GoPro Karma Drone

It is a bit early to conclude whether the drone will be a great competitor for the DJI Phantom drones. In fact, looking at the features it comes with, it can be a bit hard to decide whether it is good or bad. However, since this is GoPro’s first drone, it is likely to deliver well and find a market with GoPro camera lovers and other drone hobbyists. Though the GoPro teaser videos show that a single athlete can indeed use the drone on their own, the lack of the “follow me” feature will negate this. For high-level sporting activities, you will definitely need to have a friend with you to help in controlling the drone. First-time drone fliers will, however, get a bargain in price and flight experience from this compact drone.
23.09.2016
GoPro Karma Drone

More sophisticated drones will actually leave Karma out in the cold, mostly due to its lack of the most sought-after features. If you are a person who loves using the advanced flight modes that most top drones come with, this drone is not for you. However, I can say that at the beginning, GoPro is definitely making the right steps for introducing their customers to this drone. The pricing will perhaps be a major selling point, given that most people likely own the Hero cameras by now. There definitely is room for improvement in the future should GoPro continues to push forward with new products.

Much has been said about GoPro declining in popularity as well as stock prices, causing some major losses to the company. This is in fact nothing new in technology. Whenever a new brand pops up and gains immense popularity, it starts to fizzle out quickly once the hype is over. Well, GoPro is not going to be fizzling out quite soon because of their new drone. It has been in anticipation since the 16th September of the last year. The new drone will perhaps place the company back in the limelight.

Background

GoPro is well-known for producing some of the best action cameras in the world. Many sports enthusiasts find these cameras quite handy, especially those who love cycling. These cameras are also used with most drones and perform quite well even in high altitudes. However, other companies, such as Sony and Polaroid are beating GoPro while competing for the action camera market. Apple's latest iPhone models also have seen some major improvements in their cameras. This stiff competition has made it necessary for GoPro to come up with something new to continue competing with the rival companies.

For this reason, GoPro’s new move to release a drone themselves is not too farfetched. Their cameras are already in use with many other drones. Having GoPro’s own drone will probably be appreciated by many. However, will the drone make a good place in the already competitive drone market? Will Karma be able to compete with the same type of DJI Phantom drones and Yuneec? Here is a review on GoPro Karma drone for you.

Features

Let’s first take note of the fact that Karma was supposed to be released earlier this year. However, the launch was delayed due to the need of having the features fine-tuned for the sake of differentiation. The design is very simple and compact. The drone itself is pretty attractive unlike most other drones that tend to look chunky from outside. Here are the features:

Foldable Propeller Arms and Landing Gear

This is definitely a plus point if you ask me. Most other drones have propeller arms that do not fold. This makes it necessary for the casing, backpack or carrier to have a bigger space in order to accommodate the whole unit. You can carry a more compact drone with you no matter where you will be going.

Back Pack Mount

This backpack also acts as the drone's casing. However, one big selling point is not just the backpack, but you can actually mount the drone on your shoulder and still capture great views while skiing. A Karma Grip (a hand-held stick control) is included to help you stabilize the drone while in motion and a shoulder mount which you can use to hold the drone in position on your shoulders, thus making it possible to get an excellent first-person view.

Clamshell Controller

The controller is pretty much like most other drone controllers. It has two joysticks, each at the sides of the controller. One is for controlling the yaw and altitude (left joystick) and the other is for controlling the roll and pitch (right joystick). The middle sections consist of two buttons for start, stop and landing functions. The shoulders of the controller hold a rotating wheel for tilting the camera and also a button for recording.

This is just the bottom part of the clamshell. At the top or the top facing part when you open the clamshell is where the LCD touchscreen is held. Through this touchscreen, you can view what the drone is shooting as well as change viewing settings. This is perhaps one major selling point, as you can opt to use only the clamshell and experience a video-game like shooting of the surroundings.

3 Axis Gimbal

The Gimbal is often a must have for any drone with cameras. GoPro is also no different as they are including a three axis Gimbal for holding the camera. This Gimbal is strategically placed at the front and holds the four rotors for stability while taking a video coverage.

Lights

Lights are not really a differentiating factor, but they can help you locate the quad-copter while it is in flight. However, most other drones will definitely have lights too.

These are some of the major features of Karma that GoPro have worked really hard on. Well, the controller is often the biggest pointer to whether you will enjoy flying the drone or not, followed by the software app that will let you take photos and video coverage of the area. A look at flying the drone and the images captured will give us a full picture of the drone's real worth.

Performance

Flight

It is good to know that flying the drone is very easy. To prepare the drone for the takeoff, you simply have to press down the start button and watch a timer on the screen that counts down to the time when the drone will takeoff. This same start button is what activates the rotors, which roar to life and lift the drone off the ground. The right joystick is then used to take the drone from hover mode to flight mode. One thing I noted is that the drone responds a little bit slowly to the joystick nudge, which is actually not that bad if you have patience.

Video capture

I was flying the drone at relatively low winds and I must say the videos captured were very smooth.

Set-Up

Karma comes with everything you would need to fly it except the camera. The backpack and casing are very handy. Setting up the drone required me to just remove it from the casing, unfold the landing gear and the propeller axis, fix the propellers and press the start button. The hassle of calibrating the compass is not present with this drone, thus any beginner can do this easily. What’s more, the drone comes with spare propellers should you break or lose the other ones. So within a few minutes, you can be ready to fly the drone.

Pros and Cons

Well, so far the drone has offered much of what you will get from a good DJI drone. However, it is also great to list down the pros and cons of the drone in order to see where the differences lie.

Pros

  • Ease of use: The controller is compactly built with no excesses. You can easily understand it as well as use it to control the drone.
  • Stability: The drone is relatively stable while in flight. This is why I was able to capture a smooth video with the camera.
  • Size and design: The drone is compactly designed with foldable propeller legs and landing gear. It also comes with its own case which acts as a backpack. This makes the drone comfortably portable to be used on hiking trips.
  • The 3 axis Gimbal is removable: You can use it with the provided hand-held stick (Karma Grip). The stick can be attached to your helmet, your car or even to your bike. Thus, you can have versatility while taking video footages at different levels of the ground.

Cons

  • The drone does not have the “follow me” feature that is commonly found in most top drones. Instead, it has an auto shot feature that allows you to preset the paths that the drone should follow while on flight. This is a big disappointment, given that a majority of people buy GoPro cameras for sports and the “follow me” feature would have been a plus for bikers, skiers and others.
  • It also cannot "see" objects that are ahead of it. If you are a novice at flying quadcopters or are poor at landing, you may end up crashing the drone either on a building or a tree. This is also another disappointment considering that most of the top selling drones in the market have this feature. This could probably add to the durability of the drone.

After taking the drone for a test flight, it actually did well just like other top drones. The battery life is as good as other top selling drones, which is 20 minutes. Plus, the controller has battery life of two hours.

The pricing is also not that bad. For $799, you will be able to get the Karma,. However, the camera is not included in this price. For this reason, you can use either the Hero 4 or Hero 5 cameras which are compatible with the drone. Alternatively, you can get the Karma at $999 with a GoPro Hero 5 Session camera, or spend $1,099 for Karma with a GoPro Hero 5 Black. This is called a bundle where you will get a camera, a drone and a hand-held stick.

There are some other features that the company is still working on. The “follow me” feature probably will be included in future drones. There is also the passenger app that is still in the garage. GoPro says that by the time the drone will be open for sale, the app will be complete. If you are wondering what a passenger app is, it is an app from GoPro that will enable your friends to connect their devices to your drone controller. As a result, they will be able to view the live video feeds as well as control the camera's Gimbal so that they can point the camera to a certain direction. The app itself will allow wireless connection.

The noisy issue that most drones come with was not highlighted well by the company. I cannot tell whether it could hide the propeller noise or not since that was not my main focus. However, during one of the conferences that the CEO Nick Woodman attended, he alluded to the possibility of blocking out the noise using the GoPro Hero 5. It will feature three microphones that will filter out the sounds picked and include only the best in the video coverage.

GoPro's Karma is a drone, much like many other quadcopters that are currently on sale in the drone market. Most people who buy drones are hobbyists as well as professionals in the photography industry.

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