Zhiyun’s Smooth-Q2 aims to be the most portable quality smartphone gimbal available – gpgmail


Zhiyun has been steadily rolling out new gimbals for smartphones and dedicated cameras for a few years now, and the company’s quality and feature set has improved dramatically over time. Now, it’s launching the Zhiyun Smooth-Q2 smartphone gimbal on Kickstarter, with the aim of delivering a “truly pocket-size” gimbal that has all the bells and whistles you could ever want or need.

The Smooth-Q2 is indeed a portable powerhouse – the company sent me a pre-production unit to test, and though it’s not the final shipping hardware, it already works and feels like a polished, quality device. The first thing you’ll notice right away about the Smooth-Q2 is its size – it can indeed slip inside a coat or pant pocket, though you’ll need a fairly deep one to make that work. Even if you don’t necessarily have a compatible pocket, it’s hard to beat the Smooth-Q2 for sheer portability, and that’s bound to save you some packing space when you’re getting ready for your next trip.

There’s another recently released small-size smartphone gimbal on the market – the DJI Osmo Mobile 3. That has a clever method of folding down for easier packing, but the Smooth-Q2’s design, while similar in overall footprint, means it’s much easier to put in your actual pocket (or pack in a bag’s side pocket) than is the DJI version. And while both are incredibly easy to balance even if you’re a gimbal novice, I found the Zhiyun was actually the simpler of the two.

The Zhiyun Smooth-Q2 also feels more solidly constructed, though its simpler controls (it doesn’t have a trigger around or a zoom lever) may leave some creators wanting. There are some other advantages here, too, however – a quick release spring-loaded clip means you can detach your smartphone quickly for other uses without unbalancing the gimbal, and go right back to shooting when you’re done. Plus, you can connect via Bluetooth and control your smartphone’s native camera app directly, instead of relying on their ZP Play app – which you can still use for features like object tracking.

The Smooth-Q2 offers 16-hours of battery life, so you should easily make it through a day without requiring power, and it can do time lapses, with or without programmed motion, a vortex mode for capturing crazy rotational footage, and an aluminum body that should be able to withstand less-than careful stowage in your bag.

In terms of quality, the Smooth-Q2 really delivers in early testing with my iPhone XS Max, and I’ve included two quick sample clips so you can see for yourself. These are shot in the gimbal’s basic PF mode, in which the camera pans as you turn the gimbal side to side.

Zhiyun’s crowdfunding these but the company’s history and reputation mean that you can count on them to deliver. The entry-level price is set at $109 U.S. for backers, which is a $30 discount off the planned retail cost, and they should ship to backers in October according to the company.

Smooth Q2 2


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DIY Top Gun: Add an FT Aviator to Your Drone Flying Toolkit


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Unless you’re a veteran gamer or RC airplane pilot, controlling a drone using two joysticks probably doesn’t come naturally. Startup Fluidity is trying to address that issue with a purpose-built joystick for drone pilots. In design, it is fairly similar to high-end joysticks from companies like Thrustmaster that are designed for flight simulation games. In this case, though, Fluidity’s FT Aviator acts as a Bluetooth peripheral to your phone. It works in conjunction with the company’s flight app to allow you to control your drone either from DJI’s remote or the Aviator joystick. The FT Aviator comes with an excellent pedigree, with founder Scott Parazynski a former NASA astronaut.

Setting Up the FT Aviator

The Aviator doesn’t replace your DJI remote. Instead, you need to connect your remote to your drone and your drone to your phone like you normally would. Fluidity does warn that the Aviator doesn’t work with DJI’s Smart Controller. In addition, you use the FT Aviator app to pair your phone with the Aviator joystick. (Don’t try to do it using your phone’s Bluetooth settings; let the app do it.) The Aviator comes with a holder for your phone that you can clip on to either the left or right side, depending on your preference. There is also a lanyard and small strap so that you can hang your DJI remote around your neck.

Once you get the hang of it, the process of setting up the Aviator is pretty simple, but it does mean traveling with and using more pieces of gear. Once you have the Aviator paired with the app, and the remote and phone suitably positioned, you use the app to fly your drone.SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce

The app is a competent simulacrum of DJI’s own app, but in testing, I found a few things that bothered me. Unlike with DJI or Litchi, tapping on the map didn’t make it full screen, so you’re always looking at the first-person view. I also found the flight statistics to be quite small and hard to read. Plus, speed was in feet per second, which I’m not used to translating. I didn’t find a way to change any of this, but certainly, these are relatively small issues that could be sorted out in a software update.

A Look at the FT Aviator

Like dedicated flight simulator joysticks, the Aviator is full of controls, so it takes a little practice to get used to finding them without looking. Fortunately for while you’re learning your way around, they are well labeled. The main flight control is, of course, the stick itself. Forward, back, left, and right move the drone in that direction. Twisting the stick spins the drone.

The only behavior that took a little getting used to is that pulling the trigger sends the drone up, and pushing it back the other way sends it down. There is a rocker to control the camera gimbal, a dial for how responsive you want the drone to be, and buttons for photo and video. There is also a Takeoff button (which requires confirmation in the app), and a Return to Home button. It charges over USB, and as we mentioned has a snap-on (with a lot of force in the one I reviewed) holder for a phone.

Flying With the FT Aviator

Flying with the FT AviatorOkay, the big question is what is it like to fly using the Aviator? In short, it’s pretty fun. The flight control system on my Mavic Pro drones isn’t fast enough for the real-time feedback needed for racing or crazy maneuvers, but the Aviator definitely still felt much more intuitive than remembering how to translate the motion I wanted into what to do with the two joysticks on the DJI controller. The only downside is it’s pretty tricky to go back and forth between the two solutions. More than once I started to do the wrong thing after I switched controllers between DJI and Aviator.

One helpful feature is the “Tortoise to Hare” dial. You can set the responsiveness of the drone to movements of the joystick from 1 to 5. At one, you’re not quite down at Tripod mode, but you can pretty safely experiment with moving around. Five gives you the full response of the drone in P mode. The Aviator doesn’t work in Sport mode, though, so I don’t think it’s a solution for drone racers.

Price and Availability

You can order an FT Aviator directly from Fluidity for $350, although they are on backorder until sometime in August. The Android version of the app that I tested still has some bugs, although none that crashed it while I was actually flying, so hopefully those will get resolved at about the same time the unit is back in stock. If you’re willing to deal with the cost and complexity of an added piece of hardware in your flying kit, the FT Aviator definitely provides a superior navigation experience compared with the standard DJI remote control.

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FAA Allows Hobbyist Drone Pilots to Get Automated Airspace Approvals


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Hobbyist drone flyers must abide by a large and sometimes confusing set of rules about where they can and can’t fly. Applications like Airmap and Kittyhawk have become indispensable tools for planning legal flight paths. However, flying near airports and many other types of infrastructure has required a cumbersome process of notification by telephone or manual requests for approval — until now. As of this week, the FAA has opened up the LAANC system (Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability) to recreational flyers. Currently, 591 US airports support LAANC, with more being added.

The need for extending the LAANC system to hobbyists was made more critical with the recent changes to FAA regulations, which now require active approval in cases that before only required notification. If nothing else, swamping air traffic controllers and airport personnel with phone calls every time someone wants to fly a droneSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce nearby isn’t an efficient use of anyone’s time.

Requesting Authorization Using LAANC

The process for getting authorization starts by creating a flight plan in an app like Airmap or Kittyhawk; both are free to recreational users, and both also offer a web interface in addition to mobile apps. If the flight plan includes flying near an airport that supports LAANC, you’ll be offered the option to request clearance when you finalize the flight.

You’ll need to supply the make, model, and weight of your drone, along with the altitude you’re planning, your name, and a phone number where the airport can send you a text message if they need to. Altitude does matter, as depending on where you want to fly, automated approval may only be available at lower altitudes than the maximum 400 feet.

Once you've submitted all your information you'll receive an automated response via text message

Once you’ve submitted all your information you’ll receive an automated response via text message

Being a bit skeptical after a lot of previous promises of this type of capability, I decided to try it for myself. I created a simple flight plan near San Francisco International Airport (SFO) in Airmap on the web. The first time I submitted it was rejected as I hadn’t realized I needed to add a phone number. Once I added that, the request was approved nearly instantaneously. I picked SFO because our smaller, local airports show that they don’t yet have an automated approval system in place.

A Note About Drone Flight Planning

Using a map that shows airspace restrictions is an essential part of responsible drone flying. Even if you know you’re aren’t near an airport, power plant, or other critical infrastructure, an app like Airmap or Kittyhawk will alert you to Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) caused by emergency responders, fires, police actions, or other transient events. Personally, I’ve found Airmap supports detailed maps not just here in the US, but when I’ve been flying my drone overseas as well.

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Lessons from the hardware capital of the world – gpgmail


A week is obviously not enough time to truly understand a market as massive and fascinating as China. Hell, it’s not really even enough time to adjust to the 12-hour time difference from New York. That said, each of the three visits I’ve taken to the country in the past two years has yielded some useful insights into my role as hardware editor here at gpgmail.

Late last week, I got back from an eight-day trip to Shenzhen in the Guangdong Province of South China and nearby Hong Kong. In some respects, the cities are worlds apart, though a newly opened high-speed rail system has reduced the trip to 30 minutes. Customs issues aside, it’s the height of convenience. Though for political and cultural reasons I’ll not get into here, some have bemoaned the access it’s provided.

This particular visit was sort of a scouting trip. In November, gpgmail will be hosting its first Hardware Battlefield event in a couple of years. Previous events had been held at CES for reasons of easy access to young startups. This time out, however, we’ve opted to go straight to the source.

The birthplace of hardware


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