The major players in the commercial drones space have released their new models just in time for a holiday season that should cement UAVs as a mainstream gadget. But which one of this year’s models is right for you? Let Dronelife break it down for you:
DJI Inspire 1
Let’s get this out of the way: DJI’s new Inspire 1 is the most expensive consumer drone on the market. The Inspire’s most basic bundle still costs over $1,000 more than the cheapest of this year’s new models. But it is also far and away the most technologically advanced. So what do you get for such a hefty price tag?
For starters, the Inspire 1 gets about 18 minutes of flight time per battery, has a max speed of 22 m/s and is fully compatible with DJI’s pilot app, LightBridge video downlink and Ground Station for automated flight.
But the real value is in the camera- the Inspire 1 has the best ready-to-fly drone/camera combination money can buy. The 4K camera shoots at 30fps, has a resolution of 12 million pixels, supports Adobe DNG, live streams in 720p to your smartphone/tablet and is controlled by a 3 axis stabilized gimbal. Speaking of the gimbal, users can control it with a smartphone (just like the gimbals on DJI’s Phantom drones) or a second controller ($650)- so aerial photography is now even more efficient as a two-man job.
What’s more, the Inspire’s arms lift over the main body after take off, allowing the camera 360 degrees of unobstructed vision.
The Inspire 1 also has a camera on the bottom of its body which allows for position hold without GPS connectivity within 2 meters above ground level.
Oh, and the camera is modular which means it’s easy to replace or upgrade… and DJI has hinted other packages are on the way.
3D Robotics X8+
3D Robotics’ X8+ is a serious piece of hardware that lends itself much more to the tinkerers- the technologically savvy drone enthusiasts who want to understand what makes it tick. As the name suggests, the X8+ is an octocopter. It can be purchased barebones for $1350 and users can customize it out from there, but to roughly equate it with the Inspire 1 (with a gimbal, camera and inherent FPV capability), the cost rises to $2209.
The X8+ gets about 15 minutes of flight time and can carry payloads up to 800 grams. It also features the increasingly popular “Follow Me” functionality, wherein the drone will follow a GPS beacon (your smartphone, for example you) at a specified altitude and angle.
Like the Inspire 1, the X8+ has a modular payload. Unlike the Inspire 1, however, alternative payloads for the X8+ are available now- you can outfit the drone with an array of gimbals, cameras and sensors allowing for all manner of data collection during an automated flight.
The final new drone for Holiday 2014 is the Bebop by Parrot. The Bebop improves upon Parrot’s extremely popular AR Drone series in almost every way: increased range, flight time, controller options, camera capability and battery life (sort of).
The 14 megapixel camera uses a 180 degree, internal fisheye lens to produce extremely stable HD photos and videos.
Using your smartphone or tablet as a controller, the Bebop is ready to fly out of the box. The (free) app used to fly the drone also controls the camera and saves any recorded media right to your device’s photo gallery.
A fully charged battery provides 11-12 minutes flights but, unlike the other models on this list, the Bebop comes standard with two LiPo 12000 mAh batteries. The package also comes standard with easily installed propeller guards for added safety.
The Bebop is smaller and lighter than the Inspire 1 and X8+ so it is more susceptible to wind and the elements, but if you don’t want to fuss with complex systems and want to fly as soon as possible, you can’t go wrong with the $499 price tag.
The Hammer, the Drill and the Screwdriver
To put this comparison in terms of more widely recognized technology: if the Inspire 1 is a Mac, the X8+ is a PC and the Bebop is a Kindle Fire.
The Inspire 1 has a sleek look that is sophisticated in its simplicity. It’s easy to use, difficult to take apart, and exceedingly efficient at basic drone functionalities the industry has come to expect (i.e. taking pictures and videos). It’s about to experience an influx of apps due to DJI’s recently released SDK and it’s easily the most expensive model.
The X8+ has a much more traditional appearance- it doesn’t look like a prop from the Star Wars set. The guts are much more user friendly and customizable, making the X8+ an all-purpose tool for those who take the time to understand its inner-workings. It’s much easier to fix when broken, and provides a rig that is easier to upgrade in the coming years as UAV technology becomes more powerful.
The Bebop is the cheapest and most accessible option. Just like how anybody can click to buy on Amazon, anyone can tap to fly with Bebop. If your primary reason for buying a drone is entertainment, the Bebop is easily the best option. You can use it to complete some simple tasks (inspecting your gutters or taking drone selfies, for example), but for raw processing power, look elsewhere.
To see a comparison of these companies’ other drone models, check out Drone Duel Part I.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com