How to Fly a Drone with Your Phone or Tablet


When you buy a drone, it usually comes with its own controller, which is the most logical way to fly the drone. However, most DJI drones can actually be flown with a phone or a tablet without the use of their controller. For one thing, this allows you to pack light without having to take along the drone’s controller. So, how do you fly your drone using your phone or tablet instead of the controller that it comes with?

Download your drone’s dedicated mobile app on your phone or tablet. From there, go to your phone’s settings and then connect its Wi-Fi to your drone via the drone’s own Wi-Fi network. Go back to the mobile app and follow the setup and calibration to configure your drone and prepare it for flight.

Your drone might come with its own controller but that doesn’t mean that you can’t control it with your smartphone. Drones are now designed to work when they are controlled by smartphones, and that is a good thing considering that you don’t always have the room to carry a drone controller with you. This only makes it more appealing for you to learn how to fly a drone with your phone or tablet if the occasion arises. 

Why use a phone to fly your drone?

Most drones, right out of the box, usually have their own dedicated controllers unless you choose a cheaper drone model that relies on a smartphone instead of a separate controller. 

However, regardless of whether or not the drone does indeed come with its own controller, most drones still rely on your smartphone to reduce the load on the controller in terms of computer power for its various functions. This is why you can tinker with your drone’s settings and receive the feed coming from your drone’s camera on your smartphone instead of on the controller.

So, while smartphones are indeed great for drones because they allow the controller to focus more on the piloting aspects of controlling a drone, the usefulness doesn’t stop there. You can also use a phone exclusively not only for the drone’s camera feed and settings but for all of the other aspects of flight control as well. 

That means that you can control the drone using your smartphone alone and without the use of its dedicated controller. But why would you want to use a phone instead of its controller to fly your drone?

Convenience

While most drone controllers aren’t really heavy or large – most of them are just about the same size as a smartphone – there are some cases where you don’t have enough room to carry the controller along with the drone itself. 

If you use the smartphone to control the drone, that means you can leave the controller behind and not have to carry it around if you really want to make sure that you are packing and traveling as light as possible.

Easy controls

Once you get the hang of flying the drone with its controller, it really isn’t difficult to pilot it or tinker with its settings. But, then again, the different settings and functions that you can adjust with a drone are so much easier to play around with when you are using the smartphone’s touchscreen functions. 

Settings such as drawing a flight plan or using the GPS function of your drone are things that are extremely easier to do when you are doing them with your smartphone or tablet rather than your drone’s controller.

It’s like playing a mobile game

All of us here have had the experience of playing different mobile games with our smartphones or tablets. We are used to playing such games and using our phone’s touchscreen functions to control our games. So, when you are using your phone or tablet to control your drone, it really is quite similar to the games that you play with your smartphone. 

Flying the drone with the smartphone becomes more fun and interactive because you are able to see the first-person view coming from your drone’s camera while you are controlling the drone with your smart device as if you are actually playing a mobile game with it.

Data and diagnostics are easier to pull 

Finally, when you are controlling your drone with a smartphone or tablet, you will find that the different data and diagnostics that you need to record and keep will be easier to pull with a smart device instead of a controller. This is similar to how it is easier to configure and tinker with the settings of a drone using a smartphone or tablet instead of using the drone’s dedicated controller.

How to connect your phone or tablet to your drone

Now that you know some of the reasons why you might want to use your phone or tablet to fly your drone, let’s look at how to connect your smart device to your drone (without the controller in the mix) so that you can control it with your phone or tablet.

  1. On your phone, go to the App Store or Play Store, whichever of the two applies to your iOS or Android device.
  2. In the App Store or Play Store, look for your drone’s dedicated mobile app. For example, if you are using a DJI drone, you should be using one of DJI’s dedicated mobile apps to control your drone.
  3. Download the drone’s mobile app and allow your phone or tablet to install it.
  4. After downloading the drone’s mobile app, connect your phone or tablet to your drone’s Wi-Fi network. You can do so by going to the device’s settings and then its Wi-Fi settings. You will be able to see the different networks you can join, and this should include your drone’s dedicated Wi-Fi network as long as your drone is powered on.
  5. Connect your smart device to your drone’s Wi-Fi network. If you are unsure about your drone’s Wi-Fi network name, just refer to its manual to find out the name of the network. Again, make sure that the drone is actually powered on.
  6. After connecting your phone or tablet to the drone’s Wi-Fi network, the two will now be in sync. But the setup process is not yet complete because you still need to configure the settings.
  7. Go back to your smart device’s drone mobile app and then complete any of the setup or calibration that you are required to do to fly the drone using your phone.
  8. After completing the setup and calibration, you are now ready to fly your drone using your phone or tablet.

How the controls on the phone work

Now that you are done connecting your phone to your drone and you are ready to fly your drone with the use of your smart device as its controller, the one thing you might be wondering is how the controls actually work when you are using your phone to pilot the drone.

The truth is that this depends on the drone that you are flying and on the drone’s manufacturer. Some drones don’t really allow you to fly your drone exclusively using your smartphone but the ones that allow you to do so (such as DJI and Parrot drones) actually have intuitive on-screen controls in the form of joysticks.

These replicate the actual joysticks that you find on a separate controller, with the throttle and yaw on the left joystick, and the pitch and roll on the right joystick. In some cases, you can customize this on your smart device. 

If you have experienced playing a mobile game where you need to control a vehicle or a character’s movement using on-screen joysticks, the way you fly a drone with your phone is actually pretty similar as you only need to keep your finger on the screen and drag the on-screen joystick to the direction where you want the drone to go to.

For some people, it might take time to get used to flying a drone using on-screen joysticks as the actual joysticks of a drone controller are much easier and more intuitive to use. However, those who are already used to playing mobile games that have on-screen joysticks will find the transition much easier.

Tips for a smooth flight with a phone controller

Finally, here are some great tips that will make it easier for you to fly your drone using your phone as a controller:

  • Don’t fly the drone too far away from you. Remember here that you are using your drone’s Wi-Fi network to control your drone. Wi-Fi signals can be very limited in terms of their signal similar to how your home’s router probably has a very limited range.
  • If you want to fly your drone at farther distances, use the dedicated controller instead. This is because radio signals have a much farther reach in comparison to the Wi-Fi signal that your drone produces.
  • Try to fly your drone in a wide open area where there is nothing that can disrupt the Wi-Fi connection between your drone and your smart device. Treat your drone as if you’re trying to keep it connected to your home’s router in the sense that you want to minimize the obstructions between it and your smart device if you want to have the best connection possible.
  • Always fly your drone with a phone or tablet that has more than enough battery life remaining. That’s because you don’t want your phone or tablet to die on you while you are in the middle of flying your drone. This can lead to a drone crash when the phone or tablet suddenly runs out of battery.
  • It is best to carry a portable phone charger with you so that you can maximize your phone’s battery.
  • If you can, carry your drone’s controller with you as well just in case your phone runs out of battery or something happens to your phone or to the Wi-Fi signal between it and your drone.
  • Practice flying your drone using your phone in a safe and controlled environment such as your backyard before you attempt to fly it in more complex environments. This will allow you to fully master the feeling of the phone’s controls before you set out and fly the drone in places other than your home.

Elizabeth Ciobanu

Editor-in-Chief. Elizabeth is a full-time (homeschooling!) mom of four, and serial entrepreneur in a variety of enterprises, one of which is producing content for Droneblog. If free time existed, she would love to spend more time on hobbies such as flying a drone.

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