2014 DJI Phantom Quadcopter: A Great Drone for Beginners? Yes!

DJI Phantom Quadcopter - What's The Big Deal?

I've used drones for years, and have far too many of them in my flight hangar, which my wife dryly calls our "garage." Throughout those years, I had a lot of fun, but I never knew how much fun was possible until I picked up DJI's Phantom Quadcopter last year. I'm just getting around to reviewing it, and even though it's no longer the drone I take out when I feel like seeing what's going on around the neighborhood anymore, it's definitely still one of the best drones in my hangar. Here are my thoughts on why it should be in yours too.

What Is It and Why Do I Want It?

The Phantom is basically 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 version of the Phantom 2 drones that gets you flying for a much smaller hit in your wallet. If you're a beginner to drones and you don't need video, or you're willing to buy a GoPro on your own time to hook up, the Phantom might be the only drone you ever need. And believe me, when it's in the air, it's no less fun than the most expensive drones out there. Trust me; I've flown close to a hundred of them at this point.

Structure, Design, and Guts

The Phantom does take a few minutes to put together out of the box. DJI has free instructional videos that are designed to get you in the air pretty quickly, and you can even download a Quick Start Manual to look things over on paper. These, by the way, are handy if you've never flown a quadcopter or multirotor before.

A big selling point for the Phantom is that you can use it to turn the GoPro series of cameras into flying aerial platforms, and the Phantom includes a mount underneath it that is adjustable and specifically designed to fit the GoPro. The only issue with this, though, is that you will need to strip the protective housing of the GoPro in order to make it fit the mount. Fortunately DJI did away with this sillyness with the Phantom 2 Vision series, which include built in cameras that are well protected. But the way things are in the Phantom, you also can't make use of the extra modules that are available for the GoPro, such as an additional battery. That said, the setup of the drone is simple and it doesn't take any work to connect a GoPro to it.

Keep in mind that when you mount your GoPro to the Phantom, it will be mounted upside down, which means that you'll either need to turn on the video flip setting in the camera itself or remember to rotate the footage on your own when you are editing it. Otherwise you're going to look silly showing your aerial coverage of your kid's soccer game to all your friends while the field is upside down.

A rechargeable 2200mAh battery is included for the drone, but given that the battery life is somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes, you'll want to buy extras. When you turn it on, the Phantom will go into self-check mode, which is admittedly confusing if you aren't familiar with the exotic Morse code system of blinking LED madness. Essentially, the LED indicator will flash in a variety of color patterns. The patterns are designed to let you know that the check itself is occurring, and then to keep you in the know if it has other issues.

What kinds of issues? Maybe the compass isn't being calibrated (this gets the drone lost). Maybe GPS satellites aren't showing up (this keeps the drone from coming back to you). Maybe it's cold (which means you can't fly). The issue here is that you aren't going to know what these codes mean unless you have a way of cross-referencing them, or unless you've seen them often enough to have them memorized. This is one of those issues DJI would do well to fix, perhaps with a simple text display.

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 is a dreamy experience. I've felt this way with every Phantom from the original one up to the Phantom 2 Video+, which is my go-to drone, and they all give the same thrill each time the rotors start whirring and the drone whizzes into the sky like a four-headed seagull.

The top speed of the Phantom is approximately 22mph, as measured by my radar gun. I'm not sure how high it can go, but based on comparisons with nearby objects, I'd estimate somewhere past 500 feet easily. It's also very responsive; there's no lag when steering it in one direction or another.

The battery life as I time it is typically 12 minutes, which is right in the 10 to 15 minute range estimated by DJI. I would like more battery life, but I know that to get that, I need to whip out my Phantom 2 Video+ quadcopter instead, and I frequently do. When I'm in the mood to use the Phantom by itself, I just make sure to pack a few extra batteries.

There are a lot of neat things to talk about with the Phantom, being the game-changer that it is for the amateur and professional drone market, so let's start with the GPS Attitude mode. This is a setting that you can turn on that essentially lets your Phantom hover in mid-air; it orients the Phantom and tweaks the motors to keep it in one position even if the wind is pushing it this way and that. Similarly, it's also a way to keep the Phantom from moving it forward when you're trying to stop it; take your fingers off the throttle, and the Phantom stays right where you left it, at least until the batteries run out.

Another feature I'm a fan of is the Enhanced Fail-Safe. This is a fancy way of saying that if and when the Phantom loses communication with the radio controller, the Phantom is designed to fly back to where it took off. This works if the radio controller's batteries randomly die. It also works if you fly out of range, which is capped at 984 feet. Pretty awesome, right?

Finally, a good feature for beginners is the Intelligent Orientation Control. It's basically a way to compensate for the need to mirror your controls when the Phantom is flying toward you compared to when it's flying away from you. When it's enabled, executing a right turn on the controller means that the Phantom will always turn to your right, regardless of whether it's facing you or not. It's a crutch that can make the Phantom easier to handle at first, but I recommend getting away from it as quickly as possible or skipping it entirely, as it's only going to confuse you more when you switch back or fly a drone that doesn't include this feature.

I'd call the video setup the weak point of the Phantom. Yes, you can attach a GoPro rather easily, but the video tends to jiggle a bit (it's called the Jell-O effect) due to vibrations from the props and motors. It's not something you'll notice if you're watching for fun or if you're recording video where having coverage is more important than the quality of said video, but if you're doing pro work, you're not going to want to deal with such issues. Of course, if you're doing pro work, then you should skip the Phantom entirely and look toward the Phantom 2 Video+, which is what I use whenever working on a serious project.

Should I Buy It?

In short: I would, yes. It's the kind of quadcopter every beginner should have in his or her hangar. Features like a rock solid construction, the assembly is straightforward and only takes a few minutes, and for far less than a grand, you get physical joysticks, GPS-assisted hovering, orientation control, a good amount of speed and range, and the ability to hook up a cheap camera to shoot high-definition video with. For many enthusiasts, this might be the only drone they ever need. I'm a fan of the Phantom FC40 Quadcopter if you'd like an integrated camera but don't need all of the technical advantages of the Phantom 2 Video+. Any of these quads will help you forget about your troubles while you pilot them, and can be the start of a wonderfully thrilling and lifelong hobby--or occupation!

I completely recommend the DJI Phantom Quadcopter. You can buy it from Amazon here. You can pick up a great GoPro that mates perfectly with the Phantom 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.

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