I consider myself to be an amateur drone enthusiast. I have a DJI Phantom 4 that I use a lot but it can be a cumbersome process to get it up and flying. Also, when I'm at a place like the beach or public park, peoples' demeanor changes whenever I start flying around my Phantom 4. I always get asked, at least once, "you're not going to follow me, are you?" I get it, the Phantom 4 is a big, white, noisy drone flying overhead and people don't like being under surveillance.
Enter the newer "pocket" drones. I really enjoy these as it normally takes just a few seconds for them to get up and flying, they're extremely portable, and people are often more curious about them instead of being hesitant. So far, the pocket drone market has been filled with units that are just OK. They all have at least one major drawback and a bunch of others that led me to return them. The Hover Camera was a nice concept but it has zero wind resistance (so videos and photos were almost always titled), the facial tracking features weren't very accurate, and there weren't any safety features (aside from the cage around the props). The Zerotech Dobby was alright but video was way too wobbly because the camera wasn't on any sort of gimbal system, video quality also left a lot to be desired (my $200 point-and-shoot camera took better videos). Lastly, there was the Yuneec Breeze. It can record in up to 4K or 1080p with electronic image stabilization but, even with stabilization enabled, the video was wobbly. Also, if I flew too fast left or right, large portions of black would pop up in the video as the software tried to correct for it. People often argue for the Yuneec Breeze because it records in 4K but the video that it produces is a mess. I would rather have solid 1080p video than what the Breeze produces.
Enter the DJI Spark. This is DJI's first attempt at making a small, palm-sized drone to compete with the models (and more) I previously listed. This is, without a doubt, the best pocket drone on the market. It should be too because the Spark carries a higher price tag. This starts at $499 whereas the Yuneec Breeze is $100 less and comes with more accessories (mainly two batteries and two sets of extra props). But the added $100 for the Spark is well worth it.
You can read about the Spark's specs on Best Buy's and DJI's websites so I won't get too much into those specifics. I will break the review down and discuss still image quality, video quality, and ease of use. First, the still image quality is fine. The Spark has a 12MP camera that takes some pretty wide shots without having the fish-eye look. The reduced sensor size means you won't get a lot of detail in HDR situations but the images are still pretty good.
Video quality is also really good. This is the area where people will complain the most because the Spark lacks 4K recording but I'm perfectly fine with it. The Spark records mpeg-4 AVC video at 1080p, 30fps and a bitrate of 24Mbps. It is more than enough for anyone who isn't looking to do professional videography. The camera is on a 2-axis gimbal and DJI has also implemented software stabilization. Resulting videos are smoother than any other pocket drone on the market without having any wobble or black areas where the software just can't catch up. Videos look great on my desktop monitors, iPad Pro, HDTV, and even projector. I can't see any compression artifacts and you really have to (digitally/artificially) zoom in before you start seeing the benefits of 4K. The Spark's 1080p quality is top notch and I don't really see the lack of 4K as being nothing more than a small nuisance especially when DJI drones don't support HDR10 and/or Dolby Color (yet). Until then, there isn't much benefit to recording in 4K other than to push the pixels.
Lastly, there's ease of use. This is the easiest DJI drone to get up and running. I can launch the drone, take a picture, and have it land all in 45 seconds without even having to use a controller or my phone. The gesture controls are pretty solid and work well. Once in tracking mode, the Spark does a good job of following me around. I can then raise my hands, make a square in front of my face, and it will take a picture after a 3-second countdown. It really is that easy to take a picture. Flying with a smartphone is surprisingly easy and tactile. It isn't as tactile as using a physical remote but I absolutely hated flying the other pocket drones with my phone. DJI's software (which runs best on iOS devices and often crashes on Android phones/tablets) provides smooth controls with audible notifications when something is going to happen. My phone vibrates whenever it registers that my thumb is on one of the virtual joysticks so I know when I have control of the Spark without having to look down.
DJI also included more advanced, yet still easy to use, video recording options. One where the Spark points its camera straight down and flies straight up, another where it locks onto a subject (and not just some random point on the ground like EVERY other drone of this size) and circles around them, one mode where the Spark keeps a subject in the center frame and flies up and away at a diagonal angle, and one other mode where it locks onto a subject and spirals up and away while keeping them in the center frame. The main difference here with the Spark is that it actually locks onto a subject. All other drones in this size category keep their cameras fixed. They might say that they're locked onto you but they really aren't, they're locked onto a fixed point. You can move while the Spark is recording video in either one of these modes and the camera will follow you while the drone is still moving.
There are other modes as well that require a bit more thinking just so you don't crash the Spark (it will follow you from the side). DJI included ground and front facing sensors, the same as the Mavic Pro and Phantom 4. You won't get the upward, rear, and side sensors like with the Phantom 4 Pro but that's fine so long as you pay attention. DJI lists the Spark as having a 16-minute flight time and I can normally fly for a good 13 minutes before the DJI Go 4 app begins requesting that I bring the Spark back home.
The Spark has GPS, return to home, and other advanced features found in the Phantom 4 and Mavic Pro. DJI also included a Styrofoam case for the Spark and it's about the same size as a case used to hold fold-flat headphones (like the Bose QC35's or Sony MDR-1000X). I can easily throw it in a backpack or messenger back and take it with me anywhere. The case is large enough to hold the Spark, charger and USB cable, and two sets of extra props. I ended up buying an different carrying case online as I want to bring two additional batteries with me.
I have enjoyed using the Spark so much that my Phantom 4 will become my backup drone. It's just so easy and quick to get the Spark flying and recording media. This is definitely a good first purchase for anyone who has been looking into drone flying. It's also a good secondary drone for people who want something that's even more portable than the Mavic Pro while still being capable of recording high quality photos and videos. You can buy a dedicated remote if you really want to extend the range and speed of the Spark but I'm fine using just my phone.