DJI Phantom 4 Review – UPDATE
We’ve updated our Phantom 4 review to include details about its firmware and what our tech team thinks of it in action – Click Here for the Updates – or alternatively read on for our views on DJI’s most recent addition to its flagship quadcopter range.
When DJI announced that they were unveiling the Phantom 4 there were sighs of disappointment from some quarters. Why do they need another Phantom so soon? Why weren’t they announcing something more radical and trendsetting?
Then people started to see the Phantom 4 for themselves and find out what it was capable of. It’s when you handle the new, simplified shape of the Phantom 4 and get to try out its clever new features like collision avoidance, ActiveTrack and TapFly that you realise DJI are on to a winner.
Gone are the go-faster stripes (even the more sophisticated gold and silver ones of the Phantom 3) and instead there’s a smooth, sleek and stylish look. The changes have all been subtle but when they’re added together, the overall effect is stunning and simple. Yes, there is more than a hint of Apple about it but it’s not Apple to the core. There is still very much a DJI heart, one that’s held together by magnesium.
Even shinier than previous Phantoms, it feels sturdier in the hand despite being only 100 grams heavier. Now so far all this has been very subjective, what are the practical differences?
Our “Compare the Phantoms” table below gives you an idea of the main differences between the Phantom 4 and the Phantom 3 Professional, which is still an amazing aircraft in its own right and now even better value for money.
DJI Phantom 4’s Sense and Avoid Party Trick
The DJI Phantom 4‘s party trick is its Sense and Avoid technology, two forward facing sensors that pick up obstacles between 2 and 50 feet away. Then those very clever things called intelligent algorithms step in and take control, making your Phantom swerve, climb or screech to a halt to avoid anything that’s in the way. All very impressive but don’t forget it only works when you’re flying forwards and it only has a 60 degree field of view. You’ll still have to fly as carefully as you always have done when you’re going backwards or tracking left and right. To be honest you need to obey the same rules when flying forwards. The obstacle sensor is a great thing to have but, however good it is, it should only be used as a safety net.
Where the Phantom 4 really comes into its own is when you use one of the its other exciting additions.
There’s More… ActiveTrack and TapFly
ActiveTrack is a great new feature that takes most people’s idea of a Follow Me function to a whole new level. Follow Me in the past has usually relied on the drone tracking either the remote controller / tablet or some other device such as a chunky wristwatch type gadget. ActiveTrack uses the camera’s view combined with the obstacle sensors and it works in an almost magical way.
Tap on the screen to mark the object you want to follow. It could be a runner, a car, a boat – then the Phantom 4 will follow your chosen subject accurately and smoothly even when it changes direction and therefore its shape. The best thing is that the sensors will kick in as soon as an obstacle is spotted.
The other trick the DJI Phantom 4 has up its sleeve is TapFly. Imagine you’re looking at a lovely scene on your phone and tablet and you spot a nice tree or a hilltop that you fancy flying to. Just tap on the screen wherever you want to go and TapFly will take you, or rather your Phantom 4, there while automatically avoiding obstacles along the way. There’s no need to use the control sticks, the P4 will fly there on its own. On the return trip DJI suggest that you could use the GO app to activate Smart Return Home. That will ensure that the drone will automatically avoid obstructions on the way back. With previous Phantom models you always have to make sure that the preset Return To Home height is adjusted to take tall trees and buildings into account.
There’s an interesting addition to the Phantom 4’s remote controller. With all of these advanced, semi-autonomous features it’s comforting to know that if you want to jam the brakes on you can just press a pause button which overrides everything and parks the quadcopter in a hover. As a trade off the controller does lose a replay button but that function can be activated from the touch screen.
The Phantom’s Vision Positioning System first introduced on the Inspire 1 has been upgraded for the Phantom 4. There’s a second downward facing camera which works alongside the two sonar devices. Where that makes a big difference is in the height above ground level at which the system will work. The Phantom 3 was accurate up to 3 metres – the Phantom 4 is good up to 10 metres. The Vision Positioning System not only measures height, it also holds the P4 steady in a hover by locking on to surface patterns on the ground. It’s designed to work as a substitute for GPS when you’re flying indoors or to augment GPS when you’re outside.
While we’re talking about accuracy we ought to mention the upgraded compass and Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU). It’s actually less of an improvement and more a duplication because DJI have given the P4 two of each. Apart from building in redundancy in the event of failure, the extra units allow the Phantom 4 to reject any faulty data and rely on the other unit.
Phantom 4 Power
There are new motors, props and an upgraded battery on the Phantom 4. The motors are taller, the idea being that the props will be higher up and more likely to be out of the way out the camera when flying at higher speeds. The propellers attach with just a push and twist bayonet movement, no more winding them on. The battery is not only a higher capacity, it’s also a different shape. It’s 5350 mAh helps to increase the flight time from 23 minutes on the P3 to 28. I suspect some of the extra power has been diverted to supply the new sensors. The Phantom 3 battery holds 4480 mAh.
If you fancy blasting away and using up all the extra power in double quick time, DJI have introduced Sport mode. It’s designed for all you boy / girl racers out there and it’s a bit like having turbo power at the flick of a switch. The three position PSA switch means you can move from Position to Sport and then Atti modes. Sport is designed to give you extra agility and speed but at the same time keeping you safe with satellite and vision positioning. The Phantom 4 can reach up to 45 miles an hour (72 kph) in this mode. Atti, as usual, maintains the drone’s height but gives you smoother flying by not locking it onto GPS.
Internally the camera is pretty much the same as the Phantom 3 Professional but it does have a couple of welcome improvements. The 8 element lens has been upgraded to reduce chromatic aberration (that’s the rainbow fringing in high contrast areas) and distortion. There’s good news too for people who like to use slo-mo. In 1080 HD the camera will now shoot at up to 120 fps.
And if all of that wasn’t exciting enough there is a case to hold everything in, a first for the Phantom range. Before you get too excited though, it’s a grey, expanded polystyrene (styrofoam) case with a carrying handle and a twist and lock catch. It’ll get you started and will hold all the bits and pieces but it’s worth thinking about upgrading to a heavier duty version before too long.
So there you have it, the Phantom 4. It’s much better than people were expecting. Even though in some ways it’s an evolutionary change, there’s enough new technology and there are sufficient styling and build upgrades to make it into exciting new model. If you think that you don’t need obstacle avoidance technology then the Phantom 3 Pro is still worth considering but if you’re not on a tight budget it has to be the DJI Phantom 4.
Now we’ve had some time to get to grips with the Phantom 4, we’ve added our thoughts on how it handles in the air as well as some advice on how to upgrade the craft’s firmware to avoid any problems.
Firmware Issue v1.6
We recently released an article containing important information for Phantom 4 users related to the most recent version of the its firmware. Heliguy advised that users must update the firmware (in the case of v1.6) on the craft before doing so on the contoller.
The update requires both an aircraft and remote controller update. If you update through the app you will get an error if you update the controller first. This error will display as an ‘RC Signal Loss’ message.
For a step by step guide on how to avoid this error read our solution post.
Phantom 4 In Action
Here’s how two of Heliguy’s pilots, Jack Bishop and Kevin Morton, rate flying the Phantom 4:
“Initially what impressed us the most about the Phantom 4 was how solid its construction was. It’s amazing to see how well implemented the gimbal damping plate was integrated inside of the craft. This feels like a massive step up in terms of build quality and an impressive evolution to what we’ve seen in the past.”
“In terms of usability, any Phantom 3 pilot will be well aware of the DJI Go app but there’s been a big improvement from DJI with the Phantom 4’s Active Tracking system. It struck me how easy it was to use, just draw a box around the object you want to track and tap go; it’s as easy as that.” – Jack Bishop
“Out of the box, the craft looks a lot slicker than previous generations of DJI Phantom aircraft. Initially, when I tested one at our flight field it seemed to handle just like any other Phantom; then I changed it to Sport mode and thought ‘Wow!’ it was like night and day.”
“The Phantom 4’s Tap to Track mode is much better than the Phantom 3’s Follow Me mode where you needed to carry the P3 transmitter and there’s also the fact that the Phantom 4 will intelligently avoid trees.” – Kevin Morton
DJI Phantom 4 Gallery
Heliguy’s blogger and Head of Digital Content Production, John Patterson, keeps our readers informed about what’s going on in the world of drones. Living and breathing content production, his background in writing spans an eclectic range of industries.