We often hear the question: DJI’s Phantom 3, or 3D Robotics’s Solo? Two very capable UAVs of the same size and roughly the same price.

The Solo has better design and is better built; but, for now, the Phantom has the best camera. The Solo’s stuck with a GoPro camera – at this time, it’s the only option for this UAV that doesn’t require a hack. The Solo would surely benefit from improvements to the GoPro; but, unfortunately, that’s out of the hands of 3DR.

Advantage Phantom for the payload – the camera. But what about flight and navigation; how do these small UAVs compare?

Flying in visual line of sight, both perform well. Note that the radio range of the Solo is 800 m while the Phantom is 2 km. Also, for indoor flight, the Phantom benefits from an optical flow sensor for more stability.

The Solo has a sizeable asset, though: its “Pixhawk2” flight controller, backed by a no flyaway warranty from 3DR. This PX4 descendant is an open source platform of high performance. It boasts superior capabilities in processing power and memory– a must for automated missions with waypoints.

With the Solo, UAV operators who have programming skills can customize many aspects of the aircraft’s flight, like with Dronecode.

The customizable nature of the Pixhawk2 – the brain of the Solo – opens possibilities. These include making changes in navigation behaviour, adding sensors, and generating real-time data analysis through computer vision. Here’s an example from a recent hackathon in California on DIY Drones.

Can the small Solo make the most of its amazing flight controller? Those who don’t program and who are satisfied with a GoPro should find the Solo’s flight experience exceptional; but they’ll have to rely on others in the open source comunity to unleash its full potential through updates and software additions.

Unrelated to this Solo vs Phantom comparison – the big question for advanced users: will the Pixhawk2 (or whatever it will be named) be made available separately for integration in custom UAVs? Around the time the Solo was launched eight months ago, a rumour hinted that 3D Robotics would make the Pixhawk2 available by 2016. Chris Anderson, CEO of 3DR, confirmed recently that such a plan is in the works.

In the end, if you are looking for a « ready-to-fly » drone and you like what you see in the Phantom, your choice is made. However, if you want a superior flying platform with growth potential, and you enjoy opening the hood, the Solo is worth a close look.

Solo au solPhantom 3 au sol

Solo air Phantom 3 air

Solo controller, transmitter, TX

3DR’s SOLO controller

Phantom 3 Tx

DJI’s Phantom 3 controller


Photo credits: DJI, 3DR & MW Technology