Yuneec has produced some impressive drones — most notably, the Typhoon H. But for those of us who are just looking to capture a few personal photos and videos, dropping over $1,000 on a high-end hexacopter is a little hard to swallow. Luckily, Yuneec has joined the movement toward mid-level personal drones with the Breeze.
Instead of hardcore drone pilots, advertisements for the Breeze feature trendy millennial out having a good time — in kayaks, on beaches, and at skate parks. Yuneec proclaimed, "No flight experience is necessary." I was skeptical, but intrigued. I thought that if the Breeze could deliver on that promise, it would be a game changer.
The packaging for the Breeze is sleek, portable, and streamlined. The drone itself, four prop guards, spare props, and an extra battery all fit into a small box hardly bigger than the palm of your hand.
Stacking the interlocking guards so that they fit properly can be a headache, but otherwise, the packaging makes the Breeze ultimately portable. If you're on the go with a backpack or purse, you're set.
My biggest concern about the Breeze is the general lack of comprehensive instructions. The box comes with a Beginners Guide, which amounts to a six-page booklet explaining LED indications and the box's contents, and a Quick Start Guide, which covers such topics as charging, installing the prop guards, and drone settings.
But there's a lot that the guides don't cover — like how to access your photos, how to change props, and how to troubleshoot errors.
This probably won't bother experienced drone jockeys. But for operators picking up a quad for the first time, it may be a little troubling.
But rest assured, when it comes to setup before flight, there really isn't much to do. After charging the batteries, pop one in, unfold the drone's legs, power it up, and off you go. Oh, wait! First, you'll need to download the Breeze Cam app.
You'll find the specific instructions for operating the Breeze in all its various modes via the Breeze Cam app. Once you get into the Breeze app — which also serves as the controller — a screen offering either Tasks or Gallery appears.
The gallery is just that — a collection of your photos and videos taken with the Breeze. Tasks leads you into the app's drone controls, but more on that in a second.
If you tap the paper airplane (Tasks) menu icon in the upper left, you're presented with an abundance of options. The throttle position, takeoff altitude, maximum altitude and distance, return-home altitude, and camera/video settings are all adjustable. But the importance of adjusting these settings may be lost on new pilots — especially because they are provided with no explanation as to why the settings are relevant.
When you tap the Tasks button, the five basic flight operations appear: Pilot, Selfie, Orbit, Journey, and Follow Me. All of these are self-explanatory — except that I assumed Journey mode was a waypoint function where you could tell the Breeze where to fly.
In actuality, this function flies the drone up and away from you, a la Renee Lusano, to capture you (and your friends) in your environment. Each of these modes allows you to fly the Breeze manually using the touchscreen interface. Once you get the drone into position, you can activate the autonomous functions.
Initially, because of the lack of instructions on how to do so, I was unable to save photos from the Breeze onto the app's photo reel. I had to access them by connecting the Breeze to my laptop using the provided USB cable. After a little online research, I discovered that you have to manually save the photos into the gallery.
You'll need to link your Breeze and your phone or mobile device using the Breeze's Wi-Fi signal. Then enter the app and, if you're flying outside, initialize the GPS.
Figuring out how to navigate the app's interface took me a little while, but became second nature. And while an iPhone screen doesn't seem like it would make for the most precise controller, the Breeze is impressively responsive.
Although, I wouldn't say that flying the Breeze manually is fun. It won't be doing any impressive maneuvers or flips, which is OK. That's not what it's made for.
Where the Breeze shines is in its autonomous capabilities. Once you get the hang of how the Breeze app works, it's simple to control these functions. But in order to make sure they can be applied in a variety of situations, the app features many adjustable parameters.
Take Orbit mode — looking at the four sliders and five buttons, let alone using them for the first time, can be overwhelming.
Luckily, the Breeze is remarkably stable while hovering, so if you need some time to tap that question mark for a tutorial or tinker with the sliders, you won't have to worry about also keeping the drone in the air.
One of my biggest complaints about the Breeze — which, we must keep in mind, is an aerial camera before all else — is the video stabilization.
The Breeze takes great still photos, and even a screenshot from a video can result in a nice image. But the stabilization definitely leaves something to be desired when the Breeze is in motion. And since the Breeze is so compact and light, this drone's namesake can also be its downfall.
You'll get about 10 minutes of flight time on each battery before needing to land. But don't think you have to bring it in yourself — in fact, you can't land the Breeze manually. Tap either the Land or Return to Home buttons.
Both of these functions worked perfectly every time. If for some reason you need to bring down the Breeze immediately, it also has an emergency motor shutoff function; I haven't had to, nor do I want to use it.
Dismissively call the Breeze what you'd like — a vanity drone, a selfie drone, a toy, whatever. But for those whom the Breeze was created, it performs its job admirably.
The autonomous functions work just as they should, making the flying experience simple and mostly pain free. It takes great photos, and its video is good enough for sharing on social media.
If you're serious about aerial photography and cinematography, this probably isn't the drone for you. You're better served shelling out the extra dough for something like the DJI Mavic Pro.
But really, the two are in different classes: $500 for the digitally stabilized Breeze, or $800 for the larger, gimbal-stabilized, SAA-equipped Mavic. These two drones were clearly designed for different audiences.
And while you hear it all the time, complete beginners, with no drone experience, can fly this drone. Three of my coworkers took the Breeze for a spin and had no difficulty maneuvering the drone, despite having never flown a quadcopter before.
So color me impressed — Yuneec delivered on its bold promise. I'm of the firm belief that the Breeze is a drone with potential to hit the mainstream market.
It's priced right, portable, and, for the most part, reliable. This won't be the drone you take out for a fun day of aerobatic flying, and it's not for serious drone buffs. But it's perfect for capturing a moment with a little more life in the frame.
If you've used an app to control a drone before, you've probably used a controller interface similar to the Breeze's Pilot mode. Two "sticks" allow you to control the drone just as a traditional transmitter would — and you can switch whether you want throttle on the left or right stick.
You can also position your device flat and tap the Gyro Control button to fly by tilting your phone or tablet (a fairly useless function in my opinion, unless you're flying one-handed).
There's not too much else to say about this mode. Do note that this is the only mode that uses the traditional R/C format. All others utilize the Selfie mode's slider bars. Functionality/Utility: 4 out of 5.
This mode is where new pilots of the Breeze are directed to start, because it's the easiest to operate in. Similar to Pilot mode, Selfie provides you with a variety of slider bars for distance, height, and roll instead of two sticks resembling more traditional R/C controls.
Two additional buttons control yaw. For those who have never flown drones before, this system may be more intuitive. For those who have, it's probably a mode you'll rarely (if ever) use. Functionality/Utility: 3 out of 5.
The Journey is an easy enough maneuver to perform manually: Just fly away from yourself and fly back. But automating the process has its perks.
After starting the function, the Breeze app gives a three-second countdown for you to put down your phone and do whatever it is you're trying to capture: wave for the camera, perform a sick kickflip, or run through a field.
The downside is that when the Breeze comes to an abrupt stop at the end of the journey to return home, the movement changes the camera angle, often momentarily forcing the subject out of the frame. Functionality/Utility: 4 out of 5.
There are actually two functions in Follow Me mode: the option to select a tracking object manually, and Smart Follow Me. I had some difficulty with the latter.
For me, the Breeze would often lag in tracking, then, in an attempt to catch up, would overcompensate for lost time by zooming ahead to the new position.
I can't really see myself ever using this mode — I may be overly cautious, but I personally found it too erratic. Functionality/Utility: 2 out of 5.
Although I had one hiccup where Orbit mode didn't keep me in the center of the flight path (which could have been an error on my part), I'm impressed with this function.
The ability to orbit left or right and then to pause the orbit at any point (as opposed to stopping automatically upon one full rotation) are nice additional perks. Functionality/Utility: 4.5 out of 5.