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Product Reviews

ZeroTech Dobby

A portable drone that's easy to get up and take a sweet pic

June 15, 2017

Packaging is a big deal to me, and I love the utility of Dobby’s Apple-esque box. It doubles as its case and there’s a spot for each item — though I admit, this frustrates me when I’m in a rush or less particular about where things go. What’s in the box: aircraft, battery, charger, adapter, USB cable, micro-USB, and the ever-important manuals.

When folded, Dobby fits in the palm of my hand — which, for comparison, is basically the size of a child’s hand. Plus, it fits in a ton of pockets (see for yourself).The drone comes with four sets of pre-mounted, 3-inch foldable propellers.
Highlights
  • Highly portable and durable
  • 1080p video and 4K photos
  • Ample supply of Dobby the House Elf puns
  • Palm take-off and landing
Do.Fun app

House elves aren’t supposed to have fun, but ZeroTech thinks differently. Inside the app you can view content from other Dobby pilots, submit malfunction reports and feedback, control Dobby, and more. To fly Dobby, you must download and use its app, because it does not come with a traditional transmitter.

The main interface of the controller shows the Wi-Fi status, current flight altitude and distance, battery life, and gives the options to take photo and video. Photo and video can either be saved via the app to a smartphone (content is available when not connected to the drone,hooray!) or transferred to a computer using the micro-USB.

There are four flying modes: Motion Sense, Swiping, Free Sticks, and Safe Sticks. I tried all of the modes, but I mainly chose to fly using Motion Sense and Free Sticks.

Now to the goods: the advanced features. Inside the app are icons that activate facial recognition, target tracking, orbit mode, palm take-off and landing, auto take-off and landing, gesture control, voice control, and burst shot photo.
Dobby has fully retractable props, so it fits in a ton of pockets.
Bill Zuback
Before you fly

Dobby must be connected to its Wi-Fi; you can find the information on the underbelly of the drone. Unfortunately, Dobby needs to be manually connected to the Wi-Fi each time it’s powered on.

Tapping the middle icon that’s shaped like a folded Dobby brings up the controller interface. Once that’s open, the drone needs to be calibrated, which must be done anytime you’re flying in a new area, both inside and out. Otherwise, the drone will drift and be hard to control. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Into the blue

When Dobby first took off indoors, my initial takeaway was that this drone, like many others, is loud. Eventually, I got over the loud buzzing (sort of) and started ordering Dobby to move.

This drone is responsive, though it can take some getting used to the fact that when in Motion Sense mode, sharp movements on your end are mimicked on Dobby’s end. But don’t worry, Dobby never became a free elf — the drone recovers and hovers like a champ.

The first time I flew this drone outside was when I was home in Washington state for the holidays. The weather wasn’t great while I was there, but Dobby was determined to fly.

In the manual, it says, “Don’t fly Dobby in bad weather conditions, such as high wind, rain, snow, etc.” Well, it was winter when I conducted this review, so some days I flew when it was 30 degrees and there were 13 mph winds (below the advertised max wind resistance of 17 mph, and admittedly below the 32 degree advised operating temperature — oops). And honestly, Dobby performed extremely well.

I was impressed by most of the features, which you activate by simply tapping icons. Dobby mimicked my movements like a charm when flying in Motion Sense Mode. Palm takeoff and landing is awesome. Dobby has optic flow and ultrasonic sensors, which allow it to accurately sense when a hand is underneath it.

When flying indoors, I got an alert that read “Optic flow sensors low. Landing now.” The the online guide showed many reasons why this can happen. In this instance, it was likely due to the floor. Apparently, the optic flow system has problems working above surfaces without clear textures, so I put a textured, firm pillow on the ground and took off. It worked. My advice: don’t be afraid to troubleshoot.

In Orbit Mode, there are two options: orbit under GPS positioning or under target tracking. Both functions work well, but it takes a while for Dobby to measure the distance between itself and the chosen orbit point. Once the orbit starts, it flies a full circle and automatically stops and hovers where it began.
Typical dronie waves! Dobby flew (on a plane) and traveled home to Washington state with me for the holidays. The drone’s high-resolution camera captured the perfect photos and video of the winter wonderland. Lauren Sigfusson
System Specs
ZeroTech Dobby
  • Available: ZeroTech
  • Diagonal: 7.8 inches
  • Weight: 7 ounces
  • Flight time: About 6 minutes
  • App name: Do.Fun
  • Price: $349
Want to have Dobby follow someone? Target Tracking Mode allows you to track an object or person by drawing a box around your target, though if it’s windy or cold, it can be difficult to lock down a target. A few times the drone focused on the ground rather than my set target. Bad Dobby! I emailed ZeroTech, and customer service replied, “Make sure you wear a different color top” — otherwise Dobby’s computer vision can mistake its surroundings for targets.

Excited to use voice command? I was too, but it didn’t work. ZeroTech customer service says that speech recognition doesn’t always “work smoothly in English.” Honestly, neither does Amazon’s Alexa. Too bad.

This little drone churns out some high-quality photo and video. The camera captures 1080p video and photos with a resolution of 4208 x 3120. In Orbit, Target Tracking, and several other modes, it records video automatically.

Aside from the camera lens facing directly forward, the camera pitch angle can be manually adjusted to sit at five different degrees: up 22.5 and down -22.5, -45, -67.5, and -90. There are lines that delineate each angle so you know to what degree you’re setting the camera. Some features, like the Target Tracking, require specific pitch angles — remember to adjust it before flying to save on battery!

The drone comes standard with one battery, which lasted about six minutes (below the advertised nine minutes) for me. To be fair, I did fly the Dobby in cold weather, which negatively impacts battery life. You can always get more on Amazon.

Dobby works hard and is tough. If something gets in its way, it bites. Dobby ran into a brick wall — marked up the bricks. It collided with a glass frame — left gouges in the glass. It ran into my boyfriend’s hand (he had the best of intentions) — resulted in blood. (Dobby and BF were fine.)

If you plan to fly Dobby indoors, I suggest buying prop guards (you can also get those on Amazon).


Final thoughts

Overall, I like Dobby: It’s portable, fun, and full of cool features. Flight time was meh, but Dobby is great for people looking to capture a quick high-quality shot. If you're looking for another portable drone and packed with awesome features, check out the DJI Spark drone.

Note: A version of this review appeared in the March/April 2017 issue of Drone360 magazine.
Featured image: Drew Halverson