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Elevate your selfie game with this pocket-sized drone

Engadget Engadget 4/09/2016 James Trew
© Provided by Engadget

Selfie drones? Sigh. We've only ourselves to blame. That said, the gadget fan inside of me is shamelessly drawn to the meretriciousness of the idea. The general problem of the aerial selfie is a nut that's been crackedalready, but we're all for more options -- and Dobby (above) from ZeroTech is one of them. Pitched as a "pocket drone," Dobby is (as you might have guessed) small, with arms that fold out when an emergency selfie opportunity presents itself. It's not a truly hands-free experience, as you'll need your phone to control it, but it's crammed with an array of smart features and we tried most of them here in Berlin.

Some of you might have seen Dobbie before. It's been on sale in China since summer, and even made a cameo in our very own ICYMI. This weekend, ZeroTech brought Dobby to Berlin to celebrate it's US and European launch. We'll say it right up top, at $399 (469€) -- the sort of money that can get you a family-size 4K quadcopter -- you'll have to really want one, but there's a lot going on, so get comfortable, and we'll get right to it.

The first thing you'll notice about Dobby is its petite design. It's about the size of a PS Vita, maybe a little fatter, and looks somewhat like a giant bar of soap. Until you fold out the arms, at which point it starts looking more drone-like. Perched on the front is a 13-megapixel camera, and on the underside is where you'll find the removable battery and sonar/downward camera for indoor positioning. Somewhere hidden inside of Dobby are GPS and GLONASS sensors for satellite positioning. Dobby maybe small, but it's not lacking in gizmos.

The camera snaps photos, of course, with a burst mode to make sure you "trap" the perfect picture. Video is grabbed at 1080p/30fps. ZeroTech told me the camera is similar to that found in phones like the Xioami Mi 4. The idea being, a mobile-style shooter takes better personal photos -- no fisheye, or wide angle weirdness. The similarities with a phone don't end there, as there's also a Snapdragon 801 processor running the show. Those brains aren't powering apps, though, instead it's put to use to drive the smart features, of which there are a few. Maybe too many?

In our time with Dobby, ZeroTech tried to show us everything it could do. This includes voice enabled control (call it's name, it'll take off). You can also set Dobby to take off from, and land onto your palm. It's not exactly the throw launched promised (but as yet undelivered) by Lily, but moving your hand upwards will see the drone take flight. Be careful of your fingers though, as Dobby nipped a pinkie from our demonstrator at one point.

One feature we sadly didn't get to test was target tracking. The idea is, you select a person/cat/whatever currently in the camera's view (via the app), and the drone will follow it. DJI's Phantom 4 and Osmo also do this, with mixed results, so it'll be interesting to see how well Dobby can hold up. Video is stabilized digitally, which should smooth it out a little, but again, this isn't as effective as a dedicated gimbal, or OIS. One final feature that probably could have been left out are flying tricks -- in particular Dobby can barrel roll. You can't film while it flips, so it's just a novelty.

While we had fun flying Dobby outside the IFA grounds (and taking the awkward selfie above), the first thing my colleague asked was, what is this for? It's a good question. I enjoy flying drones generally, and shooting smooth high quality video. Dobby can't really match something like a DJI in that regard. Of course, you can't shlep a DJI around with you everywhere, which is the key selling point here. But, the number of times I've been caught drone-less when I needed one are few. That said, no one needed selfie sticks at one point (and I'm still not sure they do). Still, at $400, like I said before, put this one firmly on the executive toy list.

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