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Whether you are an avid explorer looking to treat yourself or simply searching for the perfect gift, you can take to the skies this holiday season with the Snaptain SP680 2.7K Drone. This four-axis drone provides prospective pilots with everything they need to get started, making it an ideal remote-controlled aircraft for all levels of experience, from first-time flyers to drone enthusiasts – all for a competitive price. Find out more in this hands-on review.
This is a sponsored article and was made possible by Snaptain. The actual contents and opinions are the sole views of the author who maintains editorial independence, even when a post is sponsored.Preparing for Takeoff
The Snaptain SP680 2.7K Drone unboxing experience is quite simple and straightforward. The box includes:
Full set of replacement rotor blades
2 landing skids
4 optional propeller protectors
Remote with a smartphone mount
USB-A cable for charging
3 lithium ion batteries
While some assembly is required, the process took minutes and was not the least bit off-putting. The minimal level of assembly was just enough to give me a newfound sense of ownership over the drone before it even took flight.
A Philips-head screwdriver and a set of tiny screws is included to allow for the attachment of the optional blade guards. Thankfully, the Snaptain SP680 includes more screws than are needed to assemble all of the included parts, just in case you happen to lose some of them. Speaking of taking precautions, I opted to attach the propeller guards, just in case my first flight went haywire. The two landing skids snap easily into place requiring no additional screws.
Four AA batteries (not included) are required to power up the remote control, and you will need to use the screwdriver to access the battery slot. The included charging cable features a two-port split design that allowed me to charge two batteries at once, which I found convenient.Camera: A Bird’s Eye View
While not required, the Snaptain SP680 really shines when paired with a smartphone. Using the free Snaptain Nova app, users can pair their iPhone or Android smartphone to the drone using a Wi-Fi connection. Your smartphone then acts as a viewfinder, using the drone’s built-in camera to provide you with a live video feed while you are in the air.
I experienced minimal, albeit noticeable delay while using my iPhone with the drone, especially while attempting to land. The Snaptain Nova companion app requires an iPhone running iOS 8 or later or an Android smartphone running Android 4.6 or later.
The Snaptain Drone’s 2.7K Ultra-HD camera captures aerial photos and 25fps videos at a precise resolution of 2976 X 1680. The camera also features a 120-degree field of view (FOV) and a 90-degree adjustable design that must be moved by hand.
I was impressed by the shots that I was able to capture at such heights, and while the images could benefit from enhanced color saturation and contrast, the camera delivers more than appropriate quality for a drone at this price point. Here is an unedited overhead photo that I captured using the Snaptain SP680 2.7K Drone’s camera.Handling and Controls: A Move in the Flight Direction
With this drone, Snaptain seems to have accounted for some of the most difficult drone maneuvers by adding intuitive one-press controls for takeoff, landing, maintaining altitude, and even a handful of impressive stunts. These controls seem overwhelming at first, but you can discover them at your own pace, making teh Snaptain SP680 2.7K Drone a perfect holiday gift for seasoned drone pilots and even those who have never flown a drone before.
Just minutes after hitting the skies, I was able to convince my friends that I had already figured out how to perform a 360-degree flip in midair, fly in perfect circles, and initiate high-speed rotations, all thanks to dedicated buttons on the controller. I found that enabling Headless Mode, a setting that forces the drone to respond to your input based on user positioning instead of device orientation, allowed me to control the drone with greater ease.
You can even create a flight path for the drone by dragging your finger across the screen. While this feature worked well, the lack of a follow mode means that recording yourself can be tricky if you accidentally deviate from the predetermined flight path.
I also tested out Voice Control, which allows you to determine flight direction by speaking into your smartphone, using terms like “forward,” “backward,” “leftward,” and “rightward.”
Voice control makes for a cool party trick, but controlling the drone using the included controller and/or your smartphone is definitely much more responsive and fun. A feature called Gesture Control works less consistently but allows you to give the drone a peace sign to take a photo or open your palm to take a video. I found that I could improve Gesture Control’s reliability by bringing the drone closer to me.
Landing the drone proved to be a bit difficult, especially against the wind. However, I used the the speed switch to toggle between three different speed settings until I could better maneuver the drone. The propeller protectors came in handy more than a few times while landing and when I happened to get the Snaptain SP680 2.7K Drone stuck in a soccer net.
The damage and tangling would have been a lot worse had I not decided to protect the propellers. The drone’s lightweight design also aided in preventing damage even after hard falls. Here is a look at the key specifications:
Snaptain SP680 2.7K Drone Tech Specs:
Maximum Flight Time (No Payload): 15 minutes (45 minutes total using all three batteries)
Drone Weight: 1 pound
Integrated Camera: 2.7K resolution
Control Type: Remote Control (Optional smartphone mount)
Autonomous Flight Modes: Takeoff, Landing, One-Key Return, Headless, and Voice Control
Controller Battery: AA Batteries (x4)
Aircraft Battery: 3.7V Li-ion (x3)
Included Propellers: 8
Included Propeller Protectors: 4Battery Life and Flight Range
In my testing, the SP680 measures up to Snaptain’s claim of about 15 minutes of flight time per battery per charge under the default speed setting. However, at medium speed, I was able to drain the drone’s battery in less than 12 minutes. This still amounted to nearly 36 minutes of flight time using all three of the included batteries.
When the drone’s battery was running low, a loud alarm sound emitted from my iPhone to notify me that I would soon need to replace the battery. This is a much appreciated feature, given how I could have easily lost control of the drone had I not been warned that its battery was about to die.
Also consistent with my testing is Snaptain’s claim that the SP680 has a range of about 80 meters afforded by its Wi-Fi enabled controls. The Snaptain SP680 2.7k Drone also includes built-in Out-of-Control Protection that emitted an alarm sound and held the drone hovering in place while I regained control. Note that Out-of-Control Protection will do little to help you retrieve the drone in windy conditions.Availability
The Snaptain SP680 2.7k Drone remains a top gift this holiday season for aspiring drone pilots and experienced flyers alike. Take $40 off and pay just $119.99 for this drone from November 17 through November 28. It offers impressive specs, intuitive controls, and a durable design – all at a price that is hard to beat. A well-rounded drone for anyone looking to exercise their pilot muscle, this aircraft delivers on its promises in almost every way.
Self-proclaimed coffee connoisseur and tech enthusiast Brahm Shank is captivated by the impact of consumer tech: “It’s profoundly moving when people discover that the phone in their pocket or the tiny computer on their wrist has the power to enrich their lives in ways they never imagined.” Apple, Inc. and its unique position at the intersection of technology and the creative arts, resonates deeply with Brahm and his passion for helping people unleash their potential using technology. Over the years, Brahm has held various podcasts – including famed technologist David Pogue of The New York Times on topics such as Big Tech and digital wellness.
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A sustained flash of light produces fire, and then wreckage. This month, the US Navy continued its tests of a laser weapon from the deck of the USS Portland, destroying a target floating on the surface of the Gulf of Aden. These laser demonstrations are part of a broader modernization effort, with the US Navy trying out new and varied tools in the waters around the Middle East.
The test took place on December 14. It was preceded by tests in the Pacific in May 2023, in which the Portland used the same laser weapon to destroy a target drone. Both demonstrations are part of the Navy figuring out how, exactly, its larger ships can protect themselves from smaller, cheaper threats.
To better understand modern directed-energy weapons, it’s important to take a step back from the science-fiction idea of a laser weapon. High-powered beams of light are expensive to develop and deploy, but they offer a kind of cost-savings once they are up and running. Provided a ship can generate the electrical power needed, a laser is, shot for shot or threat for threat, a cheaper mechanism than anti-air missiles or potentially even .50 caliber bullets for destroying incoming attacks.
If the threats the Navy wants to defeat are cheap, such as Qasef-1 drones, then what the Navy needs to deploy is a countermeasure that’s also cheap to use.
Drones, especially loitering munitions that fly like drones but attack like missiles, are a durable and increasing threat in modern warfare. Some of the groups fighting in Yemen have used expendable drones as missiles in far-reaching attacks, and plenty of modern anti-air defenses, like anti-plane missiles, are at best cost-ineffective against drones, and sometimes even unable to detect and intercept drone attacks.
[Related: The US Navy is testing autonomous seafaring robots that patrol the ocean]
A laser does not solve the detection part of the threat, but it does give commanders a cheaper alternative than shooting a missile at a drone. If the laser can burn through an attacking drone quickly enough, it can then be turned to face another target, and by expending only generated electric power, it can protect a ship from a host of attacks.
“You can do everything in the world to understand how you think laser weapons are going to be used, but you put this controller in the hands of a sailor who’s going to play with it and do the thing they do with the operational interface, and then they’re going to decide to use it in ways we can’t imagine,” Frank Peterkin, the Navy’s Senior Technologist for Directed Energy, told USNI News in 2023, after the selection of the USS Portland for the weapon was announced.
The USS Portland is an Amphibious Transport Dock, capable of landing 700 Marines by dedicated landing craft, as well as helicopters and V-22 Ospreys. It’s the kind of ship that will need to get close to danger, with a small set of ship-board weapons to ensure its survival to and beyond that point.
Putting a laser weapon on the Portland gives it extra options against any threats it may encounter, like drones, or attempts to attack it with small boats. The most infamous example of this threat occured in October 2000; while docked in Yemen’s Aden harbor, the destroyer USS Cole was attacked by suicide bombers in a small boat. The attack killed both bombers and 17 sailors, and injured 37 other people on board the ship.
[Related: America’s Laser Gun Goes To War]
When the US Navy tested a laser weapon in 2014, on the USS Ponce, it used it to destroy the engine of a small motorboat, the kind of use that could protect a ship from attackers using inexpensive means to try and stop a ship before it reaches shore. The Ponce’s laser was 30 kw. As designed, the laser on board the Portland is at 150 kw, letting it burn through targets faster and thus disable more threats to the ship.
This demonstration of the laser aboard the Portland follows a pattern of demonstrations of Navy robots in the Gulf of Aden and the Persian Gulf. Whatever danger the Navy anticipates in the future, it is now regularly exploring how new technology in the seas adjacent to the Arabian Peninsula can help it out.
Watch a video of the Portland firing its laser below:
Snow Goose UAV
For one shot in the upcoming movie Age of Adaline, starring Blake Lively and Harrison Ford, a camera drone hovered at 2 feet off the ground, then soared up to 125 feet. The dramatic shot wouldn’t have been possible without using an unmanned flying camera — an entirely new tool for creative cinematography.
Another “for-drones-only” job is inspecting an old bridge up close, where using a full-sized helicopter would risk blowing the entire thing down. And for carrying goods to frigid Arctic areas where conventional transportation is expensive, a company called Mist Mobility Integrated Systems Technology would love you to to consider the SnowGoose cargo UAV, originally deployed by the U.S. military and capable of carrying up to 575 pounds.
The only problem for those of us here in the U.S., the land of Edison, the Wright Brothers, and Elon Musk, where we consider ourselves the country most friendly to the ambitious inventor? These innovative civilian drone applications are all happening north of the border. In Canada.These innovative civilian drone applications are all happening north of the border.
With a quick, flexible process for giving permits to commercial operators, and a blanket exemption for small UAS, the civil aviation authority Transport Canada issued 1,672 commercial drone licenses last year, 945 in 2013, and 345 in 2012. As of this writing, the FAA has issued a grand total of just 28.
The Federal Aviation Administration finally proposed rules for commercial use of UAS last month, but even so, the agency’s cumbersome rule-making process means that nothing will change for at least another 18-24 months. So even though the FAA is dropping the requirement for a pilot’s license, you’ll still need to have a license to fly an actual plane until those rules are finalized — in roughly 2023 or so.
In the new rules “the FAA clearly concedes that the requirement of having a pilots’ license has very limited relevance for UAS operation,” says Diana Cooper, a drone-law specialist at the Canadian firm of LaBarge Weinstein. “There’s no reason that until we have those rules in place, they should be requiring a pilot’s license for an exemption. That [change] could be implemented right away. But I’m not sensing any messaging from the FAA that suggests that they’re planning to do that.”
“We have undertaken the challenge of safely integrating a new and exciting technology into the busiest, most complex airspace in the world,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, during an announcement of six national drone test sites last year.
Translation: This is complicated. Give us time. No one wants to see a drone take out a plane.
But while the FAA ruminates, Canadian businesses are also providing heat maps to firefighters, taking water samples to check for oil spills, scanning for icebergs, analyzing crops, examining pipelines, and looking for gold — all without causing plane crashes. And American drone operators are sitting on their hands — or choosing to operate illegally.While the FAA ruminates, Canadian businesses are mapping fires, scanning for icebergs, analyzing crops, examining pipelines, and looking for gold.
“Some American companies are doing this and keeping it on the ‘D.L.’” says Patrick Meier, the author of Digital Humanitarians: How Big Data is Changing the Face of Humanitarian Response. That means that these companies can’t buy insurance or write off some expenses — and of course adhering to sensible regulations would make everyone safer.
Some in the drone industry suspect that airlines and pilots’ organizations have used lobbying to co-opt the FAA into imposing an unreasonable rule on a threatening new competitor.
Corey Caldwell, a media specialist for the Air Line Pilots Association, declined to respond to the charge, but he said ALPA welcomed the FAA’s progress.
How Canada Ate The U.S.’s Lunch
How then has Transport Canada, which, just like the FAA, is responsible for protecting airplanes in airspace that is plenty crowded near large cities, managed to approve so many commercial operators without causing the plane crash apocalypse drone opponents assure us is coming? They leave more safety decisions in the hands of the flyers, for one thing. “Our regulator understands it’s dealing with business entities, and it’s in the interests of business to conduct safe operations. It’s very bad for business if you take out a plane!” says Cooper.
And the regulatory process is admirably simple, usually requiring only 20 days to process an application for an exemption, known as a Special Flight Operations Certificate. The commercial drone operator has to explain the mission profile, safety precautions, type of technology and whether the area is populated.
Flying a Drone in Canada
“Transport Canada has had a lot of flexibility in terms of dealing with operators,” says Cooper. “It’s not exactly a rubber stamp, but it’s not meant to be unnecessarily restrictive.”
When the operator shows an ability to conduct missions safely, Transport Canada has shown a willingness to expand permissions. Rather than requiring the person start over and file a new application from scratch, the operator might gain a “good standing” certificate to say, fly over farmland in Canada for three years.
And psst, FAA? The U.S. has lots of farmland, desert, and rural areas where there’s no air traffic. Schulman points out that other countries have crowded airspace and have managed to make rules more flexibly.
“Sure, the airspace between Boston and Washington, containing New York City – that’s very complex,” says Schulman. “But if you’re operating a drone to monitor solar panels in the desert? There’s nothing complicated about the airspace out there, because there’s nothing going on. It’s a false generalization to say we have a more complex airspace.”
“In 2005, the FAA thought drones would be large, high-altitude craft, like the Predator,” he says. “They assumed these aircraft would be flying from airport to airport, with the only difference that the pilot is on the ground. They didn’t anticipate, or believe it when people told them, that these would be small, model-aircraft sized planes.”
The answer may be a stronger lobbying push from U.S. companies with an interest in getting drones off the ground.
“The pilots’ and airline groups opposing drones are better organized and more politically salient than the fragmented and relatively insignificant pro-drone group,” says Michael E. Levine, a former senior airline executive and regulator now on the NYU Law faculty. (Disclosure: Levine is my father-in-law.) “They also reflect concerns that many airline passengers have about sharing the skies with moving objects not under official control. The FAA’s attempt to license drone operators is an attempt to address this. We’ll see if Google, Amazon and the rest of the techie world can organize countervailing pressures that could be reflected in bureaucratic credit — or at least avoidance of pain — for the FAA.”
“The FAA better get its stuff together,” says Cooper. “Before we come and take all your business.”
We’re one step closer to mandatory drone pilot registration
Mandatory drone pilot registration is one step closer in the US, with the FAA mulling database proposals from a number of UAV makers, retailers, and more. The FAA Drone-Registration Task Force was established in October, with unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) manufacturers like 3D Robotics, DJI, GoogleX, GoPro, Parrot, along with retailers looking to use drones for deliveries like Amazon Prime Air, Best Buy, and Walmart, joining forces to develop a framework for safer flying.
The FAA’s concern is that, with drones becoming more capable and more affordable, new regulations are required to ensure that they’re being flown safely and in ways that are accountable.
Recent cases of UAVs interfering with emergency services, disturbing wildlife, and potentially representing a national security issue have accelerated concerns that some sort of registration process is now necessary. The FAA challenged the drone stakeholders to come up with what that process should look like, as well as who should be eligible to take part.
The result is a list of recommendations that would cover drones weighing – complete with any onboard payload – more than 8.8 ounces but less than 55 pounds. While some drones might be inherently more safe than others, thanks to onboard autopilot systems and such, the core calculation was a lot more straightforward: how likely death or catastrophic damage might be if the UAS dropped from the sky.
Owners would register online – either through an FAA portal or via an app, perhaps as part of the initial setup from the drone manufacturer – and at a minimum name and address would be required.
Email, phone number, and drone serial number would be optionally; if the latter isn’t provided, the FAA would assign a registration number which would have to be displayed somewhere visible or readily accessible (such as in a battery compartment, assuming no tools were required to get into it) on the drone itself. Individual pilots, not individual drones, would be certified: one registration could cover multiple UAVs.
Only drones flown outdoors would need to be registered, since the FAA doesn’t have purview over indoor flight, but the pilot would need to have the certificate ready to display any time they were out flying.
Registrants would need to be 13 or older, but not necessarily US citizens.
While it’s a far cry from the air traffic control systems the FAA is also exploring for future drone management, the database of pilots would mark a significant step forward for what has, until now, been a hobbyist endeavor. That’s not to say even those responsible for the recommendations are entirely satisfied with what they’ve put forward.
“While several aspects of the report might be of concern to one group or another, and remain so to DJI,” the drone-maker said today in a statement, “we believe in the reasonable approach to accountability that is reflected in the package of recommendations sent to the Administrator.”
Meanwhile, the FAA is under no obligation to actually adopt any of the suggestions as it cooks up its eventual system.
“Recommendations from the Task Force are within the bounds of its charter, and may be used at the FAA’s discretion,” the agency points out. “The FAA may incorporate all, some, or none of the recommendations provided in any rulemaking activity, as well as take any future steps deemed necessary by the Agency to ensure compliance with the registration requirement.”
MORE FAA Report [pdf link]
Amazon Prime Air is real, but their drone army isn’t ready
Amazon is a company that thrives on selling products. But they’ve never been content with just shipping things to your door, and letting them arrive whenever. No, they want them to get there as fast as possible, through whatever means necessary. They’ve talked about using a drone army to deliver packages in the past, but today they’ve actually given some solid details about the proposed program.
Before the company can launch their Amazon Prime Air service, they need to have a drone that can actually do the job. Paul Misner, Amazon’s VP for global public policy stated that they have three main goals that they’re trying to hit. First, they’re wanting their drones to make deliveries within 30 minutes. Second, they want to ensure that the drones can operate with a range of beyond 10 miles. Finally, they want to ensure that the drones can carry at least 5 lbs.
These seem like pretty reasonable goals for a drone, but Amazon actually has more to think about than just designing a single type of drone that is capable of quick flight over 10+ miles. Because no two places are alike, Misner stated that they have to think about customers that live in hot, dry areas, as well as places that can be cold and/or rainy. Plus, they have to factor in that many customers live in apartments, where no simple doorstep will suffice for drop-off. These are all factors that they have to take into account.
Despite the technological hurdles in place, those might not be the hardest ones to overcome. Amazon may be able to create the perfect delivery drone, but unless they can get the FAA to approve of their operations, not a single one will be able to get off the ground here in the US.
Amazon has proposed a plan for the use of airspace here in the US. Here’s what Misner outlined in that regard:
We were thinking: Manned aircraft above 500 feet. Between 400 and 500 feet there’d be a no-fly zone — a safety buffer. Between 200 and 400 feet would be a transit zone, where drones could fly fairly quickly, horizontally. And then below 200 feet, that would be limited to certain operations. For us, it would be takeoff and landing. For others, it might be aerial photography.
This seems like a pretty reasonable idea, personally. Apparently they presented the same outline at a NASA conference, and many of the people there agreed that we need something similar, in terms of designating airspace for different types of travel.
It’s hard to say how long it will be before Amazon has their drone army ready to take off. When asked what the company would do if they had the technology ready before the FAA gave them the green light, Misner stated that they could deploy them in other parts of the world first, and add the service to the US when the red tape gets sorted out.
The Mini 3 Pro is a bit of a departure from its predecessors, and that’s really the reason this a Pro model and not simply the Mini 3.
Two major features missing previously from the series – obstacle avoidance and automatic tracking – are now present, and the camera has received a significant boost with a larger sensor and a faster f/1.7 lens.
Though it doesn’t possess a 1in sensor like the DJI Air 2S, the Mini 3 Pro retains a takeoff weight of under 250g. That’s important because it means there’s no requirement to register the drone in the US and other countries (not the UK, unfortunately), so buyers can charge it up and fly without training or any other red tape.
The Mini 3 Pro can now shoot video at up to 4K60, though only up to 4K30 if you also want footage to be in HDR.
Significantly, the redesigned gimbal can rotate 90° to record video in portrait mode. That’s primarily for those wanting to post the footage on TikTok and other short-form social media.
Obstacle avoidance is available thanks to forward, downward and backward-facing sensors, and allows the Mini 3 Pro to avoid crashing into objects such as trees. It can also do this while flying automatically in various modes, including while using ActiveTrack. This keeps a subject in the middle of the frame as it moves around.
We’ve reviewed the Mini 3 Pro, so you can read more about how it flies and the quality of videos and photos.
If you want to buy one, there are a few options. This time around, DJI is selling the drone on its own for those who have a compatible remote controller already. But if you don’t you can go for a more expensive bundle that comes with the RC-N1 remote.
The flagship bundle includes a brand new remote which has a built-in 5.5in touchscreen so doesn’t require you to use your own phone.
Mini 3 Pro (drone only): £639 / US$669
Mini 3 Pro + RC-N1 controller: £709 / US$759
Mini 3 Pro + DJI RC controller: £859 / US$909
You can pre-order a Mini 3 Pro from DJI’s website immediately, but it doesn’t go on sale until 17 May.
You can also pre-order it, and subsequently buy it from these places: not an exhaustive list, but some popular retailers in the UK and US.
Adorama – US
Best Buy – US
Jessops – UK
WEX – UK
Heliguy – UK
There’s also a Fly More bundle but unlike before, this doesn’t include the drone. It’s a separate package of accessories including a shoulder bag, two standard batteries, a three-battery charger and two extra sets of propellers. It costs £159 / US$189.
Here’s how the Mini 3 Pro compares to the Mini 2 and Mavic Air 2 for some key specs:
Mini 3 Pro
Mavic Air 2
48 MP, 2.4μm
48 MP, 0.8μm
Video Transmission System
OcuSync 2.0, Dual Antenna
New Functions and Core Intelligent Functions
Point of Interest 3.0
QuickShots (no Asteroid)
Point of Interest 3.0
Point of Interest 3.0
Environment Sensing System
Forward, Backward, Downward
Forward, Backward, Downward
Max Video Resolution and Framerate
Max Photo Resolution
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