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Autel Robotics Evo II Review

Introduction

Released in the summer of 2020, Autel’s EVO II is the latest powerhouse drone to build on the success of the original EVO released two years prior. With this release, they’ve taken steps to improve the range in virtually every regard. And now, it comes to market with a high-end specification set ready to create a new benchmark in the industry, far beyond traditions.

The EVO II is a series of drones and a modular camera system with three distinct models to cover various use cases. The standard model, however, is far from standard. Instead, it becomes the first consumer drone boasting 8K 24 FPS video. Yet, it also does so with the longest battery life rating in the entire class.

But, their original model, while power on paper, looked epic; it wasn’t without its issues. It lacked in-air stability, finesse, and the software was a bit lackluster. So has Autel refined the platform this go-round? It seems to place heavy emphasis on specifications, yet again. But how does it stack up in the real world? And how will it compete with DJI’s Mavic Air 2, much less their higher-end 2 Pro? Let’s find out.

“8K video goes airborne.”

What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Autel Robotics Evo II?

Pros:

Build Quality & Design

All three models in this lineup leverage the same body design, where the differences lie in their camera payloads. But, they use a new foldable design that’s slightly larger than the previous model. And a design bearing a solid resemblance to DJI’s Mavic 2 Pro. But at 1150 g (2.5 lbs), it’s quite a bit larger and doesn’t quite fit into the palm of your hand. Granted, its larger wingspan does help when it comes to air stability. It also has quite a bit taller stance since Autel’s added legs on all four arms. And this addition gives the drone a useful 22 mm ground clearance, making it easier to take off on uneven surfaces without a helipad. So comparatively, it doesn’t have the same ultra low profile design as the Mavic series. But, it’s a design change that works to its benefit.

 

Autel’s also refined the battery locking mechanism this go-round. And this new model now uses the Battlock System to prevent accidental ejections during flight. This re-design is also far easier to remove and replace than its predecessor, which required substantial force to remove. And the battery also includes LEDs to display their present charge.

Overall, Autel has notably refined the design over the original model. It still sports the bold orange finish. But, now it’s a new matte finish, rather than the shiny plastic. But, it’s a welcomed return. And this color becomes a key separator amongst rivals, as it makes the drone highly visible and easily identifiable in the sky. Interestingly, the materials used also feel noticeably more premium and in line with its price point. So overall, the build quality and design here are improved. And they’re good for the premium segment.

Autel’s includes 8 GBs of onboard storage as a backup if you run out of space on the MicroSD card. And you can access the media stored on it via the drone’s USB-C port. Otherwise, the drone has a MicroSD slot that houses cards up to 256 GBs.

Camera Quality

It features a 1/2-inch stacked 48MP Quad Bayer CMOS sensor, a similar configuration as the Mavic Air 2. However, unlike the Mavic, this configuration lets the camera produce 8K 24 FPS video, making it the first consumer drone with this feature. But, it also shoots 6K 30 FPS, 4K 60 FPS, and 2.7K and 1080p 120 FPS video. Autel’s also bumps the maximum data rate from 100 Mbps to 120 Mbps. Plus, it shoots both the standard H.264 and newer H.265 (HEVC) codecs to either the MOV or MP4 formats. Otherwise though, it has a 25.6mm equivalent lens with a 79º field of view and an f/1.8 aperture.

Compared to DJI here, this configuration bests their lineup with better frame rates and superior resolution. Only the Air 2 offers 4K 60 FPS video. But here, you get that and 120 FPS at 2.7K. Plus, this drone also features 10-bit color, available in A-LOG. Here, you get a flat natural gamma with better dynamic range for color grading. And it does so without any lens distortion issues of the Mavic.

Taken together, this camera produces higher quality footage with more details, fewer artifacts, and superior latitude for post-processing. And this configuration best both the Mavic 2 Pro and the Air 2, both topping out at 4K resolution by contrast. Shooting in 8K provides unrivaled flexibility in punching in, cropping, or scaling images in post-processing. And you can also pull high-quality still images from the footage with four times the detail of 4K UHD.

Yet, despite the resolution increase, it still manages to outperform rivals in higher ISOs. And it delivers a one-stop improvement before the footage in 4K becomes unusable. So now you can capture usable footage at ISO 800 rather than 400. As such, it’s currently unmatched in both detail and flexibility to the competition here.

Note: You will need a powerful enough computer to edit 8K footage seamlessly. Otherwise, you’ll have to edit using low-resolution proxy files or battle the choppiness during editing. So if you’re in this position, consider recording in 4K alone, as it still provides unmatched detail amongst other drones.
Note: 4K 60 FPS experiences a mild crop.
Note: You can also swap the included camera by removing it from its gimbal.

It has HDR video, which captures 16 exposures into a single frame to improve the dynamic range. And this effect is subtle and not exaggerated like rivals.

On the photography front, the camera also captures both JPEG and RAW images at the full 48MP resolution. And this becomes a key selling point over rivals that, instead, do so as a separate shooting option. It also offers Auto Exposure Bracketing to create 48MP HDR images using the Automatic mode. Togher you can print pictures 100 inches wide with this drone with ease. And overall, the images it produces are impressive. Images have ample detail and fine details. And they also have a subtle but distinct HDR effect, which is a nice bonus.

It features an 8x digital zoom, where 4x is lossless.

It has a time-lapse, which captures both JPEG and RAW images. And there’s also a Hyperlapse Mode that captures time-lapse videos with movement.

It has Long Exposure, which maxes out at 8 seconds.

It has zebras for overexposure warnings.

Battery Life

It features an enormous 7,100 mAh LiPo 3S battery, which Autel rates for 40 minutes of flight time under ideal conditions. But, realistically, expect 35 minutes under most conditions. Even so, its battery life is excellent. And comparatively, most rivals offer only 30 minutes of flight time. So this extra 5-10minutes becomes a key selling point, particularly when mapping sites or conducting SAR missions. Or it lets filmmakers stay in the air that much longer to capture critical moments. However, with such a large capacity, expect the charging time to be quite long. Autel estimates 110 minutes for a full recharge, which is on the longer side.

Remote Controller

It obtains the same controller as its predecessor without any notable changes. And this controller is one of few on the market with an integrated 3.3-inch OLED screen that gives you a full-color display that goes above merely showing essential functions in a calculator-style font. Instead, you can see a more detailed live view and as well as flight information or instrument data. As such, it lets you capture footage or photos on the fly without attaching a smartphone, albeit with limited features.

This also becomes another key selling feature over DJI, as you can’t fly their products without attaching a smartphone or purchasing the ludicrously expensive Smart Controller. Even so, most of the time you’ll end up connecting your phone to unlock the drone’s full capabilities and get a bigger display. But, this built-in display does save valuable time for quick jobs nonetheless. And it solves an interesting problem.

The controller itself uses a 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi band to transmit a 1080p 30 FPS signal to the pilot. And it’s rated for a transmission range of 5.6 mi (9 KM). It features the classic flair of functions, ranging from control sticks to gimbal pitch. And the stick themselves provides good working resistance to maneuver the drone as needed. The controller is quite light though with fold-out arms and a simple top-mounted phone grip. But given the size of the smartphone mount, it’s unlikely most users will have to remove their cases, which is a nice bonus. Overall, for recreational and new commercial pilots, this remote will be sufficient.

Flight Performance 

You’ll fly this drone using the Autel Explorer App, available for both Android and iOS. The Explorer app is well designed for the most part. On the bottom, you’ll see a host of key functions to adjust the camera’s resolution, frame rate, shooting mode, file type, and more. And fine-tuned settings are accessible in the lower right. The app also shows the exact degree of the gimbal’s tilt, which is handy. Otherwise, it displays the standard information such as battery life, latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates, and a map. And it leverages Google Maps to provide more helpful details about the surrounding areas.

In the air, the drone is quite nimble but does feel a bit on the heavy side. In many ways, it feels like you’re flying an airbus. You’ll immediately feel its robustness and durability. And in this regard, it’s not as agile as the Mavic, especially when taking off and maneuvering. Even so, with the Ludicrous Mode, it can achieve speeds up to 45 MPH (20 m/s). And it moves fairly quickly and efficiently then. Its motors also support Force 8 winds, ranging from 39-45 MPH, a pretty impressive feat. Yet, it’s modestly quieter mid-flight than its rivals. So overall, Autel’s improved flight dynamics and performance markedly over the original model. And it’s now far more responsive and stable, particularly in high winds.

Extra Features 

It features 12 omnidirectional visual sensors, covering nearly the entire drone from the front, back, top, bottom, and sides. It also combines its primary camera, ultrasound, IMUs, and AI machine learning, giving it real-time 3D mapping and flight planning. The result is nearly 360º object recognition and full-time avoidance. But the drone does have four blind spots on its corners. So take caution flying diagonally, as the obstacle avoidance won’t be active there. Compared to rivals, though, it has far greater sensing capabilities that are genuinely useful and also accessible in all of the automated modes. As such, pilots should feel safe flying in tricky environments or tracking subjects using computerized methods. And the aircraft is generally swift at navigating itself around the environment.

Note: this feature doesn’t work in the Ludicrous Mode.

It features two bottom-mounted ultrasonic sensors for precision hovering. And it also has two downward-facing LED lights to help land in the dark or to identify the aircraft.

It features eight Intelligent Flight Modes, letting it perform various flight maneuvers automatically. In this case, it offers Dynamic Track 2.0, Tripod, Parallel, Viewpoint, Orbit, and Smart Orbit. Here’s also Precision Flight and Dual Stability, both smoothing its movements for more precise flights to capture cinematic footage. Dynamic Track uses object detection to track moving subjects like objects, humans, or animals. Tripod hovers the drone while the camera follows. Parallel follows in line, Viewpoint moves it towards a location, and Orbit moves it around a fixed point or the object. You can also adjust the altitude in any of these autonomous modes.

Plus, it can identify up to 64 objects within the frame, model their location and speed to predict their trajectory accordingly. So overall, these modes are excellent. They’re all responsive to nudges from the control sticks, and they track even while remaining at the set altitude then change as needed. And this becomes a key selling point over rivals, who will likely crash into hills or objects instead.

It has Gesture Control, letting you control the drone remotely with your hands. Stretching out your arms establishes the target. Raising both captures a photo or raising one starts/stops recordings. After which, the drone flashes its lights, giving you a moment to strike a pose.

It features Voice Control, letting you control various commands like takeoff or recording through voice. The supported commands are somewhat limited, though, and they don’t support changing camera settings.

The drone lacks Geofencing, which is undoubtedly something long-term pilots will appreciate. Geofencing is a feature that prevents the drone from flying in restricted airspace. It’s usually a helpful safety feature. But, it creates a major inconvenience if you’ve already secured permission to fly somewhere, like a busy commercial space. And in those cases, the drone won’t take off with geofencing. So it’s great to see that removed here.

It features 3D Modeling and Mapping support, letting the drone turn images into high-resolution 2D maps or 3D models. You can do this using the mission planning option including in the app. And the drone automatically captures overlapping photos to create the final render in-camera.

Note: not all major mapping software applications support the images from this drone. So you’ll likely have to use the Autel Explorer application alone.

It features the optional Autel Live Desk, which lets drone operators display the real-time video feed from the drone to a computer or monitor setup. It’s a paid-for accessory, but it’s a great addition for public safety, education, or commercial applications to stream the video live. And it becomes one of the only drones with this option to date.

Cons:

Build & Design 

The bottom propellers don’t fold neatly. Instead, they stick out slightly when folded, making the drone wider than necessary and challenging to transport or store. So you’ll always want to keep it upright and flat to avoid damaging the propellers.

The power switch turns on the drone with a single press. And this design, while convenient, will cause accidental turn-ons during transport. Not ideal if you only have a single battery, as it’ll reduce battery life.

Autel also doesn’t include a set of spare propellers with purchase. So you’ll have to purchase these second-hand as a paid-for replacement. Very Strange.

The obstacle avoidance sensors are pretty sensitive, which is generally a good thing when you’re flying in urban settings. But, outside of these areas, it will slow down the drone. It can recognize objects about 30 ft away. And if it does, it’ll slow, disrupting the flight experience. So in most cases, it’s too sensitive and is best turned off.

Image Capabilities 

Hyperlapse lacks a total video length indication, so you’ll have to manually keep track of the recording time. And the drone doesn’t automatically stitch the capture photos together like rivals. Instead, you’ll have to do this separately.

Controller

The Explorer app lacks many flight control and dynamic adjustments. You can only adjust the Rotational EXP settings and the Gimbal Pitch Speed. So you don’t have much flexibility to tailor the flying experience to taste here. Comparatively, DJI offers throttle, rotation, vertical movement, and pitch smoothness. And it’s a night and day difference in this regard.

Considering this is a second-generation release, the RC controller needs an update. The controller isn’t the most ergonomic, given it has two rather awkward fold-out handles made of slick plastic. And it’s especially difficult to grip if you have sweaty palms. It’s also frustrating to see Autel not include a more elegant routing solution to connect the mobile device. There’s only a single USB Type-A port on the bottom of the RC. And that port doesn’t have a cubby to nest away the cable. Instead, connecting any cable will dangle off to the side rather awkwardly. Plus, they don’t even include other connectors in the box besides a single USB-C, which means you’ll have to source your own if you don’t have a USB-C equipped phone. So strange.

We don’t understand the logic here.  Another thing of note, the rear A and B buttons are placed directly in the grip. And this position makes them easy to press accidentally. And if you do, you’ll activate unwanted features. This happens at least once per flight, slowing the workflow. Overall, the remote lacks build, design and is a downgrade to this otherwise premium product.

The remote controller also lacks a USB-C port, which is strange considering the aircraft has this type of connection. And it also lacks a dedicated switch to change flight modes, so you can quickly switch to the Ludicrous model when needed.

The gimbal pitch wheel on the control doesn’t provide much range of motion. So you have to be especially careful moving the wheel, as not to max out the pitch, ruining the shot.

Flying Experience

The drone tends to veer while doing push-in shots. And it does so sporadically, which usually ruins the shot. Plus, it also changes its speed, despite giving it full throttle, causing it to bob slightly, which too ruins the shot. So overall, it’s unreliable for one-off subjects where you only get one opportunity to film, and that’s it.

It does offer the same reliability in its transmission range as its competitors. And it tends to get disconnected at far lower altitudes and distances, even within the line of sight, when flying in urban environments.

Lacking Features

It lacks the Dronie and Rocket intelligent flight modes, two of the most popular options amongst casual pilots. But, more importantly, it tends to lose signal when using the intelligent flight modes.

It lacks built-in panorama, which is an overlook considering this is a drone oriented towards professionals. Even more, since they aim this drone towards survey missions and mapping.

Is this a good beginner drone?

No.

At its current price, it’s far too expensive and offers features that are mostly unnecessary for beginners. Consider the DJI Mavic Mini 2 instead.

Is this a good drone for you?

Yes.

It’s a capable alternative, albeit an expensive one, to DJI’s Mavic 2 Pro. And it packs several features not available on that product. But, you will pay a premium for the 8K video. So if you don’t plan on outputting to this resolution, you may want to explore other options.

But, in the end, Autel’s EVO II is arguably the top drone around for professional videographers and the top option for the money. It comfortably outpaces the aging Mavic 2 Pro off its flagship pedestal and jumps forward as the more capable aircraft. It offers superior image quality, more longevity, and better obstacle sensing. And these features add up in the real world. But, it’s quite a premium drone and not one without its flaws. That’s for sure. Even so, it sets a new benchmark in the industry and will likely be the go-to choice for many.

Overview
  • Design & Build
  • Camera Quality
  • Battery Performance
  • Flight Performance
  • Value
4

Summary

Autel’s EVO II is not without its flaws. But as a package, it pushes the industry forward and is quite a powerful platform for professionals.

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