The drone game has changed. That may sound like hyperbole, but that was my first impression when experiencing the DJI Inspire One. This is a unit that anyone could pick up and learn to fly quickly, just as you could with our top ranking drone, the DJI Phantom. But it offers a ton of powerful new features that were previously only available in units too big, dangerous, and expensive for the average consumer to own.
Watching the Inspire One take off and land is exciting, because it transforms mid-flight, with the legs folding up after takeoff so you can shoot 360 degrees of unobstructed video. The unit also has a ground-facing camera that can track what's below and keep the unit stabilized, even when there is no GPS signal, making it much easier to fly indoors.
The built-in camera on the Inspire One can shoot 4K video and 12 megapixel photographs. Like the high end S1000, the Inspire One also offers dual operator controls, meaning you can have a pilot and a cameraman working in tandem. It also integrates DJI's Lightbridge system, which retailed alone for about $1,400, allowing you to see and store a 1080p video in real time at a distance of up to just over one mile. According to DJI the unit can fly for 16-18 minutes on a single charge.
Ease of use is still paramount here. Out of the box the only assembly required is to spin on the self-tightening rotors. The Inspire features a one touch takeoff from its iPad app and can land itself at a home position you set. It can also track a dynamic home position, meaning you can set your remote control as the home, and it will return to you, even if you wander off from where you launched. The downward-facing camera also alerts the unit when it's close to the ground, and it will lower its landing gear accordingly.
The Inspire One app allows you to draw a route and see how closely your unit is following that path. DJI has brought autonomous way point navigation to the Phantom, but the Inspire One won't launch with that. DJI spokesman Michael Perry told me that the company was waiting to implement that feature, along with a "follow me" feature that would allow the drone to autonomously track a user, until they had perfected it.
DJI settled on a retail price of $2,800. That fits in between the roughly $1,000 Phantom and $7,000 S-1000. It's a big chunk of change for a holiday gift, although if the Phantom is any indication, that price will come down quickly. For the true newbie, the Inspire might be more power than they need, especially when you can get a great drone for $500, but for anyone who is looking to step up their drone game without breaking the bank, the Inspire One is a pretty revelatory piece of machinery.