DJI Phantom 4 Pro review

Fast, fun, and nearly crash-proof, Dji’s Phantom Pro 4 is all we’ve ever wanted in a drone

With incredible obstacle avoidance and a kickass new camera, the Phantom 4 Pro sets a new standard for quadcopters.
With incredible obstacle avoidance and a kickass new camera, the Phantom 4 Pro sets a new standard for quadcopters.
With incredible obstacle avoidance and a kickass new camera, the Phantom 4 Pro sets a new standard for quadcopters.

Highs

  • 5-direction obstacle avoidance
  • Excellent camera
  • Plentiful flight modes
  • Long flight time
  • Outstanding range

Lows

  • Optional touchscreen controller is a $300 add-on

DJI’s Phantoms are often called “the iPhones of drones” — and that’s a fair description. They’re one of the most popular drones on the planet, packed with high-end features and functionality, and the latest models are always at the top of their class. On top of that, DJI also releases new models at a steady rate, packing even better features into a nearly identical form factor. Case in point? The stellar new DJI Phantom 4 Pro.

Features & Specs

As an evolution of the original Phantom 4, the Pro boasts a number of small but significant improvements. Many of the original Phantom 4’s design attributes, electronic components, and features have been ported over to the pro model, while others have been upgraded, and a few new features have been added.

The first and most obvious addition is the Pro’s new 5-direction obstacle avoidance system. Whereas the P4 only featured forward facing sense and avoid, the new and improved version has sensors on its front back, left, right, and underside. These sensors actively scan the environment around the drone and allow it to autonomously avoid things like trees, buildings, and anything else you might encounter during flight.

The Pro looks nearly identical to the original Phantom 4.

The other standout improvement is the Pro’s camera. The Pro uses all-new hardware with a 1-inch image sensor — which is four times the size as what’s used in the original Phantom 4. On top of that, the camera can shoot 4K video at up to 60 frames per second, and still images at up to 20 megapixels. DJI also tossed in aperture control and a mechanical shutter. No matter how you look at it, the P4’s new camera is bigger, better, and more customizable than ever.

DJI has also added an even more deluxe, optional version, called the Phantom 4 Pro Plus. It’s the exact same drone, but with a controller that has a built-in touchscreen display. It’ll cost you an extra 300 bucks, but you won’t have to connect your phone to the controller with a cable, worry about your smartphone’s battery life, or have your flights rudely interrupted by incoming text messages and calls.

Build Quality & Design

The P4 Pro is nearly identical to the original P4 in terms of both design and build quality. It retains the same hull shape as its predecessor, save for a few minor differences where the new sensors are placed. As such, it’s every bit as strong and sturdy as the P4, which remains among the most attractive and drones available.

It’s impressive that DJI has managed to outfit the drone with so many new features, while still maintaining an identical form factor. The additional sensors have been tucked into the drone’s legs, while infrared and optical sensors are fitted into the drone’s left and right sides. Even the camera, which is drastically better than the one found on the original P4, is just a bit larger than it was before. Unless you familiar with DJI’s drones, the P4 and P4 Pro are as good as identical, despite Phantom’s numerous enhancement.

The only downside to the P4 Pro is that, unfortunately, the Phantom line still isn’t nearly as portable as DJI’s Mavic Pro. The arms and props aren’t designed to fold down, and the landing gear can neither retract, nor be collapsed. It’s not designed with portability in mind — though it’s still small enough to be stuffed inside a backpack if the need arises.

Battery life and recharge time

Under optimal conditions, DJI says the Phantom 4 Pro can stay airborne for up to 30 minutes — but of course, real-world conditions aren’t always optimal.

To put these claims to the test, we ran the P4 Pro through our usual series of endurance tests. First up was a hover test, where we let the drone hover in place until the battery life became “critically low,” and the drone automatically landed. Our hover test lasted for 28 minutes and 8 seconds — which isn’t very far off from DJI’s claimed 30-minute flight time.

Next, to get a sense of how long P4 Pro will last under more demanding conditions, we recorded the flight times from every other flight test we conducted and averaged everything out. Over the course of 10 different flights that spanned from 100 percent battery charge to the emergency low-battery automatic landing, the Phantom 4 Pro averaged a flight time of 26 minutes and 50 seconds.

While you shouldn’t expect a full 30 minutes of airtime, the endurance is excellent – the best we’ve seen so far. A DJI Mavic Pro lasted 23 minutes and 19 seconds in our hover test, and the Yuneec Typhoon H lasted 23 minutes, 20 seconds. A smaller, more affordable, simpler drone will last far less than any of these. The Hover Camera Passport, for instance, lasted less than 10 minutes.

As for battery recharge times, we found that a nearly-empty battery (around 10 percent remaining) takes about 1.5 hours to juice up to 100 percent. That said, most of the time you’ll be compelled to land before you reach critically low battery levels, so most of our recharges took about an hour and 15 minutes or less. That’s not bad for a cell that offers nearly 27 minutes of airtime. The Yuneec Typhoon H needed over two hours to fill up its tank.

Flight Performance

The flight performance of the Phantom 4 hasn’t changed in this new version. The P4 Pro boasts nearly identical flight specs to the original P4, when it comes to things like speed and agility. Luckily, this isn’t much of a letdown, since the P4 is still among the most nimble quad-blade drones sold.

Speed and agility are basically unchanged in the P4 Pro. Both the P4 and P4 Pro top out at 45 miles per hour (72 kph) — though you can easily reach higher speeds with a good tailwind behind you. It’s not the fastest drone on the market (some can go 55 or even 60 mph), but it’s quick enough for most uses.

However, unlike its predecessor, the P4 can fly up to 31 mph with full multi-directional obstacle avoidance. That’s important. High-speed maneuvers are when you need obstacle avoidance the most. This new model can fly at respectable speeds while also dodging and weaving on its own.

Autonomy

Some of the biggest improvements in the P4 Pro are related to DJI’s new autopilot features. In addition to porting over most of the “standard” autonomous flight modes from the original P4, DJI also borrowed a few of the Pro’s features from the recently-released Mavic, and even added a few extras that we haven’t seen before.

You can set the P4 Pro to orbit a point in space with Point of Interest Mode, repeat flights along a preset path with Waypoints, follow your movements via Follow Me mode, or even adjust the way it responds to joystick control with Course Lock and Home Lock. These modes are included in the Phantom 4, but the Pro version has a couple new tricks up its sleeve: Terrain Follow, Tripod Mode, and a range of new Active Track abilities.

It’s not crash-proof, but it’s close.

In Terrain Follow (which was previously only available in the Mavic Pro), the drone uses its Downward Vision System to maintain a certain distance from the ground, which is fantastic for filming over terrain that varies in elevation.

For static shots, the Pro’s new Tripod mode allows you choose a point in space, then keep the drone locked in that position while you shoot – sort of like a flying tripod. In this mode, joystick controls are dampened so that panning/yawing movements are less drastic, and the drone uses a combination of GPS and sensors to hold its position without drifting.

DJI has also added a few updates to its Active Track system. Portrait mode, for example, allows you to track a subject while the drone flies horizontally and matches pace. Spotlight, on the other hand, allows you to lock onto a subject, but allows you to fly the drone in any direction around it. There’s even a 360 mode that will actively orbit any subject you choose, regardless of where that subject might move.

DJI Phantom 4 Pro+
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

And of course, there’s the new omnidirectional sense-and-avoid system. Using its new sensors, the P4 Pro continually scans the environment around it, and either alerts you when you fly too close to an obstacle, or avoids it autonomously. The best part is that this function can be turned on or off, so it’s there when you need it, but doesn’t get in the way when you want to walk on the wild side and fly close to something.

Our favorite feature, however, is DJI’s new dynamic return to home function. In past generations of the Phantom, when you hit the “return to home’” button, the drone would fly to a predetermined height, then make a beeline straight back to where it took off from. God forbid there were any obstacles in the way — if there were, the drone would smack into them like a blind bird.

When you use the return to home button on the new P4 Pro, the drone will basically retrace its steps and attempt to “reverse” along the same path it used to get where it is — dynamically avoiding any obstacles that might appear along the way, of course. It’s not crash-proof, but it’s close.

Range

Range is also quite a bit better than the original P4. Just like the Mavic Pro, the P4 Pro is equipped with DJI’s new OcuSync video transmission technology, which stretches the drone’s maximum range and provides a live HD video feed from the camera from up to 4.3 miles away. That, however, is only possible in the most optimal conditions.

This is arguably the best way to spend $1,500.

We took it out to the one mile mark on a handful of different occasions without so much as a jitter in the video feed — but transmission distance varies widely depending on the environment you’re flying in. If there’s a lot of interference, the feed can cut out at or before the half-mile mark. It all depends on where you’re flying, but even with the occasional feed cutout, the Phantom 4 Pro still boasts some of the best range we’ve ever seen in a drone.

Most competitors we’ve tried can barely make it three quarters of a mile with their stock configurations, and many require aftermarket range extenders to reach the ranges that the P4 Pro can.

Camera and Accessories

If there’s any single reason to buy the P4 Pro instead of the standard P4, it’s the camera. DJI put some serious work into the Pro’s image capture system, and the result is one of the best cameras we’ve ever seen on a quad.

The biggest improvement is the size of the camera’s sensor. The Pro boasts a 1-inch CMOS sensor — which is roughly four times the size of the more typical 1/2.3-inch class used by most drones (including the Phantom 3 series and the Phantom 4), flagship smartphones, and point-and-shoot cameras. This extra surface area allows it to capture far more detail, and maintain image/video quality at higher ISOs.

In addition to a larger sensor, DJI also equipped the Pro with a mechanical shutter and aperture control. In other words, you’re not stuck shooting in f/2.8 all the time (you can go all the way to f/11), and no longer need to worry about the dreaded “rolling shutter effect’ screwing up your images.

When it comes to shooting video, the P4 Pro offers a litany of options. You can shoot in cinematic 4K DCI at 24, 25, or 30 frames per second, or 4K UHD at 24, 25, 30, or 60 frames per second. If that’s too much for your eyeballs (or SD card) to handle, you can also scale down to 2.7K, 1080p, and 720p — the latter of which can be captured at 120 frames per second and used to create slow-mo footage.

If you spring for the Phantom 4 Pro Plus (an extra $300), DJI will throw in a controller that comes with its own built-in touchscreen display. It’s a bit on the spendy side for sure, but that extra scratch means you won’t have to connect your phone to the controller with a cable, which is something that’s required for nearly every other drone that DJI makes.

DJI Phantom 4 Pro+
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

We’re not sure if it’s worth $300, but it’s pretty nice to fly without worrying about your smartphone’s battery life, or having your flights rudely interrupted by incoming text messages or calls.

However, we think DJI should’ve included this option years ago, or at least thrown this into the $1,500 bundle. Yuneec offers a touchscreen Typhoon H controller for no extra charge, and that makes paying extra for it from DJI a bitter pill to swallow.

Our Take

Without a doubt, DJI’s Phantom 4 Pro is one of the best drones in existence today — if not the best. It’s the only drone with omnidirectional obstacle avoidance, and the camera outdoes every other drone in this class. Eventually it’ll be overshadowed, but it’s the best high-end consumer drone we’ve tested so far.

Are there better options available?

In this price range, no. If you’re in the market for a drone and $1,500 is within your budget, there’s no better way to spend your money.

The closest competitor to the P4 Pro is probably the DJI Mavic Pro, or newer Mavic Air. Both are smaller, far more portable, and boast many of the same flight modes and features — except, of course, omnidirectional obstacle avoidance, and a camera with a one-inch image sensor. Plus, at $999 and $799 respectively, the Mavic Air and Mavic Pro are also considerably cheaper, so if you’re looking for something a bit more affordable but still highly capable, you’d be wise to go for the Mavic.

If you don’t care so much about portability, Yuneec’s Typhoon H is also a worthy contender, and is more affordable at $999. It boasts many of the same features, and has a 4K camera that swivels a full 360 degrees. This, along with dual-pilot capabilities, make it a decent contender. However, the Typhoon H’s camera is not as advanced, the battery doesn’t last quite as long, and it needs more time to charge.

How long will it last?

Probably a few years or more. DJI constantly rolls out updates to most of its products, and we have no reason to think the P4 Pro will be any different. Firmware updates come through on a regular basis, and DJI already has a suite of upgrades, attachments, and accessories in the works. So, assuming you don’t fly it into a lake, the P4 Pro should last you for quite some time.

Should you buy it?

Yes. This is arguably one of the best ways to spend $1,500.

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