eHang GhostDrone 2.0: Australian Review

Drones are super cool, but they're also intimidatingly expensive. If you break them, you're up for a lot of cash for repairs. And the learning curve is steep, so breaking them is even more likely when you're new to the art. If you're looking for an easy to fly, entry level drone then eHang's GhostDrone 2.0 and its virtual reality headset are far more forgiving to a newbie than its competitors.

What Is It?

The eHang GhostDrone 2.0 VR is a $999 drone that sits at the entry level of the remote-controlled quadcopter market, and it achieves that price mainly by virtue of the fact that it doesn't include a standalone handheld controller, but is instead controlled from your smartphone. Whether you're on iOS or Android -- and the drone you buy changes based on that fact -- you can tap away at the screen, or tilt and swivel your handset, to fly the GhostDrone 2.0 around.

Instead of connecting your smartphone's relatively weak wireless radios directly to the GhostDrone 2.0 VR, though, eHang has a novel solution -- the controller is your phone, but amplifying its commands and sending them out over the drone's circa one-kilometre range is the GhostDrone 2.0's VR element. It's a virtual reality headset inasmuch as it's a pair of goggles, but it has one extremely cool feature -- when you're in the air, you can turn the GhostDrone's camera by moving your head around.

In Australia, you're not allowed to wear the goggles and fly the GhostDrone at the same time, though, so it's definitely a two-player exercise. On your phone, though, you can choose from either touchscreen controls and gyroscope, holding your iPhone or Android phone flat and tilting it to move the UAV around -- which might be a good learning method for anyone more spatially inclined.

Further marking the GhostDrone's credentials as a newbie-friendly gadget, you're also forced to unlock new features through the app by trying them out one by one. If you have the time to commit to learning all the ins and outs of your new drone over the course of a few battery recharges -- you'll get an easy 20 minutes of flying and video recording from its integrated 4K, 12-megapixel camera, although eHang says 25 is possible.

What's It Good At?

The GhostDrone 2.0 VR is so easy to learn to fly. I've been intimidated by DJI's drones in the past, for example -- it's not really like riding a bike, especially if you've been switching between brands. But the hand-holding that the app provides means that you're able to get up and into the sky and filming with very little hassle, and the suite of safety features in the way means that you feel safe as you're learning. If it loses connection, it comes back to you. If it runs out of juice, it'll come back. As long as you have a park to learn to fly in, you have a perfect drone-flying environment at your fingertips.

As well as its impressively low price considering the fact that it's a fully functioning, 4K video-recording drone, eHang has a proposition that really can't be beaten when it comes to the GhostDrone's Aussie warranty. If you break it in the first year -- within reason -- eHang will just fix it for you, free of charge. You'll have to do something pretty silly to hurt it -- it has GPS and proximity sensors, and it'll return to its take-off point on low battery -- but that peace of mind is excellent.

For its $999 price -- and remember, this is a drone with a camera attached, not a drone built around a camera like the GoPro Karma -- the GhostDrone 2.0 VR can capture some impressive footage. You have a choice of low frame rate but high quality 4K at 30fps, or you can trade detail for speed as you ramp up to a maximum of 120fps at 1080p. Stabilisation from the built-in gimbal is smooth, too, and the low mounting means you don't usually see propellers in your video even during forward motion.

And then there's that VR element. The GhostDrone 2.0 VR's virtual reality goggles are a very cool novel feature to show off the drone's-eye point of view to anyone around you while you're flying. More than that, the viewer can control the gimbal by turning their head and looking up and down. They're a gimmick -- I didn't use it for very long before I got bored, and they're not the highest resolution goggles out there -- but as gimmicks go, this is fantastic.

What's Not Good?

The live feed from the drone to the companion goggles isn't always smooth; sometimes it feels like you're watching the drone's point of view through a Skynet-futuristic lens, albeit one that occasionally breaks up a little -- especially when the drone is reasonably far from the controller and its pilot. It's hardly the biggest problem in the world -- hell, you're looking through a drone flying through the sky, for god's sake -- but we've had more trouble-free live feeds from competitors.

Similarly, we had a bit of a struggle getting the GhostDrone 2.0 to initially pair with the iPhone we were using to control and send it out on missions. Because you connect the device itself to the headset rather than the drone -- the headset is what contains all those long-range antennas you'd usually find in a competitor drone's handheld controller -- you'll need a new headset if you switch between iOS and Android, too. This is probably the GhostDrone's biggest potential impediment: choose your smartphone of choice early on and stick with it.

Since you're buying into a camera ecosystem at the same time as you're buying into a drone, it's worth pointing out that the GhostDrone 2.0's 4K-capable, 12-megapixel gimbal-mounted sensor is a bit mediocre when it comes to low-light videography. You'll get better video out of a GoPro and its more adjustable video controls, but for anything between sunrise and sunset hours the GhostDrone is more than capable of clean, crisp 4K video or high-frame rate 1080p if that's your preference instead.

While eHang's amazingly comprehensive and forgiving warranty terms are a big plus, the GhostDrone's mostly plastic construction does make it feel a little bit more fragile than some of its competitors, especially when it comes to the rotor protectors and the landing gear. Having that 1-year "you break it, we fix it" warranty is a massive point in eHang's favour, though, so it's easy to dismiss the Ghostdrone's middling construction quality when you have that peace of mind.

Should You Buy It?

The eHang GhostDrone 2.0 VR is seriously, impressively cheap at $999. As entry-level drones go, it's one of the cheapest but at the same time it's just as capable when it comes to flying enjoyment and the potential of filming clear, smooth video -- even easier if you've got a friend handy that can strap on those VR goggles and direct the camera for you as you fly.

You will get better video and a more versatile flying experience from a more expensive drone like GoPro's Karma or the wide range of DJI Phantom 4 and Mavic drones out there, this much is true. Not hugely better, but better. But at the same time, for the vast majority of drone users -- especially those that are new to flying in the first place -- a GhostDrone 2.0 will be more than enough. It's a good choice.

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Comments

    I wouldn't say they're cheap at all. You can get mini drones with wee little controller for 50 dollars. For 150 you get one with FPV view screen built into the controller. Then they go up from there and 1000 dollars for a drone that doesn't come with a decent controller is definitely not cheap nor a good deal.

    In Australia, you're not allowed to wear the goggles and fly the GhostDrone at the same time, though, so it's definitely a two-player exercise
    Ugh. Straya....

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