GoPro Karma Drone versus the competition

UPDATE 9/27 at 12:10PM – updated table with DJI Mavic information presented at launch event!

It’s an exciting time for drone enthusiasts! On 9/19, GoPro announced their first foray into the drone market with detailed product information on their Karma Drone system. Just days before, DJI unexpectedly announced their competitor in the “folding drone” category dubbed the Mavic. But does new always mean better? What about the current kings of the field, and how do they stack up against these new challengers?

Below, I’ve collected and tabulated all of the stats and basic information that I find useful when trying to evaluate each drone offering. Note that not all specification information is here, and that’s because it’s either not what I think is important, or because all the drones have satisfactory scores for that spec (e.g. they all have great 4K cameras and gimbals). I am by no means a drone expert, so I also welcome comments from those who can point out important aspects that I’ve overlooked! It’s also worth noting that I do not own any of these drones, and that the Karma and Mavic drones haven’t actually been released yet, so real details may vary.

GoPro Karma 
DJI Phantom 4 
DJI Mavic Pro 
3DR Solo 
Price 
$800 without camera
$1100 with GPH5 Black bundle
$1200 with integrated 4K/30fps camera 
$749 no remote
$999 with remote
$1299 for bundle
$1150 with camera and backpack 
Release Year 
2016 
October 23rd 
2016 
March 15th 
2016 
September 27th 
(Ships Oct 15th)
2015
May
Battery Life / Flight Time 
~18-20 minutes 
~28 minutes 
~27 minutes
~20 minutes 
Distance 
0.6 mi / 1000 m 
3.1 mi / 5000 m 
4.3 mi (7000 m)
0.6 mi / 1000 m 
Wind Resistance 
22 mph 
Ease of use 
5 / 5 
Designed with simplicity in mind; familiar game pad and touch screen controls; trades extra options for streamlined experience 
4 / 5 
Operator modes for beginner and expert; but the complexity can present some learning curves regardless
5 / 5
Game pad controls; built-in safety features (like obstacle avoidance) allow new and old pilots to fly with confidence
 5 / 5
Designed to allow anyone to capture cinematic quality aerial video; game pad controls, and integration with the GoPro camera
Portability 
5 / 5 
Smallest drone on the market once folded; lightweight at 1006 grams with battery 
3 / 5 
Modest drone size weighing in at 1380 grams with battery 
5 / 5
Foldable drone class, very small, just a bit larger in area than a smart phone! 734 grams (with battery?)
3 / 5
Modest drone size weighing in at 1800 grams with camera, gimbal, and battery
Size
Unfolded: 12 in x 16.2 in x 4.6 in (894.2 in^3)

Folded: 14.4 in x 8.8 in x 3.5 in (443.5 in^3)
13.8 in x 13.8 in x 13.8 in (2628 in^3) Unfolded:

Folded: 3.3 in x 3.3 in x 7.8 in (84.9 in^3)

12.7 in x 12.7 in x 10.0 in (1612.9 in^3)
Top Speed 
35 mph 
45 mph 
40 mph
55 mph 
Follow-me Feature 
No 
Yes, ActiveTrack
Yes, DJI’s ActiveTrack
Yes 
Flight Path Feature 
Yes 
4 distinct path options: 
Dronie, Cable Cam, Orbit, Reveal 
Yes 
Several including subject tracking, tap-to-fly. 
Maybe?
Tap-Fly allows users to tap on the screen and the drone will obey. Unclear if other pre-programmed flight plans are included.
Yes 
6 distinct path options 
Selfie/Reveal, Cable Cam, Orbit, Follow, Zipline, Pano 
Return Home Feature 
Yes 
Return to start, and return to controller; no obstacle avoidance means drone will likely run into obstacles if in the way 
Yes 
Includes Obstacle Avoidance so drone returns home without interference 
Yes
Includes Obstacle Avoidance
Yes 
Flight path rewind to help avoid obstacles 
Object Detection and Avoidance 
No 
Yes 
 Yes
Position Keeping / Hovering 
Yes 
GPS-based in both drone and controller. Unclear about indoor handling?
Yes 
Advanced IMU and Vision system for excellent hovering even without GPS. (indoor/outdoor)
Yes
Vision system for position keeping even indoors.
Yes
Optical sensors for improved stability indoors and outdoors
Controller with FOV Screen 
Yes, built-in 4 hours 
No 
Requires cell phone or tablet 
No
Requires cell phone for FOV
No 
Requires cell phone or tablet 
Backpack Included 
Yes 
No 
Yes, at $1299 price point
Yes 
Handheld Convertible Gimbal 
Yes
Pull out the GoPro + Gimbal and attach it to the GoPro Grip for a stabilized filming experience on the ground
No 
No
No 
Second Person Camera Controls 
Yes 
Passenger App allows a friend to control the video recording, while you focus on flying. 
 No
No
No, but auto pilot allows drone to fly automatically while user can focus on camera

GoPro Karma

Image result for gopro karma

I’ll say up front that I am impressed and very excited about the Karma. The main things that draw me to it is the value (you get a handheld stabilizer, gimbal, and backpack, along with the drone), the integrated use with GoPro equipment, the portability factor (being one of the smallest drones of it’s capability on the market right now), and the ease-of-use. A lot of people are knocking the Karma for not having some features which are becoming standard among drones, like obstacle avoidance, additional sensors for improved hovering, and more variety in the pre-programmed flight paths. These are all valid concerns that you’ll have to weigh for yourself. While there isn’t much GoPro can do by way of software updates to add obstacle avoidance, there might be some tweaks they can make to improve hovering, and they could definitely add new pre-programmed flight paths in the future. I just hope that they do!

Karma requires a Hero 4 Silver/Black or either of the new Hero 5 Black, or Hero Session 5. If you don’t already have one of these, you’ll spend $1100 to pick up everything in the bundle package. ($100 discount from buying the camera separately.)

DJI Phantom 4

Image result for dji phantom 4
DJI is arguably one of the leaders, if not the leader in the drone market. The DJI Phantom 4 builds on the success of it’s predecessors and is by far the most advanced and feature rich consumer-level drone available. But, because of that, it can be a bit intimidating and difficult to learn. It does have different operator modes to help beginners figure things out, but there is still a certain degree of complexity to the Phantom 4 that some users may not like. It also costs a bit more than the other drones, and uses a fixed camera (which may be a pro or con depending on how you feel). The Phantom 4 does sport a bunch of pre-programmed flight paths, and includes features like follow me, which are all becoming quite standard for high end consumer drones. The Phantom 4 falls short for me because of it’s price tag, lack of integration with my existing (and preferred) camera equipment, no integrated screen on the controller, increased complexity and learning curve (relative to the other drones — don’t get me wrong, all of these drones make flying easy enough!).

DJI Mavic Pro

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Not much is actually known about the Mavic, aside from the fact that it will be a foldable drone, directly in competition with the GoPro Karma. I’ll update this blog post with more info once I have it, which should be on or around September 27th, 2016 when DJI releases it.

DJI unveiled the full glory of the DJI Mavic Pro today (September 27th, 2016) at their press conference in NYC. By most measures, they gave an impressive reveal. The drone is remarkably small (about the size of the box the iPhone comes in), has good battery life, and is decently smart coming with some of the features equipped on DJI’s Phantom and Inspire drones such as ActiveTrack and Tap-Fly. Obstacle avoidance is available, and DJI has introduced a new “gesture” feature where you supposed can control the drone in certain ways just by waving your hands in front of the Mavic. Starting at $749 (going up to $1299 for the fly more bundle) it’s priced very competitively to the GoPro Karma.The DJI Mavic Pro comes with a fixed camera, but at $749 does not include the controller. To get the controller, you’ll spend $999. While the controller is nice and small, and is simplified down to familiar video game controls, it does not come with a FOV screen. You’ll have to use your compatible Android or iOS smart phone with the DJI app in order to see what the drone sees.One impressive stat that is definitely in Mavic’s favor is the touted range of 4.3 miles (7000 meters). That’s pretty incredible, considering the GoPro Karma is spec’d at only 0.6 miles (1000 meters).Customers are right to be impressed by the DJI Mavic Pro, but the decision will boil down to what you find more appealing: the Mavic caters towards people who just want a video capturing drone that is very easy to fly and portable enough to take anywhere. But if you’re fed up with having too much purpose-specific equipment, having to carry around a drone, a camera, a stabilizer, batteries and chargers for each, etc. then Mavic may be less appealing.

3DR Solo

The 3DR Solo stands out from the crowd by having the most cinematic features out of the pack. On looking at their website, I counted 6 distinct pre-programmed flight paths that can help catch impressive shots without having to do much work at all. The Solo also has variants on those paths, such as the multi-point cable cam which allows you to draw any kind of path you can dream of. Features like the auto pilot when following a cable cam route allow the user to focus exclusively on the video capture, which is a pretty slick feature. Since the largest factor of my interest in drones deals with aerial imagery and video, the Solo definitely wins high marks with me. The problems I have with it is that it’s a bit expensive compared to the Karma, is now a generation old (will they update it for the Hero 5?), controller doesn’t include it’s own screen (need to use a tablet or phone), and it’s not as portable as the new generation of folding drones promises to be.

Conclusion

If it wasn’t obvious, as I was readily calling out my personal issues with all the drones except one, I am currently leaning towards the GoPro Karma for my next drone purchase. But with the DJI Mavic coming out in a week, I’ll reserve my final decision until then!

Wow, so the DJI Mavic Pro has really fired some heavy shots at the GoPro Karma. While it’s clear that if you want the smallest most capable drone out there that your choices are clearly one of these two new contenders, which one is best for you is still rather subjective. I personally really like the idea of the GoPro Karma being able to integrate and compliment all of my existing GoPro mounts and accessories and that I only need a single GoPro in order to capture both aerial and ground footage. Having the backpack with spots for all of this is great and pleases the OCD in me. On the other hand, the DJI is packed with more “smarts.” Including ActiveTrack and Obstacle Avoidance. While some of the other features, such as the 4+ mile range and 27 minute battery are nice on paper, they don’t make a huge practical difference to me versus the Karma’s 0.6 mile range and 20 minute battery. But that’s just me, as I don’t tend to fly very far (it’s also not recommended to fly out of sight according to FAA regulations any way!) and I also don’t fly for very long. In either case, I would almost certainly tote around at least one spare battery for both drones.I’ll be honest, this is a hard choice. I’ll have to keep thinking about this some more before I decide what is the best ultra portable drone for me!