GoPro Karma looking beyond the hype

Yesterday GoPro launched their long awaited GoPro quadcopter drone, called the Karma.

Karma in back pack

In the UK, Karma is launched on the 23rd October with a retail price for the drone alone of £719.99, with a Hero 5 Black included it will be £999.99, this price is relatively competitive especially considering GoPro include a hand held stabiliser attachment and a back pack. With DJI due to release their DJI Mavic on the 27th September it’s possible DJI will try to undercut the Karma’s price. It’s unclear if the both drones are really comparable as Karma is more like a smaller 3DR Solo than a racing drone.

The Karma borrows a lot from 3DR’s Solo, this is probably no surprise as Pablo Lema the Senior Director of Aerial Products at GoPro was previously employed by 3DR, GoPro also aquired Jason Short as a Design Architect from 3DR, Jason was heavily involved in 3DR’s Solo and even responsible for some of the coding of its smart shots.

GoPro have clearly learned a few lessons from 3DR’s Solo launch, the first being waiting until the complete product including the gimbal was ready for market before having their PR push.

Karma Controller

The simple controller design, the simple flight concept of auto take off and land and the smart shots are all similar to the Solo. However, the first release of Karma’s software is clearly simpler and less flexible than Solo or some other drones, even lacking the narcissist’s favourite shot which is follow me. Whilst the Karma lacks sense and avoid, this needn’t necessarily prevent follow me being added.

The Karma’s controller has a GPS and it has been stated that the Karma can return to the controller, with this in mind follow me would be an easy update to add at a later date, you would imagine Karma will also get multipoint cable cam in time, the videos at launch suggest for now it has only point A to point B.

The software at launch has one limitation that has a lot of users concerned to the point they’re not willing to consider buying the Karma and that is the fact is has No Fly Zones (NFZs) and they cannot be overriden, at least not yet. This means false positives will keep people grounded in many locations and it also means professional pilots with a permission to fly in locations such as near airports will be unable to fly. Few manufacturers have a good approach to dealing with NFZs with only 3DR having them as information only.

From a build quality viewpoint it remains to be seen if the folding arms will weaken over time.

The Karma’s specifications can be read here, albeit there’s still a lot of technical information missing such as the GPS module used.

Karma Grip

The Karma is backwards compatible with the Hero 4 which will help with sales as existing GoPro owners can purchase the Karma without having to upgrade to the Hero 5, however, the fact the Hero 5 has digital image stabilisation will be reason enough for some people to consider an upgrade of their Hero camera too. The Karma can take off from an uneven surface so it can take off from and land on a boat but don’t get it wet, although the Hero 5 cameras are waterproof it’s worth noting that the Karma drone itself is not, this shouldn’t really be a surprise as waterproofing a drone is no easy task.

GoPro has a good reputation for customer support but it’ll be interesting to see if it can maintain that reputation with the Karma, whilst there is an extended warranty called GoPro Care and GoPro are stocking Karma parts, the question that really needs answering is will GoPro replace Karmas for free that are crashed due to software bugs? A question posted on the Karma’s support pages suggests GoPro will replace Karmas that are crashed due to bugs which bodes well for GoPro’s approach to customer service.

Competition in the market place is good, so we’re hopeful that the Karma delivers, that the software evolves and that GoPro can become a viable competitor to DJI.

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