Xiaomi’s known for sticking to its well-established formula of making high-end handsets, selling them at rock-bottom prices, and leveraging its legions of social media fans to evangelize them. But today, the China-based firm is stepping into unfamiliar territory. At a flashy press event in mainland China on Wednesday, Xiaomi lifted the veil off Mi Drone, an inexpensive quadcopter with a built-in camera capable of shooting up to 4K video. It’s the company’s first.
In terms of aesthetics, the Mi Drone probably won’t turn heads. Its blocky, utilitarian aesthetic, the product of China-based drone company Flymi, calls to mind DJI’s Phantom series of drones. But what it lacks in looks, it more than makes up for in specifications. The Mi Drone, which will ship in both a low-end, 1080p model and a high-end, 4K 30fps configuration later this year, holds its own in a crowded field of quadcopters. It has a 5,100mAh battery, which affords it a range of 3km and a flying time of up to 27 minutes, and it sports a 360-degree, 12.4-megapixel, RAW-capable camera with a 3-axis self-stabilizing gimble that makes up to 2,000 tilt corrections per second. The Mi Drone’s remote, meanwhile, features a camera tilt-adjusting dial, a dedicated shutter button, a button for landing and take-off, a built-in slot for your smartphone, and antennas with a radio control range of up to 2km.
The Mi Drone has software smarts, too. It can be configured to stay within the confines of a virtual fence so as to ensure dilettante drone owners don’t mistakenly veer off course, and it can be programmed to follow or circle around a point of interest, or to follow a route. Even better? It automatically returns to a designated point when it’s running low on a charge or loses contact with the controller — a feature that’ll no doubt provide peace of mind to folks who are shooting above water, tall grass, or sheer cliff faces.
The Mi Drone’s price is not bad, either, as you might expect from a company with a reputation from aggressively undercutting its competitors: the 1080p model will set you back $380, while the 4K configuration will run $450. Interestingly, Xiaomi won’t offer the former for direct sale right away — it’s launching a crowdfunding campaign within its Mi Home app on May 26. The latter Mi Drone will enter “open beta” late next month via the company’s Chinese Mi.com store.
Drones may seem like an odd choice for a smartphone maker, but Xiaomi’s seeking a new cash cow. The company’s revenue remained flat in 2015 thanks to weaker-than-expected smartphone demand in China, and it lost market share to Huawei, Apple, and others. If Xiaomi can tap into the camera quadcopter craze, a market which could be on track to hit $36.9 billion by 2022, it could regain a more solid financial footing.
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