Going back through the year, there have been a lot of important product introductions. Apple released its iPhone X, new LTE Apple Watches and the iconic $159 AirPods just recently began shipping without a lead time. Google, meanwhile, delivered its next-gen Pixel 2’s and a whole plethora of home products including the very inexpensive $29 Google Home Mini or $399 Max which we long considered for the product of the year.

However last year’s 2016 Product of the year was Amazon’s Echo Dot, which is the same class of speaker and doing two small smart speakers in a row is no fun. Speaking of Amazon, they released a whole new line of smart speakers this past year, including our favorite the $130 Echo Spot which goes on sale this week

There were a ton of other products we considered this year as well. There is probably nothing better for kids than the $240 Piper Computer kit which allows them to build a Minecraft Computer, or my personal favorite kids party gift: Snap Circuits which teaches beginning electronics. 

There are also honorable mentions which we should include, such as Anker’s Eufy Robo Vacs, which we found to offer stellar value and performance in our hands-on review.

But one product outshined them all this year…

DJI’s Spark

This little drone with big capabilities bridged professional drones with the relatively inexpensive and portable models while including new, innovative features and it won’t break the bank. Those things combined to make it 9to5toys’ 2017 product of the year.

We knew there was something special going on when DJI called us to an event at Grand Central Station in New York City. It was the first event our new sister site DroneDJ covered and it was quite the show. If you’re interested in our full review of the DJI Spark, you can head on over to DroneDJ to check it out.

Price

Originally at $500, and more recently under $300, this is a drone that many folks can afford, not just the enthusiast or toys for the rich. At 9to5Toys, we’re particularly sensitive to price concerns and DJI’s holiday offers were off the wall impressive. The lowest we saw the Spark offered was $289 at Target or $274.55 if you used the 5% off RedCard savings. Right now, it is pretty much $399 everywhere except Amazon, who has it for $349. These are both solid offers and the lowest we’ve seen outside of last week – but hurry, they arrive just days before Christmas.

Holiday pricing here is key because we see tons of lesser drones around the $100 price point gifted during the holidays. These budget drones will be a horrible first experience for kids or hobbyists. If your family is anything like mine, you’ve probably gone through about 10 cheap drones that barely work and crash within minutes and end up in the garbage or worse in drawers somewhere waiting to be fixed. 

Portability

The Spark measures 143 x 143 x 55 mm and only weighs 0.66 pounds. That’s similar to a can of soda and a mere .11 lbs over the FAA’s new drone limit, so you will need to get it registered (unless DJI comes out with a lighter battery :)). DJI makes the portable but pricier Mavic Pro, while Parrot, Yuneec, Lily, and more all make small flyers too. But, the form factor of the Spark allows it to be put in carry on bags and stored in a pouch for easy transportation. Thankfully, this tiny drone is also very strong so it won’t break if dropped.

The Spark’s solidity doesn’t apply to the 2 axis gimbal-ed 1080p camera, which is great for videography and photography. The tiny size of DJI’s spark also lets you launch it from your hand and its smart controls let you command it without a controllers for Drone Selfies.

Ease of use

DJI has revolutionized the drone space with their professional quality drones that are fairly easy for novices to fly. You only need an iOS or Android smartphone to fly the Spark but for more advanced maneuvering, we’d suggest getting a controller. 

In fact, you don’t even need a smartphone or controller at all. You can command the Spark with hand gestures to grab a quick selfie, do a panorama, or follow shot. The Spark is also way quieter than big drones, which allows it to go undetected for those stealth operations. 

DJI’s iPhone and Android apps are fantastic and let you control every aspect of the Spark like a much more expensive device. Because a lot of the engineering is offloaded to the app and phone, DJI saves a bunch of money on the controller being optional. 

Solid Pro(ish) Specs

AIRCRAFT

Takeoff Weight 300 g
Dimensions 143×143×55 mm
Diagonal Distance (propellers excluded) 170 mm
Max Ascent Speed 9.8 ft/s (3 m/s) in Sport Mode without wind
Max Descent Speed 9.8 ft/s (3 m/s) in Auto Landing Mode
Max Speed 31 mph (50 kph) in Sport Mode without wind
Max Service Ceiling Above Sea Level 13,123 feet (4,000 m)
Max Flight Time 16 minutes (no wind at a consistent 12.4 mph (20 kph))
Max Hovering Time 15 minutes (no wind)
Operating Temperature Range 32° to 104° F (0° to 40° C)
Satellite Positioning Systems GPS/GLONASS
Hover Accuracy Range Vertical: 
+/- 0.1 m (when Vision Positioning is active) or +/-0.5 m
Horizontal: 
+/- 0.3 m (when Vision Positioning is active) or +/-1.5 m
Transmitter Power (EIRP) 2.4 GHz
FCC: 25 dBm; CE: 18 dBm; SRRC: 18 dBm; MIC:18 dBm
5.8 GHz
FCC: 27 dBm; CE: 14 dBm; SRRC: 27 dBm; MIC: –
Operating Frequency 2.400 – 2.483 GHz; 5.725 – 5.825 GHz

3D SENSING SYSTEM

Obstacle Sensing Range 1-16 ft (0.2 – 5 m)
Operating Environment Detects diffuse reflective surfaces (>20%) larger than 20×20 cm (walls, trees, people, etc.)

CAMERA

Sensor 1/2.3″ CMOS 
Effective pixels: 12 MP
Lens FOV 81.9° 25 mm (35 mm format equivalent) f/2.6
(shooting range: 2 m to ∞)
ISO Range Video: 100-3200 
Photo: 100-1600
Electronic Shutter Speed 2-1/8000 s
Image Size 3968×2976
1440×1080 with ShallowFocus
2300×1280 with Pano (horizontal) 
960×1280 with Pano (vertical)
Still Photography Modes Single Shot 
Burst Shooting: 3 frames 
Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB): 3 bracketed frames at 0.7 EV bias
Interval: 2/3/5/7/10/15/20/30/60 s
Video Resolution FHD: 1920×1080 30p
Max Video Bitrate 24 Mbps
Supported File Systems FAT32
Photo Format JPEG
Video Format MP4 (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264)

REMOTE CONTROLLER

Operating Frequency 2.412-2.462 GHz; 5.745-5.825 GHz
Max Transmission Distance 2.412 – 2.462 GHz (unobstructed, free of interference)
FCC: 1.2 mi (2 km); CE: 0.3 mi (500 m)
SRRC: 0.3 mi (500 m); MIC: 0.3 mi (500 m)
5.745 – 5.825 GHz (unobstructed, free of interference) 
FCC: 1.2 mi (2 km); CE: 0.18 mi (300 m)
SRRC: 0.7 mi (1.2 km); MIC: –
Operating Temperature Range 32° to 104° F (0° to 40° C)
Battery 2970 mAh
Transmitter Power (EIRP) 2.4 GHz 
FCC: ≤26 dBm; CE: ≤18 dBm; SRCC: ≤18 dBm; MIC: ≤18 dBm
5.8 GHz 
FCC: ≤28 dBm; CE: ≤14 dBm; SRCC: ≤26 dBm; MIC: –
Operating Current/Voltage 950 mAh @3.7 V
Supported Mobile Device Size Thickness range: 6.5-8.5 mm 
Max length: 160 mm

INTELLIGENT FLIGHT BATTERY

Capacity 1480 mAh
Voltage 11.4 V
Max Charging Voltage 13.05 V
Battery Type LiPo 3S
Energy 16.87 Wh
Net Weight Approx. 0.2 lbs (95 g)
Charging Temperature Range 41° to 104° F (5° to 40° C)

GIMBAL

Controllable Range Pitch: -85° to 0°
Stabilization 2-axis mechanical (pitch, roll)

VISION SYSTEM

Velocity Range ≤22.4 mph (36 kph) at 6.6 ft (2 m) above ground
Altitude Range 0-26 ft (0 – 8 m)
Operating Range 0-98 ft (0 – 30 m)
Operating Environment Detects clearly patterned surfaces with adequate lighting (lux>15) and diffuse reflectivity (>20%)

WI-FI

Operating Frequency 2.4 GHz/5.8 GHz
Max Transmission Distance 100 m(Distance), 50 m(Height) (Unobstructed, free of interference)

CHARGER

Input 100-240 V; 50/60 Hz; 0.5 A
Output 5 V/3 A; 9 V/2 A; 12 V/1.5 A

RECOMMENDED MICRO SD CARDS

Model Sandisk 16/32 GB UHS-1 Micro SDHC
Kingston 16/32 GB UHS-1 Micro SDHC
Samsung 16/32 GB UHS-I Micro SDHC
Sandisk 64 GB UHS-1 Micro SDXC
Kingston 64 GB UHS-1 Micro SDXC
Samsung 64 GB UHS-I Micro SDXC

Is it perfect?

No. But it is great! There was an iPhone 7 Plus bug when it was released that would freeze the display, but that’s since been remedied. There could always be more pixels in the camera – at some point, we’ll surely see 4K capabilities, I’m sure. I’d also like to see a 3-dimensional gimbal, too. Perhaps the biggest barrier to adoption is that governments have no clear, concise rules on drone aircraft and nothing is yet in sight. But all of these things are mere obstacles. 

Pick up DJI’s Spark at Target for $349.

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