3D Robotics Solo Quadcopter Drone Review
The DJI Phantom has had its way in the mid-range, sub-$1000 drone game for a long time. It’s the Apple II of camera drones. It helped get the revolution going. It’s the Hoover of camera drones. OK I’ll stop, but you get what I’m saying here, right?
It’s into this market that 3D Robotics has stepped with its Solo Drone quadcopter. Now, 3D Robotics has been responsible for some impressive DIY multirotor kits, but the Solo is their first foray into final-product, mass-produced (in China, obviously), mainstream drone territory.
If the original DJI Phantom was the Apple II then 3D Robotics wanted the Solo to be the iPad of drones. Did they get it right?
Let’s get it out of the way: the Solo is gorgeous. Like, flying Blade-Runner cop car cool. Not a wire is visible and the massive rotors are perfect to the eye. This is not the Wright brothers at Kittyhawk; this is the Airbus Dreamliner.
So yes, from a looks point of view this is definitely a product for the Apple generation, with their iPhones, iPads, and iToilets (Japan only).
3DR markets the Solo as the world’s first “smart drone”. I guess it’s how you define “smart”, but the Solo does have two 1Ghz processors that run its onboard systems. 3DR clearly wants this product to appeal to people who aren’t into drones or don’t think they can fly them. This is something that Parrot has tried to do with the AR and Bebop drones in the past, and those products actually did pretty well. They had nothing like the capabilities of the Solo though.
That computing power is applied towards safety, ease of use, and photographic functions in many ways.
It has a bunch of automated video and photo functions that require no piloting at all. It can follow you around, orbit a spot, or help you take a selfie – with a single tap of a button.
The SOLO uses GoPro cameras and can offer full camera control remotely, but only with the use of the Solo gimbal, which is not included in the base package but can be bought separately or in a bundle. The 3-axis gimbal will set you back about $400 and really, unless you only want to take stills, it should be considered an essential rather than optional extra. If you want to take video without the gimbal you have to manually start recording with the GoPro before takeoff, which is sort of lame, to be honest, but it’s a minor gripe.
The app-driven functions really speak to making this a drone for everybody, even complete beginners. Even the radio has been designed to resemble the look and feel of a Playstation or Xbox control. 3DR is really shameless about its intentions, isn’t it?
With the gimbal and camera onboard you’re looking at about 15 to 20 minutes of flight time. Not the best, not the worst, just average. I’ve watched some flight tests and pilots seem to think the Solo is pretty good for its price. I suspect most people using this are not going to be too hands on anyway, but it’s good to know that it is a decent flier.
So now for the bad news. There are some real horror stories on Amazon about 3DR’s customer service, which makes me think it’s a bit of a gamble to buy the Solo. I mean, DJI has a fairly spotty reputation but, based on what I’ve read, 3DR makes DJI look like customer service company of the year.
Most people who buy the product are happy with it, but those who have needed post-sale support have had their experience shattered, by all accounts.
If you’re someone for whom a total cost of about $1,500 is not a major issue, then maybe the lack of customer support isn’t either. I’m sure you’ll love your Solo while it works, which it may do for many years.
If, on the other hand, you really can’t risk that sort of cash, then maybe go for something from another brand with a better reputation for treating their customers well. If 3DR ever does clean up its act in this regard though, I’d have no hesitation recommending this drone if you want something that sits at the high end of hobbyist or at the low end of aerial photography business.