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Review: Using the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ camera drone with Apple's iPhone

post #1 of 34
Thread Starter 
As the name suggests, DJI's Phantom 2 Vision+ isn't much different than its predecessor, with the same exceptional flying capabilities as the last model. But the newfound "plus" for this drone is mostly found in its vastly improved camera and gimbal, which offers super-smooth recording capabilities from a bird's eye view.




On its own the Phantom 2 Vision+ is a high-end radio-controlled and camera-equipped quadcopter, or more commonly known as a "drone." But it also integrates with Apple's ecosystem of devices, namely the iPhone and iPad, to greatly enhance its capabilities for aerial footage.

DJI remains firmly entrenched in the high end of the market, with its current flagship model selling for $1,299 -- $100 more than its predecessor, but with greatly improved optics and stabilization. Cheaper Phantom configurations are available without an integrated camera and gimbal, but only the Vision models feature a Wi-Fi booster that allows users to view live video and information from the drone as it takes to the skies.

For this review, DJI loaned AppleInsider the Phantom 2 Vision+ with a 4-gigabyte micro SD card and the Phantom smart battery which provides 25 minutes of uptime. Many resellers offer a free second battery with purchase, which we were not provided. In the box, the device also includes a physical controller with Wi-Fi booster, eight propeller blades (four spares), a wrench for easy removal of the blades for transport, and a host of spare parts and accompanying manuals.



After we finished writing this review, but before we published, our loaner Phantom 2 Vision+ experienced a hard crash that broke the camera and gimbal. We believe this may have been caused by a combination of GPS error and strong winds, and have included details about the incident at the bottom of this review.

What's new






This update is all about the camera, and it should be. In our positive review of the Phantom 2 Vision earlier this year, we noted that while the drone itself was an incredible flying machine, the camera was its relative weak point, suffering from mild performance issues in low light.

And while we weren't bothered too much by shaky footage from windy days or our amateur flying abilities, we received comments and emails from more than a few readers who felt this performance was not as strong as they would like.




To those people, you will be happy to hear that the completely redesigned Phantom 2 Vision+ camera will address many of your concerns. While packing the same specifications as its predecessor -- including recording 1080p video at 30 frames per second -- the camera module itself has been shrunken down and is attached to a three-axis gimbal.

The new camera actually comes in two parts: The lens hangs below and moves with the gimbal to offset any shakiness or sudden movements of the drone, while the rest of the hardware that powers the camera resides above in a flat compartment, which is also where the micro SD card is inserted.




While the regular Phantom 2 Vision has only single-axis stabilization, the advanced three-axis gimbal makes an immediately noticeable difference. Even on the ground, with the Vision+ turned on but motors not yet running, users can see the quick performance of the gimbal by moving it around and tilting the drone to see it offset sudden movements.

The proof is in the footage, which proved to be buttery smooth even as we flew on windy days. Flying the Vision+ low and strafing it back and forth in front of us gave an even greater sample of the gimbal in action, and you can see this in the video portion of our review embedded above.

The camera hardware itself is a 14-megapixel CMOS sensor with an f.28 lens. In addition to 1080p MP4 video, it also captures JPEG and Adobe DNG raw files.


Still photo captured with DJI Phantom 2 Vision+.


The accompanying iPhone app for the DJI Phantom allows control of ISO, exposure and more. There are also field of view options at 90, 120 and 140 degrees with the fisheye lens.

The app also allows users to start and stop recordings, take pictures, and even to adjust the angle of the camera. Making the camera face straight down as the Phantom takes flight is certainly a unique and striking shot.

With the last Phantom 2 Vision we found that image quality was somewhat grainy on darker, cloudy days. While the specifications for the Vision+ are unchanged, we found that the picture was actually improved, though the integrated camera is still lacking behind the quality found on a GoPro Hero3+.


Still photo captured with DJI Phantom 2 Vision+.


We even took the Phantom 2 Vision+ on a Fourth of July night flight, keeping it simply overhead and well above any fireworks, just to see how it would perform. The result: Not bad, as can be seen in the video portion of our review. This isn't a night camera, and frankly night flying is not recommended with something this powerful and expensive.

And although the camera's performance is not up to par with the latest GoPro model, we can't recommend buying a basic DJI Phantom copter and placing a GoPro on it unless you're ready to make serious modifications. While there are gimbal accessories for the Phantom that can hold a GoPro, the live view available with the integrated camera and iPhone app is a hugely important feature of the Phantom 2 Vision+.

For the most part, the Wi-Fi connection between our iPhone and the Vision+ was stable, thanks to a newly enhanced signal booster attached to the physical controls of the unit. DJI says that the new hardware can maintain a connection of about 700 meters.




That said, we wouldn't recommend flying a $1,300 piece of equipment using the app and camera alone as we did experience the occasional brief drop-out in signal. We imagine that completely losing the signal while the drone is in the air but out of range for the human eye would be a terrifying feeling.

Still, we took the Vision+ to great heights -- over 650 feet in one flight -- and maintained a relatively solid connection with the camera for a live feed, allowing us to get the shot we wanted and take pictures or start recording video as needed.

The DJI Vision app



We had also tested DJI's official Vision app earlier this year, but since then it's seen a number of improvements -- some available for all Vision devices, and others tailored specifically for the Vision+ flagship device.




Perhaps most welcome is the Ground Station feature, which previously required its own iPad app and a hardware accessory to communicate with the device. Now, it can be done over Wi-Fi and with an iPhone.

When in the camera mode of the Vision app, simply swipe to the left to pull up the Ground Station feature. Be sure to download the local map data for your area before you connect to the Vision+ over Wi-Fi.




Looking at the map, users can set custom waypoints and altitudes by tapping. The Vision+ will then use GPS to take off, fly to the set locations in order within a radius of over 1,600 feet, record the flight as needed, and then return home. We believe this will become an invaluable feature for people looking to make aerial photography simple, or to fly a set path over and over to make sure they get the perfect shot.

In order to use this feature, Ground Station must be enabled within the Vision app settings under the "Flight Controller and Gimbal" section. It's off by default, but when enabled comes with a warning that using the auto-flight mode irresponsibility is not the fault of DJI. This is because the Vision itself has no obstacle avoidance capabilities --?it simply flies the route and altitude as instructed.




One welcome inclusion in the Ground Station component of the Vision app are massive red areas alerting users of nearby airports. It's illegal to fly a drone too close to an airport, and some users may not realize their proximity to one without this enabled.

Other new modes added to the app since we last tested include the ability to turn on or off a function that will automatically return the drone to its starting location if the battery gets too low.




For Vision+ users, the app also has a "first person video" mode where the delayed camera movements of the gimbal are disabled. While this results in a bumpier picture thanks to flight movements, it also makes it easier to fly the Vision+ via live camera feed rather than line of sight.

If it ain't broke...



On the rest of the hardware and software front, the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ is largely unchanged from its predecessor.

One tweak is in its speed -- the Vision+ is 50 percent faster, flying at 50 feet per second. But in our tests, the Vision+ retained the same great responsive controls and performance as its predecessor even with the speed improvements.

On this model we also found the USB port for upgrades on the wireless controller located on the bottom of the unit, and accessible without taking it apart. We were thankful to have received the modern controller design this time around.




The controller remains a great selling point for the Vision+, as we would be leery of trusting an expensive flying camera to touchscreen input. And it still features the great smartphone clamp in the top left corner, which held our iPhone 5s in place for the live camera feed.

The rest of the unchanged design remains great. While not ultra-portable, the Vision+ can be stowed in a backpack or airplane carry-on. It also has lights on the front and back signaling power and GPS signal. The quickly attachable and removable copter blades are still fantastic, and the overall design is durable to survive minor crashes (which we admittedly had a few with unexpected wind during takeoff and landing).




The unit also, like its predecessor, will fight the wind to maintain altitude and position thanks to a GPS lock. And the smart battery, with light-up indicator on the back, boasts the same great flight time as before.

It's hard to find fault in the flying capabilities of the Phantom 2 Vision, and as such, DJI felt no need to mess up a great formula with the Vision+.

Conclusion



At more than four times the cost of a Parrot AR 2.0, the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ is meant for high-end users. That doesn't mean you need to be an expert pilot to safely fly or enjoy this iPhone accessory, but it does mean that if you're looking for a toy, stick with the low end of the market.

For more serious photographers, videographers, or enthusiasts with deeper pockets, we don't think you're likely to find a better option than this. And if you were one of the people put off by the shaky footage of the non-plus version in windy conditions, this model is worth a look.




As we touched on before, you can get cheaper versions and mount your own camera (GoPro) onto the unit, even with an advanced gimbal. But without some serious hardware modifications, you're not going to get a live view from your drone in flight, which makes snapping pictures or taking video difficult.

Simply put, the Phantom 2 Vision+ is an all-in-one package that, right out of the box, works well with Apple's iPhone and iPad. You'll be taking to the skies in no time, capturing great footage, and having a lot of fun.

Addendum: The crash



After the text portion of our review above had been completed, we took the Phantom 2 Vision+ for one more flight to get some extra video footage for publication. This final trip proved to be fatal for the drone, as it randomly and unexpectedly flew out of control, crashing through a mangrove and onto the ground very fast.

When this happened, the drone randomly began accelerating downward, without any user input, at a very high velocity. Last-minute attempts to increase altitude were for naught.




While the drone itself held up exceptionally well given the nature of the crash (only one of the four plastic, easily replaceable propeller blades broke), we can't say as much for the camera. The lens portion of the camera completely snapped off of the gimbal and its ribbon cable tore, while plugs for the the upper housing of the camera, which connect it to the internal hardware of the drone, were ripped out.

The drone itself still works fine, but a drone without a camera is a much less useful toy.




This incident happened on a somewhat windy day, but the wind was not any stronger than some other days where we took the Vision+ to the skies. It also had a full GPS signal lock.

We attempted to include footage of the crash in our review, but the file on the micro SD card was corrupted and we could not recover it.

The crash took us completely by surprise, as we've flown both the Vision+ and its predecessor dozens of times, in a variety of locations and conditions, with no problems. We've reached out to DJI in hopes of information, and will update this review in the event that they respond.




Our best guess is that the GPS signal, which is used to maintain a position and fight the wind, may have been momentarily incorrect. The drone was not very high off the ground --?about 50 feet -- and it didn't take long for this presumed glitch, along with strong winds, to send it careening into the earth.

Given the conditions that day, the altitude at which we were flying, the lack of visible damage to the drone itself, and the fact that we have never experienced such an issue in the past, we are not modifying our score for the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+.

That said, the incident does give us cause for concern, and we would advise users to ensure the drone itself, the physical controller and the iOS app are all updated to the latest versions before taking to the skies. Users flying at low altitude or in a populated area may also consider disabling GPS mode.

Pros
  • New three-axis gimbal makes footage smoother than ever
  • Works great with Apple's iPhone or iPad, offering live view of your flight
  • Hardware is durable, and flying is easy -- you'll be zipping around like a pro in no time
  • DJI Vision app has been updated with new features such as waypoint-based auto-flight


Cons
  • At $1,300, it's a $100 price increase over the previous Phantom 2 Vision
  • The camera is still inferior to the latest GoPro, but live, long-distance stream over Wi-Fi is a major bonus
  • The unexpected behavior that caused a crash is concerning


Score: 4.5 out of 5



ratings_hl_45.png

Where to buy



Amazon is selling DJI's Phantom 2 Vision+ for $1,299, while a bundled version with extra lithium ion power pack and 32GB microSD memory card is priced at $1,369. An ultimate bundle including one extra battery, 4-pack of self-tightening propellers, DJI prop guards, four AA batteries with charger, 32GB memory card, LED headlight and light strip, cleaning cloth and silver hard case is also available for $1,699. Amazon pricing is tax-free in all states except AZ, CA, KS, KY, MA, NC, NJ, NY, ND, PA, TX, and WA.

B&H Photo and Video is also selling the drone for $1,299, as well as a bundle with extra battery for $1,369 and a kit including spare battery, hard case and 32GB microSD memory card for $1,556.50. Swapping out the case for a wheeled version lowers the price to $1,554.50.

Finally, Adorama has the Phantom 2 Vision+ in stock at the same $1,299 price, along with the spare battery bundle for $1,399 and kit with battery, hard case, and 32GB microSDHC memory card for $1,555.88.
post #2 of 34
What firmware were you flying with? You may have experienced Vortex Ring State (VRS).
Hard-Core.
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Hard-Core.
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post #3 of 34

What are the privacy laws regarding these things? If one crashes in my back yard can I confiscate it?

Shut up and go away, you useless, pathetic FUDmonger - Tallest Skil
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Shut up and go away, you useless, pathetic FUDmonger - Tallest Skil
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post #4 of 34

Don't ask us. Consult your local authorities. The laws that govern these devices are regional.

 

In your case, ask Sydney or New South Wales. Don't expect the readers of a USA-based technology blog site to be up to date with laws governing Australian residents.

 

And even if this were an Australian tech blog (which it is not), you'd still need to confirm with your local authorities for a definitive answer. Blog commenters are notoriously inaccurate regardless of their location.

post #5 of 34
I enjoy my AR.Drone, but if I had bottomless pockets this one looks awesome!

(Still, the camera is secondary to me. I just like how easy/fun these things are to fly.)
post #6 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by aplnub View Post

What firmware were you flying with? You may have experienced Vortex Ring State (VRS).

We stuck with the out-of-the-box firmware and flew countless times. No problems at all until the last flight randomly went haywire.

post #7 of 34
So is this the drone that Al-Qaeda prefers?
Because it's important to know things like that.
/s

Sent from my iPhone Simulator

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Sent from my iPhone Simulator

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post #8 of 34
The thing ran amok and crashed violently yet it still got a 4.5 out of 5. Not bad. I giess if had seriously hurt someone it would only have got a 4, right? :-)
post #9 of 34
Right before it flew out of control and crashes, this suspicious character was seen lurking behind some parked cars. 1smile.gif

"Apple should pull the plug on the iPhone."

John C. Dvorak, 2007
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"Apple should pull the plug on the iPhone."

John C. Dvorak, 2007
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post #10 of 34
RE: the crash, you said, "It also had a full GPS signal lock." "we've flown both the Vision ....in a variety of locations"

Did you recalibrate the compass at each location, particularly the at the take off point just before it crashed?
post #11 of 34

it is a bug in the software so the version of software doesn't have anything to do with it, I had the same thing happen to me, DJI replaced it at no cost because I returned it, but if It had been lost they would have only given me 30% off a new one.  It appeared that the Phantom wanted to be in a different location and bolted for that location, I too think the GPS gave the Phantom a wrong reading.  Good luck.

post #12 of 34

From what I have been reading, flying off or crashing into the ground is a common problem with this quadcopter. While the video it produces is excellent, as are the rest of its features, the software is a buggy nightmare. If you are thinking of purchasing this drone, think instead of purchasing several of them since you are likely to lose or destroy them. On top of all this, everyone says that DJI has terrible support. Don't take my word for it. Just read the Amazon reviews for this product.

 

Quadcopters are the most exciting new technology in years. I think that soon everyone will have devices they think of as flying cameras rather than drones. They will be smart and avoid crashing into anything. They will never fly off and will always come back. They can even follow you around so you won't need to fly them yourself. All of this is possible but first we have to make it past these first few difficult years of R&D. I suggest letting other people pay for it. I may be one of the people doing the paying since i will be picking up a Parrot Bebop drone as soon as they go on sale provided the initial reviews sound good.

post #13 of 34
I have had this happen as well, and will tell you, after many attempts to get a replacement part I returned the unit to Amazon for replacement. After the return window, it is almost impossible to get a response from DJI. So surprised that they don't have a world class customer service department, they would be making money on replacement parts.
post #14 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by mpantone View Post

Don't ask us. Consult your local authorities. The laws that govern these devices are regional.

In your case, ask Sydney or New South Wales. Don't expect the readers of a USA-based technology blog site to be up to date with laws governing Australian residents.

And even if this were an Australian tech blog (which it is not), you'd still need to confirm with your local authorities for a definitive answer. Blog commenters are notoriously inaccurate regardless of their location.

Does anyone know the answer to this? I'm curious. Not saying that I'm doing any video shoots with it myself, just wondering what the state of the law is these days in different areas.
post #15 of 34
It's easy to spot the Apple family in that neighborhood ... The ONLY 'walled garden' in the entire subdivision! 1biggrin.gif

I wanted toy get that in before a F- Android did.
From Apple ][ - to new Mac Pro I've used them all.
Long on AAPL so biased
Google Motto "You're not the customer. You're the product."
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From Apple ][ - to new Mac Pro I've used them all.
Long on AAPL so biased
Google Motto "You're not the customer. You're the product."
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post #16 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by hentaiboy View Post

What are the privacy laws regarding these things? If one crashes in my back yard can I confiscate it?

Interesting question for any lawyers here. If a neighbors football lands in your garden can you confiscate that? Meanwhile, I'm guessing this being the good ol' USA some smart fella' would shoot it down pretty soon anyway.
From Apple ][ - to new Mac Pro I've used them all.
Long on AAPL so biased
Google Motto "You're not the customer. You're the product."
Reply
From Apple ][ - to new Mac Pro I've used them all.
Long on AAPL so biased
Google Motto "You're not the customer. You're the product."
Reply
post #17 of 34
https://vimeo.com/102344421

Really EZ to fly. Reliable. Love it!
post #18 of 34
post #19 of 34


As long as there is an Android app for it, this must be Al Qaeda's favourite ;)

(I can't stop forwarding alqaeda's post to all those people in the office telling me that they just have bought a new Android phone cheaper and better than my iphone)

post #20 of 34
Quote:
DJI remains firmly entrenched in the high end of the market, with its current flagship model selling for $1,299 -- $100 more than its predecessor, but with greatly improved optics and stabilization. Cheaper Phantom configurations are available without an integrated camera and gimbal, but only the Vision models feature a Wi-Fi booster that allows users to view live video and information from the drone as it takes to the skies.

 

 

Frankly the Phantom 2 Vision + is actually at the LOW end of the market.  The high end is well in to 5-digit numbers.

post #21 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by nhughes View Post
 

We stuck with the out-of-the-box firmware and flew countless times. No problems at all until the last flight randomly went haywire.

 

Yet in the review:  

"...we would advise users to ensure the drone itself, the physical controller and the iOS app are all updated to the latest versions before taking to the skies."

 

​...oops

post #22 of 34

DJI support was great for me, The hold times are long but they replaced my quad at no charge in the end, took about 15 days.  Usually only people who complain write reviews.

post #23 of 34
If you were flying fairly high (over 150 feet) and the battery was at 35% or less, the Vision will often start falling quickly as it's internal intelligence tells it to get closer to land.

The area where you are flying looks like one with a lot of possible interference from radio signals (wireless networks) as well as power lines, etc.

Basically, you are playing with fire ($$$$) if you fly these things anywhere except in open areas. Yes, more chance of getting it back if you are a decent ATTI flyer and also have Home Lock enabled.

It's all a matter of percentages. You or I could fly an Airbus with a pilot in the other seat telling us what to do - but what would we do when something happens (excess turbulence, system malfunction). Same goes with this or any other quadcopter. The pilot needs to be experienced if they care about their investment.

On the plus side, DJI is going to make a bundle replacing parts and entire machines for all the people who don't learn properly.
post #24 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by DCGOO View Post

Yet in the review:  
"...we would advise users to ensure the drone itself, the physical controller and the iOS app are all updated to the latest versions before taking to the skies."

​...oops

That's why it was an addendum to the review post-crash.
post #25 of 34

A firmware version would help the community narrow this down. 3.06 has some dropping out of the sky due to a bug.

Hard-Core.
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Hard-Core.
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post #26 of 34
Loved the Wagner! Apt music for a strong performance. Now you just need to add a few lightning bolts...

This was a big improvement over your last Phantom review. The video was much smoother; in a different league, in fact. If no stabilisation was added post-production, then this was impressive.

Interesting that you mentioned the lack of obstacle avoidance. Presumably if these catch on, that may become mandatory if you want to avoid drones crashing into each other.
"If the young are not initiated into the village, they will burn it down just to feel its warmth."
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"If the young are not initiated into the village, they will burn it down just to feel its warmth."
- African proverb
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post #27 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by Benjamin Frost View Post

Loved the Wagner! Apt music for a strong performance. Now you just need to add a few lightning bolts...

This was a big improvement over your last Phantom review. The video was much smoother; in a different league, in fact. If no stabilisation was added post-production, then this was impressive.

Interesting that you mentioned the lack of obstacle avoidance. Presumably if these catch on, that may become mandatory if you want to avoid drones crashing into each other.

No post-stabilization. It really is that smooth.

post #28 of 34
They should have a built-in "black box" system that records all commands and events so that there is never a question as to why copter did something unexpected. And built-in obstacle avoidance is a must. The copter should know if it is heading toward self-destruction and prevent it. I'll consider buying one when they have all of the above.

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Please update the AppleInsider app to function in landscape mode.

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post #29 of 34

I was following the intel on these drones for over a year now just waiting for my opportunity to strike and buy one of my own. I've been pretty patient I think and after reading stories about this one since what.....April? I have seen a lot of crashes and failures and most of them were the result of flying before GPS kicked in (at least so it appears). 

 

After waiting for so long, I couldn't take it anymore. I was reading CNet's coverage (can't find the link) and it pulled me in, then watching videos on youtube left and right...pulled me in further. I read Poc's review (http://pocinc.net/blog/product-reviews/review-dji-phantom-vision-2-quadcopter-drone) which pulled me all the of the way in. Needless to say, I broke down and finally bought one. 

 

By the time I came across your review, I had already ordered it, but I can now say that I love it. I have been playing with it for some days now and I haven't crashed it yet (knock on virtual wood). I'll follow-up on any troubles I come across though. 

post #30 of 34
"... we took the Vision to great heights %u2014 over 650 feet in one flight ..."

Ouch. The FAA has not said much so far about rules for flying drones, but what they do have to say is published at:

http://www.faa.gov/uas/

The FAA guidelines limit flying drones to within 400 ft of the surface. (I presume that is because they want to prevent collisions with manned airplanes, and it is legal to fly a manned airplane down to 500 ft above the surface in many places.)
post #31 of 34

The camera/gimbal setup  on the Vision + is very poorly designed. I've had broken cables out of the box.  And just as you experienced, I had a slightly heavy landing and the camera falls off the gimbal and is trash. Currently the cost of replacement is around $700 since the ribbon cable is not available as a spare part only the full camera and Gimbal assembly. 

Great product, very poor customer service. 

post #32 of 34

Best video review I've seen :

 

  

post #33 of 34
had similar problem with DJI phantom FC-40

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egBdIHdVbFE

was advised to check motors, run rotors on idle (don't take off) until battery runs down then check for overheated bearing. On viewing the video DJI advised returning the unit immediately to the dealers who replaced it right away. Your problem may have been different as you were able to fly the drone again without problem. I have had no problems whatsoever with the new phantom, many wonderful flights
post #34 of 34
My opinion only but thought I would share. I too had a near miss crash after over a hundred flights without any incidents. So when I rechecked my app settings I noticed I had inadvertently checked the "battery low return home". I think this is a neat feature and decided to experiment a bit. What I noticed was if my wifi breaks this may or may not cause your battery level to be misinterpreted by the drone. In summary I have noticed that with this feature checked on the app...it may or may not do weird things as well. It also does not climb first to move to home point but rather take a direct path. I personally found this feature for my use to be dangerous and so I do not use it but rather use the audible alarm.
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