Those of you who know me are aware of my obsession with phones and tablets. I cycle phones at a dizzying rate that both frustrates and amazes my wife. It’s true that we may have reached ‘peak smartphone’ and true innovations aren’t as regular as they once were, yet I still can’t help but be fascinated and excited every time a company announces a new device. My interest has only grown as mobile phones have become a critical component of my role as a drone pilot.
So what is the best mobile phone for drone pilots?
Preorders for the iPhone 11 Pro started today and hordes of people are lining up (online at least) for the honor of being one of the very first to get their hands on the new device. Overall, I wasn’t that impressed with the announcement but there was one thing that caught my eye and made me think this might be the perfect device for drone pilots.
What Makes the iPhone 11 Pro Special?
Anyone who has flown in direct sunlight can attest to the fact that most screens become washed out and hard to see when the sun is at its peak. Screen hoods are helpful but don’t always do the trick.
This is what has driven the popularity of devices like DJI’s CryatalSky screens that offer 1,000-2,000 nits of brightness depending on the model. (For comparison, the latest iPad Mini 5 boasts just 500 nits of brightness.) This provides unparalleled visibility when flying in bright sunlight and allows pilots to compose/expose their shots, even on the brightest of days.
However, all that performance comes at a cost ($800-$1,150 depending on the model) and not everyone can throw down that kind of change on a device that is only meant for flying drones. That is partly what makes the new iPhone so appealing.
The display on the iPhone 11 Pro offers something that no iPhone has offered before; a peak brightness of 1,200 nits (with HDR content) and a sustained 800 nits (with regular content.) This suggests that the iPhone 11 Pro may provide the best (or at very least brightest) experience for flying your drone.
What If I’m an Android User?
Right now you might be saying, “Well, I hate Apple so I couldn’t care less how bright their screens are!” Don’t worry friend, as a fellow Android user, I wouldn’t dare leave you out in the cold. The good news is, while this is the first time Apple has made a screen this bright, some Android OEM’s have come really close with OLED screens and even surpassed them with LCD screens.
Both the LG G7 ThinQ and the Samsung S10 Plus have amazing screens with the former offering a Boost Mode of 1000 nits and the latter offering a peak brightness of 800-1200 nits. The S10 also boasts a super low screen reflectivity which helps further minimize glare. While these are both great choices, I would certainly recommend the G7 for the budget-conscious pilot as it can be picked up for less than half the cost of a new S10 Plus.
More Than Brightness
Of course, screen brightness isn’t the only factor in choosing a device; you want to make sure it can handle the processing load put on it by modern drone software. Apps like DJI Go4, DJI Pilot, and Litchi put a heavy load on the processors (and GPUs) with video streaming and flight controls so it is important to ensure your device can handle it without lagging, glitching, or overheating. (It is not uncommon for iPads to shut off due to heat when flying in the Texas summer.)
What About Tablets?
While the S10 Plus has a whopping 6.4″ display, you might want some extra screen real estate to work with while flying. Tablets aren’t generally as bright as phones but are a great option for anyone who absolutely needs a larger display. In addition to providing more space while flying, tablets can also be used to edit photos/video in the field with software like Adobe Premiere Rush, Lightroom, iMovie, or Snapseed.
The list of ‘DJI Approved’ devices shows compatibility with iPad, iPad Air, iPad Pro, and iPad Mini 4 (and later).
It does not, however, show official support for any Android tablets.
That being said, just because it might not be recommended or fully supported doesn’t mean it won’t work. I have personally used DJI Go 4 on the Samsung Tab 8 as well as the (now retired) Nividia Shield K1 Tablet. In addition, there are plenty of reports from other pilots indicating that it works on other Android tablets as well.
Still, the iPad seems to be the go-to tablet for drone pilots. Partly because DJI’s apps seem optimized for iOS/iPadOS and partly because Android tablets, in general, don’t have the market penetration iPads do.
The larger iPad Pro does provide a lot of space but doesn’t always fit well in the controller brackets and in some cases requires a whole separate adapter to fit. The iPad Mini (2019) on the other hand provides a 7.9″ screen with enough processing power to handle whatever you throw at it for less than half of the cost of the iPad Pro.
The size, power, and price of the iPad mini provide a good middle ground for most pilots looking for an all-around tablet/flying device.
What is the Best Mobile Device?
From the perspective of an Android devotee, I don’t know if the new iPhone is worth the asking price, even with its amazingly bright screen. I think I would be more likely to throw down on a new S10 Plus or just purchase the less expensive G7 ThinQ as a drone-only device. It’s just about cheap enough to grab on, leave it in the drone case, and use tethering (or wifi) whenever I need to load maps.
Still, if you’ve got the money and are an Apple fan, the brightness of the iPhone 11 Pro (and Pro Max) is a huge step up from previous models and may just make it the best phone for drone pilots. We will be doing a full comparison once the iPhone 11 begins shipping later this month.
In the meantime, we want to hear from you! Let us know what kind of device you’re using to fly in the comments below.