Thursday 13 December 2018

Ask Adrian: Our tech editor tackles your trickiest technology problems


Phantom 4 Advanced drone
Phantom 4 Advanced drone
Nokia 8 Sirocco
Garmin DriveSmart 51 LMT-S
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Q: I'm retiring soon and was thinking of treating myself to something I can take up as a hobby. I've always wondered about getting a model kit plane but never quite had the time or money. Now I think I'd like to give something like that a go and am wondering about getting a drone. What's a good one to get and do I need a licence?

A. You don't need a licence to fly a drone, but you need to 'register' the drone for free with the Irish Aviation Authority (at if it's over 1kg in weight.

In your case, I'd be recommending one of the larger ones for their better battery life and speed, so this registration requirement will likely apply to you.

Alternatively, if you're happy to opt for one of the smaller, lighter ones (of which there are now a few good options), you won't need to register.

However, there are some fairly basic laws you need to be aware of in terms of where you can fly your drone and what you can do with it.

Before I get into that, a few recommendations.

Decent drones start at around €600. If your budget can stretch, DJI's Phantom 4 Advanced (€1,399) is probably the best all-round drone for your money at the moment. It travels at up to 72km per hour, has an above-average battery life of 30 minutes per charge and can be controlled up to 7km away from you. It can also fly in light to moderate wind, which is common in Ireland. (Smaller drones struggle for control in anything stronger than a breeze.) On top of this, its camera is one of the best in the market, giving you demonstrably better results than the lens on smaller drones. As it's over 1kg, you will have to register this drone. However, I would strongly advise a second battery, which will set you back an additional €189.

If you're looking for something that costs a little less, you have two choices. Neither need to be registered. DJI's Mavic Air (€849) is its newest model and has the advantage of being able to fold up neatly so that it can fit into virtually any small bag (it has its own small case, around the size of a headphone case). It performs well (I'm currently testing one) but the battery is limited to 20 minutes per charge. It also doesn't come with a remote control, which is absolutely crucial to flying it more than a couple of hundred yards away from you. So if you're going for this model, you need the 'Fly More Combo' version (€1,049), which adds a remote control, spare propellers and two spare batteries.

If this is still too rich, DJI's entry-level Spark drone (€499) is still capable of amazing video and photo footage. I know this personally as I've been flying one for over a year. It's even smaller than the Mavic Air, meaning you can take it just about anywhere. However, the battery life here is 14 minutes per charge, meaning it's essential to get at least two spare batteries. Similar to the Mavic Air, it doesn't come with its own remote control unit unless you buy the 'Fly More Combo' pack (€649), which also throws in two spare batteries. So this is really the option you should get if choosing this model.

As for the law, know that in general, you can't fly drones in built-up areas like residential estates. The law defaults towards safety and drones over houses are still considered to be risky. Similarly, you can't fly them in obviously dangerous areas, such as anywhere near an airport.

RECOMMENDATION: Phantom 4 Advanced (€1,399, pictured)

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Two to Try

Garmin DriveSmart 51 LMT-S  (€199)

Garmin DriveSmart 51 LMT-S

Many now naturally default to a smartphone for maps in a car. But for those who want the extra benefits of a satnav, this may be the best one to get. The five-inch screen attaches easily, has both voice and visual navigation and is easy to operate.

Nokia 8 Sirocco (€799)

Nokia 8 Sirocco

I was a big fan of the recently launched mega-value Nokia 7 Plus (€399). But Nokia's latest flagship device, the Nokia 8 Sirocco, has much stiffer competition. This is the luxury top-end device which pits itself against the likes of Samsung's S9 and the iPhone 8 Plus. Its benefits include a lovely, curved 5.5-inch screen Oled screen, dual cameras on the phone's rear and loads (128GB) of storage. But the battery life isn't as good as the (much) cheaper Nokia 7 Plus and it has no headphone jack. It's hard to see this one scoring an immediate hit.

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