Review: The Autel EVO II is a solid drone and an alternative to DJI
Autel Robotics announced its long-awaited EVO II series drone at CES 2020 in January, promising vast improvements over the original EVO model launched back in 2018. Its most notable feature is a modular camera system, offering three models that cover a range of features that meet different users' needs, from consumers to professionals.
The camera on the standard EVO II uses a 1/2" 48MP Quad Bayer sensor and is the first consumer drone to offer 8K video. The EVO II Pro uses a larger 1"-type 20MP sensor that gives 6K recording, and the EVO II Dual features both an optical and a thermal camera in a single unit and also maxes out at 6K recording. The modular system allows users to switch cameras if needed on a single drone.
Key specifications (not including camera)
- 3-axis gimbal
- Support for H.264 and H.265 codecs at 120 Mbps
- HDR video at up to 4K resolution
- 10-bit A-Log gamma
- 40-minute battery life (35 minutes hovering)
- 12 computer vision sensors for omnidirectional obstacle avoidance
- Controller with built-in color screen
- 9km video transmission
- No geofencing
- Online login not required to fly
These shared specifications suggest a capable drone. The lack of geofencing will certainly appeal to some, and the 40-minute flight time is impressive. However, there are key differences between models depending on which camera you intend to use.
|EVO II||EVO II Pro||EVO II Dual|
|Sensor size||1/2" CMOS||1"-type CMOS||
1/2" CMOS (optical)
FLIR BOSON sensor (thermal)*
|Sensor resolution||48MP Quad Bayer||20MP||
640 x 512 (thermal)
|Max photo resolution||48MP||20MP||20MP|
|Max video resolution||8K/25p, 6K/30p, 4K/60p||6K/30p, 4K/60p, HD/120p||6K/30p, 4K/60p, HD/120p|
|Lens||26mm equiv. (F1.8 fixed)||29mm equiv. (F2.8-11)||29mm equiv. (F2.8-11)|
|Zoom||8x (up to 4x lossless)||8x (up to 3x lossless)||8x (up to 3x lossless)|
|Takeoff weight||1150g (2.5 lbs.)||1191g (2.6 lbs.)||1150g (2.5 lbs.)|
*FLIR sensor size not specified
When buying an EVO II, you can choose the model with the camera that best fits your needs. If you want to switch cameras at some point, you can do it without buying a whole new drone.
The EVO II was released in June following several delays, beginning with a software bug and supply chain shortages. Has the company ironed out the glitches that delayed its launch for a few months? And, how does it compare to similar models from DJI? We'll explore both questions in this review.
We tested the standard EVO II, thanks to our friends at Drone-Works. Chicago-based professional Antoine Tissier lent us his EVO II Pro model for some additional tests. We did not test the EVO II Dual.
Aircraft and controller
The EVO II bears a strong resemblance to DJI's folding Mavic series of drones, though its body is substantially larger, and it doesn't quite fit in your palm. One thing that's a bit perplexing is that the bottom propellers don't fold neatly under. They jut out slightly, making it more difficult to carry the drone in-hand.
The EVO II features a total of 12 computer vision sensors located on the front, rear, top, bottom, left, and right side of the aircraft for omnidirectional obstacle avoidance. There are also two ultrasonic sensors located on the bottom of the drone for precision hovering.
The Owner's Manual points out that there are blind spots on all 4 corners of the drone. When I flew the EVO II in diagonal directions, I noticed that obstacle avoidance didn't activate at times. You should always fly your drone within visual line of sight, regardless.
|The bottom of the Autel EVO II aircraft is equipped with 2 Ultrasonic sensors (closest to the camera) followed by the Downward Vision System (in the middle and back) and the Downward Vision Lighting LED (middle-right).|
Autel claims a 40-minute battery life while flying and 35 minutes when hovering without wind. I found this figure extremely accurate. For comparison, the Mavic Air 2 clocks in at 34 minutes while the Mavic 2 Pro tops out around 30 minutes. That extra 6–10 minutes of battery life will matter if you're performing an inspection or mapping a site.
The battery is huge at 7,100 mAH and slides in and out easily. According to Autel, a 'patented Battlock system' prevents the battery from ejecting during fast flights or crashes.
8GB of onboard storage is available if you're without a memory card or as back up if you run out of space while capturing imagery. Media stored on the drone can be accessed through a USB-C port located on the right-hand side. On the opposite side is a microSD slot that can house a card up to 256GB.
Controls and flight modes
The EVO II is powered by the same type of remote as the original EVO, which is disappointing for several reasons. Because you're using it to maneuver your drone, the remote should be ergonomically friendly. Unfortunately, that's not the case with this particular design. Two rather awkward handles fold out from the bottom that are made of slick plastic. While I didn't fly in hot weather, I couldn't help but wonder how challenging it might be to hold on to the remote should my palms sweat.
Your mobile device clamps in on top of the remote, and you don't need to remove your smartphone case. Much like the original EVO or competing Mavic models, tablets will not fit. The main part of the controller features a built-in 3.3–inch OLED display.
|The controller's 3.3–inch built-in OLED display gives you critical flight information.|
It's possible to operate the EVO II using the remote controller on its own. This works for taking photographs or video clips on the fly. However, Autel recommends using its Explorer app on a smartphone to access all of the drone's features.
Unlike recent Mavic controllers, there isn't a simple routing solution for connecting your mobile device if you're using Apple's iPhone. Instead, a USB Type-A port can be found at the bottom of the remote. This means you need to supply your own connecting cable, much like the DJI Phantom 4 models of 2016. For all other smartphones, a USB Type-C connector is included.
Another issue stems from two buttons labeled 'A' and 'B' on the remote's backside. They're way too easy to accidentally press while flying and activating, for example, the Voice Assistant or an Intelligent Flight mode. It's possible to program the buttons to perform different functions, but you're likely to activate a feature unintentionally at least once per flight, and it's distracting at best.
|Poorly placed buttons on the backside of the remote make it much too easy to activate features like Autel's Voice Assistant accidentally.|
I can't help but wonder why Autel didn't take a cue from DJI, who made it incredibly simple to switch flight modes by featuring them front–and–center on their Mavic Air 2 remote. For example, to activate 'Ludicrous' mode, the equivalent of Autel's Sport mode, which allows the drone to travel at its top speed of almost 45 mph, you need to go into the app's settings menu to switch over.
The sticks on the remote are easy to maneuver with just the right amount of resistance. When powering on, you'll have to press down on the drone battery button for three or more seconds before it powers up or down, a bit different for DJI users accustomed to a quick tap followed by a two-second hold.
Odds and ends
Drone-Works sent me the EVO II 'Rugged Bundle,' which includes a hard case designed specifically for this product by GPC. It also has two extra sets of propellers and an additional flight battery. The case is rather large for what is fundamentally a compact drone and will be a hassle, especially with airport security, once air travel becomes commonplace again.
|On the right is a Mavic 2 case I purchased for myself. Though the drone isn't too much smaller than the EVO II, the case that comes with the 'Rugged Bundle' is overwhelmingly large for a foldable drone.|
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