The egghead that segues from camcorder to seaplane
The cleverest pivot I ever saw in tech was in 2013, when the world’s leading drone company, DJI in Shenzhen, reimagined these specialised industrial tools as flying cameras for regular consumers, and added stabilisation so they could easily be flown in wind. I was hooked by its first Phantom drone, and remained a drone fan.
But, thanks to the inevitable idiots buying them, fun drones have become a bit tainted for privacy and air-safety reasons. So Beijing maker PowerVision, whose bizarre egg-shaped products I like, has done another repositioning and styled its new Power Egg X as a cute – and extremely adaptable – hand-held camcorder that happens to adapt to being a drone if you fit it with rotors. Oh, and if bought in its Wizard package, it can also be a seaplane-style drone that lands on water and is fully waterproof. Power Egg X is bursting with features – obstacle avoidance being an important one – and superbly executed. Brilliant and hyper-innovative.
PowerVision Power Egg X Wizard, €1,149, store.eu.powervision.me
The next-gen FPV drone with cinematic cool
Paris drone maker Parrot’s Anafi FPV, the acronym standing for “First Person View”, means that you can see what a miniature version of yourself would see from the drone. But, instead of an FPV headset with its own screens and optics, the Anafi FPV’s 213g facemask lets you slot in your phone. It doesn’t allow you to control the drone by turning your head – you use the redesigned hand controller – but I didn’t find that a problem while test-flying the Anafi FPV over the Adriatic. In fact, it was better because, rather than look like a stormtrooper with some swivelling-head syndrome, to the curious Italian holidaymakers around me at lovely Portonovo, I just looked like a normal geek.
And what a glorious time I had. The drone is almost the same as the 2018 model, although the remote control is even more precise and the camera even better. And the FPV feature is sheer genius. Several tweaks make the experience sublime; the standout for me is what Parrot calls Cinematic Preset – which means that instead of keeping the view stabilised and level no matter what angle the drone is at, the live view in the headset (and the video recording) shows every bank and turn realistically. A triumph.
Parrot Anafi FPV, £729, parrot.co
The child-friendly drone that makes a great present
MyFirst Drone, by Singapore’s Oaxis, is pretty special. And, while it’s perfect for children who are nagging for a drone, it’s also weirdly distracting for non-children. It’s a rechargeable drone with no controls that wafts randomly, like a skittish miniature UFO, around a room – or outdoors – avoiding (most) objects, walls, etc, thanks to its five anti‑crash sensors.
The 11cm-diameter device also has sensors to avoid it going too high. The instructions say you start it by throwing it in the air, but I had more success just dropping it. The rotor blades are in a cage, so it’s safe, and with a couple of myFirst Drones, all kinds of chasing and catching games could ensue. The box promises that myFirst Drone provides a “family bonding indoor activity”, and I would endorse that.
Oaxis MyFirst Drone, £35, selfridges.com
A demonically good insect drone
This radio-controlled giant insect, MetaFly, from a startup in Marseilles, is not only the first ornithopter (or flying model bird) I have ever featured, but is perhaps the most frightening-looking product I have seen. With its tissue paper-thin carbon-fibre and polymer wings flapping at near insect speed, it’s akin to a vision from hell, sounds horrifying – and I love it for all that. There are a few ornithopters on the market, but only a couple are radio-controlled and none that I could find takes the form of an insect.
MetaFly is technically a drone, although at less than 10g in weight, it’s not the kind that needs a permit to fly in the UK – only drones above 250g require licensing. You can release MetaFly outdoors on a very calm day and reach 20kph over 100m range, flapping and gliding – more like a bird than an insect – for eight minutes on a 12-minute charge. Control is precise, if an acquired art, but with MetaFly’s ridiculous lightness, a crash is rarely damaging. It’s also fine flying indoors, but you need a huge room to fly successfully.
To build a motorised radio-controlled machine, with a decorative insect head for terrifying visual effect, at well under half an ounce is a magnificent feat of strange Gallic engineering. Assembly is tricky, and requires patience and strict adherence to the detailed video instructions on Vimeo – livened up amusingly for me by distinctly French ambulance sirens in the background at one point, possibly coming to take the inventors away. Even when it’s not flying, it’s a great display piece. And the same company also makes a MetaBird, which I am looking forward to trying.
Bionic Bird MetaFly, from €89, bionicbird.com
A cable-free aqua-drone for dramatic underwater viewing
I tested another of Beijing gadgeteer PowerVision’s drones, PowerDolphin, on Dorset’s Jurassic coast. True to its name, it is (almost) a miniature electronic dolphin with a highly manoeuvrable, extendable HD camera that can look forward, down and up at your command – and can skip through even choppy waters for two hours per charge at up to 11mph, which is almost twice as fast as Michael Phelps at his peak.
I say “almost” a mini dolphin. It is, in fact, a surface drone, with antennas to pick up your radio commands, so you could say it is just a sophisticated radio-controlled boat. But don’t let that put you off. There’s plenty of marine life to get close to, especially in shallow water and on reefs – and with an 800m horizontal range, you can really explore. If you’re into fishing, which is the audience PowerVision is angling for the most, there’s a fish detector and a bait‑dropping mechanism in the top-of-range €999 Wizard package. The company is also marketing the PowerDolphin as a way of mapping the seabed by sonar and as kind of search and rescue aid – it can tow out flotation aids in a rough sea. A truly remarkable product.
PowerVision PowerDolphin, €799, powervisioneu.myshopify.com