A couple years ago, DJI made quadcopter drones easy to fly, and just about affordable — its top-end models have always hovered around $1200.
Xiaomi is a Chinese electronics manufacturer best known for its cheap-and-cheerful Android smartphones, which offer top-end features for about half the price. With a $500 drone that looks to rival DJI’s flagship model, it looks like Xiamoi is trying to do for drones what it did for handsets.
Here’s all you really need to know about the two new Mi drones: 27-minute flight time, GPS and GLONASS for positioning, sensors on the bottom for holding a hover at low altitudes, and live-streaming video to a smartphone that connects to the controller. Video-wise, you’re looking at 1080p video from the cheaper model, or 4K video and RAW stills from the more expensive version, with both cameras mounted on a 360-degree gimbal.
Those specs are near-as-dammit identical to the DJI Phantom 3, DJI’s insanely popular prosumer drone that was only recently replaced by the Phantom 4. But rather than costing $1,400 like the Phantom 3, the Mi Drone will run you $380 for the 1080p version, or $460 for 4K video.
As one of my colleagues astutely pointed out, that makes the drones — really good drones — cheaper than a high-end smartphone (or a last-gen iPhone, for that matter). Sure, the drones might not fly as fast or as high as DJI’s best, and they lack the collision avoidance features that are coming on today’s top-end drones.
But for that price, it doesn’t really matter. Drones are already becoming a common sight at scenic lookouts and over city centers; if the price more than halves, then you can expect to see a lot more Dads With Drones this holiday season. Availability is unclear, but the 4K version will be first available for “testing” as part of a beta program in July.