Xiaomi Mi 4K: First Impressions…

xiaomi mi 4k drone first flight

Well, the bottom line (which I’ll make the top line) is that I’m super impressed.

But before I impart any more good news, I have to say I have one big, major, humongous problem.

It’s not with the Mi drone per se, but rather with all drones that need a phone or tablet to operate them, and to see what the camera is seeing. And today, that’s the vast majority of drones.

You may remember, when I had narrowed my choice to two I was very tempted to buy the UpAir One Plus, simply because the controller has a built-in screen. I’m wondering now if I made the right choice.

Okay, I get it. There is so much more you can program into an app, rather than trying to fit the same functionality into the drone’s controller, but there are two big problems trying to use an app with a phone or tablet. First; apps can, and do, crash. I’m happy to say I haven’t experienced this – yet. But even the great and almighty DJI apps crash. And of course this usually happens when your drone is in the air. If you’re lucky you can restart the app and regain control – or your drone has built-in logic to know it’s lost contact and will return to home. The alternative doesn’t bear thinking about.

As an aside; bizarre things can happen when you’re flying. One afternoon last week, when I was impatiently waiting for the weather to clear so I could at least get the new drone off the ground, I spotted some sunshine, and rushed down to the beach – drone in one hand and controller in the other. There I was, merrily flying along the water’s edge, when my phone rang. Not the one I was using to fly, but the one in my pocket. I wouldn’t have tried to answer, but I was expecting a call.

So, as I let the drone hover I tried to drag the phone from my pocket. It was at this point I remembered I was wearing shorts I normally reserve for around the house. Why? Well, they’re kind of old, and the waist elastic has passed its use-by date. All of which meant, there I was, frantically trying to get the drone closer to me, while attempting to answer the phone, with my shorts falling down, and as luck would have it, being attacked by a pack of dogs which took exception to the aerial buzzing.

It’s not every day you have to choose between having your drone devoured by hungry dogs, and exposing your underwear to the outside world!

But I guess I should be honest; as the drone came close to the ground, it scared the hell out of the dogs and they ran away. I guess in a dog’s world it must have looked like the little green pit bulls from Mars were about to take over their planet.

But it did leave me wondering, do these things happen to normal people?

Anyhoo; my biggest grumble is that – no matter what device I attach to the controller, and I have chosen to use an iPad – is that, once outdoors, I can’t see the screen. I don’t mean I can’t see the screen clearly, I mean I really can see nothing. This is a problem I have to solve.

Not only is there a lot of useful info on the screen, but it’s important either to get the first person view from the camera, or to look at the Google Earth images so you know where the drone is. Think about it. The Mi will fly at least 3000 meters away from you. Is anyone really capable of knowing how close the drone is to a tree at 3000 meters? I know I’m not. I can’t even do it at 300 meters. 30 meters maybe, but not guaranteed – as you will know if you are regular reader!

This is a new problem for me. The much cheaper Cheerson drones I’ve used up to this point, had built-in screens on the controllers. Small yes, but bright.

A little research led me to discover two things. First; just about all drone pilots have this problem. Given that an estimated three million drones were sold in 2017, this is a big problem. It’s one, I feel, drone manufacturers, or tablet manufacturers should address. Perhaps the latter are only interested in the billions, but three million sounds like a sizeable potential market to me. And one that will increase exponentially in the years to come.

The second thing I discovered is, it’s all about nits. No, no need to scratch your head (but you did anyways!) Apparently the nit is a unit of visible light intensity and is used to measure the power of LCD screens, amongst other things. One nit is defined as one candela per square meter, and a candela is approximately the amount of light emitted by a tallow candle. I was going to test this but I just ran out of tallow last night and my local chandler says he won’t have any until next week!

To be serious, an iPad emits a maximum of 405 nits, and that’s nit enough. A little more research has uncovered the fact you can buy tablets which emit at least 1000 nits, but they cost about four times as much as the drone. That’s not something I’m prepared to consider, so there must be alternatives.

The basic problem is the amount of light that is reflected off the iPad’s screen, so step one was to make a hood. That made me look sillier than usual, so I made a hood for the iPad instead…

xiaomi mi 4k drone first flight

It helps. Step 2 was to wear a dark shirt, as most of what I can see in the iPad is me! That also helps.

Step 3 was to order an anti-glare anti-reflective screen protector from a company called NuShield. I’ll have to report on that once it’s arrived, but I’m hopeful it will make a big improvement.

Beyond that, well, I’ll have to wait for tablet manufacturers to pick up on my recommendation and build tablets with triple the nits. In the meantime, I guess I’ll have more arguments with more trees.

“But what about the bottom line?” you ask. Good question…

I absolutely love flying this drone. It’s a major step up from anything I’ve tried to date. I haven’t encountered any of the problems mentioned by reviewers, most of which relate to compass calibration. I calibrated everything once. A simple process. And since then, the flying has been precise. It’s even possible to hover about two centimeters off the ground, with no sideways movement of the drone, and to land so gently it wouldn’t harm a feather. Except of course the feather would get blown away. But you know what I mean.

And the camera? It’s better than I expected, so I’m super-happy with that too. Here’s a couple of photos…

xiaomi mi 4k drone first flight

xiaomi mi 4k drone first flight

Now, keep in mind these have been reduced in size. The originals, as taken by the drone’s camera, were 4000×3000 pixels. The ones above are 1000×750 pixels, so that’s a reduction of … just a second …

“Hey Siri. Open the calculator.”

“Here’s what I’ve found out about perambulators.”

Stupid creature.

Anyways, the images are a 16th of the original size.

And, I thought you might like to see some video. I’ve tried putting this on Youtube and Facebook, but they both do nasty things with the quality. So, I signed up to something called Airvüz (pronounced air views) as they more-or-less leave the quality as per the original.

This is my first video, although not first flight. I did at least make sure everything was working fine before shooting up to about sixty meters. In my browser there isn’t a “full screen” button to click on, but I think you can right-click and select full screen that way…

As I say, not quite the original quality, but I think Airvüz is much better than the alternatives.

Now, I just need some decent weather so I can go droning and filming. Stay tuned for that.

Paul

... is fascinated by flying, having worked in the airline industry for many years, and having flown almost two million kilometers. Flying and learning about drones is a natural extension of this interest.

If drones fascinate you too, and you don't know where to start, then come along for the ride, because Paul doesn't know what he's doing either!

Making top quality videos is the ultimate objective, but that will take a while.

In the meantime, mistakes will be made and written about. Drones will crash. Drones will be lost. Foul language will ensue. But eventually everything will work out fine.

If you're also interested in travel, you may like to read Paul's other blog - Twitterings.


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