Drones are everywhere these days, shooting dramatic revealer and stunning scenery for social media platforms. The problem is that they are not entirely friendly to beginners who have only used the smartphone. Last month, Snap debuted a $230 Pixy drone specifically for these folks. It requires very little skill and works as a personal robot photographer to help you produce great aerial shots.
You don’t need to try Pixy. In fact, you can’t if you want to. Instead, it flies on its own, performing pre-programmed patterns that put the focus on you, as the user. It has great potential for things like parties or tourist activities, taking great aerial shots with almost no user intervention.
Snap calls itself a camera company, but its other photo-focused products like Spectacles have had limited success. For me, the Pixy drone holds more hope because it can help users get more interesting content than they can with a regular phone or camera. I got one last week in the French countryside, so let’s see if it’s as versatile as I hope.
Hardware and setup
Gallery: Pixy Drone Hands-on: A Flying Robot Photographer for Snapchat Users | 20 photos
Gallery: Pixy Drone Hands-on: A Flying Robot Photographer for Snapchat Users | 20 photos
The Pixy weighs 3.6 ounces (101 grams), which is small enough to put in a bag or wear around your neck with the protective strap case. It’s very nice – I even heard some voices and opinions from friends and passersby – although it does sound a bit flimsy. However, it has proven surprisingly resistant to falls and accidents, coming out of many such accidents without a scratch.
The four fans are in a protective case, so they can’t knock out any tree branches or fingers. At the top is the start button and mode dial, with the battery compartment and charging indicator lights below. You’ll also notice a camera on the bottom, but it’s strictly meant to detect your hand and not take pictures or video. The USB-C port on the back allows you to charge the drone and transfer files to your phone or computer.
The main camera captures 2.7K video at 30 frames per second and 12MP photos. The shooting takes place in 16:9 landscape mode, which is a bit strange considering that the Snaps are vertical. However, the app’s crop tool allows you to convert your shots to portrait mode.
The first thing you have to do is sync it with your account via bluetooth by putting it on standby, then pressing and holding the start button. From there, Snapchat detects Pixy and syncs everything over WiFi. In my tests, the process was smooth on both the iPhone 12 and the Samsung Galaxy S10.
Then, you can set the dial to one of four flight modes: hover, detect, follow, and orbit. It’s pretty self-explanatory, with Hover keeping the drone in place and allowing you to perform any actions in front of it. Detection begins tightly against your face and reaches a height of 10 to 30 feet, revealing the background. Follow the paths around you (it works best if it can see your face) and the Orbit does a 360 circle at about head height and 10-30 feet away.
Each can be modified in the app with different flight times, distances, and more. If you often use a flight mode like Reveal with a specific setting, you can save that to your preferred dial for easy access with the app.
Once you select the flight mode, simply hold the Pixy up so the camera can see your face and hit the start button. It will launch and perform the specified maneuver, saving the video and/or photos on 16GB of fixed internal storage. This is enough for about 100 videos and 1000 photos, depending on the mode and settings.
All flight modes worked well, although the follow mode works best as mentioned if it can see your face. It doesn’t detect specific people, but it seems to lock hard on the same face even if multiple people are in a shot.
When you’re done, just put your hand under it and you’ll land right on it, triggering the bottom camera. It worked very reliably, but sometimes I had to move my hand a little to catch it or to keep it from falling.
Then, when you jump into the Memories section of the Snapchat app, it will tell you that you have some Pixy clips ready to import. You can also copy it to your computer via USB-C, but first you have to adjust the Snapchat setting in the Pixy section (“Import via USB”).
Once you have some clips, you can start editing them. If you want to post on a Snap, you can use the auto-crop function to convert to a vertical video while centering the subjects. You can then trim the video, add music, and use special Pixy AR lenses, such as “Flame Aura”, “Multiples” (making three of you) and Record, an old VHS tape effect. It also comes with two speed special effects, Jump Cut and Hyperspeed.
Pretty good so far, but there are a number of things he can’t do. First of all, there are no obstacle detection sensors at all, so if something happened to get in the way, the Pixy would crash right into it. Leaves and twigs didn’t always stop him, but walls, branches, and human bodies certainly did. Fortunately, as mentioned, Pixy is very tricky.
Since it can’t go very far or high (up to 30 feet at the most), undetecting obstacles shouldn’t be a problem for most people. To avoid any problems, you should test each maneuver in a wide open area to get a feel for how far it travels.
Another big limitation is flight time. Snap told me Pixy can fly for four to five minutes on a charge, or five to 10 flights. You can buy additional batteries for $20 each, and get a dual battery portable charger for $50. If you think you’ll need the extra flight time (and you will), your best bet is the Pixy Flight Pack, which adds the charger and two extra batteries for an extra $20.
It also lacks a gimbal and relies strictly on electronic stabilization, so you might get some shaky shots if you’re flying in a lot of wind. Speaking of which, the Pixy’s light weight means you can’t really fly outside at all in windy conditions.
The picture and video quality isn’t amazing, but it does the job. When I showed it to a professional photographer friend, he was pleasantly surprised. Exposure levels were good, and adjusted well when going from shade to sunlight. It worked well indoors provided I had a reasonable amount of light.
When you open videos or photos on a computer screen, it obviously can’t compare to a smartphone or other drones, especially in low light. But even when you lower the resolution by cropping vertically, it looks decent on a smartphone – so it’s quite good enough for most Snapchatters.
My photographer friend took it to a wedding and found it great for snapping some extra shots or for showing off what’s going on behind the scenes. Since it required virtually no setup or experience, all he had to do was fire up the Pixy and it would do the rest—perfect for a busy photographer if quality isn’t a concern.
I also enjoyed it as a quick and easy drone and feel it will be something I will take with me while traveling for some great shots and aerial shots. I was curious to see how it compares to other Snapchat camera products like Spectacles, and what Snap’s ambitions are for it, so I asked Engadget Senior Editor Carissa Bell, who covers social media.
“If you think about what they did with the Spectacles…there was a lot of interest in the beginning, but once you start using them, they get a lot more modern,” she told me. “The Pixy is interesting because it really seems to have more possibilities.”
If you are a really active person on Snapchat [or] Create videos for Spotlight, which is a TikTok-like feature, that you can get really creative with. But $230 isn’t a small amount of money, especially for young people in Snapchat’s core demographics. So I think it could be more successful than Spectacles, but there are a lot of drone companies out there if you’re just looking at a drone.”
In fact, it already looks like it will be hard to get one, as the waiting time stretched to a full four months after pre-orders began on April 28. It may be due to demand, but Snap CEO Evan Spiegel too Tell the edge That the company “should have achieved more”.
However, Snap appears to be on to something with Pixy. It’s not nearly as capable as the more expensive drones from DJI and others, but that’s not really the point. Instead, it’s a way for social media users to get some cinematic footage without having to be an expert on drones.
You can also turn your photo and video chores into Pixy and focus on creating your Snap content. If you’re spending a night out with friends, you can send it in to snap some shots without the need for a selfie stick or any other equipment.
It is not perfect, because the battery life is very poor and the image quality is only acceptable. And at $230, it’s also quite expensive considering you can buy a decent drone for that kind of money — for example, we’ve seen DJI’s Spark Mini on sale for $250.
But Pixy isn’t designed for drone users who might turn down that price tag. It’s designed for social media creators who might consider it cheap considering what it can do for them. The feedback I’ve seen from passersby and friends has been so positive, a number of them said they might buy one. If that’s any kind of sign, Pixy might turn out to be successful.
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