DJI has been setting the standard in the exploding consumer drone market since consumer drones first burst on to the scene about 3 years ago. There is no doubt that DJI is the 800 lb gorilla on this playing field, they have done it better, faster, and cheaper than anyone else out there.The amount of technology packed into their current flagship, the Phantom 3 series, is nothing short of astounding when you consider the price point. That being said however, it’s still not cheap. Getting into the AP/AV game with a Phantom 3 will still cost you upwards of $1000, which while a great value considering all the technology packed into this little drone is still a good chunk of change for the average consumer. And that is exactly who DJI is trying to address with the latest addition to it’s lineup, the Phantom 3 standard.
The standard version comes in at a very reasonable $699, which while still not quite at the level of “impulse buy” should be much more palatable for potential customers who balk at the $1000+ price of the Advanced and Pro versions. There is no free lunch however, and you are giving up some of the cooler advanced technology found in the Advanced and Pro.
So is it worth it? Did DJI Hit the mark, or is it too much for too little? Let’s take a closer look and find out.
Unboxing and First Impressions
I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this. DJI is a large company with a history of producing solid products, and I would not expect the P3 Standard to be any different. In the box you get pretty much what you would expect… no more and no less. Included are the remote, the charger, two sets of propellers, a box of accessories, a package containing a quick start guide and some stickers, 1 battery, and the Phantom Standard itself. Missing is the full printed user manual which you will have to download as a PDF from the DJI site. Both the remote and the Phantom are well made with good build quality, which is not to say they will take a beating or survive hard crashes unscathed, but they should endure normal wear and tear quite adequately. Overall there were no surprises here. The packaging is professional, the product is solid and well made, and everything that is supposed to be included is included. A full printed manual would have been a nice touch though.
In addition to the full manual available in PDF format on it’s website, DJI has provided a full suite of instructional videos which tell you everything you need to know about using and getting the most out of your Phantom. The videos are basic almost to the point of being condescending, but be that as it may highly recommend watching them prior to your first flight, they do contain a lot of useful information.
The P3 Standard Remote
The remote for the Standard is simplicity itself. There is an on/off switch, two flight sticks, a knob for panning the gimbal up and down, and two switches S1 and S2. S1 is used to select your flight mode, and S2 is used to initiate RTH (Return to Home), which can also be initiated from the IOS/Android app. I like the simplistic approach DJI took with the remote for this version, which is clearly targeted at entry level consumers.
The Phantom 3 Standard
The P3 itself comes fully assembled and ready to fly except for the props, which must be put on before you fly. The battery comes installed in the Phantom battery compartment, although it must be removed and charged before you can fly. The gimbal and camera are fully installed and are locked down with a safety bracket used for transportation which must be removed prior to flight. The propellers are self tightening and color coded, making it more or less impossible to install them improperly. Physically there is very little to do to prepare your Phantom for flight, it comes as ready to go as possible right out of the box. A little disappointing is the design of the Phantom 3 itself (all versions). The basic design is getting a little long in the tooth IMO. It has changed very little from the original Phantom 1 released 3 years ago, and I think it is due for a bit of a makeover. Hopefully DJI will apply a bit of the design skills that they used to create the Inspire for the next iteration of the Phantom.
The DJI Go App
The DJI Go app supports both IOS and Android. You will need a fairly current device to use it though, I found that while it does support my Nexus six and Nexus 4, it does not support my Ipad 3, but it does support my Wife’s Ipad Air. You can check the DJI site for a full listing of compatible devices, but as long as you have something released within the last couple of years you should be ok.
The app is where things start to get a bit more complicated. While DJI has done a good job of creating a good interface, this app does everything from provide live video to edit videos. With all that functionality a learning curve is inevitable, but luckily it’s done in such a way that the most basic and important things (such as recording video, taking pictures, and initiating return to home) are quite obvious. It will take a little digging around to access some of the more advanced features, but you won’t have to become an expert at it prior to taking your first flight. DJI has done a good job of designing the app so that you can learn as you go.
The app connects your phone to the P3 via a WiFi network. The remote has a built in WiFi range extender which allows for about half a mile of distance. Once connected you can access the live video feed with one click. The live video is crisp and clear and well suited for framing shots and for orientation assistance. What it’s not suited for is flying FPV (First Person View) due to the screen being difficult to see in bright sunlight (depending on the brightness of your device) and the inherent lag introduced by WiFi. The live video is still quite useful however, and should be an invaluable tool in helping to both navigate your phantom and to frame your shots.
Overall I think the app is excellent. It’s well laid out with a wealth of features, and the most important features are the easiest to access as they should be.
Flying the Phantom
Quite simply, it takes very little skill to fly the phantom. This is an AP/AV platform, and as such has been designed to be as easy to fly as possible, allowing the operator to focus on the shot rather than the piloting of the drone. Taking off can be done either manually by starting the propellers with a stick gesture (move both sticks down and in) and raising the throttle, or automatically by pushing the takeoff button in the app. There are 3 main flight modes: GPS, which will lock the Phantom in a hover over a particular spot when the sticks are centered, Attitude mode, which will hold altitude but allow the Phantom to drift horizontally when the sticks are centered, and F-Mode which allows you to select advanced features such as waypoints and follow-me from the DJI Go app (more on the advanced features in part 2). Once in the air it’s quite easy to keep your orientation using the live video
feed, and flying around in GPS mode is simplicity itself. The DJI Go app provides all the critical information you need, including altitude, air speed, distance from home, and battery levels. When the battery hits 30% (this can be adjusted in the app if you wish) it will give you a verbal warning, and when you hear the warning you should bring it in and land immediately. I found my flight times were about 20 minutes, but the conditions were very windy (about 15mph+) so that no doubt caused the battery to drain quicker as the drone has to work harder to fight the wind.
One thing I was very impressed with is the stability of the video. As I said the wind was blowing 10-20 mph the whole time I was testing, yet the live video and the saved footage I took was rock steady. This was my first experience with a stabilized camera drone, and I have to say I was blown away at how well it works. That you get the Phantom with the camera and the gimbal at this price point is simply remarkable.
Photos and Video
One of the coolest things about the Phantom is the ability to access the camera settings through the DJI Go app on the fly. I’m not an experienced photographer or videographer so I left the settings at the defaults for photos and at 1080p for video (The p3 Standard camera can record at 1080p or 2.7k), but this feature could be invaluable to somebody with more photography experience. Even at the default settings though I found the quality to be very good for both photos and video. Not professional grade by any stretch of the imagination, but certainly good quality hobby grade. One thing I really liked is that the camera produces no fisheye effect whatsoever. I would say the photo/video quality is about what you would get from a mid-level GoPro, which is certainly acceptable considering the price of the package. See the sample photos and videos at the end of the article.
Pros and Cons
Amazing amount of technology for the price
Ridiculously easy to fly
Complete AV/AP platform
Good solid build quality
Feature rich smartphone app
High definition live video feed
Good flight time
No included printed manual
Smart phone holder does not support iPad
Missing key features vs. Advanced and Pro versions
Extra batteries costly and proprietary
Vision and Vision+ batteries not compatible
Aging design is uninspired (pun intended)
Included SD card only 8 GB
Ok, so what’s the final word? Is the Phantom 3 Standard a recommended purchase, or is it a pass? That’s a tough question, and mostly it depends on who is asking. There’s no doubt that the standard is a solid product, and if you’re looking at it in a vacuum then it gets a solid buy recommendation. You can’t ignore the existence of the Advanced and Pro versions however, not to mention it’s older siblings the Vision and Vision+. So whether it’s recommended or not comes down to who you are. The Standard is clearly targeted at first time drone buyers. It’s actually more of a slightly upgraded Vision+ than a downgraded P3 Advanced, so if you already own a Vision or are side-stepping from another drone such as a Cheerson or a Blade, you will probably want the technology included in the Advanced that’s missing from the Standard. On the other hand, if you are a first time drone buyer who just wants to see what all the excitement is about, then the Standard is an excellent choice. As an entry level AV drone it hits the mark spot on. As an upgrade to an older Phantom or a lateral move from another brand it doesn’t quite offer enough “new” to be a worthwhile upgrade.
In part 2 I’ll take a look at some of the advanced features such as waypoints, follow me, and IOS. I’ll also go into more detail on some of the advanced features found in the Phantom 3 Advanced and Professional that are not included in the standard. In the meantime, here are a couple of video clips I filmed with the standard during my initial testing (click on “Vimeo” at the bottom of the clips to view in HD).
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