2014 DJI Phantom FC40 Quadcopter Review: Best Drone for Beginners? Yes!

DJI Phantom FC40 Quadcopter - What's The Big Deal?

Last year was a great one for DJI, in terms of their development in the world of quadcopters. They released the Phantom 1, which gave me the most fun of any quadcopter up to that point, and I remember telling my wife when it came out that it would lead to a new generation of amateur and pro drone enthusiasts. She laughed at me, but the ever-increasing fleet of Phantoms shows I might have the last laugh!

Anyway, last fall, DJI also knocked it out of the park with the Phantom 2 Vision, and yes, I picked that up too (thank you Amazon!). The only issue is that the Phantom 2 Vision wasn't exactly cheap. I wrote DJI about it, and they must have listened, because shortly afterward, they came out with the Phantom FC40, which is what this review is about. The Phantom FC40 is designed to make it easier for you to shoot high-def video without needing to take out a second mortgage. I've got it in front of me alongside the Phantom 2 Vision and Phantom 2+ Vision, so I'm going to write this review before getting out to do some flying later.

What Is It and Why Do I Want It?

The Phantom FC40 is essentially a helicopter with four rotors (known as a quadcopter). However, it's not just a quadcopter; it's a quadcopter that you get to control via radio, or remote control, and that's capable of shooting some pretty awesome video and still footage.

You want it because it's fun! Let's be honest; that's why I buy any of these things. In particular, you want it because it's a cheaper alternative to the Phantom 2 and Phantom 2+ that does pretty much the same thing unless you're looking for really high quality video and a few additional features. If you're a beginner, I think this is the single best drone on the market right now.

Structure, Design, and Guts

The Phantom FC40 arrives in a clean white labeled box. Inside, you'll see the drone neatly packed with the blades unattached to keep them from taking up too much space. Also packaged are the remote control, two propeller sets, a battery, accessories for charging, stickers, and a camera with the hardware necessary to mount it. You'll be responsible for putting the legs on yourself, in addition to the propellers and the housing for the camera. However, my kids were able to do it while watching Frozen, so I think most folks will be able to figure it out.

DJI has a history of making great quadcopters that actually make sense when you try them, fly them, and use them, and that's why they've always been among my favorite RTF (ready-to-fly) drones. The Phantom FC40 is no exception here. If you've already seen or tried the original Phantom, you'll have a head start, as there are few external differences between the two. There's the familiar plastic composite material that reminds you of a tiny Japanese toilet, but as with the original Phantom, it's sturdy, durable, and unlikely to crack on you unless you do something like crash head on into a tree. I'll admit that even with decades of flying experience, I still crash land now and then, and I can verify that the Phantom FC40 is strong enough to take a few hard landings with nothing worse than a few broken blades. Blades you can replace!

The frame itself is sleek, ergonomic, and well-designed with thoughtful touches. For example, you have screw inserts inside the frame to keep the legs from vibrating out when you're in the air. The body itself also has a set of LEDs that give you information on your current flight status. The colors will change depending on whether it's got a GPS satellite signal, whether it's ready to fly, whether you're in an automated or manual mode, if there are errors that will need to be dealt with before you take off, and so on.

It's a drone that does a lot of the thinking for you, and I like that.

What's It Like to Use It?

This is my favorite part of any review, and let's be honest: it's why you've read this far. In short, using the Phantom FC40 is great. My favorite way to describe it is as 90% of the Phantom 2 Vision+ experience for only 50% of the cost. Is it fast? Oh yes, it's amazingly fast. It makes sense, because the basic structure comes from the Phantom. That means that you can fly hundreds of feet in the air, take off and land and pop back in the air again, and just have a great time experiencing the thrill of flight. I'd estimate the top speed is around 22 mph, based on my radar gun (yes, it really works).

The camera is what sets the Phantom FC40 apart from the original Phantom. It's a 720p/30 fps camera, which means you get high-definition, although not as high in definition as that in the Phantom 2 Vision or Phantom 2 Vision+. It's also not as high-def as what you'd get if you just strapped a GoPro to it, but it's definitely high quality enough to shoot a movie with, or to share content to YouTube with, or simply to enjoy on your computer or high-definition TV at home. And I'll be honest with you. When I've got my big fancy TV set up (thank you wife!) in the middle of my living room and am watching footage from my latest buzz over the neighborhood, the last thing I'm thinking is, "gee, this would look so much better at 1080p!" In the real world, it's the content that matters, and the Phantom FC40 delivers.

Now, that's not to say that there aren't any downsides, because there always are. For example, I like that you can control the camera through your smart phone, in terms of starting and stopping it and shooting video and audio. I also love that you can look at first-person footage as you're flying directly from the Phantom FC40. Real-time video while you're flying around town or watching traffic patterns will make you feel like you're using that big spy setup they had at the end of The Dark Knight. You can even go farther and record your footage via an SD card. However, and this is where the downside is: you can't change the angle of the camera. You don't have a gimbal. In other words, you need to set the angle manually on the ground before you take off, and that's the angle you'll get until you land again. In contrast, you get to change that on the fly (ha ha) with the Vision, which is worth every penny if you're into serious drone surveillance or video capture. This, right here, is why I use the Phantom 2 Vision+ over the Phantom FC40.

However, if that's not a feature you need, then it's not a problem! Then again, something else you might not like is the fact that the battery life is only 10 to 15 minutes long, compared to around 25 minutes in the Phantom 2 Vision and Phantom 2 Vision+. That said, you can always buy extra enhanced batteries and just pop them in whenever you land, which is what I did until I upgraded the entire quadcopter. I wouldn't let this discourage you, as you'd be surprised just how much fun you can squeeze into a 15 minute flight.

Should I Buy It?

In short: I would, yes. It's an amazingly fun piece of gear, and one of the best drones I've had the pleasure of buying. There are some features that set it apart from its higher end cousins, such as the lack of directional video control and the lower quality camera setup. However, if you can live without those features and are on a budget, I'd save my money and go with the Phantom FC40. I think it's the best drone out there for beginners and casual enthusiasts right now.

I completely recommend the DJI Phantom FC40 Quadcopter. You can buy it from Amazon here. Also consider the same kit along with an extra battery, propellers, anti-vibration mount, and cleaning materials here. Extra regular batteries are here, but I'd spend a bit more for the enhanced batteries here.


Hi! My name is Mike, and I'm the author of this personal drone blog. If you find the information on my flying drone review blog useful, you can shop through Amazon here.

No comments:

Post a Comment