Aldi Drone Review | We Tested The £49.99 Balco FPV HD Camera Drone Before Scotland Killed It

Here's what happened when we put the budget supermarket's drone option through its paces

I am Edward Smith, captain of the Titanic, staring down the wheel at a colossal iceberg emerging on the horizon. I am Harry and Ron, wobbling in the air, trying to steer that flying car they stole in Chamber of Secrets and bewilderingly never really got in trouble for (no, a letter from Ron’s mum does not count as appropriate punishment for theft and reckless driving). I am the pilot of the ‘Snakes on a Plane’ plane, panicking, losing control, hoping, praying, dreaming that Samuel L. Jackson will rescue me.

I have – full disclosure – just flown the £49.99 drone I bought from Aldi into a 15-metre high Scottish pine tree, and it is now very, very – say it with me – very stuck.

“I have – full disclosure – just flown the £49.99 drone I bought from Aldi into a 15-metre high Scottish pine tree”

But more on that later. Let’s get on with the review.

Famously, you can now buy anything in existence from Lidl and Aldi. We recently bought a two man canoe from Lidl and have been happily sailing the seven seas (canals) ever since.

Aldi sell more sports gear on the whole though. For example you can buy a full ski outfit from Aldi for £58.94, which is frankly scandalous, and they even do wetsuits for surfing now as well.

Aldi. Is there anything these mavericks can’t do? || Photo: Stuart Kenny

There is also a glass case in Aldi. A glass, you’re-not-gonna-be-stealing-anything-from-this, case; a glass case that contains electronic items, or items of particularly “high value”, or items like pen knives. If you want to buy something from this glass case in Aldi, you have to tell one of the staff and they have to unlock it for you. It’s a bit like looking at some old relic in a museum. You become obsessed with getting as close to what’s inside as you possibly can, even if it’s not that interesting, purely on the basis that there’s a sheet of glass in the way, so you aren’t able to actually touch it.

One day, dear reader, a drone appeared in that glass case, and guess what? We got to touch it. We had heard that this drone would be there. Gone to Aldi with the intention of buying it, in fact. We were very intrigued by the two reviews of the drone on the Aldi website.

“Famously, you can now buy anything in existence from Lidl and Aldi”

The first review read: “Drone: Really happy with DRONE, REALLY GOOD PRODUCT. I THINK IT IS GREAT”. Blunt. Straight to the point. They gave the drone five stars, and, based on the caps locks alone, we’re willing to bet they’d have given it a sixth if possible.

Juxtaposing this write up, the second reviewer, disappointed but eager to emphasise their love for Aldi otherwise, typed: “Drone: so sorry to say first one bought on line [sic] developed a fault very soon charming people as ever in shop swapped for another which had same problem. Total confidence in Aldi but the drone has problems”, one star.

Always good to keep the suspense alive for your own testing when you buy a budget item.

Me, and the Aldi drone || Photo: Stuart Kenny

The Aldi drone is actually a Balco FPV HD Camera Drone, and they’re selling at Aldi for £49.99. There’s a good chance your local Aldi is now sold out of the things – they went quick – but if you Google them, there’s still places you can get one new, often for even cheaper.

Now you might be thinking that £50 quid isn’t exactly the cheapest, even for a drone. And actually you’re right. You can get them for less from people like your favourite spam e-mail merchant Wowcher, supposedly “new” on eBay, and – of all places – from Debenhams.

“My drone spent two days at the top of a f*ck off pine tree largely because of a gust of wind”

The drone comes complete with a remote control from which you operate it and a phone app that lets you see what the drone sees, and which you can stick on top of the remote using a handy little tool included. It’s a simple set up and fairly idiot proof. So what are the specs?

According to Aldi, the drone can fly up to 50m high, has a control distance of 140m, 2.4 ghz technology and a detachable built in “HD”, 720P camera. It takes about two hours to fully charge, and when fully charged, can fly for “6-8 minutes”. Which is a bit shit.

Here it is. The sleeping beast, ready to take flight || Photo: Stuart Kenny

So, off the bat there, reading the small print, you can get an idea of what you’re in for. 50 metres? Fine. 720P camera? Not awful on paper, but it’s been about 10 years since that was a number that could really be referred to as “high definition” in the truest sense. 720P HD is the minimum option on an iPhone, and GoPro have long left 720 behind.  We certainly wouldn’t echo The Sun in calling 720 “very good quality”. But then again, we wouldn’t echo The Sun even if they started singing the extremely catchy ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ in a very echoey tunnel.

That 720 number all but rules it out for any drone goers after a serious bit of kit for photography or video purposes, or if it doesn’t, the 6-8 minute flight limit probably will. That’s not actually an uncommon max flight time for a drone of this size and power, but that doesn’t make it any more convenient for someone heading out on a shoot far from home. It also doesn’t record sound.

“I’m not a huge fan of drones in general”

The drone also claims to have “strong wind resistance”, which, given the fact that my drone spent two days at the top of a fuck off pine tree largely because of a gust of wind (and yes, my incompetence), I would dispute. But to be fair, it was going quite swimmingly before that.

I’m not a huge fan of drones in general. See, the thing about drones is that the aim of a drone is to provide imagery and video that shows a natural landscape in as peaceful and idyllic a manner as possible, which seems somewhat hypocritical, given that if you’re actually there, in that place, at the same time as the drone, then it’ll actually be the drone, and it’s monotonous, droll buzzing that will be ruining that same peaceful, idyllic manner.

Rest in peaceful slumber, your mate’s old Sega Dreamcast || Photo: Stuart Kenny

I find operating a drone a little embarrassing because of that. A bit like your phone going off in the silent coach of a train. Even if nobody calls you out on it, they’re all thinking the same thing: wanker.

Nevertheless, drones do capture quite pretty imagery. So here I am, in a hill range, about 30 metres from the trees on my right and about 50 from the smaller pines on my left, reading an Aldi instruction manual. Beautiful rolling hills in front, one sheep very far away on the horizon, and not a sound to be heard.

Time to change that.

Having downloaded the phone app in advance, I stick the phone into the appropriate sitting place above the controller, connect it up with the drone Wi-Fi easily enough and prepare for take off. The app is incredibly simple. It’s probably one of the best things about the drone.

“The app is incredibly simple. It’s probably one of the best things about the drone”

Take off and flight control is also simple enough, though wind absolutely does effect this. To start the drone propellers, push the two thumbsticks on the controller inwards, or simply press the B button, which is where R1 would be on a PlayStation controller. The remote is well designed and easy to get used to, especially for anyone with video game experience.

From here, the left thumbstick goes up to move the drone upwards, and you’re flying.

To fly the drone:

  • The left thumbstick, going upwards and downwards, controls the height of the drone
  • The left thumbstick going left and right turns the drone left and right (doesn’t move the drone sideways, just turns it)
  • The right thumbstick pushed upwards moves the drone forward, and downwards moves it backwards.

There are various options for landing, from B to slowly lower the drone down, to a combination of thumbstick movements that stops the propellers dead in the air.

“Mmmmm. This Aldi drone controller sure does smell fantastic” || Photo: Stuart Kenny

It sounds a bit complicated, but after a few goes it becomes second nature. Particularly if you used to play Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64. Landing is probably the most difficult. There is also an extremely gimmicky “360° built-in flip stunt feature” which does what it says on the tin, and extensive, slightly ominous instructions on how to fix the drone if it starts veering one way often, or tilying during flight, but thankfully we didn’t encounter this / flew our drone into a tree quickly enough that it didn’t have a chance to break in that particular way.

The whine of the Aldi drone is also nowhere as loud as I feared it would be. It’s a mid-level decibel of whine. More Michael Bublé than Mariah Carey.

Being relatively light, but resilient, the drone is easy to carry in a pack, and the controller, while bulky, doesn’t take up huge amounts of room either. You will need to carry the blade guards separately though and they’re a minor nuisance to put on.

Nothing but the essentials || Photo: Stuart Kenny

Where the drone falls down is on the camera itself. In the infamously expensive camera market you get what you pay for, and the 720P camera setting in general is surely something which has a shelf life nearing expiration. The photos, and videos, look awful. The footage and images just look incredibly low resolution compared even to stuff that you can capture with a mobile phone. They’re barely worthy of social media, never mind any kind of actual professional use. It seems a shame to build a vessel capable of flight – something mankind as a race didn’t manage until 1904 – and make a heap of irritating noise doing it, only to take a photograph which looks like it’s been taken by a shaky 2005 camera phone.

The photos are downloadable straight from the phone app, which is handy, but they’re also shit quality – each photo comes out about 50KB in size – which isn’t so handy.

But then are you really going to trust the opinion of a guy who lost a drone in a tree? It would seem I am somewhat of an unreliable narrator, a Holden Caulfield, if ever there was one. Anway, here’s some photographs taken by the drone to back up my words on picture quality:

Cor. Look at how high-def the Aldi drone camera is *squints at picture* || Photo: Stuart Kenny
So, this is what it must be like to be medically blind || Photo: Stuart Kenny

And here’s a video of the drone being flown directly into a very tall pine tree, naturally:

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We asked our @StuartKenny to test out the Aldi drone. He got it stuck in a tree. Full review on site || #drone #tech #camera #outdoors #nature #adventure #review #aldi

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In my defence, there was a gust of wind at the time. I promise. Come on. I had been out there for two hours, charging and re-charging the battery. Flying the drone. Getting used to it. Mastering the controls. And I thought I had it. I really thought I had it. That is until I flew it into a 15ft tree. I knew it was happening for a good few seconds before it happened, too. The wind had taken it and though I turned the drone and tried to fly it back towards me, away from a piney death, it wasn’t able to pull through the wind. Scottish winter 1-0 drone.

It’s very hard not to laugh – at yourself, at your very own mortal existence – as you watch the item you’re testing, as part of your profession, sail helplessly into a pine tree and lodge itself firmly, via the propellor guards, firmly onto the nearest branch.

“I thought I had it. I really thought I had it”

It’s a situation which, in a very real, tragic way, is unconditionally funny.

Needless to say I would have rathered the dog walker hadn’t appeared over the hill at that exact moment. The first other person I’d seen all day, and he’s arrived just in time to see me fly a drone into a tree. I knew I’d done it. He knew I’d done it. But neither of us said anything during the polite two minute conversation that followed about his dog.

This wasn’t just my phone going off in the quiet coach. This was my phone going off in the quiet coach, the ring tone being Gangnam Style, and me getting up to do the dance.

View from the tree, where the Aldi drone got well and truly stuck || Screenshot via Aldi drone camera

After waiting casually for his departure, and trying and failing to throw small logs at the drone to get it down, I rode some trails and headed home, defeated.

I went to bed that night in my warm bed, while the drone stayed out, up in the hills, watching the sunsets and sunrises of the Scottish wild, watching hikers come and go, birds fly, nest and peck, watching teenagers make bonfires and drink the rancid vodka their mate got them with fake ID, then argue and vomit with and on each other late into the night.

Quite romantic, really.

I looked up the weather forecast, checked when the next batch of horrific easterly winds were due – in Scotland, they’re never far away – and then headed back to the marked tree in the 30mph, dripping wet days later, from where my drone had watched the world pass.

“There was the Aldi Drone. Lying on the ground. Fallen. Defenceless”

There was the Aldi Drone. Lying on the ground. Fallen. Defenceless. In tact, but broken on the inside. I wouldn’t take the fact it couldn’t survive the Scottish December elements for two straight nights as a testament for the drone’s weakness, though. That could break anyone.

That said, the camera on this drone remains a let down. If you want a drone, and you want to take decent imagery with it, pay the extra and get a drone with at least a 1080 option, or else you basically won’t be able to use the images or footage you take for anything.

If you just want something to fly about like one of those remote control helicopters your rich cousin used to get for Christmas and never use, and you’re confident that you’ll be able to stay clear of the dickhead wanker pine trees, then this may just be the drone for you.

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