Beautiful toy

Snap's Pixy gets everything right except for one critical feature

Snap’s take on the drone simplifies what’s normally a very technical product, but it might be more interesting for how it shows off where the company’s headed.

The Snap Pixy Drone mid-flight over grass.
Raymond Wong / Input

Potential is not enough to sell a product, nor should it be.

But it is enough to make me fondly admire the ones I already own. And for Snap’s Pixy, I’ve found that to be more than true. The company’s first “flying camera” (Snap doesn’t officially refer to the Pixy as a drone, though the included FAA paperwork on respecting drone rules suggests otherwise) immediately makes more sense to me than the Spectacles, Snap’s camera glasses, and not necessarily because it’s easier to use. The company is just finally tackling a category that needs to be simplified.

I know you can learn how to fly a DJI Mavic 3 without too much effort, but having to go to school to use a camera I only wanted to take on a vacation isn’t high on my list of things I want to do. Snap’s solution, however much it seems like a Fisher Price toy, is kind of perfect, for its size, its friendly design, and how stupid simple it makes fairly complicated drone shots.

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Baby drone

The bumper case you can use to carry the the Pixy is one of Snap’s several quietly brilliant design choices.Raymond Wong / Input

Build — The Pixy only weighs 101 grams, and that’s with its removable batteries in. The drone is small enough to hold in one hand, and about the size of a small satchel or purse when not in use (Snap includes a clear yellow bumper case with a shoulder strap that I love). Only four small red rotors loudly carry the Pixy around as it flies, and thankfully Snap has taken care to make it very hard to ever hurt yourself with them with some bars that sit on top.

The cameras, one on the bottom and one on the front, are technically 12-megapixel, but like a lot of video and photos shot for social first, the overall quality might not matter as much when people are meant to tap past them on their feed. The final important detail is the hat-like knob on the top of the Pixy. It lets you set various flight paths for the drone to take (hover, reveal, orbit, follow, and favorite) along with setting the Pixy into standby mode for pairing or importing whatever you capture.

The Pixy makes it fairly hard to hurt yourself on its blades.Raymond Wong / Input

Using the Pixy — To use the drone, you just set the knob to whatever flight pattern you want, make sure the front camera is facing you, and press a little yellow button on the top to start the flight. Once you’re done, just hold your hand under the Pixy and it will land in your open palm, ready for its next flight.

It’s hard to overstate how easy Snap has made using the Pixy, and if there’s any victory to claim now, it's that the company has solved the easy, “your-dad-could-figure-it-out” drone. It’s pretty telling when the worst part of using the Pixy is connecting it to your phone over Bluetooth. I would not be surprised if copycats follow Snap’s lead.

The Pixy’s preprogrammed “Reveal” flight pattern.Ian Carlos Campbell / Input

Now the quality of the photos and videos you can get out of the Pixy can vary wildly, largely based on lighting. The Pixy is not really able to handle dimly lit, indoor spaces without losing detail or setting some out of control white balances. The little drone similarly struggles with wind, leaning sideways to stay centered and maintain the flight patterns it comes programmed with. I wouldn’t describe it as terrible by any means, but avoid windy outdoor days or at least find an angle that blocks some of the wind for your own peace of mind.

The Pixy’s preprogrammed “Follow” flight pattern.Ian Carlos Campbell / Input

My favorite Pixy skill is ability for the little drone to “follow.” Its the feature that feels the most futuristic (I always imagine influencers of the 23rd century being followed by a swarm of drones) and other than seeming “hesitant” and slow to follow, it works surprisingly well. I usually had to turn around to make sure the Pixy was still tracking me, but I never had any issues. It just likes to dawdle.

The Pixy’s “orbit mode” is pretty neat. Just make sure it’s not too windy out or the footage will look wobbly.Raymond Wong / Input
The Pixy can’t handle low-light very well. But since the footage is mostly shared on Snapchat, that’s not really a major issue.Raymond Wong / Input

With the editing capabilities of the Snapchat app, various AR filters, drawings, and other effects only a few swipes away. You can basically customize everything you capture to your liking. And unlike the Spectacles at launch, Snap is making it easy to get any photos or videos you shoot out of Snapchat, you can even save them to your camera roll at the same time you upload them to your Snapchat Memories.

The Future

The Pixy seems to be as much about being a fun camera as it is testing out tech for Snap’s future AR products.Raymond Wong / Input

Short battery life (around five short flights per full charge in my testing with each lasting around 30 seconds) and a fairly expensive $229 price tag are concerns for the Pixy, sure, and something to fix in a future version. But that doesn’t dull the potential. It’s telling to me that Snap got so much right on its first attempt, because the company’s vision is far bigger than flying cameras.

Snap is all in on augmented reality and computer vision. The company has an AR glasses design it’s shared with developers and AR creators. It also recently acquired a neurotech company that could produce a method for controlling future Snap hardware without the need for buttons or a controller. Snap is serious about its plans for AR, it’s just not trying to make the same kind of splash that Meta is. At least not yet.

The knob is the Pixy’s most complicated feature, and it’s also what makes using it so easy.Raymond Wong / Input
The cameras on the Pixy are 12-megapixel, and feature a light so you know when they’re recording.Raymond Wong / Input
The bumper case features a slot so you can charge the Pixy without taking it out, but you’re definitely going to want to carry an extra battery.Raymond Wong / Input

The Pixy already has some important basics. There’s object tracking so it knows what to follow, hover, and orbit around. The ability to detect a hand to land in after it’s done filming is facilitated via the bottom camera. A future drone could be used to map spaces for AR, making it that much easier for Snap’s future glasses to project content onto the world, but I mainly think Snap is showing that it's got some meat and potatoes computer vision features ready for consumer hardware. The Pixy is a pretty great showcase, and I imagine great practice for whatever’s next.

But more importantly, it's fun to use, and it makes me excited for whatever experiment Snap deems sellable next.