The Fotokite Phi could be a great way to get a GoPro into the skies on the cheap.

By Alex Fitzpatrick / Time
November 30, 2016

This story originally appeared on

Camera-carrying drones are among this year’s hottest holiday gifts, with models like DJI’s Phantom series flying off store shelves. But drones can be expensive, cumbersome and tough to learn to fly. A Swiss company called Fotokite aims to address those concerns with its new Fotokite Phi, a $249 foldable drone with a unique twist: Instead of flying freely, it stays tethered to a handheld controller.

Launching the drone involves taking it out of a Pringles can-like case, unfolding the wings, syncing the controller and giving the Phi a twist. After a few seconds of orienting itself, the Phi revs up to takeoff speed, at which point you release your grip on the drone as it takes to the sky.

Related: This Tiny Drone Camera Could Replace Selfie Sticks

Similar to flying a kite, the Phi’s altitude depends on how much line you give it. Should the Phi’s battery run low or the tether be somehow cut, it will smoothly auto-descend for a landing—though you’re out of luck if you were flying over water or off a cliff’s edge.

The Phi’s controller is unlike any input mechanism you’ve likely used before. It resembles and works like a contractor’s measuring tape. You press and hold a lever to give and retract the line. Holding one of two buttons, yaw or “orbit,” while turning your wrist commands the drone into various maneuvers. Getting used to the controller took me about five minutes, though it’s nowhere near as precise as, say, a DJI controller. A second flight mode, “follow me,” is meant to keep the Phi’s gaze on users as they hike up a mountain or ski down a slope, but this was tough to properly test inside the office where I took it for a spin.