TDC and Rick Smith - Score drones

TDC is thrilled to announce something which is, to us, as big as anything at #CES2017: A partnership with Rick Smith of to score drones.

Rick is an engineer who has worked in the consumer electronics sphere for decades. He has seen products from inception and initial design through to development, production, release, and marketing. He’s also a committed drone pilot in love with the technology.

Over the past year, his YouTube channel has grown tremendously due to Rick’s no-nonsense analysis of drones. He’s known for his exhaustive tear-downs, along with his thoughtful and neutral observations about build quality. He knows how things can be built, and how things should be built.

Just as important, he certainly knows how things should not be built. And he’s seen a lot of poorly built products hit the market just because companies are desperate for a slice of that pie.

“There are a lot of companies that are jumping into the market that really haven’t thought it through before releasing a product,” he says. “They may have been in the cellphone business or the toy business, and they see this market exploding. Some of them are throwing together products that are sub-optimal, and in some cases dangerous.”

And for consumers, that results in something of a minefield. With so many products trumpeting so many different features, it’s difficult for a buyer to determine what represents the best value for the money.

“It’s very confusing for consumers trying to compare two different quads against each other and trying to figure out what’s the best fit for their budget and their needs,” says Rick.



In fact, it’s that vacuum that was the inception for The Digital Circuit. From the very first discussions back in the summer, it was always our intention to rank drones and come up with TDC “Scores.” You can still see our page which outlined how we had intended to do that.

We launched in mid-November and were preparing to start scoring when we discovered Rick Smith. His no-nonsense credibility appealed to us, and we liked the fact that he was completely independent – with zero affiliation to any particular drone manufacturer. We also recognized that his subject matter expertise, the result of an entire career as a consumer electronics engineer, outweighed our own expertise.

And so we asked him if he’d be interested. Rick took a look at our own site and liked what the journalistic approach that we take to writing and explaining topics. A few solid conversations on the phone and we had a partnership that we believe will be not only mutually beneficial – but of HUGE help to consumers.

With Rick’s enviable expertise now firmly on board, we are working on a rated scoring system and chart that will provide consumers with a credible, untainted method of determining the best drone in each of the following categories:

The Blade Inductrix is a popular, entry-level droneENTRY LEVEL – $100 OR LESS

These tend to have short flight times – and overall flight distances that can literally be measured in feet (or yards or meters). You won’t be flying a long way with most in this category, due to their cost, brushed motors, and smaller batteries.

They are great to learn on, however, can be superb for indoor flying, and are actually more difficult to fly than more expensive drones. That’s why most experienced pilots recommend that beginners start with one of these to get their feet (and hopefully not their drone) wet.

HOBBY CLASS – $100-$500

This range would include the DJI Phantom 3 Standard, the Yuneec Breeze 4K, and the Parrot BeBop2. Here you’re getting longer flight times, brushless motors, and – with some models – such useful features as GPS, Object Sensing, and Return-to-Home.

The DJI Phantom 3 Standard - now available for less than $500

This is the most popular style and price range for new pilots. The cameras in this range tend to have medium to high image quality – something Rick will also be examining and scoring.

PROSUMER $500-$1500

We’re now getting into such popular models as the DJI Phantom 4, DJI Mavic Pro, and Yuneec Typhoon H. Now you’re into longer flight times, with flight distance and image transmission measured in miles. Pretty much any model in this category will feature GPS, Obstacle Avoidance and Return to Home features. In terms of cameras, 4K has become the resolution standard in this category, with all drones featuring gimbal control to help stabilize the video. Most also now feature advanced flight modes, including intelligent tracking (and, in some cases, the ability to “learn” more over time).

The DJI Mavic, a drone so popular you have to wait to actually get one
The DJI Mavic Pro, a drone so popular you have to wait to actually get one

Again, Rick will drill down into the build quality, feature set, flight times and more to help you determine how to best spend your money.


You’re now into the big guns, with models like the DJI Inspire line, the Kespry Drone 2.0, and the DJI Matrice 600. These are all highly sophisticated machines, often built with industry-specific uses in mind (cinematography, interchangeable cameras, swappable sensors, etc.) They Also often feature dual controller options, so that one person can operate the machine while a second focuses on capturing images or data. The video and stills quality in this price range are production-level quality.

DJI's Inspire 2 - a professional drone of such high imaging quality it can be used for movies
DJI’s Inspire 2 – a professional drone of such high imaging quality it can be used for movies

In each class, Rick will examine a wide range of weighted criteria, before coming up with The TDC Score. He says that by using objective scoring methods over a number of different criteria, the end result will be a simple and credible number that consumers can trust:

“Having a scoring system that simplifies this process will help anyone find the best drone for their needs and their budget,” he says. “It allows them to cut through the noise and the hype to better understand what features are included in any quad they are considering so they can make the best choice based on the facts.”

Rick has already built an outstanding reputation and following based on his credibility. It has become his brand. And that’s not going to change.

“Honestly, even manufacturers that may send me products for review – I’m critical if they’re missing a particular feature or it doesn’t live up to my expectations. So I’m always trying to give the most honest review possible on any quad I’m looking at.”

That’s awesome, Rick. We look forward to your TDC scores – and to helping consumers make the best choice possible.

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