Smarter, leaner, faster, stronger? That's the promise with DJI's Phantom 4, announced today, in what appears to be the most significant upgrade to the range yet. DJI's flagship consumer drone doesn't just get an aesthetic make over (though it did finally get one, of sorts), it also sports some new technology not even found on many pro craft: obstacle avoidance. There's also a new vision-based smart follow feature and a bevy of other upgrades. Let's get right into it.
The first feature we have to talk about is the obstacle avoidance. DJI calls it an "Obstacle Sensing System" and it uses two front-facing cameras (which you can spy in the landing gear) that allow it to spot objects and gauge their distance, so the Phantom 4 will automatically fly around obstacles, maintaining the original trajectory, or just hover if it can't figure out an alternative route.
Gallery: Phantom 4 demo | 6 Photos
Gallery: Phantom 4 demo | 6 Photos
Naturally this only works if the Phantom is flying forwards, so you still need to take care when flying backwards (make sure you're insured, obviously). It's also unclear at this stage how responsive, or how fast the system will kick in. Or, of course, how it compares to the Intel-backed system we saw at CES. We do, however, look forward to testing it.
For a long time, DJI's Phantom was lacking autopilot features that almost all other camera drones offered, such as follow mode and smart camera tools. The company did add them in the end, but now it's running with it. With the Phantom 4, you can pick any subject in view on the DJI app (that receives the livestream from the drone's camera), select it, and the Phantom will follow it, keeping it in frame. This means you could follow a bike, car, animal, anything that the drone can see, without having to use a ground-based GPS/location device (like other quadcopters require).
A similarly "smart" use of the camera and location sensors is "TapFly." As the name suggests, tap on a location on the video stream, and the Phantom 4 will fly to it, avoiding obstacles along the way. Similar ideas exist in 3rd-party applications, but now the Phantom has it baked right in. The camera itself also gets a minor upgrade with new optics, so images should be a little sharper.
What about that new look though? Well, taste is subjective, of course, but it kinda looks leaner from above, but a bit more chubby in profile. We're glad to see the Phantom evolve though, if just so there's an easier way for people to know we're flying the latest and greatest and not *shudder* last year's model. Which we still love btw.
There's one more significant upgrade with the Phantom 4. The bad news is there's yet another new style of battery (so if you already have a Phantom, your collection of cells won't work). The good news is that the Phantom 4 can fly for up to 28 minutes on one charge. That's more or less double what you could get out of the Phantom 1 or 2 carrying a camera, so it's not to be sniffed at. If you do want to burn through the power, then DJI introduced a new "speed mode" that'll let you do just that. The new top speed is apparently 45 miles per hour (or 20 meters per second). That's about 10 mph up from the Phantom 3, though we're not sure you'll be seeing any at the DRL just yet.
Now the big question: the price? The Phantom 4 will cost $1,399. That's about $150 more than the Phantom 3 cost at launch -- a price that has now fallen to about $1,000. DJI likes to try and keep the new Phantoms priced similar to the model before, and this model's not far off, but there's a good chance if you're willing to wait a few months, you might be able to get a better deal.
Also interesting to note that DJI isn't continuing its two-tiered Professional/Advanced model approach. For now, there's just one choice of Phantom 4, and you can pre-order starting today. Apple retail stores will stock them starting March 15, and everywhere else at the end of the month.