Thank you to CRPAA Founding Member David Tolsky for offering his review of the Autel Robotics EVO.  Look for more reviews and articles from David! – Eric Pensenstadler, Founder CRPAA

Autel Robotics EVO Drone Review by CRPAA Ambassador David Tolsky. Photo by David Tolsky

I have a new favorite take-along drone and its name is EVO.

When I learned that I would have an opportunity to review the much talked about new drone from Autel Robotics I got a little excited…okay, very excited. I learned much about the company over the years at trade shows like CES, NAB and Commercial UAV Expo. I never bought Autel Robotics’ first drone the X Star Premium, although I had my eye on it and followed the reviews. Autel has an excellent reputation for customer service and with the new EVO drone I intended to test it out.

Let’s get into it!

Right out of the box you notice that for a drone that’s basically the size of the Mavic, it’s got some heft to it. Nice build quality, it’s solidly put together. The front props fold out from the rear, and rear props fold out from the front, similar to another drone you might be familiar with.  When the arms are fully extended, the front props are elevated a full two inches over the rear ones. I don’t know if this helps in the aerodynamics of flight, I never spoke to Autel about that, but I did notice that even in some strong wind gusts, the aircraft does a good job of fighting for stability.

Before I dove into the Autel Explorer app to learn about the options, I took the EVO out for an initial spin just to get a feel for flying it. It doesn’t take much to get this bird in the air quickly. Pop a battery on, turn on the aircraft and the controller, get connected and take off! You are in the air in a few seconds if your phone isn’t desired at the time. If you want to use your phone, just add a few more seconds to hook up your cable, open the Autel Explorer app and away you go! More on the phone option later.

This aircraft handles like a dream! For stick responsiveness it’s the best I’ve tested so far and that includes most DJI drones. I personally prefer “tighter” sticks that make me work a little bit to maneuver the drone and that’s the feel that I get when flying the EVO. It’s like switching your car from auto to manual and noticing a better feel for the road. On my initial flight with EVO I was doing figure 8’s, twists, ovals, etc. manually with ease.

Leave your phone in your pocket for now. The controller is equipped with an OLED screen built in. You may opt to use this screen to display the pertinent information you need at your fingertips, relying on VLOS to guide your flight.  A simple right side button located next to the right dial will kick your screen into FPV, showing your camera’s image. Granted it’s a small screen but the image on this OLED is crystal clear! Experiment with the digital zoom feature, which is nice to have. I don’t know if you’ll have the need to go all the way up to 8x but the first three or four zoom sizes are quite nice and crisp.                   

Autel Robotics’ EVO can be used with a phone or without. Photo by David Tolsky

The home screen in the controller gives you a nice graphic layout of all the information you need at your fingertips. A bar graph on either side toward the bottom shows you current battery life for both aircraft (left) and controller (right). In the middle of that you can see how much flying time you have left on the aircraft battery in a countdown that is nice and big and easy to spot. Above that you’ll get the status of your GPS signal, micro SD card, still/video mode, vision system, and controller range signal bars. At the top, you can monitor height of your ascending, distance of your flight, speed of your flight, and the degree of pitch angle of the gimbal. It’s a well thought out control panel and very easy to read. The physical buttons below the screen are for take off/land (keep this pressed and view a progressive bar before taking off or landing) power on/off, pause, and RTH. If there is one caveat I have with this controller, for some reason Autel chose to put their USB and micro USB ports in the front instead of the rear. I’m not crazy about the USB being in front as I tend to rest the controller against my gut after a while to keep it stable and that can cause the cable to bend and short after a while. I do hope that Autel re-thinks this for the next version and locates it in the rear.

Now switch back to the camera live view and you get this terrifically clear image with pertinent info at the top including flight time left, controller battery life left, flight distance and speed. At the bottom are camera settings such as manual or auto exposure, ISO setting, shutter speed, EV, and main settings button. I won’t go through every main settings menu item here but trust me, items are easy to scroll through to set you up with exactly what you need. There are so many options here including 4k at 60fps! It even gives you both JPEG, RAW, and a combination of both. To scroll through camera settings on your display, use the right dial on the controller turning left or right and press it in to lock onto a choice. Now you can dial again while watching your screen image to the desired setting.

Now hook up your phone to the device holder, open the Autel Explorer app and your controller screen reverts back to that nice graphic display while your smartphone carries your live view. The current device holder will not carry a device larger than your cellphone.

Image taken with the Autel Robotics EVO. Photo by David Tolsky

So what can this bird do? Switch out of Standard speed and choose “Ludicrous” speed, taking into account you must turn off obstacle avoidance.  EVO lowers its nose and takes off like a racehorse blasting through the gates! Obtaining speeds in the vicinity of 42-45 mph give or take, EVO’s props get a little louder and you know these rotors are working much harder. It’s fun to take EVO out to an open area, (in my case a dried up wash between the main road and a local park) and let ‘er rip! She gets distance so fast that you quickly get concerned about VLOS and have to remember to slow her down before you lose her!

EVO has a good starting variety of autonomous smart shots to experiment with. These features can only be accessed through the Autel Explorer app so you must be using your device with the controller. Dynamic Track will allow you to choose a subject in your screen and draw a box around it with your finger. If the subject moves, EVO will stay focused and move along with it, keeping the subject centered for the most part. Dynamic Track comes in three varieties; Follow, Tripod and Parallel. They’re all basically variations of the same function, save for the aircraft moving in different ways. Orbit mode allows you to center on a subject, set your radius distance, and then fly autonomous revolutions around said subject. At this time there is no variable speed setting for this mode and the orbit does cruise around at a good clip. Viewpoint is another mode wherein you tap an area on your live image, hit the Start tab, and EVO will journey to that point showing a graphic to highlight its path. Waypoints are just that, set a mission to different areas you want to cover, hit the A tab at the bottom right of the controller to set each stopping point, (the B tab on the bottom left will delete a waypoint), hit the start tab on the screen, and EVO will retrace all the steps you just set. Currently, Android devices also enjoy a VR mode for Google Cardboard where you will be able see your FPV in VR if you insert your phone into  Google Cardboard or similar VR glasses. iOS users will not be left out however, as this feature is coming to iPhone soon!

Summary

I gave EVO every opportunity to fail during these autonomous test flights, including the Ludicrous mode, and the aircraft performed flawlessly in each mode.

What I like about this drone far outweighs the few items I’d like to see improved in future models or firmware updates. Remember what they say about dedicated photographers, that they never go anywhere without their cameras? That’s how I feel about EVO, mostly because if I see something that I have to stop and capture, EVO can be flying in a matter of seconds. In it’s compact shoulder bag, EVO is the type of drone that should be in your car every day in case you need it.

Autel Robotics’ EVO sitting on an orange Hoodman launch pad.
Photo by David Tolsky

Finally, did you know you can make EVO disappear? You simply need a Hoodman launch pad!  Talk about camouflage!

EVO: $999 list price, 12mp stills, Max Frame Rates: 4K/60, 2.7K/60, 1080p/120, 720p/240 Max Field of View 94*, Up to 128g micro SD (Thank you Autel for letting us remove the SD card from the aircraft for upload!) Flight time: Up to 30 minutes*

What I like: The feel of the controller sticks, easy to see graphic display, fly in seconds, autonomous programs work great!, compact size, Autel’s customer service.

What I’d love to see in future models/fw updates: 1” sensor/20 mp stills, move the USB port to the back of the controller, variable speed orbits

*your flight time may very just slightly

David Tolsky is a CRPAA Founding Member and Ambassador.  He is a member of ICG Local 600 as a camera operator and a regular writer for camera and drone magazines.

Cover photo by Mark O’Borsky