lance ulanoff

DJI Phantom 4 Pro + extends drone power and excitement

I often draw comparisons between DJI and Apple. Though one makes phones and tablets and the other drones, they each have reached a design plateau in their respective categories and the updates they now deliver are more polished refinements of existing products than great, genre-breaking leaps.

SEE ALSO: The small, foldable DJI Mavic Pro is the ultimate personal drone

There is nothing wrong with that, especially when the refined product is as beautifully rendered as the DJI Phantom 4 Pro +.

DJI’s latest prosumer drone is at once comfortingly familiar, while at the same time technically advanced and innovative to be noticeable and appreciated.

That’s better.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

Drones are flying robots with sensors and systems that tell it how fast it’s flying, where it is, its altitude, how to get back home on its own and if there are objects in front of it. With the Phantom 4 Pro +, DJI continues to hone and enhance this robotic intelligence, adding, for instance, rear facing sensors on the struts (there’s already a pair on the forward struts) that stop the Phantom Pro 4+ from inadvertently backing into people, buildings, trees, etc. Technology like this would’ve come in handy on my first drone flight where I accidentally backed my flyer right into a tree (the whole unfortunate incident was captured on drone video).

Those two sensors on the struts give the drone a view of what’s behind it. No more backing up into walls and trees. The 360-degree awareness can also help with narrow-flight through open doors and windows.

Image: lili sams/mashable

The gimbal dial gives your precision control over the camera’s pitch.

Image: lili sams/mashable

Since most people flying drones are also camera and video enthusiast, DJI also keeps raising the bar on image quality with a new 20 MP camera that shoots 4K video at 60 fps (I did most of my shooting at 4K 30 fps).

In the box

The new Phantom 4 Pro comes in two flavors: The drone plus a standard RC controller where you supply the screen with an iPhone or Android phone running DJI Go software ($1,499) and the one I tested, the Phantom 4 Pro +, which adds an RC with a screen ($1,799). $300 is a lot to pay for a screen, but I would say that the one DJI chose is the perfect companion for the RC and the drone. Its 6-inch display is just large enough and the visibility outdoors, even in the brightest sunlight, is impressive.

This excellent 20 MP camera can also shoot 4K video at 60 fps.

Image: lili sams/mashable

This is easily DJI’s best remote ever.

Image: lili sams/mashable

Also in the carrying case is the charger for both the RC and the drone’s 5870 mAh intelligent battery, two sets of propellers and instructions, which are worth reading.

This drone can’t fold and fit in your backpack like the amazing Mavic Pro, but then it’s a somewhat more powerful drone, one that may be more suitable for pro-level pursuits.

 Before flying, you’ll have to charge up both the battery (outside of the drone) and the remote, which takes about an hour. Once you’ve been flying for a while, you’ll wish the Phantom Pro 4 + also shipped with a second battery. You get a healthy near-half-hour per charge, but you’ll be sad every time the RC warns you about low battery.

Attaching the propellers is easy, a they’re color-coded. One color twists on clockwise, the other counter clockwise.

The DJI Phantom 4 Pro +’s camera is capable of taking stunning aerial photos.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

Before you fly, you need to register with the FAA to obtain a Small UAS Certificate of Registration. It costs $5 and gives you a unique number that you can attach to the inside of your drone’s battery compartment (I usually use a cut-down Post-It Note). You’ll also need to find a safe place to fly, away from people, buildings, power lines and airplanes. The DJI drone has built-in GPS and will not let you operate in no-fly zones.

The DJI Phantom 4 Pro + is called Pro for a reason: it can fly up to 45 mph and 4.3 miles and almost 2,000 feet above sea-level. Your restrictions though, will keep the drone at 400 ft. above sea level and always within view.  

Fly time

One blustery winter morning, I took the Phantom 4 Pro + down to the beach. The cold was not a problem, but when I reached the shore, I encountered a stiff, 30 mph wind and wondered if the drone could handle it.

There’s little to prep before flying. You attach the propellers, remove the gimbal bracket for the camera and turn on both the remote control and drone (one short press and then a long one on each power button). The two devices automatically pair and as soon as they do, the RC displays what the 20 MP gimbal-stabilized camera sees, along with a wealth of flight info: a map for location, camera settings, altitude, speed, return to home, record video, shoot photo and access to all the intelligent settings.

To launch, I just pushed the remote’s two joysticks down and in toward each other. As the propellers spin up, the remote helpfully announces that the drone is ready to launch. The lift-off happened when I pushed the left joystick forward to increase altitude.

The Phantom 4 Pro + is one fast drone (it has maximum ascent speed of 6 meters per second); pressing the left joystick all the way forward causes the drone to leap into the air. Even the gusts of the wind on the beach couldn’t slow the drone’s ascent. It flew straight up, all the while automatically leaning into gale to maintain position. The remote did give me frequent warnings about the wind, but the DJI Phantom 4 Pro + held its own.

You can pop a micro SD cars right into this tiny slot on the drone body.

Image: lili sams/mashable

The big, removable, rechargeable battery gives you roughly 30 minutes of flight time. The green bars tell you how much power you have left.

Image: lili sams/mashable

I’ve come to expect an exquisite-level of control from DJI drones and the Phantom 4 Pro + didn’t disappoint. It’s fast, responsive and fun to fly.

On this and subsequent flights, I also got a chance to try the new 360-degree sensors. I tried repeatedly to fly the drone into me (forward and back), but each time the remote would start beeping and the drone would pull up short. Granted, I didn’t try this at 35 mph. 

Intelligent flight controls like Active Track (I select the person I want to track on screen and the drone keeps them in view) and Tap to fly (I select a point on the remote screen I want to fly to and the drone slowly flies there, while avoiding obstacles) work as well, if not somewhat better, than they did on the Phantom 4. Gesture controls like running to start tracking and waving your hands in front of your face to take a picture also worked smoothly, but are easier to accomplish if you are not the one holding the drone’s remote control.

Video

The photos and videos grabbed by the DJI Phantom 4 Pro+ are simply excellent.  There’s virtually no distortion on the 84-degree field of view and gimbal-based stability made my videos as smooth as butter. While turning the camera left to right and vice versa requires turning the whole drone, there’s a small gimbal dial on the remote that lets you smoothly control the camera’s vertical position. My only criticism of the video is that you can sometimes see the propellers.

By default, the drone shoots in 4K 30 fps video. I did have some trouble finding a way to reduce the shooting level to 1080p (to reduce video file size). To edit video, I pulled the micro-SD card, which slides directly into the drone body (you can also put the card in the remote control). The card is spring loaded and I almost lost it when I pressed the card in to release it and it flew out of the drone. There must be a better way to seat these cards.

DJI calls the Phantom 4 Pro + a “prosumer” drone, but with its speed, power and flight capabilities, combined with an excellent camera, make this an awesome drone for all competent pilots.

Yes, it’s a big investment, but in my estimation, the DJI Phantom 4 Pro+ is worth every penny of the $1,799 price tag.

DJI Phantom 4 Pro +

The Good

Sleek design • Powerful • Great control • Awesome remote and remote control screen • Good flight time • Lots of intelligence • Excellent camera

The Bad

The Bottom Line

Seriously, if you plan on flying a drone, this is one of your best choices.

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Jonathan Franzen Is Wrong: eBooks Are Good for Everyone (and I call Bull*)

Lance Ulanoff at Mashable Tech:

I, on the other hand, hope to live well past my 97th year and to thoroughly enjoy ebooks from now to then and beyond. Maybe Franzen will change his mind and join me.

I call bull* on this one. I don’t see why physical books would have to disappear.

Yes, they’re easier to travel around with. Taking a three-week summer holiday with the whole Game of Thrones catalogue in a device that weighs under 2 pounds is a plus.

But will paper books ever loose their value? Do they _need_ to disappear for eBooks to ‘win’? Does any format need to win?

I think it’s exactly the same as with paperback and hardcover. I just love paperback versions for their flexibility, they cost less and they weigh less. A good friend of mine swears by hardcover versions, since they don’t wrinkle and look good in his small library.

Saying paper books will disappear because eBooks exist is like saying notebooks will disappear because everyone uses MS Word. Or like saying decks of playing cards will disappear because people play poker online.