On Wednesday, Xiaomi lifted the veil off Mi Drone, an inexpensive quad copter with a built-in camera capable of shooting up to 4K video, at a flashy press event in mainland China.
For a long time, Xiaomi’s known for sticking to its well-established formula of making high-end handsets, selling them at rock-bottom prices, and leveraging its legions of social media fans to evangelize them. But today, the China-based firm is stepping into unfamiliar territory.
Drones may seem like an odd choice for a smartphone maker, yet the fact that the company’s revenue remained flat in 2015 due to weaker-than-expected smartphone demand in China, in conjunction, it lost market share to Huawei, Apple, and others. This left Xiaomi with no choice but to seek a new cash cow.
It’s the company’s first. In terms of aesthetics, the Mi Drone probably won’t turn heads based on looks, but it more than makes up for in its specifications. The Mi Drone, which will ship in a low-end 1080p model and a high-end 4K 30fps configuration later this year, holds its own in a crowded field of quad copters. It has a 5,100mAh battery, which affords it a range of 3km and a flying time of up to 27 minutes, and it sports a 360-degree, 12.4-megapixel, RAW-capable camera with a 3-axis self-stabilizing gimbal that makes up to 2,000 tilt corrections per second. The Mi Drone’s remote, meanwhile, features a camera tilt-adjusting dial, a dedicated shutter button, a button for landing and take-off, a built-in slot for your smartphone, and antennas with a radio control range of up to 2km.
Aside from the hardware superiority, the Mi Drone has software smarts as well. It can be configured to stay within the confines of a virtual fence so as to ensure dilettante drone owners don’t mistakenly veer off course, and it can be programmed to follow or circle around a point of interest, or to follow a route. In addition, it can automatically return to a designated point when it’s running low on a charge or loses contact with the controller — a feature that’ll no doubt provide peace of mind to folks who are shooting above water, tall grass, or sheer cliff faces.
Xiaomi prices the 1080p model at $380 per unit and the 4K configuration $450 per unit. The 4K configuration will enter “open beta” late next month via the company’s Chinese Mi.com store. The 1080p model, however, won’t come for direct sales right because Xiaomi is launching a crowdfunding campaign within its Mi Home app on May 26.