DJI Inspire 1

Tech Radar

While many consumer-level drones are aimed at people who want to take long-range selfies or eye-catching Instagram photos of notable landmarks, DJI's range of UVA devices takes things a little more seriously. These are drones created for professional users who want crisp 4K aerial video footage and pin-sharp photos, and they come with price tags which befit this status.

The Inspire 1 may be getting on a bit now – it was first released in 2014 – but it's arguably one of the most powerful and capable drones money can buy, offering an astonishing amount of control, a robust build and the ability to upgrade certain elements such as the camera, battery and propellers.

Price and availability

As we've mentioned, like the company's other drones the DJI Inspire 1 doesn't come cheap. Having said that, the price has fallen since it was launched a few years back, and you can now purchase it direct from the manufacturer for £1,849.00 (US$1,999, AU$3,399.00).

That's certainly a long way from being in impulse purchase territory, but this is one of the best drones money can buy – it just happens to take a lot of money. Outside of DJI's own store, you'll find that the Inspire 1 is available from multiple specialist retailers worldwide.

Design

The DJI Inspire 1 is a truly fearsome-looking drone, even if you're accustomed to using these kind of devices. A fusion of metal, carbon fiber and plastic, it looks like some kind of robotic killing machine when it's in full flight; it even has moving arms which rise when it's in the air in order to give the camera a completely unhindered view of the world.

In marked contrast to some of the pocket-sized UVAs we're seeing hit the market at the moment, the Inspire 1 boasts beastily proportions – DJI has even produced a massive flight case for transportation and storage. It goes without saying that you shouldn't expect to pop this one in your rucksack before heading out on a hike.

The Inspire 1 has four quick-release blades which clip onto each arm; this process has to be repeated each and every time you fly the drone, as it can't be stowed away with the blades in place – it even has to be placed in a special 'transport mode' before it can be stowed in its case.

The same goes for the camera, which is mounted on a gimbal for movement during flight. On the back of the unit is the battery, which has to be unclipped and removed from the main body for charging.

Build and handling

The overall build quality of the DJI Inspire 1 is incredibly robust – so robust in fact that we wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of a collision with this particular drone, especially when it's travelling on around 49 mph, which DJI claims it's capable of when there's minimal wind resistance.

During our testing we were very impressed with the overall speed of the Inspire 1 – it's certainly one of the fastest drones we've flown, thanks to its powerful brushless motors. It's also quick to stop and turn – flying this drone is a very enjoyable experience indeed.

The Inspire 1 is controlled using the bundled remote, which boasts a twin-stick configuration as well as various inputs to control elements such as camera angle, video recording and return-to-home functionality. The remote connects to your phone or tablet via a wired connection, using the device's display to present the drone's view of the world.

Unlike many other drones on the market, the video stream suffered minimal drop-outs due to signal problems, thanks to the powerful antenna on the top of the remote and DJI's Lightbridge HD video downlink technology. If you're feeling particularly adventurous (and flush with cash) you can even connect a second person to the drone with another remote, and have them control the camera independently.

Performance

Once the DJI Inspire 1 is airborne it's hard not to be thoroughly impressed by its capabilities. Not only is it easy to control, incredibly stable and surprisingly nippy, it comes with a wide range of features, settings and options, all of which are accessible via the DJI GO application, which is available on iOS and Android.

This app can be quite intimidating at first, purely down to the sheer amount of options it presents; taking some time to learn the ropes is definitely recommended before embarking on your maiden flight, and DJI has thoughtfully included a beginner's mode to help ease you in. This creates a virtual safety net which prevents the drone from flying too far, giving you the chance to get comfortable with its controls before venturing further.

The Inspire 1's GPS lock is amazingly precise, and even when left to hover for a prolonged period of time it doesn't drift like many other drones do. Perhaps the most important function to acquaint yourself with is 'Return to Home', which really does put your mind at rest when you've got a piece of tech that costs a considerable amount of cash soaring high in the air.

Should the connection between the remote be broken, or the battery run dangerously low on juice, the Inspire 1 will automatically return to its take-off point, which should prevent it from getting lost when flying over long distances.

The Inspire 1's powerful motors, cutting-edge CPU and 4K video recording naturally call for a lot of juice, and the drone comes with a meaty 5700mAh battery. This is rated for around 20 minutes of flight time, although your  mileage will vary depending on the flying conditions, and what kind of activities you're partaking in.

Video capture

In case you were in any doubt about which end of the market the DJI Inspire 1 is aimed at, it can shoot video at a pin-sharp 4K. Video recording is excellent; footage is rich with detail, and the intelligent design means the motion of the drone itself – which can become quite aggressive at times, especially when moving at speed – doesn't impact the stability of the video.

Lower resolutions are also available, and still photos look fantastic too. During flight it's possible to change elements such as the white balance, ISO and exposure – things that industry professionals are almost certain going to want to do, as even when set to automatic mode the Inspire 1 sometimes doesn't pick the best settings for every situation.

Recorded videos can be downloaded directly to your smartphone in 720p resolution for easy editing and sharing, but the raw video files and photos are stored on a microSD card that's housed in the removable camera. The review unit we had came with a 16GB card, which fills up pretty quickly when shooting lots of 4K video; thankfully, it's possible to upgrade to a higher capacity card for not much cash.

We liked

The DJI Inspire 1 is, in many respects, an almost perfect drone. It handles superbly, is armed with a host of genuinely useful options and features and – perhaps most importantly of all – is capable of capturing professional-quality videos and photos.

Its modular nature means elements like the propellers, camera and battery can be replaced and upgraded, prolonging the lifespan of the unit, while the use of removable memory for storage means you're never limited when it comes to how much you want to record or photograph. To top it all off, the Inspire 1 is bundled with an excellent remote which makes controlling the drone a breeze.

We disliked

While it's certainly not the worst we've ever seen, the battery life of the DJI Inspire 1 could be better – if you're serious about flying one of these things then you'll almost certainly need to keep a spare with you. The sheer size and astronomical cost are also potential stumbling blocks – this drone is aimed squarely at those working in the film and photography industries, and is going to be out of reach of many consumers.

And if you're a complete newcomer to the concept of drones then this isn't a wise choice, even if you can afford it – inexperienced users could do some serious damage with this device due to its top speed, size and weight.

Verdict

If you're looking for a drone which has great range, excellent stability and a raft of features and options, the DJI Inspire 1 is a solid choice – assuming you can afford the entry cost. With a price tag in the thousands rather than the hundreds, this isn't going to be within everyone's budget, but that doesn't alter the fact that it's one of the best drones on the market right now.

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