3DR Solo Review
3DRobotics is the second most known drone company in the industry. They were first real company to compete with DJI. And the most amazing part is that they grew out from opensource. Now in 2017 they have changed their direction and now offer drones and solutions for other companies. Despite that, they still released their most capable 3DR Solo drone a while ago. It is still available for purchase so I decided to review it.
- Dimensions: 33×33×25 cm / 13×13×9.8″
- Weight: 1.5 kg / 3.3 lbs
- Flight controller: Pixhawk 2
- Max altitude: 122 m
- Max speed: 89 km/h (55 mph)
- Range: 0.8 km (0.5 miles)
- Max payload: 420 g
- Battery: 4S 5200mAh LiPo
- Flight time: 25 minutes / 20 minutes with payload
- App requirement: iOS 8.0 and later, Android 4.3 and later
- Compatible with GoPro HERO3, 3+ and 4. Optimized for GoPro HERO3+ and 4
- Streaming live video quality: 720p
In The Box
- 3DR Solo drone
- Solo transmitter
- Battery & charger
- Gimbal for a GoPro action camera
Compared to other consumer quadcopters, Solo has a somewhat military like look. It is made out of high quality plastic that is super strong and feels real solid. But the best part is that it is roughly the same size as Phantom 3, which makes it perfect for traveling. 3DR has also thought about that and included self-tightening propellers, which are quick to unscrew!
At the top of the craft you will find a battery slot that only fits 3DR made special batteries. Personally I’m a bit disappointed they have decided to do this because the spare batteries ($150) cost way more than standard LiPos. I guess this is great from a business point of view as DJI has done this as well. Well the battery is 4S 5200mAh LiPo that lasts for around 25 minutes of flying or 20 minutes with GoPro.
Underneath 3DR Solo there is a place to mount a gimbal or the GoPro frame that comes with the drone. There are also LED lights under the arms which will help you determine which way your drone is pointing from far away. They also make your drone visible when flying at nights!
Solo comes with a brand new smart controller that can be connected to smartphones or even tablets, just like the Phantom 3 series. Using a tablet gives you a much larger display for live video. And the best part, 3DR Solo is both iOS and Android compatible!
There are also a couple of clever buttons that make flying the drone much easier. For example there is a “FLY” button, which launches the drone into the air and a “return to home” that makes the Solo fly back to you.
The controller has a small LCD display at the center. It displays useful information such as battery life of your drone and info about your gimbal if you have one! Maybe the only negative thing I would point out about the screen is that it has a glossy finish so it can be hard to see during sunny days.
If you are planning on using a gimbal then you are in luck! The controller has plenty of clever features to help you at controlling the gimbal. For example there is a little paddle for adjusting your cameras tilt angle and two buttons that can put the camera at pre-saved angles!
But there are also some hidden design features on Solo, which are quite amazing. Firstly there is an expansion slot which can be used to house for example a parachute in the future. Or 3DR is also working on optical flow sensors that will improve indoor flying. They claim that optical flow sensors are much better than sonars that the Phantom 3 series are using! This is a great add-on for anyone flying indoors.
Also Solo is pretty upgradable. You can easily swap the motor pods for more powerful motors when they come out and with that increase your drones payload! This is something you can’t do to other consumer drones without having to make modifications.
Flying & Features
Flying a 3DR Solo can be compared to flying a DJI Phantom. The controls are exactly the same out of the box and you can fly it both manually and with a GPS, which makes it super easy to fly. In GPS mode you can simply let go of your controls and the Solo will just hover in position. You can even edit heights and speed restrictions in your smartphone via the 3DR Solo App.
Honestly flying it is amazing. Solo is super stable, like even when shooting videos without a gimbal you notice much less shakyness compared to some other drones. Obviously it is still there but not as much. Just check out the video below!
The real brain inside the drone is the popular 3DR Pixhawk 2 flight controller which works together with a second 1GHz Linux-based computer! There is a pretty clever reason for this as well. Instead of making your transmitter directly communicate with the flight controller, it now communicates first with a Linux computer. If your flight controller should stop getting commands for some reason then the Linux computer will reboot and your Solo will just hover while it does that. If your controller still doesn’t work then your Solo is made to return home! What this should do is eliminate fly-aways but as with technology, nothing is ever 100%.
But what is truly amazing about Solo are the flying features, also called as Smart Shots, that turn your drone into a video shooting machine. Simply tap the button at the bottom left corner of the Solo app and you will get a screen of features called Cable Cam, Orbit, Selfie and Follow!
- Cable Cam is a pretty interesting feature that I haven’t seen on other drones. Firstly you need to choose a starting point and press the A button on your controller. Then you have to fly to the finish point and press the B button. What this does is record your start and finish. Then once you press the play button, your Solo will start flying in a straight line from finish to start. Also if you changed the direction of your camera then it will also smoothly move the camera direction back to how it was at start. This helps you create super smooth videos.
- Orbit mode is something that I personally love. Orbit does exactly what the name suggests, it makes your drone orbit around a selected point and keep its camera fixed on the center. For example you can use this to get amazing footage of an old light tower.
- Selfie is a unique mode for all who love to take selfies! It basically puts yourself in the middle of your aerial shot. It makes the Solo fly up and back and expand the surroundings to reveal the world around you!
- Follow me is pretty straight forward. The drone will lock on you and stay focused on your position. When you move the Solo moves.
Filming with GoPro
Shooting videos with a GoPro has been made really simple. Firstly you can mount your camera to the Solo by the special frame that comes with your Solo or a special gimbal. Once you have done that you need to attach the drones HDMI cable to your GoPro. Once you have done that your drone is ready to send live video to your smartphone or tablet!
But the real question is, do you need a gimbal? Well first of all, the video will obviously be much more shaky with the original case. Also you won’t be able to change your cameras direction or tilt. So if you are truly serious about aerial videography then you will probably require a gimbal.
The problem is that the 3DR Solo gimbal is quite expensive. So I advise adding all of these components together and seeing if you can afford it. What’s the point of getting an expensive drone if you can’t use all of its features?
3DR Solo is an amazing drone for shooting videos with a GoPro! The Smart Shot features help you capture aerial shots that might otherwise be impossible or difficult! Perhaps the only downside of this amazing drone is the price, which can be way too much for most of people.
DJI has already added most of those features to their Phantom 3 series and those come with a camera. This is why I recommend 3DR Solo for those who are serious about aerial photography and wish to keep using their GoPro. I personally prefer Solo to Phantom for this exact reason as I’m not exactly a fan of built-in cameras. If you are willing to spend at least $999 on a drone then Solo is a fantastic choice!
- Portable design
- Flight time
- Possible to use external camera
- Production discontinued