The sleek rounded curves and crisp white body of the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ would fit in alongside a piece of modernist furniture. And of all the units we tested, the Phantom was the only one that was simultaneously powerful and easy to control. It has built-in GPS that stabilizes the unit against strong winds, something that made a big difference when we were flying it near the beach. Indoors it couldn’t link up with satellites to find its position, but was responsive and stable enough that I managed several indoor flights in tight quarters with only one small crash.
There is a wide range of DJI Phantom 2s available, from the $1,299 Vision 2+, which comes with its own camera, to the $679 Phantom 2, which is probably the best choice if you already have a GoPro handy to attach. Right in the middle is the Phantom 2 Vision, which costs $999 and has a built in camera, but a less flexible attachment.
The rotors and battery both snap into place without a struggle or additional tools. The image quality on the built-in camera was a little worse than what you would get with a GoPro, but the gimbal — basically a self-pivoting support — that comes with the Phantom is a big help in capturing steady footage from the air. You can clip your smartphone to the controller and use that to view the footage you’re capturing live. The battery lasted between 10-15 minutes and takes an hour to charge, so if you’re taking a day trip, it’s best to pack a spare.
The professionals on The Verge’s video team have used this unit to take some incredible footage at high speeds and altitudes, so the fact that I could make it work as a beginner speaks to the Phantom’s amazing range of capability. Learning to fly the Phantom will take a little more work than some of the smaller, cheaper drones on this list, but once you do, it delivers flight performance and video that no other unit can match out of the box.