There I stood staring at the roof of my house wondering if this piece of construction material came from my roof, or my neighbors. Without a ladder tall enough to reach up there, I won’t be able to see a thing. Of course, even if I had one, I wouldn’t trust myself walking around the tiles (tends to void any warranties if you don’t know what you’re doing). I wonder how else I’d be able to take a peak up there to see if anything is amiss. Then it hits me. Send the drone.
Although the main function of general consumer drones tends to be as a toy or hobbyist’s day out, there are so many uses for even the simplest of quads, and that is just one of many. I could easily take a peek up there and get it all on video while I’m at it. Drones continue to spread in popularity as users find new ways and places to take them. Because of this, there are a lot of models to choose from across the market. Thankfully, this also means there are plenty for us to play with and test out.
Today, our focus is on the PL300 drone with camera, by Polaroid. A simple drone for someone not looking to lay down a lot of money, and great for practicing those flying skills with before buying something more intense later on. Polaroid’s PL300 is a lightweight flyer that will run you around $99, and features a few of the options you’d normally find in the more expensive models. It isn’t perfect, but it also doesn’t cost as much as a 60-inch 4K TV.
It barely weighs a thing, making it easy to drag it around. It has an onboard camera, located on its belly like any other drone, and comes with its own controller and app (also like most any other drone). They ship it out with additional blades in case you damage any of them and provide you with an informative manual that will walk you through most everything you need to know.
You get a USB to microUSB cable to charge it with. It takes a little over two hours to charge and will give you up to 10 minutes of flight and video recording. Nearly 2.5 hours of charging for 10 minutes of flight isn’t much, but the battery is at least removable, so you can swap it out as you go with additional batteries if you can’t get your hands on them.
Build quality feels like something you’d find under $100. The plastic is simple and won’t take a major beating, so it is important to keep in mind that this is a toy and not something to get too carried away with. Since the materials are extremely light, it’s best to keep this one out of the wind–and by wind, I mean any wind whatsoever. One of the test flights we took it on, we kept it to a minimal, keeping speed at 30% and moving mostly front to back and strafing from side to side. We did this to keep things simple since there was a light breeze in the air and every time it kicked up, the drone would fly away into that direction with the motors doing little to help. This would force us to land or catch it each time. So no wind is your best option. They might have been better off with adding small weights around the drone to help it fare better in the wind, and maybe stronger motors to help compensate for this added weight and wind as well.
The controller and app comes with various options that allow you to fine tune it a little when it comes to things like drift and gravity. Flying it is similar to familiar brands like DJI. In fact, outside of how it reacts with the elements, it does feel a lot like one of those. It responds pretty well when the air is still outside and moves as you’d expect it to. You can get up to around 400 ft of distance, which is good as it keeps you within your legal limitations. The controller itself is also pretty lightweight and made of basic plastics. It does feel a little cheap, but it works quite well.
What really helps it is the option for one button take off and land. It works great, and help you get it on and off the ground with ease and minimal fear of crashing it. Although, it is important that once you have become comfortable with the drone, to land it yourself. This allows you to control the speed of the approach. If you use the auto land option, always make sure to land it somewhere soft such as grass, because it does have a tendency to bounce a little, causing it to flip over (like I said, the materials are really light). You can see this in the above video as we used this feature in the end to land it in the grass.
Camera quality is pretty basic. What you’d expect out of a very small and highly compressed 720p spy cam or something. This is typical in most drones you aren’t spending hundreds of dollars or more on. It is wobbly/jumpy, so you can’t expect to get professional shots or anything else you could go crazy with. Again, it’s a toy. You can also see this in the video above. During our flight of it, we didn’t move the camera around–this way we could focus on keeping the drone in the air due to the light breeze. It would be best to hand the phone to someone else so that they could control the camera separately, and you simply keep the drone within sight while flying it. Taking pictures looks the same as you can see below.
It does respond quickly to the app when you select to take a picture or start/end recording of a video. In fact, the app responds quite well in a lot of ways. You could even fly it using the app–although I’d keep that trust to the remote just to be safe. The app does offer an option called 3D, which allows you to drop your phone into a VR headset and get a FPV (first person view) of your flight. A lot of the nicer drones have been going this route due to the obvious popularity of VR. However, due to the compressed wobbly video, we wouldn’t recommend that unless you are looking to throw up all over the ground around you.
[Original app image removed] The app is very Chinese in nature. Some of the screens (especially instructions) feature a mix of English and Chinese. You can tell where Polaroid drones are developed in reality. It does get the job done, but at the moment, you have to take a few steps to properly get it to work for Android. The apps in the Play Store couldn’t connect to the drone. The instructions for the drone has instead a QR code you have to scan. It will take you to their website where you can download the apk file manually. The only problem with this, is you have to enable installs from 3rd parties within Android’s settings. This is disabled by default due to obvious security concerns. A concerning work-around, but it at least does appear to work fine and is safe.
Update: In reference to the above paragraph, we have been in touch with the manufacturer about this and found out that the product they sent us was a pre-consumer release and that the instruction manual was not the final release. Since then, they have offered consumers new QR codes that point to a finished app that is indeed available in the two app stores, under the name of the model itself. It seems only the pre-release version of the apps were cross-designed/hosted overseas and the finished consumer release hits a lot closer to home.
There is a 4GB microSD card slid into the slot of the camera when you take it out of the box. You can upgrade the card if you want, but you will never need to as this will be more than enough. It compresses the files down so much that it barely takes any space. At up to 10 minutes a flight, you can spend hours with this drone in the air on and off, and still not fill the card up. It also comes with a microSD card USB reader for your computer, in case you don’t already have one (we were happy to see this as it proves to be quite a positive thought from their end). The pictures are easy to work with since they are JPEG, but we did run into a problem with the video files. It saves the videos as AVI files that don’t seem to be encoded properly. They will play, but can sometimes error out on some players or ask to rebuild the video’s index if opened via the ever so popular VLC player. Trying to import the files into software like Premiere Pro leads to errors that the file is unsupported or damaged. So if you did ever want to cut the videos up and play with them, it may take multiple applications. For example, we had to run it through a separate video conversion tool before we could get it into our editing software to bring you the footage above.
Lastly, they do offer a sixty day to one year warranty on the drone. They have heavily emphasized on their efforts they take to back the quality of their product against any defects. It begins with sixty days that include free repairs and parts caused by any manufacturer’s defect. Beyond that, the warranty continues to one year free replacement parts (with a $6.95 shipping charge) for any parts damaged (due to manufacturer’s defect). It of course won’t protect you if you fly the drone into a wall or tree, as manufacturer’s defects obviously do not include damage caused by the customer or any type of natural occurrence (such as rain for example). So if a blade randomly flies off for no reason (assuming you haven’t crashed it or anything of course), or one motor isn’t spinning properly, or a leg wasn’t properly attached, or a solder point is missing (etc): they will always have your back.
It’s a pretty cool drone that does a good job of flying around, and can easily lead to hours of fun for kids and adults alike. Although I may not use this one to observe the roof of my house with due to the camera quality, it at least has a working camera that most younger kids wouldn’t gripe about. It’s better than not having any camera at all–plus, isn’t not like you are throwing down a lot of money where they could include a high-end camera solution to begin with. The only real complaints are the video encoding issues it seems to have with the files, as well as performance in light winds and the work around you have to do for Android users to get your hands on the working app. This makes it feel more like a $50-$60 product. Beyond that, it is a fun drone and worth getting your practice on with before moving on to more advanced options. Just keep in mind, don’t expect something like you see with all of the DJI’s flying around. If you buy into it thinking that you are going to get something like that, you will be heavily disappointed. Shop smart, and understand what you are grabbing from the shelf. This is a beginning drone and a toy. Not a professional piece of equipment. The price says it all.
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*Average price is based on the time this article was published
- Maximum Speed: 21 miles per hour
- Maximum Running Time: 10 minute
- Image resolution: 2.7 Megapixels
- Controller Range: 400 feet
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