GoPro announced its entry into the drone market with Karma alongside its new flagship action camera the Hero 5, at its 2016 launch event. Karma has been the subject of rumours for months, but details have finally been revealed and it's pretty damn cool.
We spent some time flying GoPro's new drone and we have to say, we are pretty taken with it based on our first impressions. Here's why.
GoPro Karma preview: Design
GoPro's Karma has been designed with simplicity and portability at its core. It has a black and dark grey colour scheme with a small and subtle GoPro logo on the top of its main body next to the power button and as far as drones go, it's well, good looking.
Four arms extend from the main body of Karma, each of which has a 10-inch propeller on top. These have been positioned to ensure they aren't within the camera's view. The front two arms have green lights underneath, while the rear two arms have red lights, enabling you to see which way is forward when it comes to controlling it - something that actually comes in very handy.
On the underside of the main body are four legs to keep the Karma steady along with a battery that slides out, charged via USB Type-C. The Karma logo is situated on the rear, while the front has a circular hole, allowing for the attachment of the camera and stabilisation mount. This is easily detachable with a twist and lock system, enabling you to then attach it to the grip for using on the ground. The Karma is compatible with Hero 4 and Hero 5 action cameras but neither are included.
The Karma drone measures 303 x 411 x 117mm when it is opened, but it folds up to 365.2 x 224.3 x 89.9mm in order to fit into the special backpack, which is where the portability comes in. The included backpack has the Karma drone itself, along with the clamshell remote, charging equipment, the stabilising mount and the grip, all of which fit perfectly into their designated spots.
GoPro claims the backpack has been designed to allow you to take Karma with you anywhere, on any activity, not noticing too much that you have it, and it has probably succeeded here. The backpack offers a nice design and although it's not super light, it's not heavy either. The Karma itself weighs a tiny bit over 1kg, while the remote is 625g so you're probably looking at a little over 2kg altogether for everything you need to get Karma in the air.
GoPro Karma preview: Remote
The clamshell remote for Karma is one of our favourite things about the drone because it is so simple to use. Open the clam and you'll see a built-in 5-inch touchscreen that enables you to see what the Karma can see.
The resolution is 720p and it has a peak brightness of 700nits. We tested the Karma in very sunny conditions at the top of a mountain and we had no issues seeing the display at all.
Under the screen there are two joysticks for controlling the Karma. The left is for altitude, of which the maximum is 4500-metres, while the right is for steering. Push the left joystick up and the Karma goes higher, push it down and it drops lower.
The same applies for steering, push the right joystick left and the drone moves left, push it up and the drone moves forward, push right and it moves right, while pushing down moves it backwards. You get the drift. It's very simple and very easy to use, almost like playing an old skool racing game.
Just below in the centre of the joysticks is the power button. To get Karma to take off, you need to press and hold the power button for 3 seconds, and then tap take off on the screen so it won't be taking off by accident. Landing is a piece of cake too, with one button needing a tap, situated below the power button.
On the outside of the clam are two final buttons. These are situated where your right index finger naturally sits when holding the remote. The first button, closest to the middle of the remote is to start or stop recording, while the second button is for switching modes.
GoPro Karma preview: Features
The GoPro Karma has a few features up its sleeve, though it does miss off a couple, such as Follow Me. Automatic modes include Dronie, which results in zoom selfies and Cable cam, which makes Karma move from one pre-defined point to another.
It also has something called Reveal, which makes the Karma pan until the subject is in the shot, while Orbit will mean Karma continually circles around the subject. You can of course just control Karma freely too, which is what we did.
If the battery starts to run low, the Karma will give you three warnings. It will start returning to you on the second, unless you choose to override it, while the third sees Karma starting to descend and land. The Karma will know if the remote has moved however, so if you're filming on a moving boat for example, it will know not to land where it took off as that's likely to be water, which wouldn't be ideal.
GoPro Karma preview: Performance
As we mentioned, we tested the GoPro Karma on the top of a mountain, which by all accounts was very windy. We aren't talking mess-your-hair-up wind, we are talking tables-almost-blowing-over wind and the Karma and its maximum wind resistance of 22mph handled itself well.
Despite us being blown all over the place, the Karma appeared to be oblivious to the gusts. The footage from our test flight demonstrated just how good the image stabilisation is, with the only evidence of the wind being the howling audio rather than a shaky video. It really is quite impressive.
Controlling the Karma was unbelievably simple to the point where if you had never flown a drone before, you probably wouldn't have any issues piloting this one. For some, it might be too simple, but we loved it. The joysticks were great, offering great traction, and from our experience, there was very little lag between us moving our thumbs and the Karma moving in the direction we commanded.
It's worth noting that the Karma has a maximum distance of 1000-metres and a maximum speed of 35mph.
We are big fans of the GoPro Karma drone. Yes, it misses a couple of features off its spec sheet, but the foldable design is great, the usability is great and the footage we obtained during our test flight was great, especially in the conditions.
Simplicity and portability are at the Karma's core and these two features are what makes this drone so much fun. There's hardly anything to figure out. Instead, it's simply a case of unfolding Karma from its very cute backpack and getting it in the sky, in what is literally a matter of minutes.
We'd liked to have seen a longer flight time than a maximum of 20 minutes and it would have been nice to see auto-follow functionality, but based on our first impressions, there is a lot to love about Karma and we can't wait to review it in full.
GoPro's Karma will be available from 23 October, costing £720 / $799.