RJI@CES 2020: Newsroom favorite Phantom 4 Pro drone returns quietly

Countless drone journalists cut their flying teeth on one of the sturdy Phantom models from DJI. Many lamented its departure from the product line last year as maker DJI officially discontinued the popular Phantom 4 and listed its Phantom 4 Pro permanently out of stock. It made sense for the Chinese electronics giant—which holds 76% of the U.S. drone market—to move away from the Phantom models, a line which first came out in 2013. The rapidly expanding market gave DJI an opportunity to introduce new form factors and features to drive demand for purchases beyond just end-of-life replacement. And more than a few drone enthusiasts hoped the Phantom 4’s departure would make room for the Phantom 5—a model which has still not materialized.

But the Phantom is one of the drones most widely flown by newsrooms across the country. The UAV matches a durable frame with an integrated camera that delivers up to a 20 MP image and 4K video, depending on the model. The Phantoms are easy to fly, making them ideal for journalist pilots who want to get up and operating quickly. The Phantom 4 was the drone on which I learned to fly. I found it to be a forgiving aircraft that allowed a fledgling pilot to make more than a few mistakes—and get away with it. The images from its camera are sharp, the flying platform is stable and it was easy to maintain.

As electronics makers from around the world descended on Las Vegas for the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), DJI staffed a fairly modest installation in the Las Vegas Convention Center’s North Hall. Dwarfed by displays for 8K TVs and autonomous vehicles that seem to take up acres of show floor space, DJI’s space didn’t shout for attention. Gleaming equipment samples were lined up on tables around the space, allowing excited attendees to pick them up and give them a once-over. The bulk of space on those tables this year goes to photography equipment and DJI’s latest drone, the Mavic Mini. But on one corner sits alone the Phantom 4 Pro drone, now labeled “V2.0.”

Here’s what the new drone offers over its older version: a transmission system that allows more distant flights while connecting to DJI’s wireless goggles and quieter motors and props.  That’s it. A quieter drone is a nice feature, to be sure (new flyers often note any drone is much louder that expected). And the use of goggles to fly, while not widely used yet for journalism work, is a promising development for news use in the future.

DJI Phantom 4 Pro v2.0 goes on sale againDJI’s low-key rollout (limited to a marketing e-mail announcing the return of the model) kept reactions from the drone world from reaching deafening levels. The editors at The Drone Girl noted the return, remarking on everyone’s anticipation of a Phantom 5. The Mavic Pilots blog also took note of the new availability, linking to DJI’s sales page. And Twitter users spread the word as well, providing a bit of publicity beyond DJI’s meager efforts.

What should be the next move for newsrooms with this drone back on the market? If your team is thinking about replacing an aging Phantom model, then this is a no-brainer. Getting the latest version of the Phantom line to deepen your fleet’s bench would be a smart move. Also, many of the parts and accessories from your earlier Phantom 4s will still work with the new model, a cost savings that shouldn’t be ignored.

If you’re thinking of a fleet expansion, the question gets a bit stickier. It’s hard to beat the portability of the Mavic line, foldable drones that are carry-on sized and easy to get into the air quickly. But the Mavics aren’t built as tough as the Phantoms. And they’re a bit tougher to fly.  With the Mavic Pro weighing about half of what the Phantom 4 Pro weighs, the smaller drone lacks a lot of the stability of the larger one. It slides a lot more on sharp turns and stops and wind affects its performance significantly more. It’s hard to beat the heft of the Phantom 4 Pro when trying some of your more daring moves. 

Regarding the price on the new Phantom model, the returning Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 sells for $1,729, which gets you the drone, a controller with no built-in screen (you’ll need your phone or iPad), one battery, a charger and all the basic accessories, including a fairly flimsy case. For comparison, the smaller Mavic 2 model sells for the same price. If you want to spring for a bit more, the Phantom 4 Pro+ V2.0 deliver everything above but the controller has an integrated 5.5-inch screen. That model lists for $2,199. The Mavic 2 with upgraded controller sells for the same. Both of the new Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 models are available to order now.

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