There was a lot of buzz about DJI’s announcement of the Phantom 4 this spring. The day of the launch, I was able to order one within ten minutes of the announcement. Needless to say, I was very excited. When the box arrived, I immediately realized that this truly was the next generation of drone.
From the subtly revamped look to the amazing features of the software, this is in my opinion, the most sophisticated consumer drone on the market today! This review will give you a good idea of what’s different about the Phantom 4 and what purpose it is best suited to serve. The P4 is not for everyone, but if you are looking for a flying camera to take amazing images and video while enjoying the flight experience, then look no further!
To begin, I have to tell you that the Phantom 4 has so many features and adjustable settings that it is not a great beginner drone. Because there are so many things to download and adjust, from the time that I opened the box to the time that I was ready to fly was over an hour – which did not include the time to charge the battery. The quadcopter itself is updated from the previous models and very well thought out. The Micro SD card slot and USB ports are easy to access. The battery has grips that make it easy to insert and remove. The propellers have a “lock” system that no longer requires “spinning” them on and off.
But the real magic happens when you combine the hardware with the software, the DJI Go app. This software integrates very smoothly with the hardware to give you crystal clear images (through Lightbridge), obstacle avoidance (through a pair of obstacle sensing cameras), and sophisticated target tracking without the use of any special transmitters on the subject. In addition to the features that make the P4 a joy to fly, there are also camera controls that make capturing video and images more customizable. Of course you can smoothly tilt the camera, but in addition to that, you can adjust the ISO, exposure and frame rate on the fly. This means that you can get the perfect shot in any situation, no matter what activity or lighting condition.
|Camera||1920×1080 at 120p up to 4096×2160 (4K) at 24p|
|Video Format||MP4 / MOV ( MPEG – 4 AVC / H.264 )|
|Max Flight Time||Approximately 28 Minutes|
|Flight Battery||5350 mAh LiPo 4S|
|Weight||1380 grams (including battery)|
|Diagonal Size||350 mm (excluding propellers)|
|Positioning System||GPS+GLONASS Dual Positioning|
|Software||DJI Go for iOS and Android (free)|
Quality of build
When you open the box, right away you will notice the care and thought that went into the design and construction of the Phantom 4. To begin with, the box is not something you would throw away after you open it. The box is a legitimate storage container made from a rugged foam material that is light-weight and seems to be pretty strong. It has a rotating metal latch that closes securely and a handle so that you can carry your P4 easily with you. The box is also surprisingly small for as much stuff as it holds. My only complaint is that there does not seem to be a great place to keep the propellers safely in the box, so mine are in a bag next to the box, in hopes that I don’t forget them.
The next thing you will notice is the shiny, smooth finish on the Phantom 4. I had owned a Phantom 1 & 2 (skipped the P3) and both of them were mode of a more dull finished material that looked and felt cheaper than the new P4. The reason may be that there seems to be more packed inside the P4 than previous Phantoms and therefore it feels more “solid” and less “hollow” than its predecessors. The remote control is also quite well built with a very smooth mechanism that slides open in order to accommodate your tablet. I also like the fact that you plug your tablet directly into the remote. I also own a 3DR Solo, which uses a wifi connection to stream to the tablet. I have found this to be less reliable and sometimes hard to establish the connection. Plugging the tablet into the remote on the P4 has proven (so far) to be easier and more reliable.
Finally, I could not talk about quality without mentioning the software. I have read online that some people find the software confusing, but honestly, I disagree. The conventions and icons used in the software are very intuitive. This means that you really don’t have to read any manuals or watch any tutorials on the software in order to use it. If you know how to use other sophisticated iOS or Android software, you will quickly figure out how to navigate the DJI Go application.
Assembly and tuning
The Phantom 4 is definitely not a “turn it on and go” type of drone. When you first open the box, you will need to be prepared to spend some time downloading the latest version of the DJI Go app, updating firmware, and configuring your aircraft. If you are planning to get a P4, I would recommend that you set up an account on DJI’s web site and download the free app before your quad arrives. This will save you more time for the fun stuff!
In addition to the basics, there are a large number of customizable features that you can (and probably should) adjust before you fly. Things like how high it goes when you activate “return to home”, when the “low battery” alert comes on, etc. In addition, there are 3 flight modes that you need to consider. Positioning mode (P) gives you full GPS hold, obstacle sensing, and vision positioning. This is definitely the place to start. Attitude mode (A) gives you vision positioning and obstacle sensing, but does not use GPS, which means you will drift with the wind! This can be good for getting really smooth “sliding” shots. Finally, Sport mode (S) gives you a maximum speed of 45 mph or 72 kph, while maintaining satellite and vision positioning support. Collision avoidance is disabled in Sport mode, so use caution when you give it a try!
The Phantom 4 comes with a 16GB micro SD card that is ready to go in the quadcopter. The DJI Go software allows for easy editing and formatting of the card, which I recommend doing before each flight.
Finally, it is very important to calibrate the compass before your first flight and again if you travel more than 100 miles from your last calibration point. Calibrating the compass is very easy. You switch the flight mode switch back and forth several times until the lights on the P4 blink. Once they are blinking, you rotate the craft in a complete circle (360 degrees) in a couple of different positions until the lights turn a solid color. This is easy to do and very important before your first flight. If you are unsure how to calibrate the compass, there are a variety of videos on Youtube that explain the process.
If you have flown a Phantom before (P1, 2, or 3), then you are already familiar with how this latest-generation drone flies. The only difference that I noticed is that it takes a bit more throttle to get it off the ground than the older Phantoms. This may be because it is a bit heavier. There is a feature in the software that will take off and land the P4 for you, but honestly, what’s the fun in that!
Once you are in the air, the P4 is quick and responsive…especially when you are in “Sport” mode. You will, of course, want to ensure that you are in a clear area when you turn the P4 on and set it on level ground. Assuming that you are flying outdoors, you will want to be away from trees, buildings, power lines, etc. and get at least 10 satellites before you take off. It is also a good idea to set the altitude setting for the return-to-home feature higher than any obstacles that might be around you. When you set the drone on the ground and power it up, it will give you a verbal cue that you have established a new home position. This is important because this is where the P4 will return to if you push the RTH (return to home) button. Be sure it’s in a clear and safe space.
For anyone who has used Lightbridge before, you know that the visual image on your tablet is crystal clear with minimal delay or dropout. This means that you can fly the P4 FPV (first person view) with your tablet. This opens a world of possibilities for capturing great images because you can see a very clear picture of what your drone sees. It also leads to fun in flying around obstacles and testing your piloting skills.