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Lifewire / Andrew Hayward
The coolest tank toy/RC car ever made
Fast and super maneuverable
Precisely shoots gel beads
Feels premium and well designed
Optional coding and customization
It’s very expensive
Limited battery life
Need another S1 for full experience
The DJI RoboMaster S1 is an awesome tank drone with educational value, but probably only worth the cash if you’ll go deeper than cruising and shooting.
The DJI RoboMaster S1 is a remote-controlled toy on steroids. Looking more like the kind of driving drone that bomb squads or soldiers use, it’s hyper-maneuverable, with complex and versatile wheels that allow it to drive sideways and zip ahead at high speeds. It even shoots little gel pellets from its cannon and can capture photos and HD video.
In all regards, the DJI RoboMaster S1 is a beast, and easily one of the most impressive connected toys we’ve ever seen. But it’s priced accordingly at $549.99—much more than your average smart toy, although that’s still less than the flying drones DJI produces. It’s hugely fun to play with and offers customization and coding capabilities, but it’s a hefty investment if you only us the RoboMaster S1 as a plaything.
The DJI RoboMaster S1 does look like a high-tech tank, albeit shrunk down to carryable levels: it’s about a foot long and just over nine inches wide and stands just over a foot tall. It’s also essentially all plastic—aside from the screws—and has an orange tip on the cannon to hopefully ward off any concerned neighbors. To be honest, it still looks like a pretty aggressive vehicle, and the high speed and optional flashing lights and laser sounds when it shoots don’t help. We were a little nervous to drive it down the sidewalk and stopped whenever someone neared.
The DJI RoboMaster S1 is a beast, and easily one of the most impressive connected toys we’ve ever seen. But it’s priced accordingly at $549.99.
As you’ll discover during the extensive construction process (more on that shortly), the DJI RoboMaster S1 is very securely designed and cleverly crafted. Even with mostly plastic onboard, DJI’s engineers made the most of the materials, building a roving drone that’s safe to drive outside, able to withstand dirt, rocks, and leaves, and protects its crucial cables and sensors well.
Granted, we’d be terrified to drive the RoboMaster S1 off a cliff or drop it off of a table, due to both the price and a couple of exposed bits near the top—the camera and antennas, specifically. But when whipping around a parking lot or down the sidewalk, it feels like it’s built to withstand everyday abuse.
Younger kids can certainly play with and control the DJI RoboMaster S1—our six-year-old testing assistant absolutely loved the thing—but setup is entirely reserved for parents. It’s a slow, intricate process with diagram-based, IKEA-like instructions. Starting with a box full of more than 100 parts and dozens of screws, it took us at least 2.5 hours to get the DJI RoboMaster S1 up and running.
Almost nothing here just snaps together. It’s not difficult, per se, but it takes a lot of time and focus. Each mecanum wheel, for example, is comprised of 16 different parts along with five screws (and grease). You’ll complete that process that four times before you even touch the body of the DJI RoboMaster S1. That’s a laborious start to the whole process, although once you see the way the S1 glides across surfaces in any direction, you’ll probably agree that it was worth the hassle.
The DJI RoboMaster S1 doesn’t feel overpriced. It’s an incredibly well-designed, super-premium device that’s super fun to play with and can be programmed to do quite a bit more.
From there, you’ll build the frame, connect the various sensors and wires, and mount the wheels, cannon, camera, and “brain”—the Intelligent Controller used for wirelessly communicating with your phone or tablet. We had a couple of small issues to fix along the way, but nothing too major or time-consuming. Just know that you’re not going to rip open the RoboMaster S1 box and start playing with it immediately.
Even the gel bead pellets take time to prepare before you can fire them. You’ll get a little bottle filled with about 10,000 of them, but they have to soak in water for a couple of hours to grow large enough to shoot. They’re non-toxic, by the way, and they’ll eventually disintegrate and leave behind just a bit of dust that DJI says isn’t harmful to the environment.
The official DJI RoboMaster app for iOS or Android serves as your gateway to the complete S1 experience. The RoboMaster S1 doesn’t come with any kind of dedicated controller, so the app provides all-access to controls and settings, as well as battle and coding modes. (Note: you can buy a controller attachment for your smartphone or tablet, but you’ll still need the app.)
When controlling the RoboMaster S1, the app gives you a first-person view of the action, letting you steer the car just like you were inside of it—or playing a first-person video game. It took us a little while to get used to looking at the screen rather than looking at the car itself, but once you make that shift, it’s a really immersive experience. You can fire the little pellets with a tap, or switch to a “laser” shot (a little flash of colored light with a pew-pew sound). You can also film video and take snapshots. Thanks to computer vision technology, you can even identify a person within the frame and have the RoboMaster S1 follow him or her around.
The app also offers access to the Battle mode, in which two or more RoboMaster S1 units can sync up and fire gel beads or laser shots at each other’s sensors. We, unfortunately, didn’t get to try this out; that’s a $1,000 plus spend between pals. It sounds like a really entertaining element, however, and we have to imagine it would increase the longevity of your experience to have friends with their own RoboMaster S1 units.
DJI’s RoboMaster S1 feels incredibly responsive, and as noted, it’s an impressively maneuverable beast. After a lifetime of playing with simple RC cars that drive only forward and backward, the ability to drive sideways—like sidewinding or strafing—is kind of mind-blowing. At the highest speed setting (about 3.5 meters per second going forward), the S1 zooms along at an impressive clip. It performs best on a relatively smooth surface, of course, but it still moves well on chunky gravel and can get across grass at a slower pace.
The blaster cannon itself is a remarkable thing. When the RoboMaster S1 is powered on, the cannon snaps to attention and the gimbal responds to the subtle movements of your finger on your touch device. The rubbery gel beads fire accurately and swiftly too; they’ll give a quick sting if they smack against your skin. In fact, the RoboMaster S1 comes with plastic safety glasses, but by default, the cannon won’t fire gel beads if aimed above a 10-degree arc. You can disable that limitation, but be careful because these beads could really injure someone’s eye. Seriously, don’t shoot at people or living creatures.
At the highest speed setting (about 3.5 meters per second going forward), the S1 zooms along at an impressive clip.
We were able to drive the RoboMaster S1 about halfway down a city block before the video feed got choppy, and soon thereafter we lost reliable control of the unit. At one point, it drove off the sidewalk into the street and we didn’t have a live image of what was happening on the phone—so we don’t recommend trying to control the S1 from far away.
You can connect to the DJI RoboMaster S1 directly via a Wi-Fi connection or use a wireless router as a middleman. The router greatly increases the potential transmission communication, according to DJI, but isn’t really practical for the average home user. DJI’s specs suggest certain routers that can be used with portable laptop batteries, so that’s more likely a solution for staging battles in a parking lot or warehouse setting—not just cruising around your neighborhood.
In our experience, the 2,400mAh battery lasted for about 30-35 minutes per session, which lines up with DJI’s estimate. That’s pretty close to what you see with some premium flying drones, but we’d hoped for a longer span since weight isn’t as big of an issue with ground-based devices—even the slim smartphone in your pocket probably has a higher-capacity battery. The S1 battery takes about 90 minutes to fill up, so if you’re planning on using the RoboMaster S1 a lot, then you might want to buy a spare battery pack to swap in.
Luckily, there’s a lot of educational upside to the RoboMaster S1. The device itself spawned from DJI’s existing RoboMaster student robotics competition, in which teams custom-design and program their own bots. You already have a complete RoboMaster S1 to assemble in the box, but from there, you can program it to do a lot of different things.
Newcomers and young learners can use the Scratch 3.0 language to put together clearly-structured commands, while Python language is available for advanced coders. Step-by-step lessons allow even total newcomers to start learning coding fundamentals, allowing you to create movement and blasting routines with the RoboMaster S1. It can even recognize clapping, body gestures, and visual markers, and perform a programmed task when it sees or hears those cues. DJI’s app makes learning the fundamentals feel approachable and reasonable, and there’s a lot of flexibility for users to apply their growing skills over time.
The DJI RoboMaster S1 doesn’t feel overpriced. It’s an incredibly well-designed, super-premium device that’s super fun to play with and can be programmed to do quite a bit more. That said, $549 (MSRP) is a huge amount of money to spend on what’s essentially a super-advanced remote-controlled car. For most people, we imagine the RoboMaster S1 is only worth this kind of investment if you will actually use the coding lessons, or need a seriously cool device to apply your existing or growing coding knowledge on. It’s a toy for a pre-teen genius to tinker with or a group of friends who can DIY some mods and battle each other.
Strictly as a plaything, it feels like the kind of extravagant toy a kid billionaire would drive around a mansion while pelting the hapless butler with gel beads. But for those of us who don’t have endless reserves of disposable income (or help staff to torture), it’s a tough sell for what is admittedly an awesome toy.
These are very different connected toys in price and execution, yet very similar in ethos. Both arrive as a box of parts that you’ll have to assemble, but while the DJI RoboMaster S1 ends up looking super-polished, the Makeblock mBot (which takes about 30 minutes to build) wears its DIY style on its sleeve. It also doesn’t have a gun, and it won’t drive sideways.
But you can still control the Makeblock mBot with ease, and it can be programmed within the app, which has coding lessons. At about $70, you can think of the mBot as a much simpler, much cheaper alternative to the RoboMaster S1—or perhaps a stepping stone. A young learner could start with the Makeblock mBot and eventually work his or her way up to the much more advanced DJI RoboMaster S1.
A snazzy robot with great controls and educational value, but it’s a hefty splurge.
We had a blast with the DJI RoboMaster S1, but that price tag is sure to make almost anyone take pause. You really need to be able to make the most out of the device—and that means either learning coding from the app or applying your knowledge to programming and customizing the S1. But if you’re not likely to dig into coding and just want something for surface-level solo fun, we’re not sure that the RoboMaster S1 can justify that kind of immense investment.
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