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Flying a drone other than DJI made me instantly regret the decision

I’ve been flying DJI drones exclusively for the last few years, and for good reason. In the world of drones, DJI’s technology and lineup of consumer drones have been outstanding — to the point that I haven’t had the desire to pilot drones aside from those from DJI. The only other non-DJI I’ve flown and tested out was the Parrot Bebop 2, and while it did introduce me to the world of drones, nothing has been able to steer me away from DJI of late.

People still have this fear about buying drones, especially those that cost thousands of dollars, which is why entry-level models like the DJI Mini 2 are attractive at under $500. Very recently, though, I tried out another similarly priced drone, the Holy Stone HS720E, just to give myself some practice and insights into what the competition offers. After trying it out for a couple of weeks, however, it made me realize the huge disparity between DJI’s drones and competitors like Holy Stone.

The draw of low cost

As I’ve clearly detailed, pricing is a strong deterrent for anyone who’s just getting started. No one wants to invest thousands of dollars into a drone, only to fly it a handful of times and have some kind of accident that turns it into a paperweight. I know I wouldn’t be comfortable buying a drone in the $1,000 range as my first drone, which is why sub $500 models like the Holy Stone HS720E are attractive — a peek at its specs sheet is indication enough of that!

Weight: 495 g/17.46 oz
Dimension: 177 x 104 x58 mm (folded); 337 x 240 x58 mm (unfolded)
Flight time: 23 minutes
FPV distance: 1640 feet/500 m
Flight distance: 3,277 feet/999 m
Camera frequency: 5.725-5.850 GHz
Camera angle: Tilt: -90° to 0°
Photo resolution: 4K(3,840 x 2,160) stored in TF card; HD 1920 x 1080 (stored on mobile)
Video resolution: Video: 4K (3840×2160P) stored in TF card; HD 1920×1080P (stored on mobile)
Live view quality: 4K @30fps; 1080p @60fps

At $340, it certainly gives the DJI Mini 2 a run for its money, especially when it closely matches it in portability, features, and specs. Notably, it can shoot video in 4K (3,840 x 2,160) resolution and tips the scales in at 495 grams. It’s light for sure, but not as lightweight as the DJI Mini 2 — so it needs to be registered with the FAA for recreational flyers.

The Holy Stone HS720E is a perfect example of why you shouldn’t be wrapped up in the specs of a drone, mainly because the performance out of its camera is subpar — even by the low standards set by the DJI Mini 2. From its soft-looking video footage to color aberrations that make it look unrealistic, the quality is quite simply not professional grade.

Stability goes a long way

Call me spoiled by DJI’s drones, but I’m just used to drones that hover and remain in place when I’m not commanding them to move. You would think that stability is the core pillar of every drone, but it’s apparently still a challenge. Holy Stone’s drone showed me exactly that the moment I piloted it off the ground. Instead of being greeted by a steady drone hovering in place, I was instead acquainted with one that moved side to side, but never wanting to stay steady in place.

Holy Stone HS720E drone hovering in air.
John Velasco / Digital Trends

This is a problem for beginners because the last thing they need is the distraction of drifting too much. By comparison, all of DJI’s drones that I’ve flown in the last three years have offered impressive stability — even when there are wind gusts. With the Holy Stone HS720E, I have to counter the drift by manually piloting it against the direction of the drift, which is the distraction you don’t need as a beginner. Even tougher is that the lack of a stable flight is evident in the video footage, something that really can’t be fixed by editing software.

Reliable video feed

Yes, I’ve been spoiled by DJI’s OcuSync technology in delivering a reliable video feed. It’s the gold standard in my opinion because I haven’t experienced latency issues in both the Mini 2 and Air 2s — both of which offer OcuSync technology. Unfortunately for the Holy Stone HS720E, it doesn’t match the near-instant view I get with DJI’s drones.

Holy Stone HS720E controller and its instant view.
John Velasco / Digital Trends

There is some latency when piloting the HS720E, which can be problematic when you need tight, responsive controls when it’s a critical situation. While general movement isn’t an issue, there are times when you want it to respond quickly — like when there’s a bit of wind and it’s teetering close against a tree. In my experience, there have been numerous times when there is a second or two delay between the commands I give to the drone using the controller and when the drone actually responds.

These frustrations do add up, seeing that a reliable video is critical in getting the shot when you need it. With OcySync technology, it really makes me feel like I’m actually in the cockpit, so whatever commands I make with the controls are instantly registered. The last thing I need, even for beginners, is unresponsive controls.

Setting the bar for everyone

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see more competition in the drone space, but there isn’t anyone else who can match the performance and reliability that DJI offers with its drones. The bar has been set high, which is why I’d love to see other manufacturers exceed that expectation because I know the value of variety from a consumer standpoint. For consumers, it’d be great if they can have a wealth of options to choose from — much like you get when shopping for smartphones — but the reality is that it’s not the case.

For now, I don’t plan on piloting anything else except for DJI drones.

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John Velasco
John is the Smart Home editor at Digital Trends covering all of the latest tech in this emerging market. From uncovering some…
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