Review: Dowellin 4-axis Aerocraft (Mini RC Drone - Yunshangauto)

Something of a cumbersome title then, but electronics often have multiple names these days - usually an OEM title (and that's on the manual) and a branded title and vendor name (that's on the Amazon listing)!

In this case, it's on Amazon UK at £19.99 and is.... just about the most fun I've ever had with this pocket money amount. Really.

I got intrigued by drones when seeing the super smooth video footage online. And then I realised that the drones which shoot 1000ft high 4K footage are the best part of a thousand pounds. And need space. And serious skill to fly. Next, I was sent the Drocon Blue Bugs 3 to review - and it was very impressive for £100 or so, but I underestimated the skill required to manage it and - on a gusty day when I perhaps shouldn't have been flying - lost control of it over a forested area and that was that.

Lesson learned. I was also painfully aware of how large and relatively fragile the BB3 was - the slightest crash and the props got scarred - then the legs and prop guards make transporting the drone a real pain. And there was no way I was going to dismantle it every time I wanted to fly - taking off the legs alone takes 5 minutes, another 5 for the prop guards, another 5 for the props. Too much time.

So... what I wanted, at least while continuing the learning process was something
  • not expensive (in case I lost it in wind again!)
  • small (no case, nothing sticking out, easy to transport)
  • easy to charge up (the BB3 required a custom battery and charger)
  • as rugged as possible
  • with lights showing orientation
  • with a one button 'back to home' function
As you'll discover, this last is the only real wish list item that remains unfulfilled (whatever it says in the product description). All the rest are completely borne out in this Dowellin mini-drone, which is tremendous fun. 

Running through the same wish list:
  • £20 or so is perfect. If I lose it then it's less than the cost of a meal to replace and not too much anguish.
  • The 10cm diameter here fits in any coat pocket - no need to pack things around it, you can take it anywhere etc.
  • This charges - get this - via USB, so just plug it into your laptop or wall charger or power bank.  Or even your phone. Easy, and it charges fully in around half an hour in my tests.
  • It's nigh on indestructible. In my tests, err.. I mean crashes, it has hit the deck in a crash from 20 or 30 feet up and it still flies perfectly. The bumper is designed to always protect the props and also to protect whatever the drone hits - like your families photos if you're flying indoors (which you can do, but it's not recommended).
  • Red LEDs on the front props and blue on the back ones mean that you can always tell which way round the drone is. The range is only about 50m, so it's always close enough that you can tell, especially if you fly at night, which is even more fun ("Look, mum, a UFO!")
  • There is a 'one key return' function, though see below for my experience.
Pretty impressive then. Yes, it's a micro-drone and you can't sling a camera underneath it (though I'm going to find a small one and try anyway!), but it's a heck of a lot of fun, especially if you have younger family members, who you can let fly this with only modest supervision (in a large space).

Flying at night is huge fun and surprisingly easy, thanks to the red/blue lights and various modes!

You basically fly in 'headed' mode most of the time, so your control inputs are relative to whichever direction the drone is pointing - this is the hardest to fly once you start rotating the aircraft (beginner tip: don't rotate it!) since the inputs will all be effectively reversed once it's flying in the opposite direction. The usual RC aircraft problem then.

Which is why there's a 'headless' mode here too - here, whichever way the drone is pointing, the control inputs act absolutely, i.e. away from you is away from you and vice-versa. This sounds ideal, but it's a little artificial in terms of 'learning to fly', so is less satisfying ultimately. Still, the choice is yours. In this headless mode, there's no real advantage (or disadvantage) in rotating the drone, it's just a change in LED colour!

While in headless mode, the controller beeps at you all the time, which is a little annoying. The LEDs also flash, so that's two ways of telling which mode you're in and thus what the control inputs will do.

If all this sounds confusing then it's not really. You just need to decide which mode suits you best and then stick to it! The headless mode (annoying beeping aside!) is best for beginners and there's the possible advantage of the 'one key return' system.

I say 'possible' because there are some caveats:
  • If you take off in headless mode, fly around for a bit and then press and hold the appropriate 'return' button then the drone will come back towards you, sure, right back to where you are. But it won't stop or land itself - this return is just so that you're near it again and can take control. Still, a lot better than nothing or losing the drone (though with the limited range here, you're unlikely to lose it, in reality).
  • Part of flying a micro-drone is that you'll land every so often - you'll mess up the thrust and the drone will hit the dirt and you'll immediately throttle up and take off again. But doing this seems to upset the gyro/return calibration, so if you try the one key return trick then it often goes back to a different spot than where you are! In practice, turning the drone off and on again fixes this, but it's a caveat that's well worth noting.
Regardless of any worries above, it's impossible to have more fun with any sub-£20 gadget, I contend. Whether it's flying around your own garden or down at the park, this is a super introduction to drone flying for you and your kids. It won't cost a fortune and it's tough as old boots*.

PS. I bought this with my own money, this wasn't 'supplied for review'. In case you were wondering, given the glowing nature of the prose!

* if you do manage to damage a prop, some spares are included in the box, though after about 30 crashes (really!) mine are still unmarked and going strong.


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