Drones have come a long way in the past few years, but now that manufacturers have managed to stuff them with all the bells and whistles we could ever want, the race is on to shrink them down and make them more portable. Why? Well, what good is having an autonomous flying camera if you can’t take it everywhere you go? As drone makers have started to realize how important portability is, there’s now a flood of super-compact unmanned aerial vehicles hitting the market. So, to dip our toes in this burgeoning category of ultraportable drones, we got our hands on Yuneec’s new Breeze drone to see how it compares to the rest of the pack.
Features & specs
As you might’ve guessed from the name, the Breeze is the smaller, lighter brother of Yuneec’s more heavy-duty Typhoon drones. But don’t let its diminutive stature fool you — this little drone has a lot going on under the hood. Despite being a bit less powerful, the Breeze has a lot of the same features you’ll find on it’s bigger, more expensive brethren.
Arguably the most important feature is the drone’s camera. Breeze can shoot in 4K at 30 frames per second, take 13 megapixel still shots, and even beam live video back to your smartphone in the process, allowing you to see what the drone sees in real time. On top of that, Breeze is also equipped with a decent suite of autonomous filming modes, including Orbit, Follow Me, and Selfie — features that used to be found exclusively on drones that cost $1,000 or more.
It even has a few features that Yuneec’s bigger drones lack. In addition to a super-portable design, Breeze also boasts an indoor positioning system, which helps it fly and maintain stability when flying indoors with limited GPS connectivity. To top it all off, Yuneec ships each and every Breeze drone with a carrying case, a set of prop guards, and two batteries — each of which will get you about 11 to 12 minutes of flight time. Not bad for a $500 drone.
Build quality & design
When you first pull it out of the box, the Breeze doesn’t feel particularly durable. It’s made almost entirely out of plastic — which most drones are, to be fair — but this plastic admittedly feels a bit brittle, like one hard smack on the concrete would cause the hull to fracture.
This little drone has a lot going on under the hood.
Because of this, we were initially a bit skeptical about the Breeze’s durability, but after crashing it a half dozen times, we were pleased to discover that it’s actually pretty damn durable. We bashed it (inadvertently) into all manner of obstacles — bushes, branches, tree trunks, and even the side of a car — but in none of those instances did the drone become so damaged that it couldn’t start right up again.
As far as we can tell, the key to the Breeze’s resilience is its clever hinged props. it appears that Yuneec outfitted the drone with this feature so that the props could be folded inward for easy transport, but based on our observations, it seems that they also help the drone recover from run-ins with tree branches quite effectively. Instead of breaking on contact, they pivot backward ever so slightly, which seems to prevent them from snapping.
Now to be fair, we never crashed it on concrete and never made it plummet more than five or six feet out of the sky, so while it held up pretty well during our tests, we still aren’t sure that it’d survive a hard drop in the parking lot. Fly with care!
Durability aside, the Breeze scores big points in the design department. Yuneec built this drone to be highly portable, so the props and landing gear are designed to fold up and tuck neatly inside a 10-inch by 10-inch by 2.5-inch carrying case. That might not seem like a very significant feature, but as we discovered, the portability factor is huge. Because Breeze fits so easily inside a backpack, we found ourselves bringing it along on more outings — which, in turn, meant that we captured more cool footage. Photographers have an old adage that goes “the best camera is the one you have with you” — and the same definitely holds true for drones.
Battery life and recharge time
To get a sense of how long this little quad can stay aloft, we ran it through our normal suite of endurance tests. To start, we charged up the battery, launched the Breeze about 10 feet up into the air, and just let it hover in place until the battery ran out and Yuneec’s software forced it to land. Under the least demanding flight conditions possible, the Breeze stayed in the air for exactly 11 minutes and 24 seconds — which is about 36 seconds shy of the flight time listed on the box. In contrast, the drone’s average flight time during all our other tests (all of which started with a full battery and ended when we were forced to land) was 10 minutes and 40 seconds. So if you fly it a bit harder, you can expect a bit of a drop in battery longevity — but not a very big one.
Sure, 10 minutes might not sound like a particularly long flight time — and it’s not — but the upside is that Breeze ships with two batteries, so you can get somewhere around 21 minutes of flying time if you set out with both of them charged up. That’s more than enough time to snap some selfies during your latest hike, grab some aerial footage of your sister’s wedding, or whatever the heck you want to do with a flying camera. When it’s all said and done, though, each battery takes about 50 minutes to fully recharge, so be prepared to wait around for a while between flights.
Flight Performance, autonomy, and range
Compared to some other drones on the market, Breeze is a bit limited when it comes to flight performance. It has a max horizontal speed of 5 meters per second (roughly 11 miles per hour), can only ascend at a rate of one meter per second (about 2.2 miles per hour), and has a maximum range of just 100 meters (0.06 miles) — but that’s all by design. Yuneec intentionally built these limitations into the drone’s software, presumably to reduce the risk of crashing or losing your drone while you fly. That’s just the way it goes.
The other limiting factor is the fact that Breeze doesn’t come with a physical controller. It’s designed for portability, so to keep it as small and compact as possible, Yuneec decided to skip the use of a stand-alone controller and instead build a brand new piloting app (Android | iOS) that you can download and use with your smartphone.
It’s a solid app. In fact, we think it’s one of the best, most responsive app-based drone controllers we’ve ever used. But even so, the fact that you’re forced to use touchscreen controls makes for a rather mushy and imprecise piloting experience. Virtual joysticks just don’t offer the same level of precision that physical ones do, and the Breeze’s app is no exception.
Even with the software-imposed flight limitations and comparatively mushy manual controls, Breeze boasts a pretty decent flying experience — especially when you hand over the controls to Yuneec’s autopilot software. This bird was designed to be more of a robotic photographer than a high-performance hobbyist quad, so it’s really more focused on auto-fly than manual mode. Breeze’s autonomous flight mode suite isn’t not quite as full-featured as what you’ll find in Yuneec’s Typhoon series, but it does come with Orbit, Selfie, and Follow Me — which are presumably the most important for folks looking to take footage of themselves. These modes all performed flawlessly in our tests, and while the Follow Me mode isn’t quite as robust as DJI’s active object tracking, it does an excellent job of following your Bluetooth signature and keeping you in frame.
Even with all these autonomous modes, you still have to be a bit careful where you use them — Breeze doesn’t come with any sort of onboard obstacle avoidance, so even when you’re in autonomous mode, you’ll need to keep an eye on your surroundings and look out for any obstacles. One of our run-ins with a tree branch was caused by setting the orbit radius too high, which sent the drone careening into a tree without any way to stop itself. Follow Me has similar problems — if you make the drone follow you past any trees or unexpected elevation gains. It’s not a deal breaker, but it certainly limits what kind of things you can do with it.
Camera, accessories, and upgradability
Yuneec touts the Breeze as a “selfie” drone, so it comes as no surprise that the company equipped the drone with a pretty decent camera. This thing has a max resolution of 4K at 30 frames per second, but can also shoot in 1080p at 60FPS or 720p at 120FPS. It also shoots 13 megapixel still shots, has 117-degree field of view, and can swivel up or down at the touch of a button.
For the most part, it’s a pretty solid little camera, but it does have one clear drawback: the fact that it’s not mechanically stabilized. Yuneec didn’t put a gimbal on Breeze’s camera, and instead opted for digital stabilization, which helps keep the drone compact. The only problem with this approach is that you can’t use Breeze’s stabilization features when shooting in 4K. The drone’s software-based stabilization only works when you shoot at a lower resolution, like 1080p or 720p. This leaves you with a difficult choice to make: Do you shoot high-res but potentially shaky video, or smooth but lower-resolution video? That’s a tough call.
As for accessories, the Breeze comes with a couple small but important additions. The first is a set of prop guards that can easily snap on or off the drone’s hull, and help protect it from crashes when flying indoors. Second, and arguably more important, is the included carrying case. Despite its somewhat small dimensions, this case can safely hold the drone, a spare battery, and all four of the aforementioned prop guards. This makes it incredibly easy to stuff in a backpack or messenger bag.
When it comes to upgrades, it doesn’t appear that the drone is designed for hardware upgrades of any sort. Yuneec will probably push out firmware updates periodically like it does for its other drones, but aside from that, it looks like you’ll be stuck with the same hardware for the foreseeable future.Our Take
If you’re looking for an easy way to start shooting aerial video, Breeze is a solid entry point. Sure, it doesn’t have the high-performance flight specs you’ll find in more expensive drones, but what it lacks in speed and range, it makes up for with a portable design, simple controls, and a super-reasonable price.
Are there better options available?
No, not particularly. Your options are relatively slim in this price range, and Breeze is one of the best drones you can get for $500 right now.
The DT Accessory Pack
Perhaps its closest competitor is the newly released Hover Camera. This drone boasts similar specs (4K cam, portable design, indoor positioning system, etc.) and is designed primarily for selfies and other basic aerial photography/videography uses. It costs a bit more ($600), but for that extra dough you’ll get a couple neat features that Breeze doesn’t have, like active face-tracking software and launch from hand abilities.
If you don’t care so much about portability, another good option is DJI’s Phantom 3 Standard ($500). It has better range and tighter flight controls than both the Breeze and the Hover Camera — but keep in mind that it’s not nearly as compact, it can’t fly indoors, and it doesn’t have a 4K camera.
How long will it last?
Probably a few years, if you treat it well. As we mentioned before, Breeze isn’t particularly upgradable in terms of hardware, but Yuneec has a good track record of keeping its products up to date with regular firmware updates, software improvements, and even the occasional accessory release. As long as you don’t have a catastrophic crash, this drone should keep flying like a champ for years to come
Should you buy it?
Yes. Just make sure the Breeze’s features and abilities are in line with your goals. This drone probably isn’t a good choice for serious pilots and filmmakers — but if you’re simply looking for an easy/affordable way to snap aerial photos of yourself and your adventures, then Breeze is an excellent choice. We really enjoyed this drone, and you probably will too.