Despite being launched in early 2018, the Ryze Tello is still one of the most popular toy drones around, and has been parked at the top our best cheap drones ranking for some time.
The Tello is powered by DJI, which means it packs the same tech you'll find in today's very best drones. It comes in three versions, all of which use the same aircraft body type, are equally easy to fly and can be programmed using Scratch – MIT's coding system for kids. In addition to the standard version (which we're reviewing here), there's also the Tello EDU which can be coded using Python and Swift as well as Scratch, and the Tello Iron Man Edition which comes in a livery that matches the iconic Marvel hero and gives you playable missions via a customised version of the Tello app.
Before we start, a quick but important note on drone regulations. Because this is a camera done, you will need to obtain an Operator ID before you can legally fly it outdoors (check out our UK drone regulations guide or read the CAA rules before you take off).
- Need something even simpler? Here are the best kids drones
- Browse the best GoPros (for action closer to the ground)
- DJI FPV drone review: experience the thill of first-person flight
Ryze Tello drone review: design and setup
The Tello's body is made from a sturdy plastic and its four propeller arms are fixed in place. The propellers themselves are protected by removeable guards and the Tello quickly shuts down its motors if its unable to continue flying after a collision.
Without a controller as standard, most pilots will be flying the Tello via the app – though it is also compatible with dual-stick, Bluetooth controllers, such those found on the PlayStation or Xbox. Fortunately, the app is well put together and far easier to use than many of the others which accompany similarly priced aircraft.
Ryze Tello drone review: stability and maneuverability
Whether flying via the app or a controller, once launched the Tello hovers a metre or so above the ground and does a great job of maintaining height and position indoors – without exhibiting the drift issues that hamper many similarly priced drones.
While pricier models use GPS to maintain their position, the Tello instead has a ‘Vision Positioning System' which uses an infra-red sensor and a small camera on the underside of the aircraft to enable precise hovering of altitudes up to 10 metres.
The tech works really well and is way more impressive than anything we've seen on any price rival. It even keeps the Tello stable over uneven surfaces such as stairs and over different floor levels. The drone makes smooth, precise movements during flight and responds very quickly to the pilot's control inputs. You always feel completely in control of the Tello when flying indoors.
Outdoors though, the Tello is hard to control even in the lightest breath of wind – which is an issue that affects all toy drones due to their sub-250g weights. That said, with its positioning system the Tello fares a little better than most, but even so we'd only recommend flying it outdoors in open spaces on the calmest of days.
Ryze Tello drone review: flight modes
The Tello has two flying speeds, with the faster one making a big increase to the aircraft's manoeuvring speed. It also has a number of pre-set flight modes which you can select by swiping through to a selection screen on the app. Some are useful, such as Circle and 360, which record video as the Tello spins in a circle or rotates on the spot. Others are more fun like Throw and Go which allows you to launch the Tello by tossing it into the air, or 8D Flips which lets you pick from eight different directional flips.
Ryze Tello drone review: stills and video
Like most entry level drones, the Tello captures recorded content directly onto your phone via an app. Given that it's a few years since launch, it's not a big surprise that the Tello's 720P (at 30 frames per second) video and 5-megapixel stills do not measure up to the 4K cameras found on some newer alternatives.
But while some newer drones may have better capture resolutions, few can rival the Tello's built-in stabilisation software which gives far smoother video than any of its rivals. Similarly, there's no lag or any dropped frames when using the in-app live view when the Tello and phone are not too far from each other.
Fly the drone nearer to the limit of its 10-metre height and 100-metre distance ranges though and the resulting video is far less reliable. Both the live view and recorded content becomes choppy, presumably because the larger distance between drone and phone is causing the WI-FI signal emitted by the aircraft to occasionally drop out.
Ryze Tello review: specs
- Video: 720P
- Stills: 5MP
- Video stabilisation: Yes
- App support: Yes
- VR compatible: Yes
- Flight time: 13 minutes
- Flight distance: 100m
- Flight height: 10m
- Weight: 87g (inc. battery)
- Number of batteries: 3
- Controller included: No
Ryze Tello drone review: verdict
The Tello's impressive positioning system makes it the easiest to operate mini drone around, while its in-built video stabilisation software gives the smoothest results of any toy drone. A well-rounded variety of flight modes make it fun to use and its app is one of the most well designed we've seen.
On the flipside, the drone's video and photo resolutions are on the low side by today's standards, while outdoors its easily wind affected and its video becomes unstable when flying near the end of its range. Despite these shortcomings, the Tello's well-rounded overall package means it is still one of the best toy drones around – and it's currently available at a very competitive price.