The sub £100 drone market is currently flooded with inexpensive toy-grade quadcopters. Whilst models such as the Tiny Whoop offer quality, compact and responsive models, they do have a steep learning curve for complete amateurs.
Thankfully Ryze Robotics have teamed up with heavyweights DJI and Intel to offer as complete a drone as we have seen on a budget. The Tello promises a combination of high-tech flight autonomy (as seen on DJI’s expensive prosumer drones) and a robust airframe, all controlled from a well-executed smartphone app. We unbox the new drone, have a closer look at it before taking it for a test flight.
What is the Tello?
Ryze’s Tello is a small (10cm² without guards), lightweight (80g) quadcopter that you fly via wifi with your smartphone. It can fly for up to 13 minutes with a max speed of 8m/s and maximum range of 100m. Its onboard camera provides an electronically-stabilised, real-time video feed to your device and is capable of capturing 5MP stills and HD video at 30fps. Its advanced flight controller and propeller guards allows novice pilots to fly indoors or out with confidence.
Tello at a glance
- 13 minutes flight time from the 1100mAh 3.8v battery
- 17.2mph / 28.8kph max speed
- 100m image transmission distance
- 720p HD video transmission from a 5MP onboard camera
- Twin antenna, smart switching WiFi link
- Lightweight 87g including battery and propeller guards
- Advanced Intel chipset powered by DJI algorithms
- Auto takeoff/landing, and palm landing thanks to its vision position system
- Low battery and failsafe protection
- User swappable body ‘lids’ available in white, yellow and blue
Ryze Tello Unboxing
The packaging prominently features the drone, windowed in a clear plastic tray making it clear which colour you have ordered.
In the box
- Aircraft with Propellers and propeller guards already fitted
- Spare propellers (two pairs)
- Flight battery
- Propeller removal tool
- Quick start guide
Its worth noting that the Tello frustratingly does not include a Micro USB cable which is required to charge the unit.
The drone comes constructed, with the propellers and propeller guides attached. Tello’s battery is separately packaged in the base of the box alongside the spare full set of propellers and the propeller removal tool.
As per the packaging, further accessories are available in the form of a battery charging hub and replacement shells.
Getting to know the drone
The Tello is a lightweight intelligently-stabilised quadcopter. It arrives with the battery only partially charged and separately packaged. Before your first flight we advise you fully charge your battery.
To get started, insert the battery (with the tab facing upwards) and slide it in from the rear of the craft.
On the front of the craft, to the right of the camera is the aircraft status indicator LED.
On the opposite side to the USB port is the power button. To turn the craft on just press firmly once and repeat this to turn the craft off again.
On the underside of the drone are the vision position sensors, sat behind the airvents like two big black glossy eyes.
How to charge your Tello
To charge the drone, ensure it is powered off. Insert a Micro USB cable into the side of the craft and attach it to a USB connector on your laptop/computer/television/powerbank or any USB adapter that is rated at 5v and 1.5Amp or above.
If completely ‘flat’ the drone can take up to 90 minutes to charge, although in practice we rarely noticed it taking even an hour. The LED on the front of the craft will slowly blink-blue and will switch to a solid blue light when fully charged. The drone cannot be powered up whilst charging.
Long charge times are common with USB power, thus we recommend purchasing at least one extra battery and charging before you head out. The standard lightweight 1100 mAh units are available for £19.
At time of press the battery charging hub is not currently available, but check our webstore for updates.
Connecting your Smartphone
The vast majority of pilots will be operating the drone via the smartphone app.
- Install the app. It is available from the iTunes store here and the Google Play store here.
- Press the power button once to turn on the aircraft (pressing it again will turn it off).
- Go to the wifi network selection screen on your device and connect to the Tello-XXXXXX network.
- Launch the Tello app. When the connection is established the light on the front of the drone will blink yellow slowly and you will get the live video feed on your smart device.
Tip: If you having issues connecting and getting past this screen, try placing your smartphone into airplane mode before activating wifi and connecting to the Tello network.
When you first load the app, it will run you through a simple tutorial demonstrating the ‘mode 2’ layout controls, introducing the telemetry data at the top, takeoff/land and settings controls, camera operation/playback controls before explaining the flight modes as follows.
Flying with your Smartphone
We were impressed with the responsiveness of the Tello. There will always be some lag in both the control and video feeds when relying on a wifi connection, but the flight-controller input smoothing isn’t as bad as its competitors.
Its ‘slide to takeoff’ mode is pretty foolproof and the craft doesn’t climb so high that it would hit the ceiling indoors.
Slow mode is fine for beginners or use indoors but when you switch to ‘fast’ mode it really opens up the performance of the drone; Fast banked circuits are easily possible even with the touchscreen controls.
The connection range was solid out in the park but dropped down when used in the interference-heavy office, but never to a level that made the craft unusable in any room. Should the wifi signal weaken, a popup will remind you to fly closer to your mobile device.
Tello is pretty powerful climbing steadily, but note that it has an artificial 10m ‘altitude ceiling’ from its takeoff location.
What really impressed was the accuracy of the vision positioning system. With the drone hovering you could physically push it away from you (by the prop guards) only for it to return to pretty much exactly where it was! When you consider this was calculated from IMU differential information and vision data instead of any GPS/GLONASS positioning, it is all the more impressive!
Fantastic Flight Modes
The advanced onboard flight controller is the real magic behind the Tello, allowing a complete novice to fly the drone in safety. You can access the flight modes via the quadcopter icon on the top left of the screen, it will present you with the following:
- Throw and go : Starting this mode will enable you to throw the drone into the air and have it recover and hover.
- Bounce : The drone will fly up and down from any surface automatically like a bouncing ball
- 360 : Records a 360° video as the craft spins in place
- Circle : Does the opposite, recording a video whilst flying in a relatively tight circle looking inward
- Flips : Flick your finger inside a marked box onscreen to have the drone flip in that direction
The flips are probably the most exciting mode for the drone. It can flip in any direction and re-stabilise itself automatically. Note that the craft will not perform flips if the remaining battery life is below 50%.
In standard usage the craft is set to ‘slow’ mode. To enable ‘fast’ mode, press the cog to the right of the flight modes button and toggle the flight speed slider. When engaged the onscreen sticks will have a light blue line around them and the speed indicator will be prefixed with blue FAST text as shown below.
The settings menu also has options for units, joystick mode, exposure adjustment and others in the ‘more’ sub-menu.
When the battery gets critically low the drone will auto land onto whatever is currently underneath it. A box will popup onscreen to warn the pilot that the cell is low on juice before this kicks in and that level is adjustable as shown above.
Once in the air the takeoff button becomes a ‘landing’ button offering you the option to land on a surface or land in your hand.
Selecting hand-landing will begin a 5 second countdown (onscreen), during which you need to place your hand under the craft. Once the object below the craft has been detected it will slowly lower itself down onto your hand and cut the motor power.
Tello image and video quality
As seen below, the Tello isn’t going to win any awards with its camera and it designed for entertainment or fun purposes with kids or the family; As apposed to any sort of professional work.
One great feature it does have is the ‘headset’ mode where videos can be replayed on the device split (into an image for each eye) in a format for use in inexpensive headsets such as Google VR Cardboard.
Tello Device Compatability
In terms of Apple devices, the Tello requires iOS 9.0 or later. It is compatible with iPhone 5s, iPhone SE, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X, iPad mini 4 and iPad mini 4 Wi-Fi + Cellular.
When it comes to Android OS, it is compatible with version 4.4.0 and later. This includes but is not limited to the Samsung S7, S6 edge， S5， Galaxy note 3 & 4，Huawei Honor 8 & 9，Huawei P8 Max P9 & P10, Huawei nova2，Xiaomi 6，Xiaomi Note3，Redmi 4A，OnePlus5，vivoX6，Google Pixel1 XL，Google Pixel2 and more.
Fly with a gamepad
The Tello app allows certain bluetooth or wired controllers to be used with your smartphone and drone. We tested ours with the iPhone gamevice which you learn more about here. Flying with hardware analogue inputs, really increases the level of control you have over the drone and as such is highly recommended.
When flown with a controller the onscreen touch ‘sticks’ are removed, allowing for a better view of the video feed.
The upcoming GameSir T1D is another alternative. Its a fantastic controller with a d-pad, traditional analogue sticks and more that connects to your smartphone via bluetooth, whilst cradling the device itself. You will recognise it if you have seen the official Ryze Tello launch video.
Removing and Fitting the Tello Propellers
Ensure the drone is powered down before touching the propellers! We recommend removing the battery to ensure safety.
Slide the supplied tool underneath the base of the propeller, resting ontop of the motor. Push the far end of the tool down to level the propellers up and off.
Take note of which props go on which motors! Its essential that the correct propellers are installed on the correct motors as incorrect fitment will prevent the drone from flying. If you find the drone flips on takeoff this is likely your issue. Two of the props have marks on the blades by the spindle and these should be fitted to the motors on legs with the matching markings.
As stated you get a full set of propellers, but if you bend or break a prop during a crash you can buy another full set for just £4.
Removing the Tello prop guards
To remove the prop guards pinch across the motors to the inner connecting beam using your forefinger and thumb as pictured below. Gently twist the lip away from the landing gear/motor.
We weighed them at 10g in total, a reasonable percentage of the total takeoff weight. Removing them has the potential of extending the flight time, if only very marginally.
Refitting the prop guards is simple, just line up the notch on the landing gear and snap them on. If you have (some absolutely savage) accident and manage to break your prop guards, replacements (sold as a complete set of four) are available for a very reasonable £5.
Removing and replacing the Tello top-cover or shell
Ryze have smartly offered customers optional snap-on top covers. These are available in white (As default) yellow and blue and cost just £8. Beyond just swapping over to a new colour, this gives owners the option to customise their drone by colouring in, painting, or wrapping this lid.
To remove the lid, simply grip the shell between the front arms and gently twist; It will release the front body clips above the camera. Work the shell upwards and away from the craft to release the rear clips.
Taking a look inside : Tello Teardown
A ‘single board’ drone, we felt the Tello didn’t warrant a full teardown blog, but we did take it partially apart just to see what was inside.As stated the lid requires no tools to remove, but the lower body cover is affixed with four crosshead screws.
The camera bracket is held in with a further two crosshead screws to the frame. It attaches to the mainboard via a push-connector that is secured in place with glue.
The mainboard cover can be removed from inside the frame revealing the rear of the circuit board. We also released teh motor wiring from the guide channels to demonstrate the wiring to the onboard speed controllers.
Tello is programmable with Scratch, a language developed at MIT to nurture coding skills in novice programmers. Its accessible for teens and even kids, introducing them to the basics with a simple block based visual programming language.
Ryze Tello : In Conclusion
In conclusion, we are big fans of the Ryze Tello.
- Quality, resilient, reliable drone.
- Highly capable yet flexible with beginner/indoor low speed mode.
- Simple, safe and reliable to operate. This one of the most user-friendly budget drones we’ve experienced.
- Personalisation, thanks to the user-removable lid
We’re not fond of
- Electronic image stabilisation. Its limited, especially if there is any mild turbulence from an open window or flying outside.
- Lack of included hardware controls. Buying a game controller from Gamesir or Gamevice really unlocks the flight potential.
- Slow charging. As with any drone you are going to want to buy 3 or more extra batteries.
- Not suited for flying outdoors in any sort of breeze.
If we are honest, the majority of our complaints are nullified by the low purchase price. Yes you can go and buy a cheaper drone that has prop guards and flies via wifi; but the application experience is more-often-than-not terrible, the flight characteristics clumsy and the video feed is completely unusable.
At this price-point the Tello really is difficult to beat whilst maintaining such a slick end user experience.
Should I buy the Ryze Tello?
Looking for a starter drone for a teenager? Look no further! The Tello can teach the basics of quadcopter flight control with the safety net of prop-guards, intelligent autopilot in an inexpensive package. Expand the package with a hardware controller (the likes of gamevice or gamesir) and you have a quality quad-copter experience for a relatively small outlay.
Further to this, Tello is a fantastic gift for anyone casually interested in a drone. Its fantastic accessibility means that it has become our go-to recommendation for anyone looking for a drone-related gift.