Skydio 2 first impressions: An improved experience all the way around

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In October, Skydio announced its second autonomous drone, the Skydio 2. The Skydio 2 is priced at $999 and now works with a controller so you can manually fly the drone that uses artificial intelligence to not only avoid but navigate through dense areas to follow a subject. 

The company's Skydio R1 was completely autonomous, following your phone and had a limited range. The Skydio 2 improves on the R1 in nearly every aspect, and it's priced at $999. 

Starting Tuesday, early reservation holders for the Skydio 2 will begin to receive emails letting them know their drone is ready which will allow you to complete your order. Skydio will begin shipping some of the early reservations on Tuesday, as well. 

I've been testing for the Skydio 2 for the past week, but the weather hasn't cooperated with me to fully test how I'd like. So for now, here are some early impressions of the Skydio 2. In short, this is an amazing drone that's incredibly smart and capable. 

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Using the app to fly is a forgivable experience

Unlike the Skydio R1 which flew solely by following the location of the phone it was connected to, users can control and fly the Skydio 2 via the app, a dedicated controller, or a beacon. 

I've spent some time flying with the app, and even though I find having to tap on a screen and move joysticks that you can't physically feel under your fingers less than ideal when flying a drone, Skydio's ability to avoid obstacles provides a level of confidence thanks to how forgiving it is. 

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In fact, I was able to fly across my relatively crowded patio, through the various support beams using my iPhone without any issues. The Skydio 2 went where I wanted it to, even if it had to detour to avoid a couple of things. 

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But using the controller is better

That said, I much prefer flying with the Controller. It's an extra $149, but it adds a couple of key features that I found useful. It extends the range of the Skydio 2 from 200 meters with just a phone, to 3.5 kilometers. That's a massive increase. The controller also has a dedicated Boost button that you can hold in to fly the Skyido 2 at its max speed of 36 mph. 

The controller works with Android and iOS devices and comes with a holder to place your phone in so you can see the camera's feed while flying. 

There's also a dedicated button to take a photo, and paddles to adjust the camera angle or zoom in and out on a subject. 

The Controller isn't a requirement, as the phone app does a fine job, but for someone who wants a little more control and added features -- it's worth it. 

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Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Object avoidance is really impressive

I'd consider myself a novice when it comes to flying a drone. I'm uneasy about the controls and take a very cautious approach to flying in general. 

As I touched on about flying the Skydio 2 with the phone app, the Skydio 2 uses six cameras to see its surroundings and avoid objects. You only need to select a person or vehicle for the drone to follow, and it'll do the rest. 

My kids were eager to help test the Skydio 2 and volunteered to run around some trees at a nearby park to see what would happen. Keep in mind I'm not flying the Skydio 2 here -- I simply told it who to follow, and it's avoiding the trees and branches on its own. I have about 20 minutes of footage, including some of me manually flying around the trees, and the Skydio 2 avoided every obstacle I could throw at it. 

I need more time (and better weather)

During my time with the Skydio 2, the weather has been either too cold to fly, or the wind has been well over the 25mph limit. At one point, we had two days straight of wind over 60mph. Throw in a couple of days of snow and bitter cold, and, well, flying just wasn't possible. 

In the few short flights I've taken, however, I've been thoroughly impressed with how much less I think about how to approach flying a drone in general. The Skydio 2 is designed primarily for thrill-seekers like those who mountain bike down mountains, but for someone like me who wants to be able to fly and capture some photos and videos, without constantly having to worry about what I'm about to run into, the Skydio 2 makes a lot of sense. 

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