Battery: Removable 1S 500 mAh LiPo
Flight time: 8-9 min
Charge time: ~60 min
The Elfie (also sold in slightly different colors as the Eachine E50) is marketed as a ”selfie drone” and its design bears more than a passing resemblance to the much pricier (but of course also much more feature packed) Zerotech Dobby. All this would lead you to expect a convenient, easy-to-use quadcopter with a good camera. Let’s see how it delivers on these expectations!
The Elfie comes in a small, iPhone-like box, possible thanks to its foldable arms and omission of any form of transmitter. Inside you’ll find everything needed, except of course an iOS or Android smart device to run its companion app on. You even get a protective pouch for transporting your Elfie. Nice to see that the idea of portability at least didn’t go straight out the window!
The impression of the quadcopter itself is what you would expect from a cheap Dobby clone: Nicely designed, but also light and cheap-feeling. It currently comes only in black, but don’t worry: You can already pre-order the pink variant we were all secretly wishing for!
The main attraction is obviously the foldable design, transforming the quadcopter into a more protected and portable form. I admit I had my doubts, but folding and unfolding is easy and still works despite my Elfie having already taken a few beatings. Thanks to some bevel gears the arms are able to house normal sized brushed motors despite the limited space, which should offer good flight times.
Other highlights of the quadcopter include:
- An adjustable camera (maybe not surprising, given the whole “selfie drone” thing)
- A convenient, easily accessible on/off button
- A number of bright LEDs distinguishing forward from back
The battery (an oddly shaped 500 mAh single-cell LiPo) is removable, which is a plus since it means it can be easily replaced or swapped out. Not everything about the battery is so great though: It’s finicky to install, both because the tight-fitting battery compartment and the awkward connector placement, which wouldn’t be a big deal if you didn’t have to take the battery out every time you needed to charge it. If JJRC were serious about the streamlined user experience they seem to have been aiming for, they should’ve looked into making it possible to charge the quadcopter directly.
From a maintenance and reparability standpoint, the Elfie is something of a mixed bag. While most components seems to be sold separately, the motors are soldered onto the flight board, making them more difficult to replace, and the tiny bevel gears changing the angle of rotation of the motors are bound to be fragile and sensitive to dirt and dust.
Like the previously reviewed FQ777-954 and Cheerson CX-10W, the Elfie can be controlled though a smartphone app over Wi-Fi. In fact, it must be since it’s the only option available. The app, which should look very familiar to owners of any of the mentioned models, offers several flight modes: A normal one with on-screen sticks, an altitude hold variant and a “Gravity sensor mode” where you tilt the device to control pitch and roll while still controlling yaw via the screen.
Once you get familiarized, you’ll find the app is surprisingly feature-rich with on-screen buttons for everything from arming and disarming the motors to headless mode and auto-landing. Sadly lacking from it though – at least as far as I can tell – is the possibility to re-assign the functions of the stick axes for anything other than mode 2, though I believe this option is available on some compatible alternative apps.
Flying with the app works surprisingly well, but is still somewhat of a mixed bag. In and of itself the Elfie flies fine and holds its altitude with reasonable accuracy, but the Wi-Fi technology, not designed with radio control in mind, inevitably introduces some shortcomings like latency and significantly limited range (30 meters or so). Don’t expect being able to do sport flying with a setup like this, but for just hovering around it’s actually adequate. The flight time, often clocking in at over 8 minutes, is another pleasant surprise.
The on-screen sticks are as good as can be for a solution with no physical feedback and actually utilizes the fine-grained touchscreen of the smartphone to provide some surprisingly high resolution controls. At least for all axes except yaw, which seems to have a big dead zone in the middle making small adjustments to your heading impossible. For a quadcoper sold on its ability to conveniently capture video, only being able to adjust the camera framing in increments of near 45 degrees is a pretty big negative!
Speaking of which: Beyond controlling the quadcopter, the app of course also handles any and all – presumably selfie related – photo and video capture. JJRC claims native 720p resolution and while this can be debated, I think there’s no debating that the video quality… leaves a lot to be desired regardless. The camera, which is of the pinhole variety, also has a very limited field-of-view. You’ll have to be pretty far away to capture a person full figure and just forget about FPV.
On top of this, remember that there is no onboard recording: Videos and photos are captured and stored directly in the app, meaning they’re subject to the same artifacts and frame drops as the live feed. JJRC: If you’re going to call your product a “selfie drone”, it would be good if the camera and recording capabilities weren’t the weakest part of it!
The JJRC H37 Elfie is called a “selfie drone”, but due to the unimpressive camera and lack of on-board recording the “selfie” aspect becomes distinctly lackluster. Take that away and the Wi-Fi app solution kind of falls with it, now just feeling like an unnecessary handicap when flying.
This is a bummer as the Elfie is otherwise largely successful, with everything from Wi-Fi controls to altitude hold working surprisingly well for what it is. I especially like the foldable design, which is really neat and works seemingly without any compromise.
The defense you could mount here is that – at only $40 – the Elfie is so inexpensive you shouldn’t expect too much from it. To that I say: Just because it’s not a lot of money, doesn’t mean you should be indiscriminate. If it’s an inexpensive camera quadcopter you’re after, instead have a look at something like the 808 #16 keychain camera which does proper 720p and is light enough to be attached to all but the smallest toy grade quadcopters.