Exploring The Depths, with The Gladius Mini 4K Underwater Drone
The Gladius Mini is an affordable, functional, and fun underwater drone. But be sure to consider the conditions you'll use it in before investing in one.
The mention of drones immediately conjures images quadcopters hovering in the sky above us. But what if there was a similar device that could allow us to explore underwater, rather than the skies?
CHASING’s Gladius Mini underwater drone aims to do just that. Small enough to travel around with, the Gladius Mini could transform how you view the underwater world. Or, as in our case, it might just show you that the nearby lake is as dirty as you thought.
Read on to find out what we thought of the Gladius Mini, and at the end of this review, we’re giving our test model away to one lucky reader!
- Size: 385x286x138mm
- Battery: 5000mAh
- Battery Life:
- Drone: Two hours
- Base Station: Six hours
- Controller: Five hours
- Weight: 2.5kg
- Maximum Depth: 100m/330ft
- Maximum Speed: 2m/s
- Operation: Remote control, smartphone app
- Resolution: 4K UHD / 12MP
- Field of View: 95 degrees
- Storage: 64GB
- Price: $1,499
- Backpack available for an additional $199
Many air-born drones have similar quadcopter-style designs. An underwater drone, however, requires an entirely different approach. The Gladius Mini has five thrusters to propel it through the water. The two rear propellers drive horizontal motion, while the three propellers on the drone’s body create vertical thrust.
The device is streamlined to minimize resistance while in motion, even going as far as incorporating gills into the sides of the drone. The bright yellow finish is reminiscent of other underwater devices and helps the drone stand out while in the water.
The main drone unit is front-heavy to allow it to travel through the water effectively. The face of the device is where you’ll find the 4K UHD camera, sandwiched in between two ultrabright LEDs, which provide light in darker water.
The main unit is only one part of the Gladius Mini’s setup. There are two other integral components; the base station, and the remote. The drone connects to the base station via the included tether cable. The drone can descend to a depth of 100m, but the tether is only 50m—the 100m tether is sold separately.
The base station is the hub of all the Gladius Mini’s activities, acting almost like a miniature router. Typically a remote control connects directly to the device, but in this case, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
The base station broadcasts its own Wi-Fi network. You need to connect your smartphone to that network, turn on your phone’s Bluetooth, download the IF.Dive app (you’re not alone; I don’t get that name either), and then connect the remote control via Bluetooth to your phone, and by proxy, the base station.
The Gladius Mini is not a plug-and-play device; it does require a bit of setup. As with many imported devices, the instructions are minimal, and not always easy to follow. After some experimentation, it was possible to get the drone up and running.
The remote control comes with a smartphone mount that you’ll need to attach so you can view the live video stream and control the drone. To download the app, scan the QR code on the Gladius Mini’s instructions, and you’ll be directed to the relevant store.
The instructions do say to charge the various units before usage. However, as I’m sure many of us do, I ignored that advice, and attempted to set up the Gladius Mini, but became frustrated when I couldn’t connect the app to the drone. There’s no troubleshooting or FAQs provided (another slight let-down), so it wasn’t clear what the problem was.
In the end, it turned out that although the base unit and the remote had enough charge to function, the drone didn’t, and so wouldn’t start. There are no indicators anywhere on the drone, so it wasn’t immediately obvious that was the case.
The base station does have four LED status lights. A green LED indicates that the base station’s power is on, there are two blue LEDs for the Wi-Fi network (2.4GHz and 5GHz), and a final blue LED for connection to the drone. For correct operation, all four LEDs must be lit continuously and not flashing.
Once you’ve done the relevant setup, it’s time to start booting up the device and getting it ready to go water bound. Connect the tether to the base station and drone, and on the underside of the base station, flick the power switch on. You then need to connect to the Gladius Mini’s Wi-Fi network. Take note though that this won’t work correctly if you have a VPN running.
From there, you’ll open the IF.Dive app, and turn on the remote control. While the remote control connects to your phone via Bluetooth, it doesn’t remember that connection past your current session. So, every time you go to use the Gladius Mini, you’ll need to select the control from the pop-up menu that opens.
The base station is the brains of the setup, but you don’t interact with it while using the drone. Once you’ve put the unit into the water, everything you do will be through the smartphone app and the remote control.
The app displays real-time video from the drone and overlays a range of options. The most crucial of which is the small unlock icon at the bottom of the screen. This essentially turns off the safety lock for the drone’s propellers. When you’re done with your session, you will need to tap the lock icon again to turn them off.
The app is best described as functional, rather than attractive or minimalistic. There are a lot of icons hovering over the live footage, and only some of them are labeled. There is a large record button on the right-hand side, which starts or stops a video recording or takes a photo. You can switch between photo and video mode by tapping the icon just above the record button.
When the phone, controller, base station, and drone are all connected, a tap on the unlock icon brings the drone to life. While there is no harm in starting the propellers on land, the easiest way was to place the drone into the water first.
Without any input, the Gladius Mini happily floats atop the water before you start it up. This buoyancy is a handy feature should anything go wrong while in use. The controls are intuitive and easy to get used to. The left joystick controls direction, while the right adjusts pitch.
There are other buttons on the controller—recording controls, unlock/lock, and stabilization or depth mode—but I usually found it easier to adjust these settings on the app instead. So, the controller was only used for directing the drone around. Although the app-based controls weren’t labeled or self-explanatory, once you’ve got used to it, they are easy to use too.
The quoted battery life seemed about right too, although an average duration is hard to predict as it depends on your usage. The limiting factor is the drone’s battery, which should last around two hours.
To test the Gladius Mini, I took it to a lake in central London. This inner-city lake is reasonably murky and has debris floating around too. I used this location as it served as a worst-case test scenario.
Unfortunately, the darkness in the lake proved too much for the camera, and most of the footage, even on a brilliantly sunny day, came out poorly. Even the onboard light set to 100 percent couldn’t save the footage.
However, out of water footage showed that the camera is capable, but you should be wary of purchasing an underwater drone if you are likely to use it in similar conditions.
Downloading Your Media
Once you’ve finished your underwater exploration, and got the device back in your hands, you’ll want to look at some of the footage your drone recorded. This should be a simple process, but it is initially fraught.
The base station has a microSD slot. It would seem natural to assume that you need to insert a microSD card to record your footage onto. So, it was with some surprise that the first time I tried this out, the card was blank.
I wondered if this was because I didn’t record it properly through the app. A second attempt proved just as fruitless. The app displays your available storage as a total of 56GB but given the lack of clarity with most labels and instructions, I didn’t think anything of it.
It turns out that the Gladius Mini has in internal storage where the media is recorded. The internal storage is listed as 64GB, so a few GB is likely used for an internal OS. It’s not clear what, if anything, the microSD slot on the base station is actually for.
To access your media, you can use the app, and download videos and photos to your device. However, if you don’t happen to have a spare 56GB on your phone, you’ll want to head to a computer. Navigate to the URL 192.168.1.88 in your browser while connected to the Gladius Mini’s Wi-Fi network, and you get a basic web interface for downloading media.
In the grand scheme of things, this is only a minor complaint. However, clear instructions, or at least some guidance, would make the Gladius Mini a lot more intuitive and user-friendly.
Should You Buy the Gladius Mini?
Barring any legal restrictions , an air-borne drone can be used almost anywhere. The same isn’t true of an underwater device. Unless you have a specific use for it or a large body of water nearby, you might not get a lot of use out of the Gladius Mini—or any underwater device for that matter.
Lackluster instructions aside, CHASING’s Gladius Mini is a surprisingly affordable, functional, and even fun device. If you are using it for the novelty of underwater footage, you may find yourself growing tired of it. However, for recording your scuba diving sessions, performing marine maintenance, or exploring below the surface, it is the perfect companion.