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Hands-on review: DJI Mavic Pro

Hands-on review: DJI Mavic Pro

When most people think of drones they usually imagine a big, scary, four-armed miniature helicopter. However, drone makers in 2016 have introduced smaller and more portable quad-copters, like the GoPro Karma and Yuneec Breeze.

Now DJI is introducing its smallest, smartest and most approachable drone yet, the Mavic Pro. With the ability to fold up into a water bottle-sized package and a starting price of $749 (about £575, AU$980), this tiny drone comes priced right and with all the smart features of DJI's other models – plus a few new ones to boot.

DJI Mavic Pro review

Design

Measuring 3.27 x 7.8 x 3.27 inches (83 x 198 x 83mm; W x D x H) when folded up, the Mavic Pro looks downright adorable and has nearly the same size as a water bottle. DJI has also come up with a new ultralight and aerodynamic airframe that weighs only 743g.

Compared to DJI's past drones, it's teeny at half the size and weight of the company's flagship Phantom 4. The Mavic Pro is the first DJI drone small enough to be thrown into a backpack or purse rather than a special hard pack specifically designed for it.

DJI Mavic Pro review

This is all thanks to a new folding design in which the two front arms swing back while the rear limbs flip down and towards the quadcopter's main body. Despite rotors being attached to articulating elements, the Mavic Pro feels solid. It takes a fair bit of force to position everything, but not enough to stop you from getting it setup in a minute.

DJI Mavic Pro review

Your drone for everything

With most devices, going smaller usually means cutting features, but that couldn't be more wrong with the Mavic Pro. It still comes equipped with all the features of DJI's larger drones, including front- and bottom-mounted sensors, built-in obstacle avoidance, subject tracking, self-piloted return landings and geofencing to help keep it out of restricted air zones.

If anything, users lose a tiny bit of speed by going with this smaller drone. The Mavic Pro can achieve a maximum speed of 40mph (65kph) in sport mode – a special setting for drone racing, if you want to cut your teeth at the burgeoning sport – while the Phantom 4 can hit a 45mph (72kph) top speed.

DJI Mavic Pro review

DJI's newest drone is also designed to fly steadily, even in the face of 24mph (39kph) winds. As for range, you'll be able to stay connected to the quadcopter up to 4.3 miles (7km) away and a single charge gives you up to 27 minutes of flight time.

Unlike the GoPro Karma, the Mavic Pro comes with a camera, but you can't take it off for non-airborne adventures due to a non-removeable gimbal. That said, the camera can record 4K video at 30fps or 1080p footage at 96fps – the latter of which it can also live stream to Facebook, YouTube and Periscope at a slower 30fps rate.

Alternatively, users could snap 12MP image stills in Adobe's DNG RAW format. Users will also be able to take two-second long exposures. While DJI is confident its new three-axis gimbal will produce sharp results, we'll have to put this to the test in the wild with our full review. On top of stabilizing recordings, they gimbal is also designed to turn the camera 90-degrees for portraits and capturing tall architecture.

In terms of optics, the camera can capture a 78.8-degree field of view and focus as closely as 19-inches (19cm).

DJI Mavic Pro review

Screens up, hands down

Ultimately, the greatest barrier to entry with drones has been intimidating controls, and DJI is trying to change that with a simpler and just-as pocketable solution.

The optional remote control is also made with a similar folding design in which the two top-mounted antennas flip up while the bottom half of the controller splits to reveal a smartphone clamp.

DJI Mavic Pro review

While there's a screen built into the controller, it only displays telemetry data such as altitude, orientation, speed and distance. To actually see though the drone's eye, you'll need to connect a mobile phone. Thankfully, the picture looks clearer.

DJI Goggles review

Alternatively, the drone maker also introduced a new DJI Goggles headset that displays an 85-degree view from the drone on a 1080p display. We got a few seconds to try on the headset and we were amazed with the clarity and lag-free quality of the picture.

It's an immersive experience, to be sure, but one most users likely won't need unless they're racing the drone in the aforementioned sports mode.

Overall the controls feel good, especially with a set of premium metal joysticks rather than the plastic nubs we've seen on other drone controllers. Though there are numerous sets of buttons, we weren't intimated as everything was clearly marked, including controls for taking photos and return landings.

DJI Mavic Pro review

And if that's still too much for you, DJI has beefed up the mobile controls on smartphones. Going app-only with the Mavic Pro allows users to simply tap on a location for the drone to fly to. Uses can also tell the drone to fly forward while it avoids obstacles on its own.

The Mavic Pro is also the first DJI drone you can control with gestures alone. It's a surprisingly robust mode that allows you to wave your hands to get the drone's attention. From there, you could make a "Y" with your arms to tell the quadcopter to focus on you, or, if you mimic a photo frame with your fingers, the drone will take an aerial selfie.

Beyond these neat commands, you can also orchestrate the drone's flight with your hands. Gesture in a direction and the drone will follow suit. Likewise, if you have the drone focus on you, it will also follow you as you move – from a generous distance, that is.

DJI Mavic Pro review

Early verdict

On paper, the Mavic Pro seems like DJI's most accessible drone yet. It's priced right, and compared to the GoPro Karma, it's also more affordable with an included camera, no less. Between the improved smartphone app and gesture controls, DJI has made a drone that's much easier to control for the less technically minded.

Mavic Pro should appeal to those who have been watching drone footage by the wayside and are itching to make their own. DJI has finally done away with two of the biggest turn offs of drones by making a device that's far more portable and easier to control.


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Hands-on review: GoPro Karma Drone

Hands-on review: GoPro Karma Drone

The GoPro Karma is the action camera company's long-awaited entry into the burgeoning drone category, and it looks like good things come to those video-capturing adrenaline junkies who wait.

The Karma is a well-priced drone that provides stabilized video while hovering as high as 3280ft (1,000m) and soaring at a maximum speed of 35mph (15m/s). Its 3-axis camera gimbal keeps everything steady.

We didn't crash the Karma and its GoPro Hero 5 Black 'co-pilot' in our first three hours of flying it at the launch event in Lake Tahoe on the California/Nevada border. And yes, we did put it to the ultimate test – in high wind at the top of a mountain.

GoPro Karma drone review

In fact, new and experienced pilots we saw aced the inaugural flight. This is helped by the fact that GoPro Karma comes with a gamepad-style clamshell controller. It's familiar, with intuitive buttons.

With its integrated 5-inch screen, the controller is unlike that for the DJI Phantom 4 drone – you don't need an iPad to get the GoPro Karma drone in the air and see real-time video from up above.

Karma folds up and fits into an included backpack, and that portability fits right into GoPro's outdoorsy, go-anywhere ethos. Its newest mantra involves video stabilization, so it's a bonus that there's a way to take the drone's gimbal, remove it and slide it into a grip for handheld video stabilization.

GoPro claims this is way more than a drone – and it's right. But it's also shaping up to be a drone done right. Let's see where it has the most potential, despite its better-late-than-never status.

Price and release date

Reliable drones aren't cheap, but GoPro Karma comes in at a surprisingly reasonable price considering everything that's including in the package.

GoPro Karma drone review

It costs $799 (£719, AU$1195) for the drone, Grip handheld mount, display-integrated controller and a backpack case. A battery, charger, six propellers and required mounts are also here.

Don't have a newer GoPro Hero camera yet? There are bundles designed just for you. GoPro throws in a Hero5 Black into the drone package for $1099, or a Hero5 Session for $999. UK and Australian pricing is coming soon.

The official GoPro Karma drone release date is October 23 in the US, with other markets to follow into January 2017. The Black camera bundle is available right away, while the Session is slated for January.

The other, likely worthwhile (we're talking from experience here) expense is "GoPro Care." It costs $149 for a two-year warranty on the drone or $199 for the drone and Hero5 Black. Replacement parts are included and damaged drones have you paying just a $199 deductible.

Design

The Karma drone is different because it's incredibly portable. You can fold it up and stash it in a normal-sized backpack. Compactness isn't common among premium drones like this.

GoPro Karma drone review

The four propeller arms on top fold inward and the landing gear on the bottom fold upward toward the drone body. You can take the propellers off, just in case you need a smidgen of extra space.

It measures 12 in (303mm) x 16.2 in (411mm) x 4.6 in (117mm) at full wingspan, and 14.4in (365mm) x Width: 8.8in (224mm) x 3.5in (90mm) folded up. It can get small for its 35.5oz (1006g) weight.

The Karma stabilizer and harness are seated up front in the drone cockpit and have a range of motion of 90 degrees, up and down. Rotating the drone is how to move the camera left and right.

GoPro Karma drone review

The stabilizer can be removed and snapped into the Karma Grip for smooth, handheld video. It's a separate wand-shaped device with its own battery life, but it does come with the drone.

The entire drone has black-and-white color scheme, with matte black landing gear legs that are really just two brackets to take on the impact of the ground first.

Below each propeller arm are lights, two green ones in the front, and two red ones in the back. This is to indicate the front and back of the drone, as it can get confusing when starring up at the California sun.

Flight performance and controller

Taking off with the Karma drone was a smooth experience, and that's in large part due to the clamshell controller and its 5-inch touchscreen.

GoPro Karma drone review

Pitch and yaw joysticks make this as easy as a video game, and center buttons for landing and taking off can automate everything for drone novices. Shoulder-mounted triggers are dedicated to the camera.

Even on a windy mountaintop, we were able to keep the drone in the air and the on-screen video stable. The connection remained steady, which is a major problem for almost all drones we've tested.

GoPro Karma drone review

The Karma Controller lacks an external antenna, which goes with GoPro's whole compactness theme, and yet it stayed connected the entire time.

The only issue you have is that the 720p display has 900 nits. That's bright enough for most conditions, but extremely sunny days, like we experienced, made it more difficult in direction sunlight.

GoPro Karma drone review

We'll have to keep testing it to see if the so-far steady connectivity remains consistent. So far, our aerial footage looks as if it wasn't a windy day thanks to the 3-axis camera gimbal.

Handheld stabilizer

Popping out the camera's stabilizer and inserting it into the included Karma Grip lets you take the camera gimbal on a handheld adventure.

GoPro is basically taking a different product than drone-making rival DJI sells separately and adding it to the Karma bundle with increasing to the cost of the drone package.

Locking the camera in one direction means it'll stay trained on that direction without shake, even as you walk and turn about. Pressing the unlock button and twisting the Grip about still gives you a smooth rotation.

Battery life

The GoPro Karma battery life is supposed to give you a 20-minute flight before it runs out of juice and wanted to return to home. Charging it takes about an hour, according to the company.

GoPro Karma drone review

Of course, multiple batteries can be swapped in and out of the drone, and the case has space for a bunch of them, plus the controller and drone. The Karma Grip fastens to the side.

There are other batteries to be concerned about. The controller is rated for four hours of use and charges back up in 2 and a half hours. The Grip lasts 1 hour and 45 minutes and charges in two hours.

Early verdict

GoPro Karma is shaping up to be the ultimate drone for on-the-go video thanks to its compact size and it's proven ability to provide consistent video stabilization from as high as 3280ft (1000m).

GoPro Karma drone review

It's priced right considering it comes bundled with a touchscreen controller and handheld stabilizer. The controller makes flying fun and painless and doesn't drain out iPad battery.

There's still several dozen more flight tests we'd like to do with the Karma drone, in a variety of different scenic environments. That has to wait for October 23. Check back for an updated review then.


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Review: In Depth: FanVision

Review: In Depth: FanVision

FanVision is, in some ways, difficult to explain. We've struggled to boil it down to a single sentence, primarily because its value is best realized when you take advantage of everything it offers. As simply as possible, FanVision is a handheld screen and radio network, which allows patrons attending a live sporting event to dive far deeper into what's happening in real-time than those who are left to use their own two eyes. For analytics geeks, there's simply no event companion more enthralling.

FanVision at NASCAR

We recently had a chance to put FanVision to the test at a pair of NASCAR events. The two venues couldn't be more dissimilar – the first race was a road course in Sonoma, Calif., while the second was a three-quarter mile thriller in Richmond, Va. As of now, FanVision's only major consumer touch point is in motorsport (NASCAR, NHRA, IndyCar), despite once being available at NFL stadiums and F1 races. We'll touch a bit on that later on in the review, but we wanted to start by painting a picture of how the system actually works.

How it works

  • Charge it up before race day
  • Make sure you have a subscription for the event you're attending
  • Power it on, and the connection to the FanVision network is automatic

At each sporting event where FanVision is supported – NASCAR races, in our case – the company erects a wireless network that each of its handhelds connect to. If you have a FanVision display and a subscription (also referred to as an activation) to the event you're at, you're golden.

FanVision at NASCAR

It's vital to charge your FanVision fully ahead of an event. While the battery is good for around six hours, even with the display glaring the entire time, you don't want it to peter out mid-race. Once you're at the venue, you just boot the unit up, wait around 30 seconds for it to automatically connect to the FanVision network, and start diving in.

FanVision at NASCAR

It's surprisingly simple to dive into. We're always wary when it comes to products that a) have to connect to a wireless network where tens of thousands of people are gathered and b) claim to "just work." Much to our amazement, the FanVision unit connected immediately and maintained a faultless signal throughout both races that we attended.

In-race benefits

  • You're giving access to real-time audio streams of your favorite athletes
  • On screen, there's loads of data to analyze and enjoy in real time
  • You have access to information that others don't, and that just feels so, so satisfying

So, it's easy to use. Awesome. But, what does it actually do? In a nutshell, it massively enhances the live event experience, and somehow, manages to not get in the way of actually savoring the event itself. We've all seen the guy or gal totally missing the moment due to being buried in a screen (typically a smartphone, but occasionally a Tamagotchi), but FanVision isn't that.

FanVision at NASCAR

It probably helps to get a bit of background on how motorsport is conventionally enjoyed. You see, these vehicles emit decibel levels that'll darn near deafen you if you sit in the stands for hours without ear protection. So, most folks bring their own earplugs, which do a wonderful job of ensuring that you can still hear your neighbors yelling at you when you're 70. Regrettably, they also do a lovely job of removing you from the excitement, giving your mind plenty of time to ponder how few Pokemon you've managed to catch in the past week.

FanVision at NASCAR

FanVision reckons that if you're going to wear ear protection, you might as well pump something extra into your ear canal at a safe decibel level. Hardcore race fans know that they can bring their own scanners to the track in order to hear the banter that occurs between driver and pit crew, but FanVision takes that to an entirely different level.

FanVision at NASCAR

When booting the unit up, you're given the opportunity to select up to three favorite drivers. Then, inside the Scanners pane, you can easily toggle between in-race communications from those drivers and the main race commentary that covers the entire field. Crucially, FanVision can automatically pipe in the main race commentary by default, and then cut to your driver's scanner whenever they (or their pit crew) begin conversing.

FanVision at NASCAR

So, as you're sitting in the stands ogling the action, you're getting an earful of commentary and/or insider information directly from the driver you're pulling for. The experience is as close to getting inside of the car as you're going to get, and quite frankly, it's enrapturing.

FanVision at NASCAR

In the two races we attended, we had Team Penske earmarked as favorites: Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. Considering that both of these drivers are – shall we say, dominant – they proved to be quite exciting to watch. Phase 1 is the rush of hearing insider chatter between driver and pit crew, where they discuss topics like steering adjustments, plans for their next pit stop, timings of drivers that are in front of and behind them, and if they're clear on the top or bottom lane to complete a pass.

For statistics and analytics nerds, there's really nothing better. You're getting a live, unfiltered, real-time listen at the brain of a professional athlete as he or she corresponds with the engineers responsible for giving them an edge on the track.

FanVision at NASCAR

Phase 2 is the on-screen goodness. We spent most of time on the video feed at the Sonoma road course, but in Richmond – where you can see every turn from practically every seat in the grandstands – we kept it locked on the leaderboard. Here, your favorite drivers are fixed up top, with the rest of the grid listed below in order of position. Last lap time, total pit stops, and time behind the driver ahead of them is all listed out. It's a veritable smorgasbord of data, giving math junkies plenty to chew on as they extrapolate how many laps it'll take a driver to pass another if they continue catching up at their given pace.

FanVision at NASCAR

FanVision is an incredible addition at round tracks like Richmond International Raceway, but it's simply vital at road courses like Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International. With road courses, no one seat is given a view of the entire race. So, oddly, there are moments when a pack of cars zoom by, and then a number of awkward seconds that roll by before you see them come around again to your vantage point. Here, FanVision shines brightest. The video functionality pipes live footage from all corners to your screen, enabling you to never lose sight of the grid – even after they've left your actual purview.

Acquiring a FanVision unit

  • You can rent ($50/race) or buy ($300) a FanVision display
  • Renters can rent and return right at the venue
  • You can use your own earphones or headsets if you'd rather

FanVision at NASCAR

FanVision sells its controller for $300, which includes a subscription to every race in the NASCAR season. You'll have to pony up a bit more if you're after a sound-reducing, speaker-infused headset, but the good news there is that it's not proprietary. Unlike Apple's iPhone 7 (ahem), the FanVision display has a standard 3.5mm headphone port. You can pick up your own headset on Amazon or elsewhere, and a headphone splitter works wonders if you're attending a race with a friend and want them to share in the excitement.

FanVision at NASCAR

If you're more of an occasional fan, FanVision rents its display and a single headset for $50 per race weekend, which gets you access to ever NASCAR-affiliated event over a three-day span. If you want to double up and get a second headset, tack on $15. If you plan on attending a half-dozen events over the course of a season, you're better off buying the hardware.

FanVision at NASCAR

At the venue, FanVision has unmissable trailers established on various sides. We noticed around four or five per event, with six or so registers per trailer. Most patrons waited less than five minutes to be served, and those who had pre-ordered a rental online ahead of the event were in and out in just seconds. For what it's worth, we'd strongly recommend pre-ordering if you're certain you're going to an event; you'll save $10 or so, and everything's waiting for you upon arrival.

FanVision at NASCAR

After the race, you simply return your rental gear in the bag that it was given to you in. While we expected long return lines, that process took around three minutes. Despite huge crowds, FanVision's event staff seemed to be a well-oiled machine, taking the hassle out of renting and returning in the same day.

For the Richmond race, we procured a FanVision unit ahead of time, which was even better. No stopping at a trailer before or after – just show up at the race, turn it on, and enjoy.

Enhancing the experience

FanVision at NASCAR

Before we dive in too deep here, it's worth reiterating just how seamless the FanVision experience is. The connection is immediate and solid, and the battery is seriously impressive. We still had around 20 percent remaining after a 4.5-hour overtime race in Richmond. The audio feed is delayed, at most, half a second, which is close enough to real-time that it's imperceptible in practice. The video feed doesn't stutter not one iota.

FanVision at NASCAR

What's most remarkable is just how well the entire streaming process works; it contrasts starkly with our iPhone 6S Plus sitting just beside it, which can't even get an Instagram post through due to network saturation that occurs so frequently at huge events.

FanVision at NASCAR

We were able to compare the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in Richmond from 2015 (where we didn't have FanVision) to the exact same race in 2016 (where we did have FanVision). The difference is significant, to the point where we wouldn't recommend splurging on a NASCAR weekend without also budgeting for FanVision. Feeling the earth rumble as 40 high-powered motorcars scream by at breakneck speeds is never not going to be awesome, but the wealth of additive data – from driver-to-crew audio to mounds of real-time lap data – instantly spoils you.

FanVision at NASCAR

Rather than wondering how fast a given driver is catching up to another driver, a glance at FanVision provides the answer. It's important to point out the operative word there: glance. FanVision is perhaps the most glanceable piece of glanceable technology we've ever used, and therein lies the charm. You aren't expected or required to keep your face buried in the screen as the event unfolds in front of you. The designers realized from the jump that FanVision would only be enjoyable if it could provide vital information and answer race-related questions at a glance, and that's exactly what it accomplishes.

FanVision at NASCAR

Couple that with the face that the obvious alternative – trying to find this data via your smartphone – only really works if you're using Sprint, and it becomes even more alluring. (For those unfamiliar with NASCAR events, Sprint is the lead sponsor. Mysteriously, Sprint also seems to be the only carrier with a functional network at NASCAR events. We'll get Scooby-Doo on the case post-haste.)

Second screen questions

FanVision at NASCAR

In our estimation, the value proposition of FanVision is undeniable at a NASCAR event. Yeah, it roughly doubles the cost of attending for a single person (as it's typically possible to nab a seat for around $50), but we'd say that the enjoyment and immersion is roughly doubled as well.

FanVision at NASCAR

You need to be a fan to really enjoy the real-time audio and data, of course, but that's why "fan" is right there in the name. If you're just attending a live sporting event in order to fill a void in your Saturday or Sunday night, it's a toss up. We could totally see FanVision pulling you even closer to a sport that you didn't know you were into, but there's also a certain amount of understanding required to appreciate the sheer quantity of information that's at your fingertips.

But, if FanVision is so great, why isn't it supported at NFL and F1 any longer? And why haven't we heard anything about expanding into arenas beyond motorsport? It feels like the idea compassion for MLB, for example, which tends to inject a lot of lulls between action events.

FanVision at NASCAR

Part of the challenge is the proliferation of the smartphone. It's easy to argue that patrons of sporting events already have the hardware in their pocket to do the things that FanVision does. If you show up with an iPhone in hand, what's the benefit of bringing yet another piece of proprietary hardware? As of now, we can see only two: better battery life, and easier access to a high-speed, flicker-free network stream of information.

FanVision at NASCAR

There's no question that sporting leagues the world over are spending a lot of resources to enhance the fan experience. Ticket prices are skyrocketing, and marketing departments are pushing dedicated apps, hashtags, etc. to bring fans closer to the teams they favor. It remains to be seen if there's room in an increasingly mobile world for dedicated hardware.

FanVision at NASCAR

Perhaps FanVision can pivot into an apps and services company that works on the phone you're already bringing into an arena, but solving the network infrastructure problem won't be an easy one. Conventional cellular networks struggle mightily in crowds, and even the beefiest of enterprise routers have a tough time handling petabytes of data from tens of thousands of devices crammed within a single stadium.

FanVision at NASCAR

In the here and now, however, FanVision is a no-brainer if you're a fan of motorsport. Strange as may sound, it's impressive enough to justify lugging yet another gadget into a venue. Just be sure to do yourself a favor and tune into Team Penkse – those guys are good.


Read full article on Techradar Reviews Gadgets


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