Should I buy the DJI Phantom 4 or the Yuneec Typhoon H?
This is a question that gets asked a lot and many people have tried to answer it. there are lots of reviews and comparisons already out there about the two of these drones, so I’m going to try not to regurgitate the same info that you can find elsewhere. Details like flight time, size, or how many buttons a controller has might be left out in order to focus on what really matters and not lose sight of the big picture. Most people will be buying these drones to shoot good video and do so in a trouble free manner, so that’s what both drones should be aiming to achieve. In my mind, regardless of overly hyped features like obstacle avoidance, the drone that gets the job done and does it well is the drone that wins the battle.
The Physical User Experience
Design and Build Quality: When you take the Typhoon H out of the box for the first time, it really is impressive. You immediately see the drone with all of its arms and motors nicely folded down. Taking it out of the box, you can see that the build quality is a bit cheaper than the Phantom 4. The design looks nice, but the thin arms seem like they would easily break off in a crash. The Phantom 4 may look like some kind of flying marshmallow, but the shell design is pretty strong and the inside shell is made from magnesium alloy. In general it just feels sturdy.
Carrying and Transporting: When carrying the Phantom 4, whether I use one hand or two I can easily hold it however I want. The Typhoon H is a bit more awkward. I wouldn’t try holding it from the arms or legs and it’s hard to hold from the top so I usually end up using two hands instead. This isn’t a big issue since you would usually be carrying your drone in its case, but that leads me to another subject.
The case that comes with the Typhoon H is definitely not on par with the Phantom 4. It’s better than nothing, but the lid doesn’t close and there are large holes in the bottom which make it useless for carrying smaller parts like props or tools. This means that you should probably find a real case or backpack for it on day one. The case that comes with the Phantom 4 isn’t amazing, but with its metal latch design I was able to use it for a few months before eventually getting the DJI backpack.
Battery Usage: Both of these drones have great flight time, but the batteries on the Phantom 4 seem like a smarter design in my opinion. The batteries on the Typhoon H are not bad, but there’s no onboard charging unit and battery life indicator like on the Phantom 4. Also, the charge time (for the flight battery and the controller) is definitely slower, maybe even two times slower. I wouldn’t have a problem with the charge time, but not being able to see how much power is left in each battery without putting it in the drone is a big issue for me. If you are using these drones all the time, you’ll probably have anywhere from 2 to 5 batteries, and not being able to easily see which ones are ready to go is honestly painful.
I do actually like how the Typhoon H battery latches into the drone. It seems like they require a lot less force to get in and out compared to the Phantom 4. Also batteries for the Typhoon H are around $40 cheaper.
Controllers: The controllers for the two of these drones are so different that it’s hard to even compare them. With the Phantom 4 you get a nice and simple remote with only the essentials. You get all the buttons you need for adjusting the camera exposure, recording video, taking pictures and a gimbal tilt wheel that works great. To operate the Phantom 4 you will need a mobile device. It doesn’t matter if it’s IOS or Android, a smartphone or a tablet, any decently fast mobile device will work.
The Yuneec ST16 controller (which comes with all versions of the Typhoon H) is stunning! It’s something that people will look at and say “Wow this looks expensive and complicated. You must be a pro at this!”. It looks nice, it has switches and buttons everywhere and there’s a nice big screen in the middle that acts as a mobile device running Android. I really thought I was going to like this controller better than the Phantom 4 controller paired with my iPhone, but it wasn’t as practical as I imagined. A lot of the buttons currently don’t do anything and for some reason they put the landing gear and motor start buttons (the two things I use the most) on the backside of the controller where it’s hard to reach.
The Software User Experience
I hate to immediately start complaining about the Typhoon H in almost every section, but software is really just as important as hardware and DJI is lightyears ahead of Yuneec in this area.
General Functionality: The DJI Go app (although not perfect) does a really good job of packing a lot of features into a nicely sorted space without making the whole thing look too confusing. Most things are where you would expect them to be and the user interface controls are consistent and simple to understand. There’s even a flight simulator that will talk to the drone and put it into simulation mode so you can test out basic features like retern-to-home, course-lock, waypoints and attitude mode before going for your first flight.
The Typhoon H app is ok… It does most of what you need it to do, everything runs pretty fast without crashing and all of the important flight info that you need is displayed throughout the corners of the screen. Coming from a DJI drone, there are just a lot of little things that are either hiding in strange places, not thought out very well or in some cases completely missing. One example of this is the maps. They don’t exist on the Typhoon H. The only thing that you get for figuring out where you are is a little green arrow overlaid on the video feed pointing back towards home.
Essential Hardware Functionality
The Flight Experience: So far, I’ve had no issues with either of these drones that would make them unusable or unreliable. They both fly super smooth and predictably. I have noticed that the Typhoon H is not as fast as the Phantom 4 in sport mode though. It also seems to change direction slower. I notice this the most when going fast and turning. It seems to take turns much wider than the Phantom almost as if it were a car on ice. If you aren’t comparing the Typhoon H to how the Phantom 4 flies then you probably wouldn’t notice this at all, so I wouldn’t say it’s a bad thing. It’s just different.
One thing that I liked about flying the Typhoon H was the ability to lift the landing gear out of the way. On the Phantom, I hardly ever see the landing gear in my shots, but when I do it’s a bit annoying. The only time that I really see the landing gear is when I’m doing downward facing shots where the drone is flying side to side at high speeds, or in high winds. This is less of an issue on the Phantom 4 compared to the Phantom 3 since they made the landing gear wider, so I wouldn’t worry about it but it is something to think about when flying really fast.
Operating Range: If you’re planning to go on flights that reach or exceed 1 mile, then the Typhoon H is not the ideal drone for you. Yes, you can add some directional antennas to the controller, but they will only get you to around 10,000 feet. That’s much farther than the stock antennas will do, but the Phantom 3 Pro and Phantom 4 will easily do 15,000 feet with no modifications at all. I’ve personally reached over 20,000 feet with the Phantom 4 in good conditions, and at those distances you’ll run out of battery before running out of range. You might never need to go 3 or 4 miles with your drone, but having that extra power means that you can also fly through and around structures and maintain a better signal.
Essential Video Functionality
Camera Control: Since this comparison is based on the perspective of a cinematographer, getting good video should be the biggest priority. On both of these drones you get basic camera controls like white balance, shutter speed and ISO. There’s also a bunch of video resolutions and frame rates to choose from and a few useless color filters on both of them, but this is where the similarities end.
The Phantom 4 takes video controls seriously by giving you features like a histogram, an over exposure warning setting (zebras), sharpness and saturation adjustments, visual grids and guides for better shot framing and a real LOG color profile for more flexibility when color grading.
This is the area that matters the most. Almost every other feature or flaw of both drones could be overlooked if one of them could produce significantly better videos than the other. The video quality of both drones is great, but unfortunately the lens on the Yuneec has a wider GoPro style field-of-view and there is nothing that makes the image stand out from the Phantom.
If you’re just buying these drones to keep you from being bored or to capture your kid’s first time on a bike, then features like this won’t matter, but for getting the best aerial shots you can, these extra video settings are actually very important for a cinematographer or video enthusiast.
Am I Forgetting Something?
By now you’re probably wondering why I never mentioned the 360° Gimbal. This is because I have mixed feelings about it. I like that it’s there and it does allow for some cool functionality, so let’s talk about it before coming to a conclusion.
Unlike the Phantom, the Typhoon H has the ability to rotate its gimbal independently from the aircraft. This is a feature that has a few different uses. The main reason for having it is so that one operator can fly the aircraft and a second operator can control the gimbal (by purchasing another remote or having the first operator use the Typhoon wizard). Another way of fully using the gimbal is to put the drone into cablecam mode. In this mode the drone will follow along a set path based on waypoints. Using the Typhoon H controller, you are able to control the speed of the flight with the left stick and control the gimbal with the right stick all while the drone flies along your preprogramed route.
I really do like these features and I think they can be extremely useful for complex shots, but I just can’t see a two-person crew buying the Typhoon H with the camera that it has when you can get the Inspire 1 which can be upgraded with an X5 camera for getting professional level shots. Yes, the Inspire 1 is twice as much money as the Typhoon, but professional cinematographers will spend the same kind of money on a camera lens and not think twice about it if it’s getting the shots they want.
The cablecam functionality is nice, but you don’t need a 360° gimbal to get the same effect. There are multiple applications that you can download for DJI drones which will allow you to yaw the aircraft instead of the gimbal to achieve very similar results. Before writing this comparison, I tried some of these applications and they actually provide all of the functionality of cablecam and more. You can even mimic the tilt and laser pointer features of the Typhoon Wizard (not that I would ever use features like that for getting cinematic shots).
So what do I think? I think the Typhoon H is great! Did I mention it has six rotors and a 360° gimbal? It’s great! I love the idea behind it, I like the design for the most part and it’s the closest that a drone has ever gotten to replacing my Phantom. That’s the only problem with it. It just doesn’t meet the high standards that DJI keeps raising. When I look back at my experience with using the Typhoon H and I compare it to the Phantom 4, it just feels less polished. It’s almost like Yuneec focused more on features that they knew the general public would consider great without taking the time to really understand what features are necessary to create great shots and improve the user experience.
DJI didn’t get their great drone and app over night. It took 4 years of iteration for the Phantom to be where it is today. Every year the Phantom drones “and the DJI app” have a completely new design. If Yuneec can redesign their user interface, remove the fisheye lens, give me a log color profile and increase the control range, they just might have me sold, but until then I’ll stick to the Phantom 4.
Small Disclaimer: this post is an opinionated article written based on my experience with both drones. It was not purposely written in favor of any drone or company. If you already own the Typhoon H or the Phantom, leave a comment. Let us know how you use it and what features you use the most.