GoPro Karma is solid v1, but no collision avoidance tech, still very crashable

It may be easy to fly, but it has to be, because you can still crash it.

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GoPro have announced their first drone, the Karma. It’s a foldable design that places the GoPro camera mount at the front of the drone, rather than underneath like the competition.

If you’re a sports action camera company and you look at the date and see 2016 while you release your first drone, you’re late to the party. Industry leader’s DJI and even Parrot have done the leg work for early iterations over consumer expectations and technology evolution.

The advantage of watching the successes and failures of other manufacturers is that you get to learn what works and what doesn’t and ensure when you ship product, you’re first entry into the drone market is seriously advanced. Even with those learnings, GoPro are doing some different things with the Karma than we’ve seen before. The foldable design is smart considering the company’s whole pitch is that you’re an action sports hero and will likely transverse this planet in amazing ways, which means portability is a high priority. Packing the drone away into a relatively small package, may indeed mean you’re willing to take it with you more often.

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The Karma drone comes with a controller and LCD touchscreen leaving you to free up your phone for other uses like audio capture. This also makes it easy to hand to multiple people. GoPro say you’ll be surprised how easy it is to control. Thanks to the positioning of the camera mount, you’ll never see the rotors in the video frame.

GoPro says Karma is an end-to-end life capture system and while it’s versatile, it still struggles with the common drone problem of battery life. The Karma ships with a 5100mAh 14.8V battery which gets you up to 20 minutes of flight. Charge for 1 hour and you’ll be ready to fly again. Ultimately this means you’ll need multiple batteries if you’re doing any kind of extended capture, or multiple captures in a single day, but this isn’t exactly a new scenario for those who own drones.

Included as part of the Karma is the Karma Grip, which may actually be the masterstroke in GoPro’s solution. Normally you’d pop out your camera from the drone and attach it to another handheld mount, but with the Karma, the whole stablising gimbal from the drone detaches and the Grip is essentially a controlling handle for that same gimbal. This lets you capture GoPro footage like it was shot on a steadicam and smooths out the natural bumps and motion of a human held camera. This is such a smart alternative to the competition, where the DJI Osmo has its own gimbal, so the one on your drone is left unused (assuming single person operation), so this definitely needs to be taken into account when you’re doing the cost comparison.

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Now it’s time to talk about what the Karma isn’t. The Karma isn’t advanced in terms of collision avoidance like that of industry leading consumer drone, the DJI Phantom 4. This means you can still kill this by flying it into objects, so while flying it may be easy, it’s not foolproof. Give it to your 6 year old and expect this to be a crumpled mess in minutes, if not seconds. I have no doubt GoPro will iterate the Karma and that sophistication level will come in future releases, but for now, it’s a pretty basic, while capable, first entry into an already crowded marketplace.

GoPro Karma will be available from October 23rd and will cost A$1,195.95, which is an appropriate price given its features and functionality, just don’t think you’re buying the same thing as the $2,099 DJI Phantom 4.

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Drones