Drone is a newish term for a very old concept: a remote-controlled aircraft. My kids had remote-controlled toy helicopters when they were 5, but nobody called them drones.
Drones are remote-controlled vehicles that are much smarter than the toys we’re used to. There are military drones, which can spy or even fight for us. And hobbyist drones, which require assembly and every-single-weekend dedication.
Now there are consumer drones, which you can fly the day you buy. For $300, you can get the first popular flying drone, the Parrot AR.Drone. You fly it using your phone as a remote control. The AR.Drone is smart enough to land and take off by itself, to hover in one place when you take your hands off the controls, and even to stop flying away from you if it goes out of range from your phone. It takes pictures and videos, and it’s a lot of fun.
But for $1,300, you can buy something that’s far more useful — and genuinely mind-blowing. Meet the Phantom 2 Vision+.
It’s made by DJI, the 800-pound gorilla of the consumer-drone industry. The “Vision” refers to the built-in camera, which takes pictures and captures hi-def video in flight. And the “+” refers to the camera’s three-axis gimbal (like a universal joint), a new feature that keeps your footage incredibly smooth and stable, no matter what the drone itself is doing.
(You can buy the same drone without a camera for $700. That model is called just the the Phantom 2. You can put your own GoPro on it. Or you can buy it with a nonpivoting camera for $1,000: the Phantom 2 Vision.)