Tech Reviews

Drones to die for – 11 of the very best

UAVs that are ruling the popularity charts

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Commercial drones are not easy to segment or categorise. Though they have been around for close to a

hundred years now it is only in the last few years that the commercial space for these unmanned flying

machines has really opened up. One of the basic parameters used to classify them is the number of

rotors (propellers that are vertically oriented) that they get made with. Of these #Quadcopters (drones

with four rotors) are the most commonly used. Drones are also differentiated on the basis of the

equipment that they carry. Like those with cameras, GPS, first person view (#FPV) glasses or even those

which have stabilisers integrated on to them.

Then there is the distance upto which a drone maintains contact with the controller, that is referred

to as #DroneRange. This can vary from a close range (of about 300 mtr) to long range drones (upto 7

kms) And then there is the size of drone that can play a role with nano drones, mini, regular and large

drones as the usual suspects. The drones listed below do not confirm to any of these categories in

particular. It is just that we love them the most.

 

PHANTOM 4 PRO – DJI, short for #Da-Jiang is a Chinese company that accounts for almost three fourths of

the civilian drones made today. And one of it’s brightest stars to emerge from the #DJI stable is the

#Phantom4Pro. Called sometimes as the #iPhone of Drones for it’s uber stylish design (which is

unchanged from the original Phantom 4) and impeccable quality, the standout feature of this drone is

the presence of sensors at the front, back, right, left and also underneath. Thus the name 5-direction

obstacle avoidance system which makes it crash proof. Almost. Thanks to this the drone can ‘return to

home’ when asked to without running into whatever is in it’s way.

What is upgraded is the inbuilt camera which is like four times bigger than the original and shoots 4K

videos at 60 fps. The making in terms of sheer durability and sturdiness of the Pro remains the same.

Not quite as portable as one would like the Phantom 4 Pro can still be bundled in your back pack, if

the need be so dire. The battery allows a user to keep this drone in the air for upto half an hour and

it will take about 90 minutes to recharge to full. In terms of speed it is perhaps not the fastest

around but at 70 kmph it is quite impressive. In optimal conditions the Phantom 4 Pro boasts of a range

that is almost 7 kms. At $1500 Phantom 4 Pro is the best drone in terms of value for the money spent.

 

INSPIRE 2 : Another impressive product from the folk at DJI is the Inspire 2 drone. First thing first.

This one is a great improvement on the Inspire 1 and users of the original are sure to be enthused

about these new features. At the outset it must also be made clear that this is not every man’s drone.

Priced upwards of $6000 this is a highly sophisticated gadget that is meant for professionals who know

what they are doing. Though there is a fixed inbuilt camera on the I2 already to get the best out of

the Inspire 2 you will have to shell out a further $600 (for the X4S camera) or $1900 (for the X5S) and

the latter will give you the best video output of all drones. Well with that kind of spending it

better.

Videos can be captured on the I2 at a stunning 5.2K (upto 30 fps) but this also means a user will need

a powerful computer & an external drive to work with the footage captured. The support for dual

operator control is great but comes with a rider. If two operators are working with the #I2 at the same

time they will have to be within 100 metres of each other as the captures from both cameras get sent

over the same stream. For a big drone with a weight of over seven pounds the battery backup is quite

good with provision for backup as well. Plus they are self heating. The I2 allows a user to operate at

upto 5000 metres above sea level without much trouble. This high end drone may not be meant for the

average consumer but is ideal for big studios and production houses.

 

Mi : One of the fastest growing consumer electronics companies of the world, the Chinese company Xiaomi
has ventured into manufacturing drones only recently. And it’s Mi drone is a quadcopter that is quite

small in size and might even remind users of the Phantom series of drones. One of the big attractions

of the #Mi drone has to be it’s enticing price (less than 500 bucks) making it just the right choice

for enthusiasts (read beginners) who would like to get a first hand feel of how a drone really works.

In fact keeping these folks in mind the makers have integrated a button. For making take offs and

landing super smooth.

The Mi drone has a round shaped 4K camera beneath it that comes with a Sony 12.4 Megapixel sensor. This

allows it to take captures at a resolution of 3840 by 2160 (30 fps) The Mi drone has a fairly

impressive range of 2 kms within which it can be controlled just fine. There is even an #AutoPilot

feature enabled in the Mi drones that makes it very simple for a user to take great shots. Every time.

The inbuilt GPS means that the Mi will not get lost in it’s flight path. The 3-axis detachable gimbal

ensures that the captures are shake proof and the battery allows a user to fly the Mi continually for

almost 27 minutes without needing a recharge.

 

GoPro KARMA : A little more than a decade ago was when one first came to know about the GoPro cameras.

And it would not be an exaggeration to say that it changed the way images & videos were captured.

Thanks mostly to it’s very compact size. Since then it has become the preferred camera for capturing

action. Not surprising then that when #GoPro announced that it would make it’s own drone cameras it got

a lot of people very excited. The #Karma drone started off with a spectacular misfire and was recalled

thanks to a glitch in the battery that has been fixed since. Those who already own GoPro Hero 5 cameras

can get their hands on the Karma drone for eight hundred bucks. You can get a barebone Karma drone for

as less as $400 but without a camera, controller and a gimbal even what will you do with it?

A big attraction in the Karma drones is that it is very easily portable. A unique folding design allows

the arms to move forward & the landing component close in towards the underside of the Karma. The

ergonomic design of the camera allows it to rest upfront facilitating upward movement. This also saves

a beginner the embarrassment of unwittingly capturing the rotors of the Drone. That the gimbal & the

camera are designed to be detachable from the Karma makes handheld videos (using the custom Karma grip)
a cinch. And since this drone is in direct competition with DJI’s Phantom drones must mention the

controller that is equipped with a cool 5 inch touchscreen. At no extra costs.

 

TORNADO YUNEEC H920 : Another Chinese manufacturer of drones that is gaining steadily in currency all

over the world is #Yuneec. Primarily a maker of aircrafts Yuneec drew attention first when it made the

first ever electric aircraft. Last year Yuneec also made news for all the wrong reasons when one of

it’s drones, the #TyphoonQ500+ got seized by the police for flying too close to the #WhiteHouse. But it

is the #TornadoH920 that is easily the best drone from the Yuneec stable. Unlike the Q500 which is a

smaller quadcopter this one is a hexacopter that is much bigger. One of the big pluses of the H920 is

the build quality, made as it is out of very durable carbon fibre. This also ensures that even inspite

of a heavy payload this is one of the lighter drones in the category of large drones.

The H920 is designed with landing gear that is retractable which allows one to capture the view without

any obstructions. This one is also easily portable thanks to it’s foldable arms. The H920 works best

with the #CGO4, a camera designed by the people at Yuneec. Apart from 4K resolution video & 16 mp

images what stands out is the 3x optical zoom lens. For those who dig aerial selfies this drone has the

ability as far up as 90 meters to take the shot. Modes like Follow me & Watch me allow the drone to

keep focus on you. There is GPS, 3-axis gimbal (that you get separately) and even a provision to dual

remote control operation. The easy-to-use ST16 transmitter cum receiver has a multi functional 7 inch

touch screen integrated. The price is on the higher side with users needing to spend at least $5000 to

get the best out of this drone.

 

PARROT BEBOP 2 : #Parrot is a French company that is more than two decades old and is known as a maker

of wireless products. And it was only five years ago that it got into the drone making business. What

first stands out in the drones made by Parrot is that they can be controlled via your #Smartphone and

this quadcopter gained in popularity due to it’s ease of use making it possible for anybody to fly a

drone, even beginners. There is still no 4K resolution and the 1080 p HD is the best you can get.

Though the Parrot Bebop 2 is available for $550 you might need to spend a little more on the

‘Skycontroller’ and Wireless extender to get the best out of your #Bebop2. Another big improvement on

the original Bebop is a vastly better battery that gives you around 20 minutes of continual flying time

There is no gimbal and instead you have a software that is assigned the job of stabilising the videos.

And as there is no option for removable storage you need to plan well to make best use of the 8 gig

internal storage. The fact that you can automate the most difficult part of flying a drone (at least to

begin with) like take off and landing makes it a great option for users starting out. Also the First

Person View(FPV) headset allows you to see better where the drone is headed. Again while adding the

accessories mentioned on top remember that this will make the Bebop 2 bulkier than it’s usual comfy

weight of half a kilogram. Like in the older version the fish eye lens that is unique to these drones

can cause lens flares. All said and done for those wanting to get their hands on a drone for what is

the first time in their life, the Bebop 2 is a good starting option.

 

JYU HORNET 2 : Here is yet another #Chinese manufacturer who is making heads turn in the field of UAVs.

It is a quadcopter (with four rotors) and comes in four versions where the top end model boasts of a 4K

resolution. One of the best features of the #Hornet2 is the smart design that places a strong accent on

both flight speed & agility. This perhaps explains why the Hornet 2 is preferred as a racing drone.

Apart from the inbuilt battery that ensures flight times in excess of 22 minutes a welcome addition are

the CPU and sensors that are integrated into the Hornet 2. This gives you a real time status of your

battery’s power that is remaining. And as soon as the battery goes low this drone automatically flies

back home, all by itself. Select a beginner mode if this is your first drone and enjoy the ride.

There is option for Geo fencing to set limits on the area within which the Hornet 2 can operate. The

FPV LCD screen makes it easier for you to control the Hornet 2 at all times. There is also inbuilt

double GPS and the option to set a flight path for your Hornet 2 to take so that it can be circling in

the same place while you focus on taking quality videos that are of a professional level. The price of

the Hornet 2 starts as low as $230 but if you were to add a HD camera, gimbal and the FPV glasses to

the kitty it would cost $440. The range till which you will have control over the drone is a 1000m.

This is clearly a better version of the old Hornet S.

 

3DR SOLO : 3DR comes from American innovators who also are the folks behind DIYDrones.com which for the

uninformed is one of the biggest communities in the world dealing with robotics development. These are

also the guys behind #Pixhawk, the leading open autopilot platform in the world. The Pixhawk designs

systems for the best UAV research institutes and manufacturing companies that there are, including the

#NASA. It was less than three years ago that these guy ventured into drone making and the 3DR Solo is

easily their best product till date. The 3DR does not come with a camera and a GoPro is the one you

need as it is the only camera compatible with the #3DRSolo. For now.

At the heart of the 3DR are two powerful Linux computers (1 Ghz Cortex-A9) that makes flying fun and

assured. Modes like Cable Cam, Orbit, Selfie & Follow mode make it possible for even beginners to take

great videos easily. It hits top speeds of 55 miles an hour making it one of the fastest UAVs around.

The design (strong arms, rigid legs) and the material that it is made of (glass-reinforced nylon) means

that this is not an easy drone to crash or crack. With the GoPro the 3DR Solo gives you a flying time

of about 20 mins and five minutes more without. Typically the range of these drones is about half a

mile. There is a mobile App thrown in to further customise your use of the 3DR Solo. At about $800 the

3DR Solo is one of the better UAVs that there is today.

 

x8 : The X8 is different from all the other drones mentioned in this list simply because of it’s

primary function, that is surveillance. #LasVegas based UAV Systems International is not just a maker

of drones but is also a drone store. Where you can pick up a wide array of accessories for your UAV.

Apart from this UAV Systems is also a place where you can choose from the best drones in the market,

from beginning to intermediary, advanced & their in house long range surveillance drones, chiefly the

#X8. Surveillance drones have various functions – detecting poachers in a large forest reserve,

monitoring traffic in large cities, aiding farmers in monitoring huge tracts of agricultural land.

The most striking feature of the X8 is where on a single charge it provides users with a range of upto

50 kms and it is able to last for about three hours. Which is subject to the payload which by the way

the X8 can handle in large quantities too. The X8 can be used to carry a load of upto 2 kilograms

without much fuss. The X8 makes use of a custom software (#MissionPlanner) that allows Flight Plans to

be put in place thus making autonomous flying that much easier. Information on battery, speed, voltage

and altitude is all made available thanks to this. Catapult launching, live video feeds, cargo box,

travel case with upgrade options like generator, infrared camera & cargo bay make the X8 worth all the

fuss. Priced at $1999 this one is for those who know exactly what they want.

 

S1000+ : It is well nigh impossible to list out the best drones that there are without naming at least

a couple from the DJI stable. And among them the S1000 plus is pretty much an obvious choice. Where the

other series of drones from DJI which is the Phantom is equally popular the S1000 plus belongs to the

Spreading Wings class of UAVs. The S1000 is much bigger built as it is with as many as eight propellers

making it an octocopter. While quadcopters are preferred for their speed, these octocopter are large

UAVs, best suited for carrying heavy duty stuff (upto 6 kg capacity) Plus this design aids the S1000 in

becoming a very reliable device be it in terms of hovering around a place or even handling extremely

rough weather and high gusts of wind.

There are different types of octocopter design (4 arms with 2 propellers on each or 8 arms with one arm

each) which one can choose according to choice. So even in the rare event of one of them failing the

flight of the #S1000 plus will continue unabated. The S1000 comes with a multi port charger enabled

along with the option to many batteries plugged in all at once. So the longer the flight more the

batteries that you will need. Apart from a 3-axis gimbal already present you can add more gimbals to

the mix. The other versatile feature of the S1000 plus is the compatibility with different types of

flight controllers. Surprisingly light weight at less than 5 kgs this UAV is priced at $1900 but add

upgrades and this can go up to $5000 easily.

 

HUBSAN H109S x4 PRO : Among quadcopters one of the more popular ones is yet another drone maker from

China (where else) And while there are many from #Hubsan that are quite good one must specially mention

the H109 X4 PRO. If you have owned a drone or two before (or know a thing or two about them) you would

right away notice that this UAV comes equipped with a parachute. So in case of a technical failure or a

crash the chute makes sure that the drone does not hit the ground hard. Leave out the chute & the

camera to get as many as 30 minutes of flight time with the X4 PRO. Take away 5 minutes of flight time

once you load these accessories. This drone has an impressive range of upto a mile.

Though there are two Gimbal options the one-axis Gimbal does not have the ability to stabilise video

captures so it would be better to opt for the high end X4 PRO that comes with a 3-axis one. There is

also a high end transmitter that one can opt for. You will notice that this comes equipped with two

displays where the bigger one is great for ease of FPV. And the other smaller one is meant only for

collecting vital data in real time (read #Telemetry) The videos in the air get captured at 1080p which

is fully high definition. Other standard features include GPS, automatic take off & landing, video

monitor among other features. Of course the fact that the #X4PRO is priced very economically like most

drones from Hubsan is a huge attraction. This one is priced at just five hundred bucks.

 

 

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