3DR Solo 4K-capable Drone / Quadcopter Review
While not nearly so well known in the consumer drone market as DJI or even Yuneec, 3DR seems to definitely be capable of delivering the goods as far as UAV quality is concerned. We can see this with the 3DR Solo drone this review is about. With a rather utilitarian looking build, a matte metallic black body and a size that roughly matches that of the DJI Phantom 3 UAV in the same consumer market, the Solo drone is not an exceptionally radical new type of drone but what it does deliver is solid flight specs, decent flight controls and many of the features its better known competitor cousins also come with.
This is definitely a drone for those who are looking for alternatives to the dominant DJI offerings on the market and while the Solo may not please all users due to some issues we’ll be covering shortly, it’s definitely a purchase candidate for anyone looking for quality and unique design in a new video recording drone.
For starters, the Solo from 3DR just looks downright cool. We ourselves consider its black utilitarian body to be the superior looker in a contest between the Solo and any of the Phantom series drones from DJI. This machine is both more streamlined looking and just gives off a cooler vibe thanks partly to its darker colors and a few other design features. In fact, the one thing we’d most compare the look of the Solo to is the classic 1950s pulp science fiction flying saucers of yesteryear. It’s like a little time traveler from the imaginations of 50’s era pulp scifi fantasy artists.
Next up, the Solo comes with quite an interesting array of intelligent flight features which we definitely like and think potentially particularly useful to videographers or aerial surveyors who need precise flight patterns. Among these fixed flight capabilities you can find the “cable” option, which essentially creates a sort of virtual fixed zip-line cable between any two points in space, allowing the drone to fly back and forth along the line with near perfect precision even with changing altitudes for the sake of linear tracking shots of a specific area. Then there is the more widely recognized “Orbit” intelligent flight option, which sets the Solo in a circular orbital flight around a fixed point with the camera adjusting itself constantly so that it points at the same object of central focus. The radius of Orbit can be adjusted mid-flight as well. From there there are also Selfie and Follow-Me modes and of course all the usual manual flight options which work quite simply and smoothly in the SDR Solo.
And speaking of manual flight specs, we first of all like the Solo’s very decent flight time. This drone can manage a solid 25 minutes in the air simply performing flight maneuvers and with camera and gimbal attached for recording or constant photo capture, it can handle about 21 minutes of flight time. In this the DJI Phantom 4 drone definitely beats the Solo thanks to its 25 minute recorded flight times but the Solo’s performance does basically match that of older Phantom drones. We also find the Solo to be an easy flier, with controls that can be very quickly learned and safety features like Find Me and a dual flight computer system which reduced the possibility of mechanical failure mid-flight.
Solo has also even included the simplicity of One-Button flying in the Solo, allowing you to take off, land and return home with a single button push while also including a “Pause” option which stops the little drone dead in its tracks if you’re unsure about how to keep maneuvering. We should also note that the Solo is one fast drone, with the ability to hit speeds of up to 55mph. Even DJI’s latest Phantom 4 flier can barely manage 50mph.
Finally, connectivity, controller setup and drone setup are all quite simple in the Solo, with a remote control that works much like what you’d see for a video game console and easy to install gimbal and camera functionality being available.
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On the other hand, in comparison to more decked out drones like the Phantom 4, the Solo is the slightly inferior product and the two brands even share a negative point we find slightly annoying.
First of all, the Solo doesn’t come with a built-in gimbal in its base sale model and no camera is included in any of the packages being sold. Thus, if you want to buy a 3DR Solo drone which is ready for camera installation right out of the box, you’ll have to spend a bit of extra money for the option which comes with a detachable gimbal included. This is something 3DR should have simply made a part of their base package since a UAV without a camera mounting gimbal is sort of pointless for most users. That said, no Solo model comes with its own aerial camera, either with 4K or even HD recording capability.
Thus, if you want to use the Solo for the thing these types of drones are most designed for –aerial video and photo shooting—you’ll have to also toss down some money for one of GoPro’s Hero action cameras, either the 2 or 3 for HD shooting or the Hero 4 Black if you also want 4K video recording capacity. This further expense will definitely cause your final expenses for the Solo to match or even exceed that of simply buying a DJI Phantom 4 or Phantom 3 Professional drone, both of which come with 4K recording equipment already included. This price and camera issue is probably the single biggest negative against the 3DR Solo.
Finally, like DJI, 3DR has built a drone controller which does not feature its own native viewing and control display. Instead, users need to attach an external screen from a tablet or smartphone to the Solo for live feeds of camera footage and for adjusting recording settings. This may not be a major problem since most people today have a handy smartphone or tablet available but it does mean extra risk in the field for additional expensive hardware.
The SDR Solo drone is a one excellent piece of flying machinery. Of this there is no doubt in our minds. It’s easy to use, tough and comes with some highly competitive specs. However, if you’re looking to get what we consider to be even better quality for a cheaper price, go for DJI’s Quantum 4 drone unless you already happen to own a GoPro Hero 4K or HD action camera. If you don’t have one already, the price of buying it AND a gimbal for the Solo will actually cost you more than the ready-made options from DJI.
• Max Ascent: 6 m per second
• Speed: about 55 miles per hour
• control accuracy: for angles: 0.1°
• Max altitude: 0.5 miles
• Flight time: 25 minutes but variable depending on conditions
• Connectivity: 1 x HDMI, 1 x charge port
• Camera: none include, compatible with GoPro Hero action cameras
• Camera Resolution: dependent on third party camera type used
• Recording Media: Micro SD (in GoPro Hero camera)
• Max capacity: See GoPro Hero storage specs
• Automated Flight features: Return-to-home, Orbit, Cable, Follow
• Weight: 3.3 lbs (with battery and propellers), 4 lb with GoPro Hero camera and Gimbal
• Dimensions: Height: 10" / 25 cm, Motor-to-Motor: 18" / 46 cm
• Controller: Dedicated controller with third par mobile device screen and DJI Go app
The 3DR Solo drone is definitely attractive by almost any measure and as far as this writer is concerned, it looks more stylish than DJI’s Phantom drones, with a sleeker, cooler build and a mostly matte black body that definitely grabs attention. It also comes with rear red running lights and front white running lights for using the drone even in the dark and at the same time always easily telling which direction the drone is going in and what end is front or back. However, these superficial features of its design aren’t all. There’s also plenty of serious meat to the build that 3DR has given the Solo.
For starters, the drone comes with dual 1 GHz Linux computers. One of these is in the controller and the other runs inside the drone itself, allowing for dual CPU power that speeds up all commands and other functions for minimal lag or bogging down. Additionally the 880 Kv motors on the Solo give it the perfect balance of speed and torque, meaning that the Solo can not only reach very high speeds of 55 mph but also manage effective resistance to heavy wind, payload drag and so on. We’ve seen drones with faster motor speeds but the Solo delivers some great torque. Furthermore, the 14.8 V LiPo 5200 mAh Battery delivers some great mileage to these motors, letting the Solo stay aloft for up to 21 minutes while carrying the extra weight of a gimbal and GoPro Hero camera along with it. Inn this the Phantom 4 from DJI wins at flight length but only by a small margin.
Another aspect of the Solo’s design which we love are the large and remarkably strong self-tightening props. Fortified with glass for superior rigidity and tensile strength but also flexible enough due to their mainly nylon construction, the props on the Solo operate robustly and definitely feel more solid than their DJI or Yuneec Q500 drone counterparts’ propellers.
The Solo also offers up an accessory 3-Axis gimbal which comes included in the slightly pricier Solo package we’re reviewing here. Optimized for compatibility with GoPro’s Hero cameras, the gimbal is also swappable for replacement with an after-market version if needed.
Setting up the Solo drone for flight readiness is a very straightforward process. In the box, what you’ll get is the main drone body itself, a controller charger, a drone charger and six props. Three of those are silver-top and three of them are black-top props (one spare prop for each set). The black-top props attach to the motors with black tops and the same applies to the silver-top propeller versions.
Next, you’ll need to attach the included gimbal to the bottom of the drone and right after that hook in a GoPro Hero camera of your choice by sliding and securing it into the gimbal’s frame mount. With these things done, you can hook the drone to the camera through a USB connection and charge both drone and controller to full power. Afterwards, your next step will be to download the “3DR Solo” app from the Google Play store or the Apple App Store to whatever mobile device you’ll be connecting to your Solo’s flight controller. Once these are all in place, you can power up the drone and controller both and with that the drone will automatically link up to your controller. You can then also activate a WiFi connection for live streaming 720p video as you navigate.
With the GoPro camera activated and your WiFi link set up, the drone is now ready to fly through the apps “Fly Solo” touch button. Or, if you’re feeling unsure of yourself, Solo also lets you select the “Flight School” option for digitally simulated flight practice.
The controller itself allows for easy one-button takeoff though the “Fly” button and the left control lever controls rotation to the left or right in the drone. As for the right side lever, it allow you to move the drone left, right and forward or backward without rotating it. There’s also a pause button for making the drone hover in one spot and other functions such as the different intelligent flight modes are available through the drone’s onscreen app controls. These are the essentials of actually getting started with setup and flight in the Solo drone. However, 3DR has also made sure to assemble one truly detailed and superbly step-by-step information portal for anyone who has any doubts whatsoever. This is a great resource for beginner flyers and does a far better job than we did here of explaining all the details of flight and video control in easy to digest segments.
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The Solo doesn’t come with its own built-in or included 4K or HD camera. Instead, it has been built for complete, plug-and-play compatibility with the GoPro Hero line of action cameras. Obviously enough, we most recommend you hook up a GoPro Hero 4 Black action shooter to the Solo drone if you buy one and for the specs of that particular and very well-designed ultra HD video shooter, we refer you to our GoPro Hero 4 review here.
Flight-wise, the Solo drone is one very easy to fly piece of drone technology. In most ways it actually flies just like the DJI Phantom 3 Professional or Phantom 4 UAVs with many of the same intelligent flight options and physical control buttons and levers in its controller. The two brands of drone even have their external display connectivity design in common, in contrast to Yuneec, whose controllers come with a built-in HD display.
The Solo drone can be flown manually as desired or set into one of several different intelligent flight modes which we covered above. Furthermore, it is truly and easy drone to fly. If a user lets go of the controls at any time for any reason during manual flight, the drone simply stops and hovers in place until control is retaken. It’s also possible to set both speed and height or distance restrictions for even more secure flight. Smart Shots is another awesome feature in the Solo, letting you tap a button in the lower left corner of the app for a choice of Cable Cam, Orbit, Selfie and Follow. These are the drone’s main intelligent automated flight options and they also let you take killer video and photo shots as you execute them. Camera movements are also smoothly guided for great video or photo quality through gentle adjustments in the drone gimbal’s tilt and viewing angles.
Orbit mode lets you circle around a fixed point with the camera trained inwards and said central focus point can easily be set with a satellite map view of your flight area. Changing the radius of the orbit is also as simple as moving the forward and back control in either direction. Altitude can also be smoothly lowered or raised during orbit with the up and down controls. The resulting footage is wonderfully smooth.
As for Follow Me, it’s pretty straightforward, with the Solo and its camera/gimbal remaining focused on your position as you move while the drone matches your speed accurately. You can have the drone follow behind you, panning for a side view or moving towards you as you move towards it. Additionally, there is a Watch Me mode which causes the drone to stay in a fixed place as the camera tracks your movements over a given area, whether you move closer to the drone or further away.
Last of all ,the Solo offers up Selfie mode, which lets you have the drone zip away from you in a pre-set direction at high speed from a fixed position you’ve set for it and then also move right back to your pre-set starting position while filming you the whole time. This can be smoothly done with the automated Selfie mode but is also something you can pull off manually with a bit of practice.
For taking pictures or grabbing video while flying the Solo, either manually or in one of its autonomous modes, you can use the app to establish opening and closing frames for the drone’s Hero camera so that it automatically flies its route and records at the same time as instructed. Furthermore, the app allows for shutter controls in the GoPro camera, letting you change modes and video or photo setting during flight while also allowing you to save streaming footage on the camera itself as you record.
The most basic price for the 3DR Solo drone sits at $745.32 on Amazon.com but this will get you nothing more than the drone itself along with its controller and base in-the-box accessories. For the package which comes with the gimbal accessory and a spare smart battery you’ll have to spend a bit more to the tune of $1,087.32. If you want to shoot video, you’ll have to also buy one of GoPro’s Hero action cameras and for decent 4K video recording, this means getting the Hero 4 Black. This is where the Solo Drone becomes expensive since its DJI competitor the Phantom 4 and the older model Phantom 3 both offer 4K cameras as included accessories for a lower overall price.
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• Excellent flight control functionality
• Great, tough physical design
• Very fast flier
• Very good flight time
• high-torque motor for wind and payload endurance
• Camera does not come included
• Gimbal sold as an extra accessory as well
• Could up the flight time even more
• Controller display via smartphone or external tablet