The Ryze Tello – developed in partnership with technology from DJI – is a small advanced drone that packs in features that will appeal to pilots of all levels.
Although it’s primarily aimed at kids, the advanced features make it an ideal choice for anyone new to drones.
Tthe flight characteristics are almost identical to the larger DJI drones, which is really not a surprise as the Tello utilises DJI flight technology.
The Tello requires a smartphone for control. For a small additional cost you can buy the Bluetooth PlayStation-style control pad, which connects to your mobile and enables a more traditional form of control.
Feature-wise there’s plenty to keep everyone happy, with good flight time, built-in camera, a range of up to 100m and compatibility with smartphone VR headsets.
The Tello isn’t strictly an imaging drone, but its feature set will help any wannabe drone pilot learn the essentials. It also has a considerable educational benefit for children and adults alike, as it features the ability to program using the software development kit (SDK). The kit enables you to program the Tello through Scratch, a popular coding application used when teaching STEM.
- Compact Size
- Scratch compatibility
- Compatible controller
- Control pad costs extra
- No object avoidance
- So good you’ll need to buy one
When the DJI Tello arrived, I mistakenly thought it was just a toy that I could fly around when I needed a distraction from work.
How wrong I was. The Tello hasn’t just distracted me; it’s diverted everyone else who’s seen and used it. This is one of those gadgets that, once you’ve used it, you’ll find an excuse to buy.
The Tello is available through the DJI store, although it isn’t technically a DJI product. It’s made by Ryze Tech, a company I haven’t come across before, but it’s easy to see why DJI has partnered with Ryze.
The Tello looks very much like a DJI product. It’s beautifully designed, and packs in many of the features we see on the company’s own drones.
Although it’s primarily aimed at kids, this £99 drone does far more than its price tag suggests.
I’ve flown a good few toy drones, and some are quite good, like the Husban X4, while others are just impossible. But none get anywhere close to the Tello when it comes to control and features.
It handles just like one of the larger DJI drones such as the Spark, Mavic or P4, but it can be flown indoors.
Features such as instant cutout, battery warning and positioning make it easy and safe to fly for anyone.
As well as selling the drone through its website, DJI also provides the flight tech, which is why the characteristics of the drone are so familiar.
The Tello is far more advanced than other drones of its size and price, and as you use it you’ll appreciate what a fantastic training device it is.
The Intel chipset means the Tello is fully programmable, so you can use Scratch (A block-based visual programing language) to develop applications and take control over the drone.
The Tello is, in essence, a purpose-made STEM project, and ideal for teaching programming in schools and colleges.
You won’t be stuck for reason to buy the Tello: it’ll teach you how to fly, the VR headset compatibility is great fun, and it’s an educational tool as well.
Usually, when we look at camera-equipped drones – or for that matter any imaging device – it comes down to the quality of the image capture and optics.
With the Tello that’s a secondary consideration. It does have a camera, but this is used purely to give you the experience of how they work on larger drones.
It records 720p HD video footage at 30fps in MP4 format, and captures 5-megapixel stills with a field of view of 82.6º.
When it comes to camera specs that’s nothing to write home about, but then this drone only has a flight distance of 100m, a max flying height of 10m and a top speed of 8m/s.
Flight time is good at 13 minutes, and additional batteries aren’t too expensive compared to other drones on the market.
The Tello measures 98×92.5x41mm and weighs 80g, making it very compact.
Its built-in functions include a rangefinder, barometer, led, vision system, 2.4GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi.
There’s also the app, which gives you a full live view of what’s going on, and enables you to switch between modes and settings.
The app also acts as the controller for the drone, and gives you direct access to all the different flight modes, including Throw and Go, 8D Flips and Bounce Mode.
For a small additional cost you can buy the PlayStation-style controller, which features a built-in clamp for your phone.
We received this with our review sample, and it’s a worthwhile additional purchase.
Other features to note are the VR headset compatibility which, via the app, enables POV style flight, and the DJI Flight Tech, which makes the Tello easy to control.
There’s also the learn and create aspect with Scratch compatibility, and it looks like other coding languages will follow. A full SDK and the ability to create your own accessories add to the overall package.
Build quality and handling
The Tello may only be sold by DJI, and not manufactured or designed by it, but it’s certainly powered by DJI.
Not only the flight tech but the look and design of the Tello are very DJI. The small craft is solidly built, and has a stylish design.
The basic shell for the Tello is available in three colours at present: white, blue and yellow. These shells or top covers simply snap in place with a reassuring click, and can be easily swapped and changed as needed.
The propellers, which are generally the most vulnerable part of any drone, are 3 inches in length and protected by removable guards.
The motors feature instant cut-out, so as soon as the drone gets into trouble and the rotation of the blades is interrupted, power to the motors is cut.
I’ve been testing the Tello for a week, and I’m still on the first set of blades despite more than a few crashes. If a blade does break then it’s a simple case of push-fit to replace.
The battery is also a simple push fit, and takes mere seconds to swap out. When it comes to charging, as with so many devices these days, it’s simply a case of plugging the battery into a USB port.
A full charge takes around an hour and a half, and when it’s ready a small constant blue LED illuminates on the front.
Setting the Tello up couldn’t be easier. Once the drone is switched on you can find its WiFi signal under the WiFi settings menu on your phone. Connect, load the app, and you’re ready to fly.
If you also want to connect the Bluetooth controller then switch on the controller, tap the Bluetooth controller option within the app and you’re done.
Overall, the build quality of the Tello is excellent. Despite a few crashes and a fight with a tree, the small drone is still in amazing condition, if a little grubby around the edges.
A last note on the set-up. Connecting to Scratch is, as ever with these devices, a little convoluted, but well worth doing in order to teach yourself a little more about the flight characteristics of drones as a whole. For many it will also be their first step into programming drones.
It’s not complicated, but hardware coding is generally unfamiliar to photographers, so this is a great place to start. Photography and drones aside, if you have an interest in coding microcomputers then this is an amazing practical application that will give you instant rewards.
DJI’s influence on the Tello is apparent from the outset. Although the app’s interface may not be DJI’s, there’s enough there for any DJI Pilot to be instantly familiar with the controls.
Take off and landing can be done with the usual one-touch button and slide that has made the likes of the Spark and Mavic so easy to fly. Once up in the air, you can manoeuvre the craft using familiar controls.
I connected my phone to the controller, which took a few seconds, and once done the connection was fast and solid.
I also found using the controller far easier than trying to swipe my fingers across my phone’s screen.
In the air the Tello flies at a sedate pace – it’s more than fast enough indoors, but if you take it into the garden you may feel, as we did, that a little extra speed would be nice.
The 100m range seemed to work indoors, but outside the signal did tend to get weak at around 50m, so fearing the little drone might do a runner I kept it relatively close. It’s size also meant that once it was any distance away I had difficulty seeing it.
The video feed to the controller was excellent, but I did find that if you’re using the controller you need to keep the phone in close proximity, otherwise the connection becomes lost.
This isn’t something that you’d usually do, but we were trying to have one person flying while the other acted as camera operator to start and stop recording and take photos.
Using the app was easy enough, and tapping the flight modes gives you access to a few of the other features. Selecting Throw and Go starts the propellers spinning gently so that you can simply throw the drone in the air and it’s ready to fly.
The 8D Flips mode is probably the most impressive; with a quick swipe across the screen you can get the drone to do a somersault through the air.
Aside from the standard flight modes you also have VR, although at the moment in the app this only gives you the first-person view so that you can use the drone with compatible VR headsets.
I can already see the huge potential to develop augmented reality apps and games that would enable you to fly the Tello through assault courses and other VR applications.
Is the Tello the best drone for kids?
We’ve already discussed how the Tello can be programmed via Scratch, a visual-based programming language that is kid-friendly. But even if coding isn’t your kid’s thing, the Tello is exceptionally easy to fly. In the video below you can see our kid test of the Tello drone.
Kids find flying the Tello via its companion app extremely intuitive. If your kids play video games, flying the Tello drone will be second nature. The kids I recruited for this review loved the ‘toss & fly’ and ‘land in hand’ options. And the Tello’s more acrobatic modes are also simple and straightforward to execute. Again, this is thanks to the app which clearly explains and demonstrates with simple graphics how they’re achieved.
At a sub-£100 / $100 price tag, with fun, wide-ranging and easy-to-use controls, the Tello is perhaps the best drone for kids on the market.
The Tello may not strictly be an imaging drone, but it’s not trying to be that – it’s more of a training aid for prospective pilots.
Utilising DJI flight technology, the Tello handles just like one of the larger DJI drones, and the compatibility with the Bluetooth controller helps to elevate the user experience.
The pace of the Tello may be a little more sedate than some of us are used to, but it’s ideal for anyone just getting into drone flying.
The size and build of the Tello make it an ideal learning aid, and the solid yet lightweight construction is robust enough to withstand more than a crash or two.
When it comes to safety, the instant cut-out motors work exceptionally well, helping to avoid damage to surrounding objects as well as to the drone.
The Tello could be dismissed as another toy due to its size and price, but it’s much more than that. There’s the training element for anyone looking to fly drones or go for their PfCO licence, and there’s also the educational angle.
The drone market is a fast-growing and rapidly evolving one, and drones have potential in many areas other than imaging.
What the Tello gives you is a window into the larger world of drones; you get a taster of the imaging side with the simple image-stabilised camera, but you can also experiment with VR, and learn how to code your own drone apps.
For anyone thinking about getting their first drone, or who already owns a drone and wants to improve their piloting skills, the Tello is a fantastic buy.