DJI turned some heads last month when they unleashed their latest version of their Phantom series, the Phantom 4. The Phantom 4 has become a breakthrough drone with its new high-end features at a consumer price. Not only does it fit a consumer budget, but it also is an easy and safe drone to fly for beginners. How do I know this? This is the first drone I have ever flown, and we put it to the test.
The new version will be offered in one model, as opposed to its predecessor, the Phantom 3 Professional, Advanced, and Standard. Some of the great new features for the Phantom 4 are options like ActiveTrack, which allows you to fly your drone handsfree, Tap-to-Fly, a great choice for beginners, in which all flyers have to do is tap on their screen to direct their drone, and DJI's new Obstacle Avoidance System, which helps the Phantom 4 avoid obstacles such as trees or walls.
Before we dive into some of the highlights of the new features, let's look at some improvements from previous models.
The DJI Phantom 3 series offered us crisp 4K resolution video, and the the Phantom 4 gives us that same high definition footage for our videos. The only significant difference is the Phantom 4 now offering 1080p resolution at 120 fps, as well as a few options such as Ultra HD and HDR photo capabilities. The gimbal is new and sturdier, with an additional motor and reinforced design. New sensors on the Phantom 4 help maintain perfect position while hovering. I ran into a minor issue with the camera gimbal being crooked while flying, I've found that it is important to make sure you turn on your bird on a flat, even surface.
DJI has improved their propellers with an easy snap-on functionality, as opposed to screwing them on, which gave flyers the hazard of possibly unwinding. The new snap-on feature makes the props very easy to snap, secure, and be ready to fly within seconds. I haven't had any issues with the snap feature, and it does not look like there will be any potential problems; it works as advertised.
Increased Flight Time
The Phantom 4 has increased its battery time by 5 minutes, at a listed 28 minutes, as opposed to its predecessor at only 23 minutes. When flying, I was able to get a solid 22 minutes of flight time before I reached low battery.
The new Phantom 4 has a new addition: Sport Mode. This advanced feature gives the drone the option of reaching speeds up to 44 MPH. This is a 20% increase in speed compared to the Phantom 3 Professional. This feature is only recommended for experienced flyers and does not offer Obstacle Avoidance in this specific mode.
My first time flying in this mode was a little daunting but it turned out to be a lot of fun. At first you notice how quick and twitchy it behaves when moving the toggle sticks. Make sure to see that your path is clear before accelerating, this bird can move pretty fast. It is also very important to monitor how high your altitude is before advancing, the drone has a tendency to nose dive at high speeds. One behavior I liked about this feature is the drone automatically ascends when backing off the throttle, because of the drone's tendency to nose dive.
Tap to Fly
Tap to Fly makes it super easy for beginners to fly right out of the box. All you have to do is tap the screen to direct your drone.
The feature was very easy for me to figure out and use, though I had an issue with my default speed starting out at 22 MPH, which is very fast for a beginner mode; be very careful when using this feature for the first time. The display presents a quadrant where you decide to move up and down, left or right, and faster or slower. While I did find it easy to use, I didn’t find it any better than flying the drone’s "regular" mode. This drone is very easy to fly out of the box, and I found confidence very quickly when I first began.
Obstacle Avoidance System
This is one of the features that really got me excited, especially as a new flyer. DJI has inserted front obstacle sensors that combine with advanced computer vision that allows the drone to react to and avoid obstacles in its path. They have refined their Vision Positioning System, allowing flyers to fly with confidence indoors.
This feature is simply amazing. I’ve avoided many trees, walls, and poles because of it. As you approach an obstacle, the drone live view will have a radar that will show you how close your are. As you approach closer, the drone will stop, and you will hear a beeping sound. It has given me loads of confidence as a newer flyer.
Although it works 95% of the time, I have run into a few incidents where that wasn’t the case, as you can see in the video. I've had problems with flying in tight spaces with obstacle avoidance on; the drone becomes stuck and won't move at all; you kind of have to wiggle your way out the area. Hopefully, this will be fixed in future firmware updates. It isn’t perfect yet, but it's well on its way.
This new feature completely sold me on the Phantom 4 when the news came out. Ideally, it can track humans, so you’d be able to fly the drone hands-free. The Phantom 4 will recognize your subject, follow them smoothly and naturally, and keep them in the frame — no bracelets, tracker, or anything. It is all built in.
This feature, just like the Obstacle Avoidance System, is amazing! We tested it on humans, cars, and even a horse. Yes, a horse. It worked great with all of them while testing.
Even when the subject is hidden for a split second, let's say behind a tree or pole, it finds the subject right way to continue tracking. It allows you to pan and pivot with ease. It is very smooth.
There are some limitations, however. I found that it doesn’t work great in very low light conditions, which is understandable. It also tracks backwards, but does not offer obstacle avoidance, so be cautious. Another limitation I ran into while tracking the horse is once your subject goes under, the Phantom will lose it. You will have to manually turn the drone around to re-track your subject. All in all, it's an amazing feature.
What I Liked
I love most of the new features DJI has introduced, including:
- ActiveTrack: I see myself using this frequently for smoother pans and pivots.
- Obstacle Avoidance: This is pretty self-explanatory; it never hurts to have an aid to avoid obstacles.
- Sport Mode: This mode was a lot of fun; I was impressed how the drone automatically ascends when pulling off the throttle.
- Updated propellers: They're quick and easy to snap and very secure.
- Longer battery time
- Ease of use: This is great for a beginner like myself.
What I Didn't Like
- TapFly: I don't see myself using this feature much or at all; this drone is very easy to fly out of the box as long as you read the manual thoroughly.
- Obstacle Avoidance: It doesn't work perfectly just yet, and the drone has a tendency to get stuck in tight areas.
- Lack of camera upgrades
If you have you have been thinking about diving into the drone world or on the fence about upgrading your bird, I would hands-down recommend going with the DJI Phantom 4. Even though it hasn’t upgraded much in camera resolution from the Phantom 3 series, it makes it up two-fold in the new features it offers, like snap propellers, extended battery life, Obstacle Avoidance, ActiveTrack, etc. It is actually a very easy decision at a decent price point: $1,399. As a beginner, by reading the manual and safety precautions, you can easily grow into this drone and become an eventual intermediate flyer in no time.
And remember, whenever flying a drone, please make sure to know your bird, the rules and regulations, and always use common sense. Also, remember to register your drone, which is mandatory in the United States; all you need to do is register and place your number on your drone; the registration fee is $5. Have fun and safe flying! I'd also like to extend special thanks to Minh for helping out with the video production and photography!
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