(Pocket-lint) - There are a few smartphone-controlled drones out there, but the Ehang Ghostdrone 2.0 VR is unusual because it comes with a set of goggles to pump the drone's view to your eyeballs whilst it's in flight. The goggles also control the drone's camera on its gimbal while it's in the air, so you can get a good view of your in-the-air surroundings.
Sounds like a rollercoaster ride of fun, doesn't it? But how does the Ghostdrone fair against the strong competition out there from DJI, Parrot and the like?
Setting up the Ghostdrone for flight and recording
- 350mm diameter, 195mm height
- 1,775g (with gimbal, camera & battery)
- Assembly toolkit included
- Detachable propellers
The Ghostdrone is a quadcopter, meaning it comes with four propellers and their accompanying guards. The box also contains spare propellers, replacement parts for the camera gimbal and a handy toolkit for assembling everything – so, if you get into trouble and need to replace anything then it shouldn't be a big problem.
Without its blades and guards attached the Ghostdrone could fit neatly into an appropriate carrying case or backpack, but with them in place it becomes pretty sizeable. You'll need to take the toolkit with you in order to assemble it together before a flight, otherwise lug it to the take-off location as a fully-formed flyer.
We found the assembly aspect of the Ghostdrone a bit frustrating as, although the blades are easy enough to install – just clip them on and spin clockwise or counter-clockwise depending on which side they're on – the propeller guards are a bit more fiddly. There are three tiny black screws per corner and with the screwdriver being proprietary (i.e. not flathead or crosshead) if you lose any of them you're going to be in trouble.
During testing it took around 10 minutes to put the drone together and get it ready for flight – and that didn't include any other setup steps such as pairing with a phone.
Once you've ensured all the batteries are charged – there are two; one for the drone and one for the VR goggles – the next step is to download the Ehang Play app which is available from iTunes and Google Play. It's a 300MB app, so pretty big. Following the instructions within the app will see you create an Ehang account and connecting to the drone.
Once that's all done you're ready to fly. To record your first flight you'll want to check there's a microSD card in the slot built into the camera. We had a 16GB card which was more than capable of recording photos and video from the flight – so as long as you wipe the card each time you use it you shouldn't need one with a much larger capacity, although the drone is capable of accepting ones up to 64GB.
Ehang Ghostdrone first flight: flying modes and landings
- Android and iPhone models available
- Bluetooth connectivity
- Four flight modes, automated landing
To operate the Ghostdrone you first need to connect your smartphone to the VR headset via Bluetooth. These goggles ensure a strong connection to the drone itself via their big antennae (yep, check us out in the pics – not for the faint-hearted).
This connection is why the manuals and tutorial videos warn against leaving the goggles on the floor or moving them any distance away from the phone that's controlling the drone. We discovered this the hard way when showing someone else the view through the headset while controlling the drone separately (or not controlling it, as it turned out).
Overall we found the first flight with the Ghostdrone reasonably straightforward. Even a novice user will have very few issues as the app walks you through the various flight modes with a number of tutorial flights.
Take-off and landing is a breeze and over various test flights on different days and in different wind speeds we found that the Ghostdrone was more than capable of consistently landing back in the "home location" (i.e. where it originally took-off).
There was just one occasion when a particularly strong gust of wind lead to a bumpy landing and this reviewer had to deflect the drone from onlookers – resulting in a slight pinkie injury. This is why the drone heartily recommends keeping at least five metres away from it during take-off and landing and keeping at least 50 metres away from obstacles such as trees, buildings and power lines.
Initial tutorial flights are carried out through what's called Waypoint mode. Simply scroll around on a satellite map view of the area, click to set a waypoint and click again to go. The drone will then fly to that area, stop and wait for the next command. To get the drone to land you simply click "return" to get it to come back to the original take-off position. We found that even on windy days this mode was a breeze to use.
Waypoint mode is also a great way to make the most of the VR goggles. We found that we could simply set a flight height – one that wasn't likely to lead to the drone crashing into trees – set an appropriate waypoint and then watch through the headset as the drone made its own way to the location. Since the camera on the gimbal is controlled by the headset you can get a first-person view of the world through the drone's camera.
However, control of this gimbal is only on the vertical axis, so if you want to have a proper view of the world then you'll need full control of the drone – which is where Avatar mode comes in.
When the Ghostdrone first arrived we wondered how we would be able to control it using a touchscreen controller while wearing a headset showing the drone's point of view. That's some true out-of-body philosophical madness.
But there was no need to worry. Firstly, the VR goggles have a button on top of them which allow you to switch between camera view and front-facing view - so you can see as you would without the headset on, meaning you can see your phone without having to take the goggles off.
Secondly, the controls in Avatar mode are simple: the drone basically mimics your movement with the phone, by taking input from the gyro sensor. Turn left and the drone turns left, turn right and the drone turns too. Tilting the phone forward sends the drone onwards; tilting back applies the brakes.
Flight height is still controlled via a dial on the touchscreen, but we found once we got used to where that was we could get some nice swooping action and rather tasty fly-by shots.
Landing is controlled by "return" and "landing" buttons, which is slightly reassuring as we didn't fancy setting the drone down by just dropping our phone on the floor. All-in-all this flight mode surprised us with how easy it was to get used to.
Can the drone follow me?
If you're looking for a camera drone that can follow you then the Ehang Ghostdrone 2.0 can deliver. There's a Follow setting within Waypoint mode that sees the drone follow whoever is wearing the VR goggles and, therefore, controlling it.
We tested this mode out on a walk in the countryside. Sure, we got some funny looks as we wandered down the road with a drone following us close behind like a loyal dog (albeit a flying one). Not to mention the wholly inconspicuous VR goggles, right?
It's also easy to set a waypoint farther ahead on your journey to get the drone to fly by you and then come back again when Follow is reactivated.
It's easy to imagine putting Follow mode to good use with extreme sports or for cool tracking shots of various activities. Though you'll have to consider the max flight speed if you were capturing anything particularly speedy. Flight time might also be an issue.
How far and high can the drone fly?
- Max flight distance 1km (0.62 miles)
- Default max flight height is 120m
In terms of how far and high the drone can fly, we were thoroughly impressed. The Ghostdrone has a max height ceiling set by default at 120 meters –but this can be changed in the settings on the app to 500 meters.
Trying to change the flight height results in a warning about laws and regulations – more of which you can find out about here and here – and if you're considering this drone as a purchase then you should be aware of the rules. So it's nice to see Ehang encouraging people to be responsible.
In practical terms, we found the Ghostdrone's flight length abilities more than adequate. Out to 500 meters and you can no longer hear or see the drone, which is saying something as it's far from quiet and is equipped with coloured flashing lights on each of its four wings.
There's something unnerving about flying a drone that you can no longer see, even as a speck in the distant sky, but you can easily see from its own perspective using the headset.
While other drones can fly several kilometres – the DJI Mavic Pro for example – we wonder in real terms whether this matters and you'll need to decide for yourself based on your intended usage.
Realistically, if you fly too far you'll struggle to get the drone back to its original take-off point unless you carefully account for 10 minutes there and 10 minutes to fly back. Based on our experience, we wouldn't recommend pushing the limits too hard unless you're in a wide-open space with plenty of flat fields to land in.
How long does the drone's battery last?
- 4,500mAh battery in drone's body
- Max hover time 25 mins
Probably one of the most important features of any drone is its flight time, even more so when it's a camera drone. We've often found that battery life and flight times are something that's lacking in other drones we've tested.
Alas, the Ghostdrone is no exception. According to the drone's spec sheet the 4,500mAh battery should deliver 25 minutes of flight time, but in practice we found it to be less.
Over a number of tests we found flights could only last between 15 and 20 minutes. Though it is worth noting that the review flights were carried out over fields in low-lying Essex countryside with cold November winds blowing a chill over the blades. Ehang does note that the Ghostdrone is capable of resisting winds up to 24mph.
The other problem with battery life here is, because of the nature of the drone, you need to ensure you have three devices fully charged before you set off for a flight: your phone, the VR goggles and the drone itself. Charging isn't especially quick for the drone either, taking over an hour.
On one flight we had the drone and goggles fully charged but foolishly neglected to charge the controlling phone and had to abandon a flight half way through. Controlling the drone taxes your phone's battery life quite heavily as it needs GPS and Bluetooth active. The VR goggles hold charge well though.
We also found, much to our dismay, that the drone battery discharges when not in use. So if you don't charge it on the day you're planning to fly then you might find it has depleted somewhat. A few days after a full charge and the battery was at 60 per cent when we took the drone out for a flight.
This is a problem because at 20 per cent the drone gives audible warnings that it needs to land before the battery fully depletes. Any lower and it forces a landing - which led to a rather panic-inducing emergency landing at the side of the road during one flight outing.
This battery issue is a bit of a thorn in side. Having the batteries permanently on charge is hardly going to help their lifespan so it causes a bit of a pickle.
On another occasion we found that the app was warning of low battery and demanding a landing when the drone was at 60 per cent charge. This only happened once out of many different flights, but was a bit frustrating. We tried ignoring the warnings but eventually the drone forced its own landing at 40 per cent remaining anyway.
FPV camera and drone in flight recordings
- 12mp camera stills
- 4k video @ 30fps
- 2.7k video @ 60fps
- 1080p video @ 120fps
As well as offering first person view (FPV) via the VR goggles, the Ghostdrone 2.0 also boasts the ability to record footage via ins included camera while you're in the various flight modes. (Other versions of the Ghostdrone come without a camera and are compatible with GoPro).
This is probably most powerful in Avatar mode as you can not only control where the camera is looking (up and down) via the headset, but also turn the drone and, thus, its camera left and right via your phone.
With the ability to record up to 4K resolution footage at 30 frames per second (30fps), we'd imagine this could lead to some excellent recordings, but you'll need to be going slow to make the most of that resolution. The added bonus here is that you've got far more control over what you're recording than you might on another drone with a static camera or without the ability to live-stream what you're recording.
During the review period we found the footage the drone recorded to be of a reasonable quality. The only issue seemed to be with contrast - as a scene that one minute was vibrant and colourful suddenly became washed out with a change of sunlight hitting the lens.
Nevertheless, recordings are by-and-large impressive and capturing the footage was easy once we got the hang of it.
The Ehang Ghostdrone boasts lots of excellent features: it's easy to fly, flexible in its flight modes and capabilities, records good quality video and has the edge over competitors with the addition of the first-person camera view.
But there are some drawbacks: the fiddly setup, poor battery life and occasional connection issues. We think that taking 10 minutes to assemble a drone for 10-20 mins of flight time is a little frustrating, too. At this price point there's also plenty of competition that can go farther and, in many cases, do even more.
That said we find the Ghostdrone to be a lot of fun. We can already think of a variety of applications for its use - whether you're a builder looking to check roof tiles in real-time or a surfer wanting to capture footage of some awesome boarding in Follow mode.
- From £829, Amazon
Ehang Ghostdrone 2.0 VR: Alternative drones to consider
Slightly more expensive but compact and easier to transport as the wings fold in, the DJI Mavic Pro is one of our highly-recommended drones to consider in 2016.
The recently launched GoPro Karma is another fold away drone bursting with features and backed by GoPro you know the drone footage is going to be superb. Tough and rugged, the GoPro Karma also has its own controller and doesn't rely on your phone. Plus it's slightly cheaper too!