Hover Camera Passport drone review

The Passport drone is like having a 65-foot selfie stick

The Hover Camera Passport is the best selfie drone ever made.
The Hover Camera Passport is the best selfie drone ever made.
The Hover Camera Passport is the best selfie drone ever made.

Highs

  • Prop guards
  • Built-in flash
  • Adjustable control scheme
  • Face/body tracking software
  • Ultra portable design

Lows

  • 30 FPS frame rate regardless of resolution
  • Limited image stabilization
  • Short range

Drones have evolved quickly in the past few years, but lately we’re entering a new era. Instead of stuffing them with every feature known to man, manufacturers are building them with features and specs that target a particular type of use — like racing, FPV, or filmmaking.

The Hover Camera Passport from ZeroZero Robotics is a prime example of this trend. Instead of being a jack-of-all-trades, this drone is built specifically for taking selfies and follow footage — so we took it out for a couple weeks of selfie-ing to see how it stacks up against some of the more full-featured drones on the market.

Standout Features & Specs

The single most significant feature on the Passport is definitely its foldable design. We’ll delve into the nitty gritty in a moment, but for now we’ll just say that this is one of the most portable drones we’ve ever encountered — and that’s no accident. It’s intentionally built to fit inside a backpack or purse, so it’s always with you whenever you need it.

 Hover Camera Passport has one of the most brilliant designs we’ve ever seen on a drone.

The drone is also equipped with a pretty decent little camera. It shoots video in 4K, stills at 13 megapixels, and even has a built-in flash — but believe it or not, the camera itself isn’t as interesting as what’s behind it. The Passport stands apart from other portable drones thanks to image recognition software, which (along with a quad-core Snapdragon processor) allows the drone to not only sense/track faces and bodies, but also maintain its position in space without the aid of GPS.

Finally, to round out the package, the Passport comes with a suite of autonomous flying/filming modes. In addition to standard ones like Orbit and Follow, it has a 360 Panorama function you can activate with the touch of a button, as well as a thing called Beast Mode, which lets you turn off the drone’s software-imposed motor limitations for those times when you need to follow really fast objects.

Build Quality & Design

Hover Camera Passport has one of the most brilliant designs we’ve ever seen on a drone. As you might’ve guessed from the name, it’s designed to fold up like a book when you’re not flying. There’s a slim “spine” that houses all the machine’s electronics, and a pair of enclosed propellers under the spine that swing out like pages. When all closed up, the drone is only 1.3 inches (33 millimeters) tall, and roughly the same dimensions as a VHS cassette. It’s also just 0.53 pounds (242 grams) with battery included, so US residents won’t have to register it with the FAA before flying, which is nice.

Another feature we really like is the Passport’s carbon fiber prop cages, which provide it with a number of big advantages. First and foremost, they protect the propellers from run-ins with obstacles, which drastically reduces the likelihood of a crash. We bashed this drone into walls like it was our job, but thanks to the cages, the rotors always kept spinning and the drone usually managed to return to a stable hover.

More important, though, the prop guards also protect the pilot from the spinning blades, which makes it safe to launch the drone from your hand, or even pluck it out of the air when you’re done flying. It might seem like a small, insignificant feature, but this kind of safety is a game changer — it makes the drone more approachable and inviting to use. Without the fear of potentially harming bystanders, property, or the drone itself, we felt liberated and empowered to fly the Passport in places that we’d usually steer clear of. There’s definitely something to be said for the freedom and confidence that prop cages provide.

Flight Performance, Autonomy, and Range

It’s very fun and approachable to use, but the Passport definitely isn’t the drone to get if you’re looking for high-performance flight. It tops out at 17 miles per hour (In manual mode), doesn’t have GPS, and has a suggested max range of 65 feet, so it’s not nearly as sporty or nimble as some of the higher-end drones we’ve tested.

Autonomous modes are definitely where this drone shines.

But that’s by design. This drone was built specifically to function as a flying camera robot — and its specs and abilities reflect that. Instead of a super long range, it’s designed to stay close and follow you wherever you go. Instead of ultra responsive manual controls, it’s focused on flying itself so you don’t have to. Even the facial/body tracking software alleviates the need to worry about where the camera is pointing. The whole machine is geared toward autonomous flight, so if you’re after something to show off your piloting skills with, you’d be wise to look elsewhere.

It’s not really meant to be flown manually — but even so, the Passport has an accompanying app that gives you a fair number of controller layout options. You can fly with two virtual joysticks if you’re familiar with traditional controls; use the simplified layout if you just need to get the camera in position; or even turn on tilt mode and steer the drone around by tilting your phone in any direction. As with most smartphone-based controls, the Passport’s manual modes do feel a bit loose and imprecise — but we still appreciate the ability to switch up the control scheme.

Autonomous modes are where this drone shines though. It does Orbit mode, in which the drone will fly in a circle around you regardless of where you move; as well as 360 Panorama mode, in which the drone will execute a 360-degree spin and then stitch together a single panoramic image.

The most impressive modes are the two that make use of the Passport’s image recognition software: Face Track and Body Track — both of which are self explanatory. To use them, you simply tap on the face or body that you’d like to follow, and the Passport will do whatever it takes to keep the subject in frame. The software isn’t quite as robust or intuitive as DJI’s Active Track technology (which can track any object you select), but it’s pretty effective, and definitely one of the Passport’s best features.

Battery Life & Recharge Time

In a pure hover test (when the drone is running nothing but the bare minimum to maintain a stable hover), we found that the Passport can stay in the air for about 9 minutes and 32 seconds. Fly it a bit harder, and you can expect a drop of anywhere from 1 to two full minutes. When the drone is fighting a breeze or following you with all its might in Beast Mode, it’ll sap juice from the battery at a noticeably accelerated rate — but even so, it never dipped below 8 minutes in our most rigorous tests.

After well over a dozen flights, our average fly time was 9 minutes and 14 seconds. So it doesn’t quite live up to the 10-minute flight spec printed on the box, but it’s worth mentioning that the Passport does ship with two lithium ion batteries, so you can expect about 17-19 minutes of total flight time if you set out with both cells fully juiced up.

As for recharge time, it took our fully drained Passport batteries an average of about 47 minutes  to power up and reach 100 percent again.

Camera, Accessories, and Upgradability

Despite the fact that the Passport is touted as a selfie camera, the camera itself is admittedly rather lackluster compared to what’s available on some other drones. It can shoot in 4K, 1080p, or 720p — but is limited to 30 frames per second regardless of the resolution. It also doesn’t have a gimbal, and relies on a combination of digital stabilization and a single-axis swivel to stabilize images. Effectively, this means you’ll need to shoot in 1080p if you want smooth video, since 4K video is only stabilized along one axis and will likely be shaky.

Hover Camera Passport Drone
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

That said, the cameras flaws and shortcomings are mostly made up for with a smattering of clever features that help boost the camera’s usefulness. In addition to the aforementioned face and body tracking software that locks onto your subject, the Passport also features a built-in flash, which makes it ideal for snapping selfies and group photos.

As for accessories and upgrades, there’s not much available at the moment. Firmware updates get pushed out fairly regularly, and new modes/abilities will likely be added in the future — but at time of writing, hardware upgrades and additions are relatively scarce.

Our Take

The Passport can’t really stand toe to toe with the more full-featured drones on the market, but in all fairness, it wasn’t designed to do that. It’s designed to snap selfies and follow footage, and when it comes to doing those things, the Passport totally kicks ass.

Is there a better alternative?

The Yuneec Breeze is arguably the Passport’s closest competitor. It has slightly better specs when it comes to range, battery life, and image quality, and it’s $100 cheaper. However, on the downside, it’s not quite as portable, it doesn’t have a flash, and lacks image recognition abilities. For these reasons, we’d say the Passport is the right choice if you’re exclusively interested in taking selfies, but the Breeze is a better option if you plan to snap landscapes or practice your flying skills.

There are, however, much better drones available if you don’t mind dishing out a bit more money. For $500, you can get your hands on a DJI Spark — which is arguably the best selfie drone on the planet right now. It has a better camera, superior flight capabilities, and forward facing obstacle avoidance. We think it’s definitely worth the extra $150.

Higher up on the price scale, there’s also DJI’s new Mavic Air — a drone that boasts comparable levels of portability to the Passport, but with considerably more features and functionality. It’s one of the best drones we’ve ever flown, so if you can afford dropping $800 on a drone, you’d be wise to check out our full review.

How long will it last?

This drone will probably last you a good number of years. Between the carbon-fiber prop cages and the short range, you’ll be hard pressed to destroy or lose this drone. So, barring any freak accidents, the Passport will likely keep flying for years to come.

Should you buy it?

Yes — but only if your sole purpose for buying a drone is to shoot videos of you and your friends. The passport isn’t a good choice for flying enthusiasts or anyone looking to hone their piloting skills. It’s a selfie drone through and through, and if that’s what you’re after, then look no further. This is the best selfie drone ever made.

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