DJI Phantom 3 Advanced review: The sweet spot for features, performance and price

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The Good DJI's Phantom 3 Advanced delivers excellent full-HD video. The convenience and safety features allow beginners to get flying fast. New sensors and an additional satellite navigation make flying indoors and outside more stable than its predecessors. Support DJI's Intelligent Flight options including autonomous waypoint navigation or Follow Me.

The Bad Battery life, while average for its class, can feel short at 20-ish minutes and extra batteries don't come cheap. The camera is permanently attached to the drone. Android device support is limited.

The Bottom Line The DJI Phantom 3 Advanced might still be pricy, but the combination of excellent camera and flight performance and a well-designed app and controller make this simple-to-fly drone an easy recommendation.

8.2 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Battery 7
  • Features 8
  • Ease of Use 9

DJI currently has three versions of its Phantom 3 drone: the Standard , Advanced and Professional . While there are several important differences between the entry-level Phantom 3 Standard ($799, £649 or AU$1,299) and its two linemates, the feature gap between the Professional and Advanced amounts to two things.

The Phantom 3 Professional shoots video in 4K (3,820x2,160-pixel) resolution and has a 100-watt battery charger. It retails for $1,259, £1,159 or AU$1,950. The Advanced captures video in 1080p (1,920x1,080) and has a slower 57-watt charger, but costs $999, £899 or AU$1,550. That's it.

The 4K video from the Professional is a step up from the Advanced's full-HD results. But it's not a big step up, and unless you want or need the extra resolution and have a computer powerful enough to play and edit 4K video, the Advanced's 1080p video doesn't disappoint. And since the drones' features and controllers are the same, the Phantom 3 Advanced is as easy to recommended as it is to fly. Which is to say it's really easy.

Joshua Goldman/CNET

Design and features

The quadcopter itself is, for the most part, unchanged from its predecessor, the Phantom 2 Vision+. You'll find all the same convenience features like color-coded, self-tightening propellers for easy installation and replacement, and a slot-loading battery pack, though it's a newly designed battery making the Phantom 2's batteries incompatible with the 3.

The three-axis gimbal on its belly stabilizes the camera in roll, pitch and yaw directions keeping the video looking smooth even with sudden stick movements or wind gusts. Plus, the camera can do a 90-degree tilt, letting you shoot straight down, straight ahead and anywhere in between. The camera is permanently attached to the gimbal, so if you irreparably damage one or the other, you'll have to replace the entire gimbal-and-camera assembly. It also means you don't have the option of using the camera for anything else, unlike models that use GoPro or other small cameras such as 3D Robotic's Solo or EHang's Ghost.

The Advanced's camera features a Sony-made 12-megapixel 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor behind a new f2.8 20mm lens (35mm equivalent), which gives you a 94-degree field of view. That's much narrower than the Vision+ camera's 140-degree field of view resulting in far less distortion.

Joshua Goldman/CNET

Sitting to the back of the gimbal is the new Vision Positioning System, a set of sensors to help the Phantom 3 hover while indoors when GPS isn't available. There are many caveats for it to work properly, however, such as not flying over sound-absorbing materials, water or highly reflective surfaces. It's also only effective up to about 10 feet (3 meters). If you're thinking of getting the Advanced to fly above crowds in an arena or auditorium, you better up your piloting skills first.

When you're outside, GPS is used to help the drone determine its position and yours and is what makes it possible for the drone to stop and hover in place when you release the controller's sticks as well as delivering accurate location data for safety features like automatically returning to a home position. The more satellites it can lock onto, the better off you are, so DJI added the Russian navigational system, GLONASS, which lets it tap into more satellites than GPS alone.

Satellite acquisition speeds are noticeably faster compared to the Phantom 2 Vision+, so you can lock on and start flying more quickly. Also, with the Vision+ there were times I would struggle to get a solid lock on six satellites (the minimum for GPS-assisted flight). The Advanced never had a problem grabbing onto 10 satellites or more in a matter of seconds and regularly had upward of 15 in my testing. This makes a huge difference when it comes to putting the drone in the exact position you want for photos and video.

Joshua Goldman/CNET

The controller and DJI Go mobile app (formerly called Pilot) are important, too, of course. The Advanced and its controller have DJI's Lightbridge technology for better image transmission between the sky and ground. Lightbridge allows for a continuous connection back and forth between the two and increases flight range over the wireless range extender used for the Phantom 2 and the entry-level Phantom 3 Standard. This does mean you'll need your iOS or Android device's charging cable to use it, but the performance improvement is well worth it.

On each of the top corners you'll find discrete camera controls for starting and stopping recordings, taking pictures, reviewing your shots and two wheels, one for adjusting exposure compensation, ISO and shutter speed and the other for the gimbal's tilt. Two customizable buttons are on the bottom as well that can be used for a handful of gimbal or camera functions. Overall it's a great setup, but more than a few times I accidentally switched to playback mode while trying to snap a photo.

DJI also included a Return-to-Home button for those times when panic starts to set in and you just want to bring it on back. The controller's battery is built in and will last through several flights before you'll need to recharge it. DJI simplified charging, too, using one power supply with two cables attached: one for the controller's battery and one for the drone's.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Connecting your iOS or Android smartphone or tablet is as simple as plugging in your device's charging cable into the USB port on the Advanced's controller. (It'll keep your device charged while you use it for flying, too.) Then, with the controller and drone turned on, you just open the DJI Go app and tap to get the camera view.

The controller's device mount can handle phones and tablets big and small, however the app is optimized for use with the iPhone 5S, 6 and 6 Plus. Android device support is thin, with just the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Note 3, Sony Xperia Z3, Google Nexus 7 II, Google Nexus 9, Xiaomi Mi 3 and ZTE Nubia Z7 Mini listed. I tested with both a 6 Plus and a Galaxy S5 and the app performance was clearly stronger on the iOS device with the S5 occasionally freezing up forcing me midflight to restart the app.

In addition to a first-person view from the camera, you get complete camera controls, meters for signal strengths, GPS and battery life and access to settings for the whole system. It will also notify you if a firmware update is necessary (which occur with some regularity) and, eventually, you'll be able to do the updates through the app; currently they're done by downloading a file to a microSD card and popping the card into the drone's camera.