Ehang Ghostdrone 2.0 VR review: Great value but a pig to fly
There are so many drones on the market that it can sometimes feel difficult to know where to start. So an affordable drone promising “anyone can fly” it, while producing fully stabilised 4K video footage, and including a pair of VR goggles in the box is a tempting proposition.
That’s the promise Ehang makes for its latest offering, the Ghostdrone 2.0 VR. This is a quadcopter very much in the mould of DJI’s Phantom 4, with one key difference: instead of controlling it via a two-stick remote control unit, the Ghostdrone 2.0 is controlled entirely from the screen of your iOS or Android smartphone.
Now, this idea is nothing new, but almost all smartphone-controlled UAVs have thus far been small drones of the kind Parrot sells, not medium-sized, DJI Phantom 4-style 4K camera drones.
I’ll admit it, the prospect of trusting full control of a 1.15kg quadcopter the size of an angry airborne badger to a Bluetooth connection and touchscreen joystick didn’t fill me with confidence. However, a quick perusal of the Ehang website was enough to allay my initial fears.
There’s a whole section devoted to safety on the official Ghostdrone web pages, providing answers to such important questions as “what if my phone’s remaining battery level can’t sustain the drone’s flight plans?” and “what if a phone call comes in during the flight?”. It assures us that the drone has redundant sensors, so if one fails, another can take over.[gallery:6]
The app hosts a series of instructional videos to help you get started, and you have to complete a series of interactive tutorials before you can take full control of the drone. It’s good to know the company has thought through safety and the worries of potential Ghostdrone 2.0 pilots.
Ehang Ghostdrone 2.0 VR review: Set up, take off and flying
However easy it may be to pilot, though, there’s still quite a lot to do before you can embark on your maiden flight. You have to make sure the 4,500mAh “Smart Flight” battery is fully charged – easy to check via the battery’s OLED screen with a quick tap of a button – and it’s a good idea to fully charge your smartphone as well, since its touchscreen is the main means of control for the drone.
In addition, the VR goggles need to be charged, since they provide the long-distance wireless connection between your phone and the drone (Bluetooth is only used for close-range comms between the goggles and your phone). And before you take to the air you also need to download the app, pair it with your phone via Bluetooth, and install firmware updates, all of which takes some time.[gallery:1]
Finally, when you get to your take-off site you have to attach each of the propellers, attach the two antennae to the VR goggles, calibrate the drone’s internal compass and your smartphones. It’s hardly convenient, but there’s nothing complicated here.
With all that done, you’re ready to rock and roll. As I mentioned, the app forces you to take a series of three lessons before you’re allowed to take full control, and these consist of flying the drone to an altitude of 50m before bringing it back down to earth.
Simple. Well, yes – but simple, it turns out, is not always best.
The trouble with the Ghostdrone is that, even with all of this in place, this is not an aircraft I ever felt confident in flying, and that’s critical for a device that could get you into trouble with the law if you lose control of it.
It starts off well enough. There are several flight modes on offer, including “Touch-to-fly”, “Avatar” and waypoint mode. Touch-to-fly is the one used in the initial tutorials and the one I recommend you stick to. To fly in this mode, you simply move sliders to gain altitude, descend and rotate, and tap the map to fly to a certain point.
Camera controls are also slider-based, or you can opt to control it by tipping your head up and down with the VR goggles on. When you’re ready to fly home, you tap the Return button, then bring the drone down to land.[gallery:3]
Ehang Ghostdrone 2.0 VR review: It’s boring AND scary
The Ghostdrone is a doddle to fly in this mode, but not particularly involving. There’s the initial adrenaline hit of seeing the thing take off and hover in front of you, and looking through the VR goggles certainly offers an interesting perspective. If all you want to do is capture aerial photographs and video footage, this rather boring mode is fine. The quality of the footage delivered by the onboard camera is excellent. However, after a few minutes flying like this, or using the waypoint mode to further automate your flight path, you’ll be bored and want to get more involved in controlling things.
The trouble is, I didn’t find that the other main mode for manually controlling the Ghostdrone was particularly fun to use, either. The idea is that, by switching to Avatar mode, you’ll be able to fly the drone by tilting it forwards, backwards, left and right. This sounds great in theory. In practice, I found several problems with this mode. First, I felt that the momentary lag between tilting the phone and the drone responding was simply too long to enable accurate flying.[gallery:4]
Second, I found it difficult to keep an eye on the fiddly onscreen controls and the drone at the same time, a problem that physical two-stick controllers don’t suffer from. Even worse, though, on more than one occasion, the drone became unresponsive while flying in this mode, at one point taking it upon itself to proceed in wide, low-level circles for no apparent reason, worryingly close to a stand of trees, and initially refusing to respond to my frantic stabbing of the emergency hover button. Not good.
Even in touch-to-fly mode, I have my concerns. The lack of downward-facing camera or ultrasonic altitude sensor means it can drift around a little at low altitude – not by much, but enough to make me feel nervous. It’s certainly a far cry from the solidity and predictability of a DJI Phantom[gallery:5]
Ehang Ghostdrone 2.0 VR review: Verdict
All of this is a shame, because the Ghostdrone 2.0 VR has potential. Its camera produces smooth, top-quality 4K footage and crisp 12-megapixel stills, the ability to tilt the camera with your head is handy, and it’s extremely easy to get the drone into the air and down again. At a price of £829, it’s also a whole lot of drone for your money, especially where the DJI Phantom 4 comes in at £1,000 plus.
The trouble is that once you’ve exhausted touch-to-fly mode and want to do something more interesting with it, you’ll find it incapable of fulfilling those needs. The controls simply aren’t agile or reliable enough to ensure a fun, safe flight – and that, for me, rules it out of contention for recommendation.