As someone living in Brooklyn with a small amount of disposable income, I’ll admit to having at least a fleeting interest when I heard that Urban Outfitters would begin selling “designer” drones today. But then I looked at the drones and remembered all of the other tchotchkes Urban Outfitters sells and was immediately very disappointed in both the store and myself.
The drones come from a company called TRNDlabs. They include a 2-megapixel camera for recording footage and are available “in three unique designer patterns” (blue, green, and some marbley space thing, which I guess is kind of neat).
There’s nothing particularly fancy about the tech, which would be fine — I’ve bought and had fun with a super inexpensive drone before — if these “designer” drones weren’t selling for $100 (though they’ve already been put on sale for $59.99), when they look like they should be selling for less than half of that.
If you’ve ever looked for a drone on Amazon, you’ve probably noticed that there seems to be a dozen companies you’ve never heard of selling tiny variations on the exact same drones. That’s because they probably are the exact same drone, purchased from a factory that produces a readymade model and then slightly tweaked to the buyer’s preferences. These drones are cheap, very easy to break, and extremely difficult to fly. But they can be a lot of fun for how little they cost.
TRNDlabs’ drones, as best I can tell, are those very same models with a nicer coat of paint on them. Now I haven’t gotten one of these drones in hand to confirm this, but it very much looks like that’s what’s happening here.
Here’s the TRNDlabs drone that’ll be selling at Urban Outfitters:
And here’s a $28 drone I found on Amazon:
...And just for good measure, here’s another (for $40):
Alright, one more ($50):
They even have the same controllers. Here’s TRNDlabs:
And here’s a representative sample of what you’d find on Amazon:
Asked for comment, TRNDlabs didn’t deny that it’s largely repackaging a cheaper product in a shinier package. Founder and CEO Gerard Nieuwenhuis claimed TRNDlabs’ drone is better than the $28 model I linked above, but added that packaging is very much part of what his company is charging a premium for.
“You will find that [our drone] has a better camera, longer battery life, flies more stable, comes in a fancy box that is perfectly giftable vs a flimsy box to keep things cheap, an easy-to-understand user guide instead of a chinglish leaflet, etc.,” Nieuwenhuis writes in an email to The Verge. TRNDlabs’ customer service, he said, was also a differentiator.
Nieuwenhuis also adds that paying for design, including on rebranded products, is a normal occurrence in other lines of business. “Putting a color/design on a phone case, pair of earbuds, speaker and loads of non-tech goods (especially clothing), while delivering a quality product at a higher price seems to be widely accepted, but perhaps not (yet) for drones?” he writes. “Guess someone has to move first and take the heat ;)”
Selling colorful, overpriced, and relatively bad drones is exactly what I’d expect Urban Outfitters to do, so on some level none of this is a surprise. Drones like this can be a lot of fun. But when you’re probably going to lose it to a gust of wind or break it after spinning out of control on your second week of ownership, you probably shouldn’t pay $100 for it, no matter how “giftable” the packaging is.
The colors aren’t as cool, but if you want a cheap drone, go somewhere else.