We did a range test with the DJI Phantom 4. The results are shocking!
Before reading this, you should know that this test was done to provide real information about the Phantom 4 and the range you can get out of one. There were no modifications done to the Phantom 4 or the Phantom 4 remote. We did this test in a safe environment with clear line-of-sight. In the real world, most people will never fly as far as I did and will never need to, so be safe, don’t try this at home, have fun and enjoy flying!
Recently, there have been a lot of people complaining about the range of the Phantom 4. Some even say that they get less than half the range of the Phantom 3. There were even people claiming that DJI is working with the FAA to lower the range of the Phantom 4, crippling its performance. Just like with most things that people complain about, I was very skeptical after reading into this range issue. I wasn’t really sure what the range was, but I knew that something wasn’t adding up.
Before deciding to do the range test, I had been flying the Phantom 4 multiple times a day for about 7 days for the 7 day Phantom 4 review. During this time, I did sometimes notice the video dropping out while I was flying, but it never dropped out at any specific distance and there were usually two Phantom 4 drones flying at the same time. In other words, I didn’t think anything of it and I continued to not worry about the issue. Meanwhile, people on various Phantom forum websites were rampaging through the internet and consumers were starting to believe the bad hype.
This is when I knew that I had to test out the range on the Phantom 4 on my own. This way I could come to a real conclusion on what’s going on and report back any info I found. For the test, I knew that we needed to be in a place where there was a lot of open space and little to no radio interference. Back to the desert we go!
We tried to do a range test earlier in the week, but our plans were foiled by the local shooters in the area. This time we were determined to get the range test done, so we found a less populated area with some hilly mountains that went on for at least 10 miles. The weather was definitely not ideal for a range test. it was a nice clear day with a temperature of about 80º F. Wind was the big problem though, with varying speeds from 5mph to 20mph.
Test 1: The Short One
For the first test I started out with custom video settings. I turned the video transmission quality all the way down and left the radio frequency at channel 15. I lifted off the ground with a perfect signal and started flying north. After getting about 4,000 feet out, the signal started having some trouble. A few seconds later, the signal was back and I was able to continue on. Then I lost the connection at 5,000 feet, but I regained signal and went a bit farther. The next time I lost signal was at over 10,000 feet. This time I was flying blind for a minute or two before it regained connection. I didn’t worry, because I knew that the Phantom 4 was taking itself back home and at a safe height. When I got my video signal back, it was returning back home and had already traveled 3,000 feet back in my direction. At this point I decided to kick it into sport mode and get home to change the battery and do another test.
Things were not looking so good for the Phantom 4, but at the same time, it wasn’t as bad as the reports were making it seem. I also forgot that there were two Phantom 4 drones flying at the same time, and we were both less than 10 feet from each other.
Test 2: The Long One
For the next test I decided to fly southeast. This time I set the video channel to 13 (assuming that lower channels mean lower frequencies and therefore longer range). I took off at 100% battery, then put the Phantom 4 into Sport Mode. From 1,800 feet to 3,000 feet I was still having intermittent dropouts, until I decided to stand over 25 feet from the other Phantom 4 pilot, Darrell. It might have been just a coincidence, but after getting away from the other Phantom 4 remote, I was having much better luck. For the rest of the flight, I had not one signal dropout.
After traveling 15,000 feet from home base, the battery level was at 74% and the Phantom 4 was asking me if I wanted to go home. This is just the drone’s way of saying “look, if you keep going, I won’t be able to fly fast enough on my own to get home before the battery dies”, but I ignored the warning and continued on!
Before I knew it, I was just about 22,400 feet from home and 340 feet high. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! Not only was I over 4.2 miles (6.8 kilometers) away, I also had full signal strength and a clear video stream!
At this point it was time to go home. I had an estimated 10 minutes of flight time left and over 4 miles to travel. I was a bit worried, but getting back seemed easy enough, especially since I was taking the headwind into consideration when coming back. 5 minutes later I was still at 5,000 feet and the estimated flight time was less than 2 minutes.
Soon I had zero range left and the Phantom 4 was descending on it’s own. I was only 40 feet from the ground and still had 700 feet to go! Thankfully the Phantom 4 made it back in time with 8% battery remaining. Sport Mode saves the day again!
Basically, the Phantom 4 will fly over 4.2 miles away (in good conditions) and still maintain a decent video stream. That’s more range than the average person can even handle without running out of battery. I still need to do more testing to figure out why the video signal occasionally drops, but it’s a very minor issue for me and hasn’t affected my flying at all. Hopefully, this article has shown that the Phantom 4 does not have a range problem. In fact, the range seems even better than the Phantom 3. Whatever the problem is, it seems to be an issue with the firmware (not the hardware) so I’m sure it will be worked out in the next update.
In any case, every new product has bugs and the Phantom 4 is no exception, but if a firmware bug this small is the biggest issue that people are worrying about, I think DJI has done a much better job releasing the Phantom 4 than any other product that has come before it.