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News & Notes

The Personal Drone Revolution

Mavic, Breeze, and Karma revitalize the consumer drone landscape

September 27, 2016

Updated Jan. 11, 2017

The consumer drone market has, until recently, failed to offer many options that fall somewhere between toy quadcopters and prosumer-grade drones. For consumers who wanted impressive aerial shots and advanced functionality without paying prosumer-level price, the pickings were slim.

Three major brands took notice of this space in the market and have provided new offerings to help fill the void: Yuneec was the first to market with its compact Breeze drone, GoPro produced its first drone offering with the Karma, and today DJI announced its highly anticipated Mavic quadcopter.

These new drones were all announced within a month of each other — well-timed, considering the upcoming holiday season. They are all hailed as being safe, easy-to-fly, and intuitive, marketed not toward drone pros but instead to those who want the operation of their drone to be an afterthought. While these three drones do share many features and functions, there are some differences of note.

DJI Mavic Pro

DJI once again revealed an innovative and industry-leading design and price point with which other companies just can’t compete. The Mavic Pro costs $999 and comes with a stabilized, 3-axis gimbal camera that shoots 12 megapixel stills and 4K video.

Mavic’s battery life is advertised as up to 27 minutes of flight. Mavic is also capable of multiple autonomous functions including various ActiveTrack modes (Trace, Profile, Circle, and Spotlight) and a unique feature: gesture control. Using fingers to frame a face, a subject within the drone’s field of view triggers the Mavic’s camera, and the drone will take a photo three seconds later — no other controls required.
The other standout is Mavic’s five vision sensors and FlightAutonomy system — these features are not new for DJI products, but they have never been offered at such a low price point. Using this system, the Mavic will be able to sense and avoid obstacles it may encounter during flight — just like the DJI Phantom 4.

There are three price points for the Mavic: the drone itself without a remote control (controlled only through the app) for $749, the drone with remote controller for $999, and the “Fly More” bundle including a carrying bag and additional accessories for $1,299. DJI began shipping Mavic on Oct. 21 (almost a week after its original release date), but a DJI representative told Gizmodo that the company is only shipping a small quantity to "comfort the market".
Yuneec Breeze

The Breeze is, by far, the most affordable offering of the three, ringing in at $499.99. However, the Breeze is the only drone of the bunch that does not come with any kind of flight controller — it is controlled entirely via smartphone app.

Using the app, an operator can choose from one of five flight functions: Pilot, Selfie, Orbit, Journey, or Follow Me. The last three functions on this list are the only truly autonomous functions — the user operates the drone in Pilot and Selfie mode. The video resolution can be recorded in 4K, but will not be stabilized when recording in this mode.
Drew Halverson
Perhaps the most major failing of the Breeze is its flight time. Advertised as up to 12 minutes per battery (it comes standard with two), I have personally experienced flights as short as about eight minutes. With two fully-charged batteries, that means anywhere from 16-24 minutes of flight on 60-80 minutes of charge.

Realistically, the Breeze and its app controls are not designed for serious aerial cinematographers. This drone is better-suited to more casual users who simply want to capture their daily adventures who won’t be too disappointed by a shake in their video recording or not being able to frame the perfect shot.
GoPro Karma

ALERT: Karma was recalled. 😢 However, at CES its CEO announced Karma will re-launch in 2017. For what it's worth, here's information on the drone.

The most important feature of the GoPro Karma is the lack of a feature: The Karma does not come standard with a camera. The camera-less Karma bundle costs $799 and comes standard with the usual drone accessories — controller, charger, battery — but also includes a handheld gimbal to attach a GoPro action cam. This allows users the opportunity to capture smooth, seamless video shots from the ground as well as the air.

The Karma is marketed toward average GoPro users — active, adventurous, and outdoorsy types looking to record their escapades. However, with no sense-and-avoid technology or sensors onboard, having the Karma perform autonomous functions near any kind of outdoor obstacle (trees, water, mountains) is questionable.
For those who don’t already own a compatible action camera or are looking to upgrade, the advanced bundle options are pricier. Bundled with the new, small Session camera, the package costs $999. If you want the full GoPro experience, it’ll run you $1,099 for the Karma and the new Hero5 Black.

A major factor to consider when looking at the Karma is the fact that GoPro is untested in the drone arena. DJI and Yuneec are arguably the two biggest companies in the consumer drone industry, and have consistently put out functional and up-to-date product offerings. The Karma is a gamble: At best, it’s a competitor with the Breeze and Mavic, at worst, it's an outdated drone with a very high price point.
Overall, the Mavic has the most innovative functionality for the price. But if you’re looking for something a little simpler and at a lower cost, the Breeze is a comparable, more simplistic offering that delivers on its promises of convenience and portability. Considering the Karma’s high price and lack of distinguishing features or functions, it may not be the best choice for many consumers — remember, it was recalled so you can't even get it anymore.

These three new drones have, in their own ways, established a new standard for the consumer drone industry. Having set the bar high, the consumer quads to follow will certainly have their work cut out for them.
Featured image: Drew Halverson