Over the last few years, there just haven't been that many massive updates to DJI's Phantom drone lineup. The biggest was perhaps the inclusion of its own camera when it ditched the need to add a GoPro to the bundle. But just looking at today's Phantom 4 design is enough to indicate the major steps DJI took to step into an entirely new generation of autonomy. Featuring class-leading obstacle avoidance and autonomous flying modes, the Phantom 4 is so good that people are afraid of the implications of never actually having to learn to pilot a drone.
The Phantom 4's newest autonomous features, TapFly and ActiveTrack, are what really set it apart from its predecessors. And the implementation of these features are what could set it apart from its competitors. Four additional cameras and new ultrasonic sensors help with an all-new obstacle avoidance system.
With TapFly, flying to any point within the camera's view is as easy tapping a point on the live view screen. But you can now safely travel beyond what's in view. With a total flight distance of up to five kilometers and its new obstacle avoidance system, you can set a maximum distance for the Phantom 4 to fly, and then use TapFly to go beyond and around obstacles without user input.
ActiveTrack takes subject-tracking to a whole new level by recognizing and tracking 3D objects (such as people), regardless of orientation and without the need for any kind of tracking device. This enables tracking any person (or animal) with ease. Orbiting a subject is also easier. And while it does require the use of the remote controller, all that you need to do is select your subject and hold down one joystick to rotate around that subject (The Verge has a great video that goes through these features, below).
According to FAA guidelines and DJI's own disclaimers, these new features do, of course, "require" that you are able to operate the drone manually with the remote controller at any point in order to take control in an emergency situation. Naturally, many will undoubtedly fly the Phantom 4 without this knowledge, but its new sensors and technologies at least make it safer than ever before, as Return to Home also now employs the obstacle avoidance features. And for those that do take the time to become extremely proficient in remote control use, the Phantom 4 features a Sport mode that will take the drone up to 45 miles per hour from its normally electronically limited 35 mile-per-hour top speed.
Along with the Phantom 4's sleeker design comes an all-new eight-element lens in front of a new 4K camera that can shoot up to 30 frames per second in full resolution or 1080p at 120fps. The gimbal is sturdier with an additional motor and reinforced design. And the new sensors help the Phantom 4 maintain perfect position while hovering.
Meanwhile, although weight has increased by 100 grams, aerodynamic improvements and the larger battery responsible for the weight gain lead to an increased flight time of 28 minutes over the previous generation's 25 minutes.
The Phantom 4 isn't cheap, but at $1,399, it's still an excellent value, seeing as your investment is protected by its technology that allows it to prevent what would otherwise become many, many crashes for new drone pilots. The Phantom 4 will be the "first drone prominently featured at Apple Stores around the world," according to The Verge, and is available to order today from DJI.com.