The world's biggest drone maker is back with its smartest compact quadcopter yet: The Phantom 4 automatically dodges obstacles, takes amazing video, and makes you look like a drone pro -- even if you've never touched one before.
The new Phantom 4 is available for preorder today for $2399, and if you're at all interested in drones, you need to check this thing out. Yes, it's a few hundred dollars more expensive than the starting price of the Phantom 3, but for the extra money you're getting a lot of smart features.
DJI's Phantom drones have been defining what regular people can expect from a camera-equipped quadcopter for years. With each iteration, the Phantom's flight gets a little smoother and its camera gets a touch better. With the Phantom 4, though, it stops being just a camera with wings that's easy to fly. This thing is damn-near sentient.
The Phantom 4's image quality inches forward this time -- the camera has a new lens that should be sharper around the edge of the captured picture. But it's a huge leap forward in robotics.
The coolest feature by far is the Obstacle Sensing System, which will hopefully help you avoid a bulk of the trees and garage doors that get in your way. The system works using two forward-facing optical cameras that scan for crap the Phantom might run into. The obstacle-sensing software then automatically redirects the Phantom 4 around an obstacle. What's even cooler is that if the drone determines it can't fly around an obstacle, it will just hover in place and wait for your next command, like a floating robotic puppy. When the "return to home" function is activated, the Phantom 4 will avoid obstacles on the way back, too.
Of course this system isn't perfect, and it can't avoid what it can't see. So you still have to use your brain -- if it tries to fly over something and bangs into the tree branch above it, that's on you.
That sharp robotic mind comes in handy with a feature called ActiveTrack, which turns the drone into a smart videographer that follows whatever subject you tell it to. Using the DJI mobile app, simply tap on the subject you want the Phantom 4's camera to stay on, and the drone will always keep that subject centered. We're told there are so limitations to the tracking powers, but really, if it works at all, it's sort of magical. Life-logging in a whole new way.
The Phantom 4 comes with a Sports Mode that lets hit solid speeds of 72km/h, while maintaining= nimble ascent and descent rates. It's supposed to give you a taste of what drone racing could be like, even if you bought this thing only to take video.
There are some cosmetic and hardware changes this time around, as well. The Phantom 4 has sleeker, more aerodynamic lines, which help it achieve the new top speed without using a lot more power. The motors that power the propellers are now exposed, allowing for improved heat efficiency. The propellers also attach with a new screwless locking mechanism that works a bit like the top of a medicine bottle: It screws on easy, and then to release it, push down and unscrew.
Preorders are already open on DJI.com and the Apple Store. Expect your shiny, new, flying camera with a mind of its own to arrive sometime after March 15.
Images courtesy DJI