Five years ago, the word “selfie” wasn't even part of our collective diction. Similarly, a “selfie stick” had the same vernacular worth as gibberish or baby talk. And a "selfie drone" was something you were more likely to find in a Phillip K. Dick novel than hovering overhead.
Man, life comes at you fast.
And leading the charge into this brave new vainglorious world is the ZeroTech Dobby, a pocket-portable drone that aims to elevate your selfie game to all-new heights. I had the chance to play with the Dobby for a few days, and here’s what I found.
But First, Some Preflight History
The idea of aerial selfies isn’t completely novel. Back when the selfie stick was just starting its reign as consumer tech's most-wanted gadget, plans for the selfie drone were already underway. Fast-forward a year later and the first drones billed primarily as personal aerial videographers started to appear—though, in some cases, in concept only. In 2016, more than a few of this new breed of unmanned aerial vehicle successfully took flight. However, Dobby seems the first to get it all the way right. Here’s why.
In Those Jeans
Dobby’s body design is both simple and brilliant. Its four arms collapse into the body so that, when folded, Dobby is about the size and girth of two iPhones stacked together—that’s with the props and flight battery installed. I had no problem carrying Dobby around in my coat pocket and, were I not such a skinny-jeans enthusiast, could have easily toted it around in my jeans, as well. This kind of portability is a big part of Dobby’s success and should be a hallmark of all future selfie drones, if for no other reason than it lends itself to the spirit of a selfie, which is spontaneity.
In addition to its clever body design, Dobby also features an array of impressive camera specs. Equipped with an adjustable 13MP shooter, it can capture 4K photos and video—though 4K video becomes 1080p after image stabilization. Multiple camera modes are available for photo and video, including timed and burst shots, as well as auto-video and face tracking (more on that in a bit). You can store all your footage locally on Dobby, save it on your phone, or use the companion app to share it instantly across social media platforms.
Do Some Fun
Another feature I was very impressed with was Dobby’s user interface, specifically the way you control it. Instead of a radio transmitter, you connect to Dobby’s built-in Wi-Fi using your smartphone and the Do.Fun companion app. I found the app setup to be easy and intuitive, and a quick on-screen tutorial walked me through all the flight controls in just a few minutes. In addition to flying Dobby, the app lets you manage your photos and videos, including sharing your footage.
The Flight Test
Dobby can fly indoors and out—though I found performance and functionality to be best-suited outside. In the wild, Dobby uses GPS positioning to assist with flight performance and for more advanced features like subject- and face-tracking. Average flight time was around 9 minutes in the air, which, if we’re talking about continuous flight, sounds a little bit low. But consider the use-case of Dobby, which is to pull it out when photo opportunities arise, then put it away again, and battery life is fine. I walked from Red Hook to the Brooklyn Bridge Park, stopped to shoot footage along the way, and the battery lasted the whole trip.
Indoor flight was a little trickier. For one, I live in an apartment in New York, so my close-quarter piloting skills were put to the test. Second, Dobby doesn’t have collision avoidance software. Instead it uses a built-in sensor and ultrasonic waves to determine the optic flow of the surrounding area (which is basically a fancy way of saying “figures out where the floor is”). This is fine as long as you’re flying above a non-reflective surface and have the reflexes and dexterity to avoid walls, furniture, and roommates. But just in case you don’t, Dobby comes with removable plastic bumpers that protected it against the occasional collision and one cat attack.
I should also add that flying indoors really allowed Dobby’s control system to shine. In a close-quarter environment, drones quite literally live and die by response time. Using both the gesture controls and the press-and-drag cursor control, Dobby responded instantly to commands, allowing me to navigate the tight turns of my narrow confines without (many) crashes.
But It's Not All About You
I've spent some time talking about the Dobby's selfie capabilities—and for good reason. It is, after all, billed as a selfie drone. But to say aerial selfies and video are Dobby's only functions would be to undersell it dramatically. I mentioned that continuous flight isn’t Dobby’s primary focus, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t incredibly fun. No, Dobby doesn’t perform like a speedy racer or stunt drone, but ZeroTech loaded it with enough non-camera features to keep flying enthusiasts entertained for a long while (or at least until the battery runs out). One such feature—which can probably be filed under “sort of unnecessary but still totally cool”—is the voice command function. Speaking into Do.Fun app, you can tell Dobby to take off and it will launch into the air.
Other neat features include palm takeoff and landing, but my absolute favorite was the tracking mode. In theory, you use tracking for face-recognition shots or to follow and record specific subjects—say, in a crowd, or if you want to shoot some action footage. However, if you want to just make Dobby follow you or something else around without recording, it’s still a total blast. After shooting some test footage of kids playing basketball, I locked Dobby onto one of the dogs in the park and just had it follow him around. It worked really well. Aside from when the dog got over-stimulated and ran out of frame, Dobby was able to follow it around without problem. Both the dog and I really got a kick out of this. The dog's owner did not.
Dobby was my first foray into the selfie drone market and I have to say, I’m hard-pressed to think of what ZeroTech could have done better. Longer flight times and a quieter propulsion system are two things that come to mind, but that’s pretty much the cost of business when you’re talking about a pocket-sized drone capable of everything Dobby brings to the table. But those minor requests aside, I was genuinely blown away with Dobby’s flight and camera performance. It shot great footage from a brand-new perspective, was a joy to fly, and best of all, I could take it anywhere.
Currently, there are two versions of the Dobby for purchase: a standard package, which includes everything you need to get into the air, and a bundle that comes with an additional flight battery, a carrying case, and set of replacement props. If I had to choose, I’d definitely opt for the bundle because replacement props are never an “if” proposition, always a “when,” and an extra battery is a nice luxury, especially when you consider the flight time.
How quickly can you swap out the battery and put in a backup?
Hi Chris -
In seconds... Pop out and pop in! Snap!
Does it record audio in the video mode, and what is it like quality wise. I'm looking at recording quick videos for patreon supporters and this kind of thing looks handy for that.
Hi Phil -
There is no audio recorded.
aerial selfie? Gah. Thanks for ruining everything millenialls
what's the battery life for reals? I read lots of different takes. Some ppl say 10 minutes some say like 4?
Battery life changes a lot depending on weather conditions and use. In perfect weather conditions (no wind), I was able to get between 8 and 10 minutes of non-stop flying. However, when I tested it out in high winds and performed several short flight runs (as opposed to one continuous flight), battery time was greatly reduced. This speaks to Dobby's purpose: it's not meant to take on long flights or shoot minutes of interrupted footage. Think of it more as something you take out when you want an aerial selfie or a particular shot from above. That being said, I'd still recommend carrying a spare battery or two.
Will Dobby return home when Dobby run out of battery?
Dobby has several 'return to home' failsafes, including when the battery is critically low, when it flies beyond a certain altitude, or when GPS signal is lost. If any of these occur, Dobby will automatically begin landing. There's also a one-touch return-to-home function on the app. Just press the button and Dobby comes home. This only works outside, though, as this function relies on GPS.
Great article. Can you post some of your footage?
Walker, thanks for the question. I'm working on getting some of the footage I shot up for view. In the meantime, if you download the free DO.Fun app you can see public footage from users all around the world. It's a good showcase of what the Dobby can do and will give you an idea of whether or not it's right for you.
I saw a review that said the app is in Chinese. Is there an American app?
The Do.Fun app isn't specific to any one language. Multiple languages are available, including English. To choose your language preference, just select the settings icon (gear wheel) in the top right corner. From there, you can select whatever language you want.
How much are they? & are they out in the market now!
Thanks for asking, Pam. Dobby is available for purchase now. Depending where you shop, it starts around $399 US. Kits are available for around $70 more. The kits come with an extra battery and spare props, which, if you're anything like me (read: prone to crashes), I'd recommend.