Blade Chroma 4K review: A 4K camera drone to follow you on your adventures

Now playing: Watch this: Yuneec Wizard keeps your drone flying close by
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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.

Flight

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.

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Joshua Goldman/CNET

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.

Video quality

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.

Conclusion

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.