Editors' note: Clarification was added in regards to the Blade Chroma 4K's GPS features as well as the absence of a visual positioning system found on competing quadcopters, which assists with indoor flight when GPS is not available.
The Blade Chroma 4K from Horizon Hobby is essentially a redesigned version of the Yuneec Typhoon Q500 4K, which I liked quite a bit. It shares all the same capabilities, has the same remote controller with a built-in touchscreen and the same 4K-resolution camera and three-axis gimbal for stabilization.
Priced at $1,200 (£1,100, AU$2,000), the biggest differences are in the actual design. The Chroma is much smaller than the Typhoon and is closer in size to DJI's Phantom 3 models; the Chroma's diagonal motor-to-motor distance is 400mm compared to 390mm for the Phantom and 510mm for the Typhoon.
The Chroma's smaller size and the fact that it can be quickly broken down makes it very travel friendly. The color-coded self-tightening propellers spin off easily, the landing gear simply unclip, and if you disconnect the gimbal's power cable and release another clip in front of the gimbal, you can slide the whole assembly right off. All of the pieces and the Yuneec ST10+ controller will all fit into a large messenger bag or backpack.
Now, while the Chroma has its fair share of advantages, it lacks the autonomous navigation features others in this range offer, namely DJI's Phantom 3 Advanced and Professional quadcopters. Those two as well as Parrot's Bebop 2 also have visual positioning systems made up of cameras and ultrasonic sensors that allow them to hover in place without a GPS lock. This allows you to fly more easily indoors and helps with stability when the drones are within several feet of the ground.
If you can live without those features in favor of things like a nice remote control, a more travel-friendly design and readily available parts and accessories -- not to mention good customer service -- put the Chroma 4K on your short list.
Design and features
The Chroma weighs in at 2.9 pounds (1.3kg) and a chunk of that is the 6,300mAh battery that locks into the rear of the chassis. The body doesn't look particularly strong, but being more compact makes it feel tougher than the Typhoon. Even if you did crash, Horizon Hobby stocks all of the parts, so it's no problem to make repairs. And if you don't like the white frame, the site sells adhesive skins to give it a new look.
You don't have to assemble anything when you open the box, by the way. The quadcopter is completely assembled. Just spin on a set of propellers (two sets are included), slide in a battery -- after you've charged it, of course -- and you're ready to fly. Along with the Chroma, battery, propellers and controller, you get a battery charger and a sunshield to make it easier to see the controller's screen.
Most of the camera drones I've tested rely on a tablet or smartphone for a live view from the camera as well as flight information. The Chroma skips this and instead the ST10+ controller has a built-in 5.5-inch touchscreen display to deliver the same information. There's a bit of lag between the camera and screen and the camera has an ultrawide-angle lens making it difficult to judge distance from subjects, so I don't recommend flying by FPV alone. For setting up shots and giving you telemetry data at a glance, though, it's great. It also means you only have to worry about having the controller charged, not a second device.
Having the fixed screen does mean you can't go with a larger tablet display, but since the drone doesn't support waypoint navigation -- where a larger screen to set up an autonomous flight path comes in handy -- and FPV flying isn't a great idea, it's not a big loss.
The controller also has buttons for starting and stopping video recording and snapping photos and sliders for setting the camera angle and limiting overall climb/descend and directional speed. A switch lets you move between flight modes: Smart, Angle and Home.
Smart mode is made for beginners. In addition to enabling a virtual barrier called a geofence to prevent it from flying more than 330 feet (100 meters) away from the pilot, the controller will always move the Chroma 4K in the direction the right-hand control stick is pushed relative to the pilot and no matter which way the nose is pointed. It's fine if you've never flown before and you use it just to get a feel for how the quadcopter will fly, but I don't recommend using it much beyond that. Smart mode relies heavily on GPS and if the Chroma should lose its signal, you'll have to pilot manually, which will be very difficult if you've flown exclusively in Smart mode.
However, Smart mode is the only way you can use two of the drone's main attractions: Follow Me and Tracking modes. With Follow Me, the drone uses a GPS signal from the controller to follow whoever or whatever is carrying it at an altitude and distance you set, staying at the same distance and angle from the controller as you move. Tracking mode works similarly, but keeps the controller -- or whoever's holding it -- framed in the camera no matter where and how it moves and the camera can automatically tilt according to the controller.
Carrying around a big controller when shooting video of yourself doesn't look great, though, so Yuneec developed the Wizard remote control for its drones and works with the Chroma as well. It's about the size of a TV remote, but can completely control the drone with simple gestures and a directional pad. It also has GPS in it, so it can be used with the Chroma's Follow Me and Tracking functions.
If you want to actually pilot the Chroma normally, just switch into Angle mode. This will move the drone in the direction the control stick is pushed relative to the nose of the aircraft. As long as you've got a lock on six or more GPS satellites, the Chroma 4K will automatically hold its position and hover in place when the right-hand stick is centered.
Should you want to fly with complete control without GPS assistance, you can quickly use the controller's touchscreen to access the settings menus and turn GPS off entirely. While I don't suggest doing this unless you're an experienced pilot, you likely will have to in order to spin up the props and fly indoors.
The Home mode is the drone's return-to-home safety feature. Flip the switch down and as long as the drone has a solid GPS lock and there are no obstacles in the way, it will fly back to within 13 to 26 feet (4-8 meters) of the pilot and automatically land.
Setting up the Blade Chroma 4K for flight is about as simple as it gets. Spin on the props, charge up the batteries for the drone and controller and you're done. The controller, which is running on Android, takes a minute to boot up and then, once you've turned the drone on, it takes another minute for the two to finish connecting. GPS satellite acquisition -- required for hovering in place and return-to-home among other things -- takes a little more time. All told, it took me a couple minutes until it was ready to fly, basically depending on how fast I could lock onto more than six satellites.
There is no automatic takeoff, but the procedure is straightforward: Press and hold a button on the controller to set the motors spinning and press up on the left stick. There is also no automatic landing, though you can just switch to Home mode and it will land for you. Honestly, other than bouncing a bit when it's close to the ground, the Chroma is stable enough for beginners to take off and land without issue.
As long as it's locked onto plenty of satellites, flying is easy. It's not terribly zippy and even at full throttle feels restrained, but that's kind of a plus since the goal is smooth camera movements not racing. Also, just to be safe, you should calibrate the drone's compass before you fly, especially if you're in a new location from a previous flight. The procedure isn't difficult, requiring turning and rotating the copter several times, and Horizon Hobby has videos showing how to do it and more with the drone.
The Follow Me and Tracking modes work pretty well, but it since it relies on GPS it's not always accurate. It also won't stop on a dime and change directions all too fast and won't adjust altitude. If you're going uphill and it's following close behind, you'll have to change altitude for it or just start at a higher one. Since there's no obstacle avoidance, either, it's best suited for wide open spaces.
All in all, flying the Chroma is a pleasurable experience and it handles wind very well. Flight times for me averaged around 20 minutes before the controller started warning me to land, which is typical battery life at the moment for this category. Horizon Hobby lists it at up to 30 minutes, but I never got close. This could be completely stripped down without the camera and landing gear. Extra batteries are around $100.
The Yuneec CGO3 camera gives you several resolutions to choose from for video, the highest being 4K Ultra HD (3,840x2,160 pixels) at 30 frames per second, but it also does high-speed video in full HD (1,920x1,080 pixel) at 120fps for slow-motion.
Just because it records at a high resolution doesn't guarantee fantastic results. It records at a high bit rate of 50Mbps, and it shows in the fine details and subjects look sharp. There are a few different color modes including Gorgeous which pumps up contrast and saturation (and oversharpened) and Natural that is considerably more accurate. (The first one minute and 20 seconds of the sample video above was shot in Gorgeous and the rest was in Natural.)
The three-axis gimbal does a fine job of keeping the camera stable, so even if you're not making steady moves with the drone or it's windy it won't show in your clips. You'll still see some of the effects of rolling shutter, but that's typical for the category. The video is best viewed at small sizes in general, so if your goal is to share your videos online and watch them on a phone or tablet, the Chroma's camera will yield some excellent clips.
If the price was a couple hundred dollars lower, the Blade Chroma 4K would be easier to recommend. It flies very well -- right out of the box -- and the remote controller and flight modes make piloting easy and safe for beginners. Plus, Horizon Hobby offers good customer support and has all parts and accessories available for it. At its current $1,200 price, though, I'm not sure that's enough to steer potential buyers away from the DJI Phantom 3 Professional or Advanced, which are more polished and offer access to a growing assortment of autonomous flight options and other features.