Buying that next Drone – Is it really an Upgrade?

It’s inevitable. That great new drone you bought two months ago will soon be obsolete. It’s the nature of this technology. Research and development teams at the top drone makers are diligently chasing the next latest and greatest features. Where once we considered autonomous obstacle avoidance to be a pipedream we now see it as a standard offering. Follow-me modes and automated orbits were pie in the sky – but no more. The reality starts to set in: the sky isn’t the limit any longer, rather it is the starting point for even more creative and spectacular offerings. But as money doesn’t grow on trees, at what point is it best to upgrade and when is an upgrade just a downgrade in disguise?

As most know, we are days away from the latest offering by Autel with the EVO. Parrot also has given a sneak peek at the new Anafi. Then there is always the rumor mill that DJI might have an upgrade to the Mavic or Phantom lines. The EVO advances Autel’s offerings by introducing the now standard obstacle avoidance that its X-Star did not have. Parrot’s entry tries to kick its children’s toy image (think Mambo or BeBop) by offering a high megapixel camera with the ability to look upwards – something few drones do. And DJI will likely crush the competition with any release in similar fashion as the release of the Mavic just 7 days after GoPro announced the Karma – and we all know how that worked out for GoPro. But are these really upgrades and at what point should you pull the trigger with a purchase? Much of the answer is determined by what you are currently flying.

Let’s start with the Autel scenario… You’ve enjoyed flying the Autel X-Star which was direct competition to DJI’s Phantom. The EVO presents some very new tech by comparison to the X-Star. The size of the EVO is much more compact and portable (folding even).

Image of the Autel EVO Drone folded

Speed and flight time are both better in the EVO than in the X-Star. And transmission distances are greatly improved in the EVO. Clearly the updates make it appear that the EVO is an advancement over their X-Star model and the EVO is currently being readily compared to the specs of the DJI Mavic. Yet that is the real key here. Is the EVO truly and upgrade or just a model line introduction and would you be stepping down if you were replacing your X-Star with an EVO? Again, note that the X-Star was direct competition for the Phantom. EVO is the direct competition for the Mavic. So, comparing EVO to X-Star is really apples to oranges. X-Star was introduced 2 ½ years ago. There have been 3 iterations of the iPhone in that time. Of course, the EVO should have more advanced tech being now introduced in 2018 as computer technology of 2016 just doesn’t hold up to what is available today. But that isn’t to say it is an upgrade as it well could be considered a different model line.

Think about model lines in this way… Automobiles offer the simplest view of model lines. Let’s look at Chevy. Chevrolet offers five standard car models – Spark, Sonic, Cruz,

Photo of the Chevy Cruze

Malibu, and Impala. There are some distinct and not so distinct differences between the models. The Spark and Sonic are very similar though the Spark is a coupe and the Sonic a sedan. While there are huge differences between the Spark and the Impala – they just are truly far apart in what they feature for consumers. And in that respect, it is very easy to distinguish that a 2018 Impala is an upgrade over a 2018 Spark or Sonic. It is a different class of car. The question becomes, is the 2018 Cruz an upgrade over a 2008 Malibu? Certainly, it is newer and because of the age difference it is absolutely expected that the newer vehicle would have technology advancements that far outweigh those of the older model. But it still is a completely different line of

Photo of the Chevy Malibu

vehicle. They aren’t intended to compete against one another and nor should they. The intent is for the 2008 Malibu driver to consider replacing their vehicle with yet another Malibu (2018) or consider upgrading even further by stepping into a higher product line (Impala). This is the same progression we see in all other industries – i.e. the real estate property ladder has you starting out in a fixer-upper and progressing to that McMansion as you buy your way up the ladder over the course of your life.

In DJI’s case we can see this model progression quite well. The Spark is the base model as the Mavic is a step above while the Phantom sits over top of both and the Inspire tops out the consumer level set of drones. Thus, buying a Mavic to replace your Phantom 3

Image of the DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2 Drone

really isn’t an upgrade at all. Rather replacing it by moving to a Phantom 4 or stepping up a model level to the Inspire stands as a true upgrade. Have an old Phantom 2 Vision and thinking that a Spark is an upgrade is a bit of faulty logic. Indeed, the Spark features are much more advanced

DJI Mavic Pro Platinum

than the super old Phantom 2, but that would very much equate to the Cruz / Malibu example just discussed. The real upgrade is staying within the product line or stepping upward to the higher product line.

Inevitably upgrading can be costly and shelling out bucks for each of the latest and greatest models can wear thin on a spouse’s nerves (sorry dear, I needed a new drone – what can I say). And with the near exponential rate of technological advancements each 9 to 18 months brings features that are the new must haves for the advanced hobbyist or commercial operator. As such it can be quite tempting to jump ship from one product line to get the latest improvements in a lesser model. And there isn’t a play book like there is with automobiles that offer a new model within the same product line each and every year. But if computers, phones, and gaming systems are any indication, you’ll often find a new model upgrade within the product line to be introduced every 18 to 24 months. Weighing out whether you can wait that long is a personal decision or at times a necessity (hardware issues, crashes, etc.). But it is also okay to jump to a lower product line. After all, you may climb

Mavic Drone in Flight

the property ladder during your career, but that doesn’t mean you can’t choose to downsize for a smaller house, smaller mortgage payment, or better amenities in a specific community. The best advice that one can provide is to consider what you want from your drone and look to purchase accordingly be it changing a product line within a brand or jumping ship to another manufacturer entirely. It’s your drone and it is inevitable that you’re going to upgrade it at some point – because you love to keep flying.

Buying that next Drone – Is it really an Upgrade? was last modified: June 20th, 2018 by Ryan Latourette
Buying that next Drone – Is it really an Upgrade? was last modified: June 20th, 2018 by Ryan Latourette
Ryan Latourette

Written by Ryan Latourette

Calling Ryan a drone enthusiast seems to fall short of the intense interest he has in this new technology. Ryan is a drone advocate who flies daily and is always expanding the hobby and industry in sharing, teaching, and demonstrating drones for everyone. Constantly pushing the boundaries of creative uses of drones with a distinct "Drones for Good" attitude, Ryan is well known within the drone community. A techie at heart with a passion for photography, it was easy to predict that he'd be hooked on drones. His work has been featured on Good Morning America, ABC Nightly News, is displayed at the Michigan State Capitol Building and in the Michigan Governor's Executive Offices. His latest fun with drones includes light painting and participating in Drone Light Shows.

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