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Move over, Elfie: There's a new pocket drone in town. Actually, that should read, "Fly over, Elfie: There's a new pocket drone in the air." Just doesn't sound the same, though.
If you're a regular reader, you know I've routinely championed the JJRC H37 Elfie, a flying deck of cards with folding arms and a frequently amazing price (usually under $45, sometimes closer to $35). But I've found a new favorite in this category, and what it lacks in a cool name, it makes up for with one important feature.
It's the FQ777 FQ17W, which, for a limited time, and while supplies last, Tomtop has for $35.99 shipped. Because this is a very new model, it's not yet available via U.S. warehouses, so you'll have wait probably 2-4 weeks to receive it. Worth it.
It flew away with my heart
The FQ17W comes in your choice of black or red, and this particular model includes the one thing I've always wanted with the Elfie: a remote. You can fly so much more precisely with a pair of real joysticks than with onscreen controls.
Interestingly, Tomtop also sells a no-remote, phone-controlled version of this same model, but it's only $3 less. Of equal interest, you can fly this one without the remote if you'd rather.
Like the Elfie, the FQ17W has arms that fold into the body, making for very easy transport. Amazingly, impossibly, it's round when folded. It looks a bit like a sports car, and is even more adorable than the Elfie. It's remarkably compact and lightweight, too. How does this thing even fly?!
Very well, thank you.
I flew the little guy both with and without the remote. Verdict: remote by a mile. Like I said, it just makes piloting so much easier. But the FQ17W itself is an easy flyer thanks to its push-button takeoff and landing feature and altitude-hold and headless-mode options. It also has two speed options, and I found it remarkably nimble even at the slower speed. This baby moves.
When you bring the app into the mix (a clip-on holder mounts your phone above the remote), you get real-time video through the 0.3-megapixel camera (weak, yes), onscreen flight-path plotting (which I wasn't able to test) and other extras.
Battery and other concerns
The drone runs on 3.7V 300mAh lipo batteries, which are widely available for cheap. FQ777 estimates 6-8 minutes of flight time on a charge, and I monkeyed around with mine for what seemed like that amount of time. I'm not smart, so I didn't time it.
That said, I heard from a couple Elfie buyers that their battery wouldn't charge or wouldn't run longer than a few seconds. I think when you buy a $35 drone, there's a risk you're going to get a bum battery. So I'd recommend getting some spares, which you'd probably want anyway.
I'll also note that I've heard a few complaints about Tomtop's customer service -- though only a few, and I've always been able to get them resolved via my contact there.
I think if I have one complaint with this drone, it's that the arms are a little tricky to fold out from the body. I have to pull on the propellers, which feels wrong. Other than that, it's a fast, fun, seriously cool flying machine, one I cannot believe is priced at $35.99.
Bonus deal: Sorry if I'm getting a little naggy about this, but if you use a laptop and routinely connect to public hotspots, you really should be using a virtual private network (VPN). Like this one: StackSocial has a lifetime subscription to TigerVPN Lite for $24 when you apply promo code CNET5 at checkout. The subscription allows for two simultaneous device connections and provides lifetime access to 15 VPN nodes across 11 countries. Normally the service would run you around $86 just for a single year.
Usually it's a challenge to find VPN reviews, but TechRadar wrote about TigerVPN just two months ago. Verdict: 4.5 stars, though it should be noted that their review was based on the full version, which offers a lot more nodes and five simultaneous connections. Still, if you have modest VPN needs, this delivers an awful lot of privacy bang for the buck.
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