In this article, I’m going to share with you how the Autel Evo flies. In addition to myself, I had two friends of mine with little or no drone flying experience test fly the drone and asked them to answer a few basic questions about their experience. But first a quick note on Autel Customer Service. In setting up the drone and getting it ready to fly, I discovered I needed to do a firmware update. When I did the update, it failed and so I called Autel tech support and got to talk to a person right away. (BTW, I didn’t tell them I was doing a review of the product.) They proceeded to walk me through the process and remained on the line until the drone and remote were fully updated. Really great customer service. Next, I calibrated the gimbal and found it took much longer than my DJI Inspire 2 did. And now it was ready to fly. So here are the flying experiences of my friends Shawn, AJ, and myself.
Shawn Freeman’s flying experience
What is your drone flying experience? This was my first time flying a drone. I watched two of the videos from Autel on the Evo about the remote controller and basic flying the previous week and found them helpful, but felt a little overwhelmed with all the options on the remote controller.
What was it like to set up the drone and get it ready to fly? Due to my lack of experience, I need some assistance in getting the drone ready to fly. I found the controller itself to be pretty easy to understand and the video was helpful here. Be sure that you hold the power on button long enough for the remote to power on or it will look like it is powering on and then shut off.
What was it like to fly the drone? The drone was easy to fly and I felt pretty comfortable with it. I was able to take the drone off manually and found that quite easy. At the end of the flight, the battery got low and gave me a warning and started to land. It ended up landing safely in the grass, but not on the launchpad. The control sticks seem a little sensitive and caused me to over control the drone a little bit. After a little while, I was able to compensate for that and felt more comfortable flying it.
Overall – Having no experience in flying a drone, I had a lot of fun, and after a short period of time felt really comfortable.
AJ Donich’s flying experience
What is your drone flying experience? Before flying the Autel, my only drone flying experience was playing around with a (<$100.00) toy drone a handful of times over a few days. It was a gift I got for my 10-year-old niece. It weighed about as much as a paper airplane. It was virtually impossible to control for more than like 30 seconds without crashing and its battery life was maybe 5 minutes.
What was it like to set up the drone and get it ready to fly? Setting up the Autel was straightforward and uneventful. I quickly noticed the obvious labels describing what order to unfold the rotor arms. The controller handles unfolded just as easily. Turning on both the controller and drone was as simple as firing up a cellphone (push and hold a button for a few seconds). There wasn’t much more to it than that. Self-explanatory for the most part.
What was it like to fly the drone? Compared with my previous (toy) drone flying experience, the Autel was amazingly precise, stable and responsive. Though I did have an experienced drone pilot with me describing the flight controls, the dual joystick format was intuitively obvious and the drone felt very controllable to me. I practiced a few flight exercises, flying a square, an oval, a circle while holding nose toward the center, etc.
Though these were eminently doable, I did notice the drone required some fine finger dexterity to operate it at slower speeds in tightly controlled manners. At one point, I thought the drone might be losing altitude slightly when flying turns in reverse, but this was subtle and could have been pilot-error due to some imprecision in my joystick operation.
Overall – I didn’t have much time to experiment with the Autel’s camera or explore how well I could shoot quality video footage with it. It felt more like a little racing machine to me than one specializing in cinematographic control. As such it was more satisfying for me to fly it around within close eyeshot than at longer distances and trying to use primarily the controller’s camera display, which was pretty small and kind of difficult to see well on the bright sunny afternoon (granted I was just using the built-in controller display and not an external phone/tablet). Overall though, I found the Autel a lot of fun to fly. Though its play control sort of made me want to fly it at high speeds with tight maneuvers, kind of like a sports car with a tight suspension, I must also say it was incredibly controllable and stable in the air relative to my previous, albeit limited, drone flying experience, and I would feel totally comfortable flying the Autel even in tight indoor spaces.
My flying experience
Overall I found the drone to be easy to fly. While I did find the remote control joysticks to be a little too sensitive and would have liked to have an exponential setting, like on the DJI drones, to soften the sensitivity, I quickly grew accustomed to the controls. Starting the motors was a simple pull back diagonally with both sticks and then the automatic takeoff and landing worked well. Doing this manually was equally easy. In hovering, it maintained its position well. In forward flight, I found that it controlled well and as I progressed into more complex maneuvers like flying circles with the nose point in or out throughout the entire circle, that it responded well.
The return to home feature worked well both when I triggered it manually and when I let the battery automatically trigger it. Although I did find the precision landing feature that is supposed to land and take off in the same spot, to not be very accurate.
I found the accent rate under full throttle to be quick and the descent rate was equally as good. When I pushed the right stick all the way forward it reached full speed quickly. What I did find though was that in higher speed turns, that I would tend to lose a little bit of altitude or height and need to push the left stick forward to compensate for that. I flew in both the standard mode with speeds up to 22 mph and sensor active and in the high-speed mode with speeds up to 44 mph. The Evo has both front and back obstacle avoidance sensors, but only the front sensors will stop the drone and note that sensors are active up to 22 mph. In high-speed mode (up to 44 mph) the sensors are not active. I found the battery life to be good and got about 25 minutes out of a fully charged battery.
The other interesting thing is that I can fly and control many aspects of the Evo drone with just the remote and no smartphone or tablet because of the nice OLED display on the remote. One limitation is that you can’t use the autonomous flight modes (like DJI intelligent flight modes) with just the remote. With a smartphone or tablet, the Evo supports autonomous flight modes like Dynamic Tracking, Viewpoint, Orbit, VR first person and Waypoint mission planning.
One thing that I did really like was their implementation of what they call the Radar Map. This does a much better job in showing obstacles and distance from them than my experience with DJI Go 4 app. I was able to turn off the beeping sound and used it as a guide for how close it was to things when I was shooting videos. I found it very useful.
No DJI No-fly zone issues :)
One thing I did like was not having to deal with the DJI no-fly zone issue. The Autel Evo doesn’t enforce a No-Fly Zone in their systems. As a result, when I got to the location that I had previously obtained approval to fly (As a Part 107 pilot I use the LAANC system for this), I didn’t have to jump through any hoops like I sometimes do with DJI to fly. I find the DJI system frustrating and have had it conflict with my FAA authorizations on commercial projects, but that an article for another day.
The Autel Evo is definitely a drone to consider if you are shopping for drones.
What I liked
- It flys well
- It has good support
- It has autonomous flight modes
- Video at 4k 60fps
- No No-fly zones to deal with
- Good battery life
- A unique look that’s easy to see in the sky
Enhancements I’d like to see
- More sophisticated autonomous flights modes (like follow me that can go up and down hills)
- Maintaining constant altitude on higher speed turns
- Ability to set exponential on the control sticks to make the drone easier to control