Research on the psychology of queuing suggests that people have a tolerance for waiting that is proportional to the complexity or quantity of service that they anticipate. (Citation)
This is a warning for anyone who wishes to purchase a Vantage Robotics Snap drone. My experience wasn’t the end of the world, but it also wasn’t great. I admit that it is difficult to write an essay like this without sounding like the victim / attacker / loser. Instead of outwardly blaming Vantage, I am self-reflecting on my own thought processes.
Snap functionality has been surpassed by other drones. If you have $1000 burning a hole in your pocket, I recommend you go with an established brand that provides well tested products, policies, upgrades, care insurance and community.
On September 15th, 2015, I spent $995.06 to crowd fund a Vantage Robotics Snap. I received a $100 discount from Andrew Naber after discovering a promo code on FB and sending multiple emails to support.
This is my entry into the drone world. I’ve always loved cameras and this is something that takes filming to a whole new dimension. Snap has a beautiful 4k 2-axis EIS camera, portability and the cage protects my fingers from being cut off. Proudly made in the Bay Area, where I spent 20 years.
EIS is disabled in 4k mode. This feature is ahead of its time in most drones. A 3-axis gimble helps with the stability immensely though.
For two years, I excitedly waited for each blog post on the Vantage website. Drone building is apparently as hard as rocket science! Each time a new posting appeared, often weeks or months late, a tiny bit more information was revealed. Usually, some excuse for another delay and software / hardware change. I kept waiting.
A Facebook group for Snap enthusiasts was eventually created by well known drone reviewer Ash from DroningOn. I found out about the group early on and soon after, a couple hundred people joined. Many of us started to talk about our feelings. Some good and a lot bad. Myself and others made silly and sometimes harsh comments out of frustration. Many missed promises should be enough to cancel an order. I kept waiting.
Part of the reason the group was created was because Vantage was now censoring / controlling comments on their blog and FB page.
Instead of embracing the community, they tried to control it. That made sense 10+ years ago, but is a waste of time today.
June 14th, 2017, a blog post titled ‘We’re shipping!’ appeared. A few days later, another post titled “We continue to ship” with vendor delays, hardware and software issues. A month after that, July 20th, 2017, “Shipping Update.” More excuses.
Something interesting happened at this point. The last blog update included a video from a customer (and beta tester). A bit of sleuthing made it seem that only people related to the company received the drone. One person listed the CEO as a friend on Facebook. Myself and others called them out. It appears they were shipping out of promised order, which is a big no-no in the land of pre-order.
Lies, I said many times! “Early customers”, we were told by James. Despite a few months of shipping, it seemed like nobody unrelated to Vantage had the drone. In my desire to get the product, I overlooked the lack of transparency and communication.
People in the group were reporting that their refunds were received in a timely fashion. If it felt like things were going south with the company, at least they honored the refunds. This kept my spirits up.
While composing this essay, multiple people posted about receiving their drone significantly out of order. People who ordered as early as September 22, 2015 commented they hadn’t received theirs yet. Only a week after my order!
Another member ordered Jan 18th, 2016 and received it at the end of August 2017. Ordered after and received before me. Theirs was defective on delivery (camera and magnet failures), indicating serious quality control issues. If I had known this before, I think I’d ask for a refund at this point.
A few real customers joined the group and posted videos. I kept thinking that there should be a lot more videos after a two year wait for an exciting new product.
Based on others order dates, my order must be one of the first. This was a motivating factor to stay in line. There was no way to know for sure though. James refused to give any details.
Many of the posted videos had EIS and quality issues. I kept tricking myself into believing that they could easily be solved with firmware updates. But after two years and claims of many beta testers, why wasn’t this resolved?
One joke in the group was that people would encourage each other to ask for a refund so they could move up in line. I must admit, this mentality kept me in line. Such a long wait, nobody else was going to take my Snap! I’m sure a whole book could be written on this type of psychology.
August 25th, 2017. It was ready to be shipped today! Woo hoo, just under the two year mark! Despite being busy myself, I always promptly replied to requests for more information.
August 29th, 2017, “I will send it out right away.”
September 7th, 2017, I got the tracking number from FedEx. The conspiracy theorist in me sees these sorts of delays as another tactic to keep people from asking for refunds. Buying time to fix issues...
September 13th, 2017 update mentioned they were still working out hardware and software issues. Wait, what? Mine had already shipped! Would mine be ok?
Our shipping rate has been steadily accelerating, but not at the rate we targeted. This has been slowed by one rather painful hardware bug — an unexpected photonic sensitivity in our barometer, uncovered by a location change. This set us back by two weeks. Additionally, we had a new quality issue with one of our PCBAs that caused the magnetometer to fail after our burn in test. We believe we have this fixed as well.
How could they ship from June 14th, 2017 with all these issues? We begged many times, just communicate what was really going on. We’d be more than happy to understand. The silence was frustrating. Waiting was like staying in an abusive relationship. Maybe they will get better some day.
September 18th, 2017 (two years and 3 days), I received my Snap drone. You can only imagine my excitement as I took many unboxing photos.
This in itself was a miracle. I’m now living in Saigon, Vietnam. I had originally asked James to ship with DHL because I was told that their packages make it through customs more easily than FedEx. “Unfortunately, we have a deal with FedEx and cannot send this to you via DHL.”
After it had arrived in Vietnam, I got the bad news. Importing a drone into the country requires a license that can only be obtained by a business operating in Vietnam. This license takes months because it involves paperwork with the Ministry of Defense! “Freedom” seemed ironic.
The shipping company working for FedEx was unhelpful. They had no idea how to fill out the appropriate paperwork and didn’t want to bother with me at all. Can I blame them?
Now, my package is really stuck in customs. A couple well connected locals said that I should send it back and have it shipped another less conspicuous way. They will charge storage fees after awhile.
Living in one of the most corrupt countries and being friends with many different locals has its advantages though. Pay $400 to a friend of a friend and I had the drone cleared from customs that day. He even showed me pictures of his baby daughter. I wrote it off as money towards her college education.
I took the box home between my legs on my motorbike. Strapped in to prevent anyone from snatching it from me. Petty theft in Vietnam is rampant.
Before I even fully charged the battery, I ran up to the big open roof of my new apartment building and started to play. I wanted to briefly hover a meter off the ground and get a feeling for it.
The software feels unfinished. Shrugging, I got it hovering and everything seemed ok. I took couple short videos, but had one weird experience where it stumbled along the ground during takeoff. I noticed that there was a few scratch marks on the bottom of the battery. Two years of development and nobody thought to add some simple feet to protect it. I’m told later, it is better to hand launch.
After a few successful short hovers, the app asked to update the firmware. Why didn’t it figure this out before flight? I assumed this upgrade would fix the previous issue. Upgrade now completed, it was dark, the battery was around 10%. I packed up and went inside. I learned later from the group, that updating on a non-full battery is a bad idea, I could have bricked it. The software never told me that.
After a couple days of rain and being busy, the sun came out and I decided to go to the roof agin and try some more hovering. This time, it was clearly having troubles orienting its magnetometer. After rotating it a few times, I swiped the enabled TAKEOFF button upwards.
This is where everything went south. It went immediately into kamikaze mode. Straight up about a meter, then shot off, just over the railing, down to the left, smashed into the side of the building and fell 6 floors to the roof of the neighbor. Scared the neighbors with a loud bang.
Totally destroyed. Camera and spokes busted.
I posted my sadness to the group. Where else was I going to cry about it? People started commenting right away. Railings or metal at the top of the building must have interfered. Common in drones, yet this was never explained. My mind is now full of questions…
Why didn’t the documentation note this more clearly? Why did the software let me take off when it wasn’t well aligned? Why didn’t it just revert to a hovering mode? Why did it act as though it was possessed by evil aliens?
What followed was an entertaining and somewhat dangerous mission to get onto the roof of the neighbors house. I don’t know Vietnamese for ‘help me get my broken drone off your neighbors roof’, so I nicely begged my apartment manager to help knock on doors. An hour later, I had all the pieces back. I still owe him a beer or ten.
Someone in the group correctly called me out and told me that I should contact Vantage directly via email, which I did immediately. I had a couple back and forth emails about returning the sad mess. James accurately scolded me for not writing them directly: “Moderating social media is different than dealing with logistics like this. You should always email us directly if you have an issue.”
Did I want a replacement or a refund?I thought long and hard and decided I want my money back.
Enough was enough. I’m tired of feeling like a tester for a product that took two years. Never mind the fact that it shipped with only one battery with no end in sight for a promised spare or extras or the rest of the goods. Would I need to pay another $400?
My friends teased me to get a more common drone. Available in Saigon at about the same cost as a Snap. More functionality and features. “Stop trying to prove what an idiot you are.”
Saving face is important in Asian culture. I volunteered privately to James that I was happy to leave the FB group and ship the broken pieces back with their offered FedEx label.
A few more emails to confirm my intentions. Then, silence from James for a couple days. Even with a brand new product, weekends are off. That is one way of dealing with customers, but not how I would do it.
The next few responses from James were disheartening to say the least. This is honestly what motivated me to speak up now.
According to him, they were making a special case to pay for return shipping and would not refund my money until they received the unit back. He quoted their undocumented “standard policy.”
Their website only says this taken from the FAQ:
“We offer a one year guarantee against manufacturer’s defects. When you purchase Snap directly from our website, you get a full 14-day money back guarantee from the date of shipment. Any items damaged due to reasons not covered under warranty cannot be accepted back for refund under our 30 Day Money Back Guarantee.”
There is no published warranty policy or care program.
James refused multiple requests and demands to refund before sending it back, effectively forcing me to trust them once again. Future emails suggested that they might not honor the refund request. Even though he said earlier, “The moment we get it back, we can paypal you a refund.”
For comparison, another drone manufacturer has a clearly defined policy and care program. I know there are complaints about that manufacturers support as well, but I’d prefer something documented. Multiple requests to James for a fully documented policy went unanswered.
It took a week of FedEx hassle to ship the drone back. Then another week for shipping. A few days later (another weekend in the mix), I got an email response from James asking me the address of where to send the PayPal (even though I had already told him in a previous message). Poor guy is so overloaded.
I received a refund total of $875.06. 2 years of waiting has no price, but out of pocket expense is $420. $20 for the original shipping, which isn’t refunded (of course).
A couple people in the community disagreed with me asking for a refund. One overly opinionated guy, who has his own drone company, thinks this is all my fault. I should have known about the interference issues. I had to agree to disagree with him because the app allowed me to take off.
Before the “tightened restrictions”, one customer posted about their “Jon Scott Stevens moment.” No metal around this time. Another person commented that they had the same problem. Three similar failures is a clear pattern.
At least I’m not alone?
Despite my frustrations, I still think the guys at Vantage are good people. I do not wish them any personal ill will. They set out to create something special, but in my opinion, ultimately failed. Startups are hard. Hardware startups are harder.
I feel bad for James especially. As far as I know, the CEO has never spoken up in an online forum and James has had to take the brunt of the comments from the community (and likely more in private email). For such a new business, I would like to believe the CEO might step in, even privately, and offer some condolences to his customers.
If you have already ordered, think about the psychological games you are playing with yourself. There is a lot of research done on the psychology of waiting. Why did you even read this far if you feel confident about your decision?
Go buy a more established drone. You can’t regret that as easily.
Create your free account to unlock your custom reading experience.