Xiaomi unveils its first drone — and it costs just $450 for a 4K video model

Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi officially unveiled its first drone today, ending a week of teasers about it, and the low price of the product might bring some serious competition to the space.

Like other Xiaomi products, the company didn’t actually create the Mi Drone itself. Instead it is working with China-based Flymi, which creates the devices. Xiaomi is putting its considerable brand behind the drone and selling it via its channels, which include its Mi.com online store.

The drone is a lot cheaper than the competition, as we have come to expect from Xiaomi, which has built a reputation for selling high-quality devices at a fraction of top-of-the-range phones from the likes of Apple and Samsung. The Mi drone is priced at 2499 CNY (around $380) for the entry-level device with a 1080P camera and 2999 CNY ($450) for the more advanced model with a 4K camera. That’s an awful lot cheaper than DJI, the market leader, which starts at $800 for 4K, and others in the drone space.

Xiaomi tells us that the cheaper model will be “crowdfunded” inside the company’s Mi Home app from 26 May 2016, while the 4K drone will be made available for early testing via an open beta program at the end of July. There’s no word on when (or whether) it will be sold outside of China.

So let’s get to the drone itself.

Xiaomi said that the Mi Drone can fly for 27 minutes per session thanks to a 5,100 mAh battery and to a range of 3km. That’s about on par with DJI’s drones, which fly for 23-28 minutes depending on the model. It also includes a 360-degree camera that can shoot 4K video, and handheld remote which has the option of attaching a smartphone for a live-feed view from the drone. The pieces seem to be modular, which means replacing them — and the battery — is possible.

Tracking and keeping control of drones can be an issue, particularly for new owners and, like others, the Mi Drone can create a virtual fence so that if the craft strays beyond a designated range it will fly back to the ground position that it took off from.

Announcing the Mi Drone on a live stream that had 195,000 viewers at one stage, Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun said it is not just for rich kids. The company wants to use its profile (and the exceptionally low pricing) to help democratize the technology and enable those who don’t have a spare thousand-plus dollars lying around to own a drone.

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Gallery images via Xiaomi forum

Article updated to correct the flight time of DJI drones