DJI Quadcopter Review: Phantom 1
BY Alan Perlman10 October 2014
This is a review of DJI’s first quadcopter, the DJI Phantom Aerial UAV Drone Quadcopter for GoPro. I did a ton of research before buying this particular model, and the below review is a summary of what I found. I hope it’s helpful.
When the DJI Phantom arrived, I built and calibrated it with my cousin in about 45 minutes, and went outside to test it out that same night.
Neither of us had flown a quadcopter (or any kind of UAV) before, so we started slowly. First, we learned how to turn on the motors, take-off, and then land. Over time, we became more adept with the controls and our confidence, flying the drone faster, higher, and longer. While we still have a lot to learn, practicing with the DJI Phantom has been fun. So far, I think of quadcopter flying like skiing. Easy to pick up, but difficult to master.
Setting up the DJI Phantom Quadcopter
The DJI Phantom arrived from Amazon.com in a nicely packaged box. It was white, with a handle, and printed on the side of the box was a high-res image of the Phantom. It had a premium feel to it.
I opened up the instructions manual and became assembling the quadcopter. Some steps, like attaching the rotors or putting the battery into the shell, were easy. Others, like wiring the battery or calibrating the quadcopter before flight, were difficult. It’s not that they need to be difficult, it’s just that the instructions that come with the DJI Phantom Quadcopter were difficult to digest. My cousin and I found it easier to look up certain steps on YouTube. As I wrote earlier, we were able to build and calibrate the quadcopter in about 45 minutes.
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Calibrating the quadcopter was fun. You follow a sequence, spinning the quadcopter first around a horizontal plane, and then after rotating the quadcopter, a vertical plane.
DJI Quadcopter Review: The Pros
- Software intelligence. DJI’s Naza-M autopilot system is quite advanced. You can program sequences and other advanced functions using Naza Assistant software, which you simply download and connect to the DJI quadcopter via USB. Autopilot sequences include flying relative to a home point, allowing the pilot to perform smooth, sweeping motions in a controlled manner. There’s also a fail-safe function; if the quadcopter loses the transmission signal by being out of range or due to low transmission batter power, it can be configured to automically fly and at its take-off position. Pretty cool!
- Speed and maneuverability. The DJI Phantom quadcopter flies at a maximum (and considerably quick horizontal speed of 22 mph. Once you get the hang of the joystick, you’ll find it’s quite easy to maneuver. The hardest part is teaching your brain to think about aerial space and to learn a new, three-dimensional perspective.
- GoPro mount. This is the reason I bought the DJI Phantom in the first place! Since all of the GoPro models employ a standard mount, connecting your GoPro is quite easy. It’s already attached to the bottom of the quadcopter. Because the mounting is upside down relative to the GoPro’s point-of-view, you’ll need to check the ROTATE / FLIP box
DJI Quadcopter Review: The Cons
- Setup and calibration. As I wrote above, some steps are easier than others. The instruction booklet that comes in the packaging is more complicated than it needs to be. Some of the steps, at least the way they’re worded, are unclear, so you may have to turn to YouTube to help you think through some of what’s happening, and why you’re doing certain things you’re doing. With such an advanced machine, I knew there would be some setup involved, but I guess I didn’t expect to be second-guessing myself so much during the actual setup.
- Battery life. The DJI quadcopter comes with a rechargeable battery, which takes about 90 minutes to generate a full charge. Flight time is limited to about 15 minutes, after which you’ll need to replace the battery with a spare, or recharge the existing one. Kind of a bummer if you’re headed to the park for an afternoon outing! Fortunately, the extra batteries aren’t too expensive.
- Support. I haven’t personally had to contact DJI for support, but from what I’m reading online, they don’t offer the greatest product support. Customers end up turning to independent drone experts (or websites like this!) or support.
Price: $479 (buy on Amazon)
Weight: 2.2 pounds
Details: Does NOT come with GoPro camera, just an attachment mount. Does NOT come with four AA batteries that you’ll need to power your transmitter. Does NOT come with propeller guards, which are highly recommended.
Skill Level Required
On a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 represents someone who has never piloted an RC or UAV before, and 5 represents an expert quadcopter, I’d give the DJI Phantom a 2 in terms of skill level required. It’s an easy UAV to pick up, but the instructions aren’t as clear as they could be. Also, things can get out of hand pretty quickly if you don’t scale up your piloting efforts in a smart, methodological way. Piloting the DJI Phantom quadcopter is not like piloting a plastic RC helicopter you buy at Walgreens. It’s quite advanced, so you’ll need to spend time reading through the documentation and mastering basic piloting skills before getting fancy.
I spent a lot of time looking at reviews on Amazon before buying this particular drone. I tried to be as helpful as possible in the above notes, but when paying for a premium product like a quadcopter, it’s best to read as many first-hand accounts as possible.