Putting a product through a rigorous and objective series of tests – what we call “The Circuit” – is the very core of what we do.
Though we are launching this website with an emphasis on drones, we plan to quickly expand to other consumer electronics products. It won’t be long before you’re seeing reviews of cameras, 360/VR headsets, audio systems and more.
But not yet. It’s drones first – and for a few reasons.
- It’s an area of phenomenal technological growth
- Consumer demand is growing at an unprecedented rate
- Several of us at The Digital Circuit are drone builders, pilots and enthusiasts
Transparency is of great importance to us. We want you to see how we test. As a result, we want to share our basic methodology and weighting methods for scoring. By necessity, some of our testing – such as drone camera sensors and optics – must be carried out by engineers with specialized tools. That’s why a few steps in “The Circuit” of tests are carried out at a lab in Shenzhen, China.
But many of the tests are carried out by local staff based in Canada and the United States. Though some aspects of the testing have a subjective element, we try wherever possible for objective tests that eliminate or vastly reduce any possibility of bias. Among the criteria we test on each drone are the following:
- Build Quality – Though these may appear to be “first impressions” – there are specific characteristics The Digital Circuit will examine. Does the product appear to be designed and built from the ground up, or is it more DIY, pieced-together? Does it feel like wear and tear will shorten the life of the drone/are there are exposed wires or fragile components? Does it feel cheap or not solidly put together – or does it feel more rugged? Any burrs or indications a mold has been reused? Is there elegance of design or does it feel OEM? Any shortcuts taken, or is this a complete product with care and attention paid to details, regardless of cost?
- Safety & Redundancy – What protective/redundant measures are in place for occurrences such as loss of motor, loss of propeller, interference with GPS signal or transmitter, interference with compass signal? What failure modes does the device have? Does the software include Geofencing or No-Fly-Zones?
- Batteries – Capacity, status indicator, intelligent system or standalone, self-discharging mode, sleep mode, hover time, max speed flight time, absolute maximum flight time, built-in short protection, charger features, charger power output/recharge time, live data from battery, maximum distance flight (each test performed 3 times for drones with monitoring systems. If no monitoring system, fail)?
- Stability – Repeatability of auto-landing, how close to landing spot, how far does it drift in hover (quality of position-holding out of ground effects, but in range of VPS, less than 10 meters up – indoor and outdoor), hands-off stick, check ground wind speed with anemometer and use visual. Record and play back at high speed.
- Max Range – Requires multiple tests on multiple days. Conduct in a place where it is legal. Max range until you no longer have control of the craft, it says return home, you cancel and keep flying until you can’t cancel return to home. Drones that do not have RTH function, fail. Discounting video signal.
- Speed – Maximum horizontal speed, maximum rate of ascent/descent. Top speeds in various modes (avoidance, sport, etc).
- Remote Controller – Size, weight, ergonomics, integrated screen, what kind of screen, brightness in full sun test, ease-of-use, user interface, camera and gimbal controls, battery life, charge time, programmability, customization, emergency controls, access to flight to modes. Ability to dual control, training mode (master/slave – firmware update), accessing controls, swappable antennas, HDMI out, SDI out (for Lightbridge 2), external outputs, hook up to multiple remotes, change focus remotely, linking time, radio start-up time, compatibility with different operating systems, uptime (how long stay before next charge), frequency it operates on, frequency of video feed, able to select own channels, ability to select and change quality of feed, auto-hold, adjustability, pair own remote, cost to replace, internal rechargeable.
- App & firmware – How comprehensive, including tutorials, maps, logging capabilities, cloud-syncing, etc. Can you keep track of each craft you own, or is it individual? Can you edit video, integrate with social media, live-stream?
- Flight Modes/Intelligence – Sheer number of modes, functionality, degree or level of autonomy, other capabilities, GPS-dependent or not. Obstacle avoidance/tracking features? Does the device have the capacity to ‘learn’?
- Camera & Gimbal (Tested Externally) – Resolution for video and stills, FPS and megapixels, sensor size, aperture, FOV, bitrate, swappable lenses, ease of use of camera and gimbal controls, subjective view of reviewer on image quality, different color modes, sharpness and contrast controls, exposure controls. Vibration of drone transfer to drone in certain modes or frame rates? If lens has certain focal length, can it stabilize at the focal length, forward or lateral flight is image still stable after hover? At what speeds? Pointing straight down and flying – is it still stable?
- Ecosystem/Accessories – Any open APIs? What third-party apps are there? If you do have an ecosystem, what do you have control of as a coder? Comprehensiveness of system, how many accessories, how many from the manufacturer, how many third-party?
- Additional Features or Technology – Does the product feature a significant technological leap that distinguishes it from the competition? If so, score may be upgraded by up to a maximum of ____ points.
- Portability & Case – What is it? How convenient, how heavy, how durable, carry-on size or not, hard or soft. Extra value. Charger and rest of system, does it all fit, how much does it weigh, containable in one box?
- Service, Serviceability, Availability & Support (includes warranty) – Make phone call and write email, check it, see how courteous, helpful and response and turnaround time.
- Price for Performance/Value – The Digital Circuit has a formula used for devices in different price categories where we measure the score divided by cost to arrive at a “Value” figure.
- Average of Other Reviews – (POSSIBLE) In cases where the same product has been reviewed and scored by multiple credible outlets, The Digital Circuit will create and post an aggregate of those scores as a point of comparison.
Over time, The Digital Circuit will split its drone reviews into multiple categories. For example, a fixed-wing unmanned aircraft would generally (if not always) exceed a rotary style vehicle in terms of forward speed. The following categories will help ensure we are comparing apples with apples and oranges with oranges:
- Forward Flight/VTOL
And finally, The Digital Circuit will also sum up key features and pros/cons in a brief “snapshot.” Not everyone, we realize, will have the time to pore through our exhaustive reviews.