First impressions of the DJI Phantom 4: A drone that can "see" and adapt on the fly

Imagine this. You're flying your drone around in an open area with some rock formations around. BAM! You misgauge the closeness of one of the formations and fly the drone right into the rock taking out the propellers, damaging the body, and effectively traumatizing you for life.

That's how most consumer drones are. While many have handy automated features like "follow-me", they just perform these tasks blindly - they don't actually know where they are. They just know that you told them to do something. For drones that can easily venture into the thousands of dollars, specifically $1400 for the Phantom 4, this is a scary thought and something that many drone makers are understandably looking to address.

DJI has long maintained a lead in the UAS market with its Phantom series of quadcopters, and today we are going hands-on with the newest version of their popular drone, the Phantom 4. The idea with this new model is, assuming you aren't taking advantage of any of the insane new modes, the drone will dodge and avoid obstacles, hopefully saving your pride and wallet in the process.

It does this with a host of sensors on the front and bottom of the aircraft which are used to detect medium to large sized objects. The sensor location means you will still need to be careful when moving laterally, backwards, and upwards , but overall, it's a win for flyers of all levels. With the sensors, flying towards an object large enough to be detected with result in the drone automatically coming to a halt approximately 5 feet in front of that hypothetical rock formation we talked about earlier - instead of exploding into a thousand pieces.

While I won't get into how it flies in this article, I will say that it's a clear improvement over the Phantom 3 that I owned. The Phantom 4 maintains the same general design as the Phantom 3 - it's unmistakenably a DJI drone - but overall the new design is sleeker and smaller, though I wish you could fold the landing gear and possibly even remove the camera and gimbal to tuck it into a bag or backpack. It does come with a handy case made of hard styrofoam that relatively portable, but you will probably want to opt for the backpack they sell if you want something that will last. The redesign does look great though, and puts it on par with some of the newer drones coming to market.

This version is about refinement as much as it is about big new features. The Phantom 4 features nearly the same camera as the 3, but the new camera features a new reinforced gimbal, just incase you still happen to crash it. Regarding those insane modes, the Phantom 4 adds a sport mode which turns off all the sensors and gives you the ability to speed around at up to 45 mph, which doesn't quite match the capability of 3DR's SOLO drone at 55 mph, but is a step up from the previous 35 mph maximum of the Phantom 3. Battery life is also improved, up to 28 minutes of flight time, which beats out most drones in its category.

DJI is making a lot of claims on this drone's abilities, so we'll be putting all of these new features to the test. I'm still doing test flights, but I'll be posting my first impressions on its flight abilities soon.

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