Earlier this year, DJI released its third-generation Phantom quadcopter. The Phantom line is perhaps the most well-known ready-to-fly quads you can buy, and the Phantom 3 Advanced and Phantom 3 Professional models are significant upgrades to the last generation. These quadcopters are amazing devices; they combine aerial, sensor, and imaging technologies to make a user-friendly remote-controlled flying camera that would not have been possible a decade ago. That ease-of-use is partly what makes these ready-to-fly quadcopters so compelling. While hobbyists have been building RC multi-rotors for fun and sport, the low barrier to entry offered by RTF quads has exploded the market for new products--not unlike the first years of the modern smartphone. And the rapid pace of DJI's product iterations, along with the proliferation of quadcopter-produced photos and videos--further bootstraps a fast growing community of new flyers.
So to answer one frequently-asked question: yes, the Phantom 3 line is a significant and worthwhile upgrade to the Phantom 2. Our first Phantom was last year's Vision+, which amazed us by being easy to fly, incorporating a built-in stabilized gimballed HD camera system, and tying flight and sight together with an integrated FPV video feed. All three of these features are markedly improved in the Phantom 3. Let's go over the changes in depth.
First, the new flight system. The Phantom 3 looks a lot like the Phantom 2, with only a slightly bigger airframe (it will fit in many existing Phantom 2 cases). But the brushless motors, DJI speed controllers, and 4S battery system that power it under the hood are new, and grant the quad more power. It's not that the Phantom 3 flies a lot faster than the Phantom 2 (16m/s max speed vs 15m/s max) or can ascend and descend quicker; that power manifests itself as improved stability and control during flight. Unlike DJI's Inspire 1, the Phantom 3 doesn't fly like a hovering tank--it feels nimble and responsive, even when taken to heights where the motors are fighting winds. And that's power you can take for granted--it wasn't until I switched back to the Phantom 2 for a day that I realized how rock solid the new quad is by comparison.
Key to the Phantom's flight system is GPS-stabilization. In the Phantom 2, this allowed the quadcopter to calculate where it should be in positional space, automatically adjusting its motor power in real-time to compensate for external forces. We've demoed this before by dragging a flying Phantom by its landing struts to simulate wind and feeling the motors "fight back". Phantom 3 taps into both GPS and Russian GLONASS satellites for a wider range of coverage, though that accounts for faster satellite acquisition moreso than increased positional accuracy. More notable is the Phantom 3 Advanced and Professional's (I've been testing the latter) use of an ultrasonic and visual positioning system for low-altitude stabilization. This is the same system that was introduced in the Inspire 1--a combination of sonar and downward-facing camera to stabilize the quad when it's lower than 10 feet above ground. This is tech that other RTF quads simply don't have.