone to landscape and it switches to full screen automatically). You can also control the mic on the doorbell, take still images, change the volume and ‘ringtone’ of the chime, and generally fiddle around with the device to your heart’s content, quickly and easily, all from your phone.
There’s also a surprisingly clear night-vision mode that lets you see any visitors who may come calling after dark.
Stick with the free service model and the notifications you get are pretty basic: “Motion detected on front door at [time]” or “Hello, someone is calling you”, if the source of the motion actually presses the doorbell. Opt for a subscription package (starting at £2.99 per month or £17.99 per year) and you get more specific notifications that make use of the smart doorbell ability to recognise the source of the activity: “Package detected…” or “Person detected…” for example.Verdict
Wyse’s Video Doorbell Pro is pretty good. It does a decent job, it’s a doddle to use and it’s cheaper than its major rivals. Is it good enough to convince me to buy one? No. Which isn’t to say there’s anything particularly bad about it, just that I wasn’t in the market for a smart doorbell to begin with and this hasn’t changed my mind.
That said, the lack of a three-pin plug does leave me thinking this version of it is the one meant for the US market and making it available in the UK is more of a ‘let’s go for broke’ afterthought than a considered ‘what will we need to do this right’ strategy.
But the real question is, will it stop anyone walking off with your unattended deliveries when you’re not at home to receive them? If you can open the app quick enough and get through to the delivery person in time, maybe. But Amazon drivers are under pressure and typically in a hurry. From experience, they’re under so much pressure that I barely have time to get to the door and collect my parcels by hand when I am home.
A simpler, possibly more effective alternative (if you have the space) might be an old-fashioned lockable parcel safe, which you can pick up for about the same price as a smart doorbell. Also, you’ll never have to recharge a parcel safe, so it doesn’t matter what plugs and sockets you don’t have.Alternatives Wyze Cam Floodlight
If you’re more worried about nocturnal intruders than parcels being left unattended on your doorstep, then perhaps you should consider the Wyze Cam Floodlight. It has many similar features to the Video Doorbell Pro (motion-detector activation, HD video, night vision and two-way audio), but also includes a pair of 2,600-lumen LED lights and a 105dB siren so you can see whoever, or whatever, is prowling around your property after dark (and, if needs, be alert the entire neighbourhood to their presence.
The Cam Floodlight does more than just pick up movement and illuminate it, though; its camera records the activity and sends the footage directly to your smartphone so you can see what’s going on, without having to scrabble around for your slippers.
Wyze Cam v3
If it’s the inside of your home, rather than the outside, that you want to keep an eye on (whether it’s a baby sleeping in another room or a pet left home alone), the Wyze Cam v3 is up to the job.
Install it anywhere in your home, pair it to your phone or tablet and when it detects any sort of movement, the Cam v3 will let you know and show you what’s happening.
It also has two-way audio so if you need to sing a crying baby to sleep but can’t leave the pots on the cooker unattended, you’re in luck. Colour night vision and weather-resistant casing means the Cam v3 can also work outdoors as a security camera.
The HP Elite Folio is lightweight and stylish, with all-day battery life. Its performance still can’t compete with that of modern AMD Ryzen or Intel Core processors, and software compatibility issues persist. These shortcomings may still be hard to swallow considering the Elite Folio’s premium price tag.
The HP Elite Folio wraps vivid display options, 4G/5G connectivity options, and all-day battery life within a lightweight, stylish design. It clearly wins on mobility.
This review is part of our ongoing roundup of the best laptops. Go there for information on competing products and how we tested them.HP Elite Folio basic features
HP’s Elite Folio is available in either an 8GB RAM/16GB SSD fixed configuration on chúng tôi for $1,889Remove non-product link, or a configurable Elite Folio optionRemove non-product link that begins at $1,895.04. It’s worth noting that while the first option appears ready to ship, selecting the configurable option puts the ship date at October 7—with a big qualifier: “This platform has an extended build time. Component availability, and hence the ship date, may change.” A different configuration is $1,949.95 on AmazonRemove non-product link.
Mark Hachman / IDG
HP’s Elite Folio, in its more traditional desktop orientation.
Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2 5G
Display: 13.3-inch (1920×1280) IPS touch, 400 nits rated
Memory: 8GB/16GB LPDDR4x-4266 (16GB as tested)
Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB PCIe NVMe SSD (512GB as tested)
Graphics: Adreno 690
Ports: 2 USB-C 5Gbps (DisplayPort 1.4, USB PD)
Security: Windows Hello
Camera: 720p (user-facing, Windows Hello)
Battery: 46Wh (rated); 47.6Wh (as tested)
Wireless: 8021.11ac (2×2 MIMO), Bluetooth 5, Snapdragon X20 LTE Cat 16
Operating system: Windows 10 Home/Pro (Windows 10 Home as tested)
Dimensions: 11.75 x 9.03 x 0.63 inches
Weight: 2.93 pounds, 3.57 with charger
While the Elite Folio looks like a clamshell laptop, it’s closer to a 2-in-1 Windows tablet. The keyboard does not detach, as it does with Microsoft’s Surface Pro X or Surface Pro 7+. Instead, it can rotate flat into a tablet mode. A “hybrid” mode allows it to pull forward, hiding the keyboard for streaming video and using the screen as a primary interface. HP also includes a pen, an additional cost with rival tablets.
The Elite Folio’s Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2 5G is an Arm processor that mimics the customized Arm chip used inside the Surface Pro X and the Lenovo Flex 5G. Those tablets, however, used a slightly earlier version of the Snapdragon 8cx, the Gen 1.
Mark Hachman / IDG
“Vegan leather” wraps the outside surfaces of the HP Elite Folio.
These Arm chips come with trade-offs. Historically, they’ve run more slowly than an Intel Core or AMD Ryzen chip, in part because of the need to emulate traditional x86 instructions. That’s less of a concern now, as more applications can either run on native Arm code, or via the web. Just don’t expect to play games on the Elite Folio—it’s an optimized Office or web browsing machine first and foremost.
The Elite Folio may look a lot like the 2023 Spectre Folio. There’s one major external difference: Unlike the Spectre Folio’s real leather cladding, the Elite Folio is wrapped in “vegan leather,” which is just a fancy name for polyurethane. That material conveys a luxurious look while being animal-friendly. Inside, the keyboard deck returns to a more traditional, plasticky surface.
Mark Hachman / IDG
This unofficial “presentation” mode orientation shows how the Elite Folio straddles the definition of a detachable Windows tablet and a more traditional design.
The HP Elite Folio’s display is pleasing: bright, with vivid colors that cover 99 percent of the SRGB color gamut, though only 74 percent of AdobeRGB and 75 percent of sRGB, as measured by our colorimeter. You might not buy a laptop to work outside, but if you do, the Elite Folio’s ready with two bright display options: a base model with a maximum 400 nits of brightness, and a 1,000-nit higher-end option, which we didn’t review. Turning up the display brightness will run down the integrated 46Wh battery more quickly, of course.
Mark Hachman / IDG
A USB-C port lies on either side of the chassis.
Port selection is sparse—two USB-C (not Thunderbolt) connections, one on either side of the chassis. Connecting to a Thunderbolt dock enabled work on a single external 4K display, which satisfied our productivity needs.Typing experience
Mark Hachman / IDG
The HP Elite Folio keyboard offers shallow, though spacious keys.
HP’s Elite Folio includes a 720p webcam, mounted at the top of the PC’s display bezel, which offers average graininess and color balance. You do have to wonder whether, after over a year working from home, HP at least considered a more premium 1080p webcam option.
Mark Hachman / IDG
The sliding webcam shutter is a nice feature, though it’s a bit difficult to distinguish, at a distance, whether the webcam is open or closed.
One of the showcase features of the Elite Folio is the two-button, 5.5-inch Wacom AES 2.0 pen, which nestles in a cubby very much like the one in the Microsoft Surface Pro X—another Arm-powered device. Microsoft’s Surface Pro X conceals the pen cubby, but the Elite Folio’s is exposed, tempting you to use it.
Mark Hachman / IDG
The Elite Folio Pen has a slightly recessed button at the end, and a more conventional button midway down.
Overall we prefer the inking experience in the Surface Pro X. The Surface Pen is a bit thicker and rounder, more comfortable to hold than the flattish Elite Folio pen. The Surface Pro X’s kickstand also offers more options for reclining the tablet. The HP pen’s end button is a bit too discreet: Because it sits flush with the end of the pen, it’s harder to depress. (There’s another button midway down the shaft.) There’s noticeable lag when inking with the pen. HP’s own configuration utility assigns both pen buttons optional functions.
On the plus side, the Folio’s pen offers built-in charging capabilities, which kick in when the pen is re-inserted in its cubby. Like the Surface Pro X, the magnetized cubby will automatically rotate the pen longitudinally to align the pen’s charging contacts with the cubby’s own. The pen’s charge lasted all day; it’s rated for 30 hours of use or ten days of standby, with a 30-minute recharge cycle. HP also uses the cubby to house the SIM tray.
It’s a sign of the times when new consumer-grade, commercially available remote-controlled drones just show up unsolicited at our offices with an invitation from the manufacturer to take them for a spin. Drones are big news these days, their reputation alternately buoyed and tarnished by their efficacy as machines of warfare and the lack of solid legalities governing their use, and likewise by their limitless potential across a range of commercial applications and their similarly limitless potential for abuse where personal privacy is concerned.
But aforementioned concerns notwithstanding, unmanned aerial systems will soon be everywhere and DJI Innovations’ Phantom is the kind of system that will surely be a part of that shift. Designed for neither industry nor government, the Phantom is a pretty serious UAS designed for you and me–the average consumer that simply wants to fly. So you can imagine the unrestrained glee with which we unboxed this unexpected arrival in the afternoon post.
DJI is a maker of flight control systems for UAS as well as a handful of complete unmanned aerial vehicles, mostly geared toward aerial photography applications. Most of these platforms are somewhat complex and quite expensive–in other words, best suited for commercial customers or the most serious and well-heeled hobbyists. The Phantom is DJI’s attempt at packaging its technology in a way that is both inexpensive and user-friendly, so much so that anyone can get into unmanned flight. It’s certainly not the only consumer-oriented UAS (see our earlier review of the Parrot AR Drone 2.0) or the least expensive–in fact, it’s a few hundred dollars more than other recreational RC quadcopters. But Phantom lives in a space between the toy quadcopter you might pick up for the kids at Brookstone and the professional-grade hardware that aerial photographers or search and rescue authorities might use.
The features that set it apart: serious range and altitude, a durable construction that withstood the serious abuse (both intentional and unintentional) we threw at it, and a satellite-based stabilizing capability that proved quite effective. But that’s not all there is to the Phantom; there were a few aspects of this product that we found clumsy, non-intuitive, and unnecessarily difficult. So if you’re seriously interested in this kind of technology I strongly recommend you read all the way to the end of this post where Phantom gets a chance to redeem itself, because I’m going to lead off with all the things I didn’t like about this otherwise incredibly fun little machine.
It’s Not Really “Ready To Fly”: Consumer products should be relatively easy to use right out of the box, and indeed DJI describes Phantom as an “all in one solution ready to fly.” But unboxing the drone is not so simple. Attaching the legs with a phillips screwdriver, attaching the propellors with the provided fasteners–this is all stuff that’s expected when you purchase something with “some assembly required.” But actually transitioning from an open box to a vehicle that’s “ready to fly” requires a bit more work. The “Quickstart Manual” is a densely-worded 16 pages long. The battery charging procedure requires its own set of instructions. The calibration process (that is, the process that orients the vehicle’s assorted gyros and accelerometers, as well as syncs it up with various GPS satellites–more on those later) requires some steps that seem nonsensical, like “flip this switch ten times” (ten times!). We don’t mind a learning curve, nor do we mind a little assembly, but “ready to fly” is a stretch.
We Don’t Speak Robot: The basic interface between user and machine is a standard RC helicopter-style controller, the dual-joystick kind that has rotor throttle and vehicle rotation pegged to one joystick and lateral movements controlled by the other. But that’s where the simplicity ends. Much of the rest of the machine-human communication is conducted through a blinking LED on the rear of the ‘craft that speaks in something of a colorized morse code that you, the user, must memorize if you don’t want to keep the quickstart manual (16 pages!) next to you at all times. In different flight modes, the blinking colored lights and their many patterns mean different things. Example: When syncing Phantom to GPS satellites, one yellow blink means you have more than six GPS positioning satellites at your disposal. If you have exactly six, you get a yellow blink, followed by red. Less than five? One yellow, three reds. Exactly five? One yellow, a pause, two reds. Switch to a different flight mode, and the language (and color pattern) changes. It’s kind of like Richard Dreyfus communicating with the aliens in Close Encounters of the Third Kind with all those blinking lights and tones. That is to say, it’s kind of annoying.
The Controller And Aircraft Don’t Talk To Each Other Enough: Aside from the fact that it’s kind of huge, we don’t take issue with Phantom’s handheld RC controller. If you’ve ever flown a RC helicopter, you’ll take to it immediately. One thing we loved about the latest Parrot AR Drone is that in “Absolute Control” mode the user can always control the drone from his or her point of view–that is, no matter which way the “front” of the drone is facing, it will always travel forward, backward, left, or right respective to the direction the pilot is facing. Phantom’s controller lacks the hardware that makes this kind of intuitive flight possible, and while it does have a couple of helpful flight modes (“Home Lock” and “Course Lock”) that peg the directional orientation of the drone either to it’s point of takeoff or the direction it’s facing at takeoff (respectively), if you are walking around and turning as you fly the drone–and you’ll want to–it’s pretty easy to lose that intuitive link between the direction you are facing and the direction the drone is facing.
No Built In Camera, No Drone’s-Eye View: Adding features adds expense, and in the case of aircraft they can also add weight which reduces performance and flight duration. But cameras are so small and cheap these days–the Parrot AR Drone 2.0, the most popular comparable recreational quadcopter, comes with two built-in HD cameras–that we were struck by the fact that the Phantom has none. While it does come with a mount for a GoPro camera (sold separately), that means that it also doesn’t offer a drone’s-eye view, which is one of the more fun aspects of the Parrot and a nice way to pilot the vehicle beyond line of sight (which we aren’t endorsing, since doing so violates FAA rules–but still).
Battery Life: I’d preface this complaint by pointing out that there is nothing about Phantom’s battery life that is not absolutely par for course. Phantom runs on a small, dense lithium-polymer brick that takes roughly 45 minutes to an hour to charge fully. DJI claims a full charge is good for ten to fifteen minutes of flight time. That’s not very long. The good news: we found that we were able to squeeze even a little more flight time than that out of our machine (perhaps because on these flights we were not carrying the added weight of a camera). And fifteen minutes is about average for this kind of product. So this isn’t really a complaint about Phantom, but it is something you should be aware of before you invest in the thing. Somebody please invent a better battery already.
Phantom: All Lit Up
This Drone Knows Its Place: Now that the negative stuff is out of the way, let’s plunge into the many things Phantom gets right. First of all, the unique thing about Phantom is its GPS stabilization. That is, when in GPS flight mode Phantom is actually locating itself in space via several GPS satellites, and this allows for some very stable flight characteristics. With GPS enabled, you can be running Phantom at a dead lateral sprint and then let off the directional control. Phantom will actually pitch slightly in the opposite direction of travel (like applying brakes) and then correct itself back to the point in space where you first let off the accelerator (with GPS disabled, Phantom will right itself and cease acceleration when you release the directional control, but its momentum will continue to carry it some distance). Likewise, with GPS enabled Phantom can hover very precisely even in moderate winds, helpful for capturing aerial photography or video (more on that in a moment).
A good way to test this is to trigger the failsafe landing mode, which returns Phantom to its point of origin should it lose communication with the controller. Flying it on a soccer pitch adorned with plenty of painted lines for reference, we cut the power to the controller several times. Each time Phantom ceased lateral motion, climbed to sixty feet, slowly returned to the airspace over its point of takeoff, and landed itself on the ground below. Even with a stiff breeze blowing it never missed the mark by more than a couple feet, well within the standard margin of error for GPS technology.
It’s GoPro Ready: We love the GoPro. It goes pretty much anywhere, even where the user can’t or won’t, and returns amazing video and still images. Disappointed as we are that there’s no built in camera, the addition of the included GoPro mount is a nice compromise for the user who wants to quickly and relatively cheaply turn Phantom into an aerial photography rig (see some of what we captured with ours in the video below).
It Goes Fast, It Goes Far, It Goes Really, Really High: If I haven’t yet mentioned that this thing is really fun to fly, let me drive home the point here. Other quadcopters are fun, but this thing really moves. DJI lists its maximum flight velocity at 10 meters per second or roughly 22 miles per hour, but it sure feels a lot faster when you’re skimming across the surface of a body of water or careering around a tree-filled park (not recommended). The maximum operating range is listed at 300 meters, or more than three football fields–far enough to get beyond the line of sight that, by the way, the FAA strictly demands you maintain between you and your UAV at all times. The FAA also demands you keep it below 400 feet, so we’re not even going to tell you how high it goes (as law-abiding citizens we couldn’t possibly know), but suffice it to say that it goes very, very high. Very.
Crashes Hardly Slowed It Down: While we didn’t intentionally try to break our Phantom, we did do some questionably intelligent things with it, like fly around our office (we really don’t recommend indoor flight). At one point during an outdoor flight we failed to tighten one of the propellor fasteners down adequately after some on-the-ground maintenance and threw a propellor at roughly 50 feet up, sending our Phantom tumbling from the sky (and providing some excellent video). We crash-landed it several times. We broke propellors (DJI provides spares) and cracked our GoPro mount. But the vehicle itself shows no signs of slowing down.
$679. There are a handful of authorized vendors listed on DJI-Innovations’ website, or you can order from the company directly.
If it seems like the top half of this review was overly critical, well, it’s a review and this is a first-generation product. The bottom line is: This is a really, really fun machine. To be fair, some of the hardware and setup complaints, like the multi-step battery charge procedure, likely stem from DJI doing its best to use generic, off-the-shelf components to keep the cost down. And while the user interface takes a while to get the hang of, make no mistake–I personally found this UAS to be a whole lot of fun, and so did the many Popular Science staffers here that piloted it.
At nearly $700, DJI’s Phantom is no cheap toy and it shouldn’t be treated like one (in fact, it’s a little too complicated a machine for unsupervised use by children). But that’s the point. It’s a UAS that lives in a space somewhere between the toy recreational quadrotors already on the market and the far more serious multi-thousand-dollar unmanned hardware that is aimed at government and commercial work. These technologies are already taking to the sky for some applications and will only proliferate as the FAA further opens up the national airspace to UAS opeations in the next few years. Phantom exists in a pretty empty space right now, but we’d be surprised if it stays that way for long.
Those little bottles of travel-sized toiletries you bought before your last trip may be convenient, but they are an environmental nightmare. Most facilities are not properly equipped to recycle small plastic tubes, tubs, and anything with a pump, so they probably won’t. Only 9 percent of plastics get successfully recycled worldwide, and at least 14 million tons of what’s left ends up in the ocean every year, making up for 80 percent of marine debris.
More sustainable alternatives to these miniatures include products like shampoo bars and toothpaste tablets, but they can be expensive and hard to find locally if you don’t live in a large city.
Fortunately, putting together a zero-waste toiletry kit for your next getaway doesn’t have to be complicated or spendy, and there are plenty of strategies that won’t require you to buy a single thing.You probably already have suitable containers
The most common items you’ll find in a toiletry bag are shampoo, conditioner, soap, and toothpaste, all of which you probably already have in abundance in your bathroom at home. So the logical solution is not buying more, but transferring some of it to travel-sized containers. You can buy bottles and miniature tubs for this purpose, but chances are there’s already an abundance of storage solutions sitting around your house that will do the job just as well.
[Related: Will we ever be able to recycle all our plastic?]
Instead of purchasing new vessels, take a moment to scan your surroundings and see what might suit the task at hand. For example, a tiny glass jam jar like the kind you might find at an upscale diner is the perfect size for a week’s worth of face wash. Likewise, a breath mint tin is an excellent place to store a bar of soap, and if you use a non-aerosol variety, you can refill empty hand sanitizer spray bottles with hair spray. Even your child’s empty paint pots with screw-on lids or used-up sample jars that came from beauty counters are practically designed to carry your bathroom products.
Ketti Wilhelm, the author of the sustainable travel blog Tilted Map, has a less conventional idea: contact lens cases. If you wear contacts, you probably have enough of these to last a lifetime, and she explains they hold just enough face lotion or toothpaste (in paste or tablet form) for a weekend trip.
Creativity is key: Any container will do, especially if it has a twist top or a lid that latches. If you think it might hold anything from half a bar of soap to a week’s worth of conditioner, wash the container thoroughly, sanitize the inside by spraying it with alcohol, and let it air dry. Then designate a box under the sink or in the bathroom where you can stash the bottles or jars until your next trip.Do simple swaps
For most travelers, toiletry kits not only include shampoo and conditioner, but also single-use items like cotton swabs and face wipes. But these products may not be as biodegradable as you think, as they often include synthetic materials like plastic, and are laden with chemicals. The good news is that these items also tend to have easy no-waste alternatives.
Instead of using disposable wipes in non-recyclable packaging, bring a washcloth and facial cleanser. Wilhelm likes to pack small bars of face soap, which she tucks into the pockets of a folded washcloth. This technique saves space but also negates the need for a soap container.
You can replace cotton balls and cotton rounds by cutting 3-by-3-inch squares out of a clean cotton T-shirt or sheets you’d like to retire. You can even cut larger swatches, fold them over several times and sew the edges to create a thicker pad. After every use, wash your pad with gentle soap in the sink, wring it as best you can, and let it air dry.You don’t need a new toiletry bag
There are hundreds of stylish, sustainable, and functional toiletry bags available for purchase out there. But the most eco-friendly is the one you already have, so give it a wash or a patch job if it’s seen better days. And if your toiletry bag is beyond salvation, try to repurpose something else you have around—it could be a small soft-sided lunch bag, lingerie wash bag, a small camera bag, or even a reusable silicone zip-top bag. Small packing cubes and zippered pouches that come with department-store skincare products are also suitable.
Just don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need separate cases, stands, and covers for items like razors to toothbrushes.
“Ask, do you need extra things to go on top of your things?” Wilhelm says. “It’s just part of re-examining the mindset of excess consumption that we’re so conditioned to.”
If your toiletry bag has a separate compartment that fits your toothbrush, skip the plastic brush cover. If you’re really afraid your razor is going to slice through something, place a large binder clip or folded piece of scrap mail held in place by a rubber band over the blade.Make smart substitutions
As you run out of your bath and body products and it’s time to replace them, do so more mindfully. Look for multi-tasking and zero-waste items like 2-in-1 bars of shampoo and body wash, or conditioner bars that can also serve as shaving cream. Opt for a face lotion that also contains SPF and go for avocado oil, which you can double as a makeup remover and body moisturizer.
[Related: How to go zero-waste at the grocery store]
“Minimalism sounds scary to people, but taking just a small dose of that perspective and rethinking all the products you use can be really transformative,” Wilhelm posits.
Whether it’s collecting small jars and bottles to use on your next vacation or committing to not using the products in your hotel room, make sure to remember that every bit of waste you reduce makes an impact in the long run.
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