Note: you can follow this link to part #1 of this review.
(This article is still in draft status with more information added each day)
P2+ will sometimes be used below as an abbreviation for Phantom 2 Vision+
The DJI Vision App and Extended Features
Unlike most other quadcopters, the Phantom 2 Vision+ uses a smartphone for many functions. The TX itself is used to power and steer the craft, while the smartphone – loaded with the DJI Vision App – adds an impressive array of features. Telemetry is very important when piloting remote vehicles as it lets the operator know the status of battery life, altitude, speed and heading. It also allows full control of the camera – you control when to take video or stills as well as the quality settings. For the beginner, telemetry can be defined as the quadcopter and the ground station (your smartphone) talking back and forth. Such features are not included on many earlier models and are part of what sets the P2+ apart from any similar machines.
Here is how this all works:
1. Your TX and the P2+ do not talk to each other – that is, the TX controls the Quadcopter mostly in a one-way fashion. This occurs on one particular wireless frequency – 5.8 GHZ. Most other multirotors use 2.4 GHZ, but DJI uses the 5.8 so that it won’t interfere with the second telemetry channel – that which your smart phone and the DJI repeater use!
2. The second channel – which allows telemetry – is a constant connection between your smartphone/tablet, the DJI repeater/range-extender (small box on the TX handle) and the P2+. This channel is at 2.4GHZ.
3. In addition to the above, the P2+ is also constantly receiving signals from GPS satellites – all of this data combines with #1 and #2 above to provide the information for safe and effective flight.
The reason for the repeater/range-extender is to amplify the wireless signal so that the range is increased. As you know, your home wireless network can max out at 150 feet or so. DJI claims a range of 800-1000 feet for the P2+ telemetry, although this can vary with the terrain, weather, interference, etc.
As a guideline, when the Phantom is at a 300 foot distance, it becomes extremely small – my guess would be that it fades from sight completely at 500-600 feet. Flying further away than this is risky and also violates US guidelines which state that your aircraft should always be in sight (LOS = Line Of Sight).
The Vision App has another great feature – “Find My Phantom”, which give you a google map location of where your P2+ is/was. This location is based on either where it is at present (powered on) or where it was when it lost power or the GPS signal. In the image displayed, the large blue circle is my present location (the phone) while the red pushpin represents the last known position of the P2+ – which, in this case, I can confirm is quite exact (within 10 feet).
Autonomous Flight – Waypoints – the Holy Grail of Drones!
In May, 2014, DJI released a software and firmware update which allows the Vision models to fly a course by themselves! Earlier models only had the built-in feature to Return to Home – which is autonomous flight, but not fully featured. The new capabilities allow you to preprogram a series of “points in space” and then send your P2+ off to go to each one in turn. The easiest way to illustrate this is with a graphic from the DJI marketing materials (below):
DJI calls this feature “Ground Station Support” and in order to use it, you must flip a switch in the app settings. This type of flight requires some experience and a good understanding of maps, distances, altitudes and compass directions. It’s probably wise to become very familiar with your P2+ before trying this mode. When you do try it, do so in a very open area and become familiar with the instructions on how to terminate autonomous flight and RTH. This way, if things go wrong, you can regain control or possession of your valuable quadcopter.
We are still in the process of testing the Ground Station and will report back with more detailed information. Here is the DJI quick rundown on Ground Station:
What the Ground Station does not do!
As released, the Phantom Ground Station does not have support for turning the heading of the Phantom while it is along a flight path. This means there is not control over the compass heading or yaw rate – the front of the Phantom always leads to the next waypoint. This means that in the example shown in DJI’s marketing material – photographing Stonehenge or an old Castle, the camera is not facing inwards toward the subject. The only way to accomplish this is by pausing the autonomous flight (DJI does support that) and then manually facing the Phantom to the subject). Another method may be to use some waypoints to head the quadcopter in the direction of the subject.
It appears that the Ground Station references the waypoints only in relation to the altitude where you started the mission. That is, you could easily fly into a hill, cliff or other land feature if you don’t adjust for the known height above your starting point.
After working with the Ground Station, I was quite impressed…even with the limits on features. Remember, this is not a professional quadcopter – rather it’s designed for hobby use and light photography. I did not program the P2+ to automatically land, but rather to hover nearby at the end of the mission. It’s easier to then regain control (flip S1 down and up again) and then manually land it.
Suggestions for Improvement
Building a quadcopter with this many goodies stuffed into it – at a decent price – is quite an undertaking. If the past is evidence, DJI will continue to hone and improve this and other models in terms of both functions and safety. Here are my small suggestions:
1. Landing gear is too small – this is true with all Phantom models and it leaves me scratching my head as to why DJI didn’t fix or improve this. Given the current center of gravity, it’s very likely the Phantom will top over even with a soft landing, causing the props to strike the ground and possibly causing the quad to flip. Prop guards help, but a wider landing gear or small extensions on the diagonal may be an improvement.
2. Prop guards should be included – the target customer is very likely to strike bushes, tree branches and the ground – especially considering #1 above. Add this to spectator safety, and I think it would be beneficial in most every way to include prop guards.
3. Camera and Gimbal hardening – no doubt that the entire mechanism is quite fragile. It works fine, but will not survive much in the way of crashes. This is a long term issue for DJI’s engineering team – and I suppose they are always working on it.
4. Clarity of future costs – many buyers of this are stretching to afford a $1400+ package (w/extra battery, tax, etc.). It would be helpful to know what some of the maintenance and replacement costs were. For example, if I crash the quad and the gimbal and camera seem damaged, how much is it going to cost for me to have them replaced by DJI (if I send to a repair center). How much does it cost if I DIY? Would there be any trade-in for the crashed parts (I assume DJI could refurb and rebuild many of these)?
Once again, as with the original Phantom, DJI has jumped far ahead of the competition and showed the world how modern technologies can be integrated to create an almost magical aerial robot. They have somehow managed to fit $2500 worth of hardware and software into a simple-to-use package at about 1/2 of that price. I have tried to work up comparable hardware for DIY or semi-custom “builds” and cannot get anything with the maturity and reliability of this platform. Certainly one can spend less – and get much less! It’s also worth noting that this is a “flying camera” and not a general purpose platform.
To their credit, DJI markets the product honestly – claiming that it is a consumer level flying camera or flying tripod.
If this description fits your needs – AND, you are willing to put in the time and energy to read, learn and practice, you will likely be very satisfied with your purchase of a P2+.
NOTE – THIS IS A TECHNICAL PRODUCT AND YOU SHOULD BE TECHNICALLY ORIENTATED OR WILLING TO LEARN IN ORDER TO PROPERLY PILOT IT. SKILLS NEEDED ARE EVERYTHING FROM PILOTING TO PROPER UNDERSTANDING OF MAPS, COMPASS HEADINGS, DISTANCES, ETC.
IF YOU ARE GENERALLY CLUELESS ABOUT THESE MATTERS, YOU WILL LIKELY LOSE OR DESTROY YOUR CRAFT OR HARM PERSONS OR PROPERTY.
If, on the other hand, you are a beginner and don’t yet know what you want or need…then buy the book and start with a couple toy-grade disposable quadcopters. Your experience will then guide you as to what facets of the hobby you most enjoy. Some pilots don’t fly cameras at all, preferring to buy or build “hot rod” models which speed through the air, do flips and dodge around trees. Other enjoy the learning experience of pulling out the soldering iron, ordering components and building a multirotor.
However, if your intended purpose is aerial video and still photography – and if you keep in mind our critiques and possible improvements noted above – the P2+ represents the current state-of-the-art in <$1500 total packages. Instead of worrying about building, tuning and crashing you will be flying and taking stunning videos and still pictures with only a couple hours of studying the manuals and learning the basics (assuming you already know the basics of how to fly quadcopters!). If you don’t yet know how to fly – my suggestion is to buy the book first…
As for myself, DJI asked if I wanted to buy the test model that they sent out. I got the approval from my wife – but, frankly, my job (and fun) is testing quadcopters and cameras – and not using the same one on a day to day basis. Since I don’t have an actual use for the amazing video capabilities of the P2V+, I decided to delay my purchase until later. However, if my current needs or wants involved aerial video and photography of a high caliber, I certainly would love to have one of these in my full-time stable!
If You Decide to Buy One
Use the platform for it’s intended scope – that being aerial video and photography.
Buy from a reputable dealer or distributor.
Be experienced in flying R/C – learn before you fly. Buy our book, read forums and articles, etc.
Read all the specs on the DJI web site – download and read the owners manual
Have a smartphone or tablet which you can use for the monitor
Buy an extra battery
Take extreme caution with the delicate camera and gimbal
Install the optional propeller guards
Install the camera lens protector and gimbal lock when not flying.
Fly the P2+ where you can see it 100% of the time.
Become familiar with the TX switches – GPS, ATTI, Course Lock and Home Lock
Do show others how aerial robots can be used safely and enjoyably.
Follow guidelines on safely charging LiPo batteries!
Some Amazon Links to the Product below – one with an extra battery and one without:
Do not expect to buy one and not have additional expenses (accessories, parts, repairs and other incidentals)
Do not buy and fly it if you cannot afford to lose and/or crash it…this goes for any and every model aircraft, as operator error always comes into play.
Do not fly over large bodies of water or near power lines and other areas with high radio interference.
Do not fly over people and vehicles – use common sense to stay safe and protect others from harm.
Do join the AMA or other R/C club
Carry insurance if possible – the AMA includes it and umbrella policies are suggested if you have a high net worth.
Don’t expect instant service and repair – multirotors are still relatively rare and the supply of repair technicians and spare parts often lags behind the demand.
Don’t expect a consumer quadcopter to have the same features as mil spec and 10K+ systems. Take your time and inspect all your equipment regularly to avoid unscheduled landings (crashing).
Please click this link for Part 1 of this review (you are currently reading Part 2)
Note – the DJI web site sells Phantoms worldwide – with free shipping – This way you are sure of getting the newest model version! (Phantom 2 models were recently upgraded!). They also have some discounts, free shipping and holiday specials. Click here for the official DJI store.
Our forum continuation thread – for your questions and discussions of this aircraft, is here: