Autel Robotics may not be the first company you think of in terms of drones, but if they are not near the top of your list, you’re missing out. Autel drones are built with a passion for putting cameras into the sky in a number of efficient and functional ways, Autel drones are few, but versatile and powerful.
Best of all, Autel robotics build drones that easily span the distance between hobby flyer and commercial professional drone. Modular cameras, multiple remotes and more make Autel drones functional for many users, now let’s see if there is a drone in there for you, this is our brief Autel Robotics drones guide.
2021 update: Autel Robotics has been building drones for the U.S. government, but we’ve not heard of any important news for the consumer market.
Autel Robotics drones
Many of our readers will be happy to know that Autel Robotics operates out of Washington State. They are, technically, a Chinese company, as they are owned by Autel Intelligent Technology in China. This parent company makes automotive diagnostic tools. Your contact with Autel Robotics will be in the U.S., but your actual drone will be manufactured in China.
It’s up to you to determine if this makes Autel Robotics drones locally made or not. One thing is certain, however, buying one of their flying machines keeps an American employed. This is, perhaps, the only consumer drone brand that can say this, whether it matters to you or not.
The Autel Robotics EVO was an exciting drone at launch, delivering what most would consider to be the best competition to the DJI Mavic series at the time. A decent 4K camera, folding design, good flight time, and solid connectivity.
What we like
- Effective design
- Good camera
- HDMI receiver
What we don’t like
- Pricier than similar competition
Autel Robotics Evo
The Autel Robotics Evo is a solid competitor to the popular DJI Mavic Pro. Evo offers better video recording and different transmission support, both are great drones.
The Evo II series includes three versions of the same airframe, the difference predominantly being different camera capabilities. Record in up to 8K video resolution and 48MP stills. That said, the Sony sensor in use is the same as on some higher-end smartphones at the time, which used pixel-binning to output just 12MP and 4K resolutions. Pixel-binning creates better images, but 8K video is nothing to ignore.
What we like
- Up to 8K video
- Familiar airframe for Evo pilots
- Great flight time
What we don’t like
- Not the most efficient use of that camera sensor
Autel Robotics Evo II
- Early 8K camera
- Capable folding drone
8K camera on a compact, folding drone
2020 marks a new era for drones, the Autel Robotics Evo II (Evo 2) series offers 6K and 8K cameras, and 40 minutes of flight time from a folding drone.
Evo Lite and Evo Lite+
Launched at the very end of 2021, the Evo Lite and Evo Lite+ are respectable updates to the Evo line. New camera sensors offer the best of modern mobile photography, and Autel Robotics reconfigured the entire flight experience to better compete in the consumer market.
The Evo Lite camera is only a simple iterative update from the Evo II, but the Evo lite+ gets it right. A full 1-inch sensor captures 20MP stills and up to 6K video.
More important to us, the Evo Lite line is well equipped for obstacle avoidance, and has a vastly improved connection.
What we like
- Great 6K camera
- Great low-light capture
- Great flight time
What we don’t like
- No display in the remote
- Suffers when GPS-denied
Autel Robotics Evo Lite
- Great flight time
- Great camera
- Up to 6K video
The Evo Lite+ is a solid flying night camera.
The Autel Robotics Evo Lite and Evo Lite+ are a welcome addition to the compact, folding camera drone market. Superb flight time, great cameras, great flight range, and a fun set of flight features should keep most pilots happy. Enjoy up to 6K video from the sky.
Evo Nano and Evo Nano+
Announced alongside the Evo Lite in late 2021, the Evo Nano and Evo Nano+ are the more compact of the group. In fact, the Evo Nano weighs in at just under 250g, which means you can skip registration and some other restrictive drone laws.
Both the Evo Nano and Evo Nano+ both offer 4K video capture at up to 30fps. The Nano offers a 48MP 1/2-inch camera sensor that bins to 12MP photos, and the Nano+ uses a 50MP 1/1.28-inch sensor that bins to 12.5MP photos. Larger sensor pixels, RYYB configuration, and different lenses make the Nano+ the better camera drone.
Like the Evo Lite series, the Nano series also enjoys upgraded flight features and techniques. Good flight range is paired with good battery life, making for a compelling ultra-portable drone package.
What we like
- Ultra portable compact drone
- Good camera for the size
- Good flight features
Autel Robotics Evo Nano
- Sub-250g weight
- RYYB camera pixels for better colors and low light
The Evo Nano and Evo Nano+ are Autel Robotics’ answer to the need for sub-250g drones. Packing a 50MP camera into a pocketable airframe.
Considering that Autel Robotics promotes as having just two drones on the market today, we’re going to be generous and say there are three. More if you count drones not for sale in stores.
As mentioned, Autel drones best support commercial and professional operations, we speak of things like crop and pipeline inspection, mostly. Their VTOL and fixed wing craft travel at high speeds to cover ground. The quadcopters can be equipped with numerous cameras to fly for fun or for detailed and close up inspection of towers, bridges and more.
VTOL and fixed wing
I’m sure you’re familiar with this already, but just in case, VTOL stands for Vertical Take-Off and Landing. Logic says that all quadcopters are VTOL craft, but the acronym applies generally to fixed wing type craft that have vertical take-off capability. Basically, we’re talking about airplanes that can hover.
When we met up with Autel Robotics at CES 2017 they had two prominent pieces in their booth, both VTOL craft, one of which being the Kestrel. It’s possible I took more photos of the machines for my own use than anything. These large, fixed wing craft with huge camera domes up front captured my attention, to say the least.
Kestrel is the larger of the two, and at the time, the only of the two ready to actually fly.
Kestrel combines more than a few concepts into one, creating a craft that, to my mind, can do it all. Propellers are mounted on each airplane-style wing, one up front, one out the back on small ‘engine’ mounds. These propellers articulate, able to shoot straight up for vertical take-off like a drone, then they turn forward and back to propel the craft horizontally.
The unique thing here is that the propellers are not always running. In particular, the rear propellers stop turning and fold backward, or upward, depending on how you look at it. Minimizing air drag and reducing battery consumption to get you upwards of two hours of flight time. The nose cone is modular, allowing you to affix different camera modules and more. The professional looking dome camera articulates for the best view, particularly handy when you’re zipping by at up to eighty miles per hour. Rather, you should expect to operate at around 43 mph for best efficiency.
The wings are large enough and the craft balanced like a glider. So, like a glider, you can completely power down the propellers and soar the skies somewhat indefinitely.
I wanted to tell you that none of this was too good to be true. I wanted to point you toward a reasonably priced purchasing option. Sadly, I must inform you that the Autel Robotics Kestrel is currently not to be found for sale through any normal retail channels. Contact them to see what they can do for you, but make sure you’ve got at least $5000 ready to get started.
After the novel that is the Kestrel above, I will keep this short. At CES 2017, Autel Robotics had a prototype fixed wing VTOL craft on display. The absolute easiest way to describe it is as a smaller Kestrel. Two leading propellers at the tips of the wings are matched by a rear propeller on the body near the tail and a front propeller right at the nose, over top of the hanging camera gimbal.
The concept is roughly the same, the wing mounted propellers articulate to provide upward or forward thrust. The camera is interchangeable and more. Truth is, we’ve not heard anything further in terms of this drone making it past prototype stage, you know we’re interested, but we have nothing to add at this time.
If the Autel Robotics DragonFish does make it to market, expect a smaller price than the Kestrel. We’re thinking you could take to the sky for less than $2000 before camera.
Starting their adventures in 2014, the X-Star was Autel Robotics’ first retail offering. They’ve iterated the quadcopter a few times, all while maintaining the iconic ‘drone’ design familiar to the DJI Phantom line and more.
Today, you can pickup a WiFi version of the Autel drone. The X-Star offers a 12 MP camera, up to 25 minutes of flight and about half of a mile of effective range. It can fly further, but WiFi connectivity is pretty choppy in most parts of the world, I like to play it safe.
Stabilized 4K video from a 3-axis gimbal is all controlled by the dedicated remote control. Attach your smartphone or tablet to enjoy 720p FPV video stream.
Autel Robotics is out of stock with their listed price of $499, but you can hop over to Amazon with a few remaining buying options starting at about $1,699 for the Autel Robotics X-Star WiFi. (Currently unavailable.)
Admitting this is an iterative update in the line, we are confident in saying that the X-Star Premium is far more capable than the previous drones from Autel Robotics. This is a sturdy drone with a superb controller, modular cameras and more.
The accessories available for the X-Star Premium add to the experience, particularly that nice backpack and the optional remote control with built-in display. Actually, that’s all fun and games compared to the folding joysticks on the optional remote. Keeping things small and protecting them from damage, smart work!
In many ways the X-Star Premium spec sheet reads the same as the cheaper WiFi version, but not when it comes to the cameras. The default camera is the same, at least as far as the spec sheet goes, but the Premium is best to handle the other cameras available. FLIR Duo and FLIR Duo R cameras offer infrared imaging, there are zoom lenses and more.
Most of the camera options cost more than the drone, which is actually my initial point about Autel drones: for a reasonable price you can enjoy a solid and functional hobby drone, then spend a little more to get high-performance cameras and put your drone to work. Hobby pilot or commercial inspection professionals can be the same person.
Check out the Autel Robotics X-Star Premium from $725 on Amazon today. This is one vendor, most have been selling for $1050+ these days. (Currently unavailable.)
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Autel Robotics an American drone company?
No. Autel Robotics has a major facility in the United States, but the brand originates from the same neighborhood as DJI, in China.
Why is the Autel Robotics Evo II series the only drones with 6K and 8K video recording?
The Evo II series of drones are solid considerations for your dollar. What you need to know about the cameras on them is that they house the same sensor as the DJI Mavic Air 2, and many high-end smartphones. Gimbals, lenses, software and other factors have a significant impact on the quality of the final images, and the EVO II cameras are fairly substantial on top of that sensor. We cannot yet judge the quality of Autel’s output, but we will say that DJI and most phones with the same camera sensor have limited their image capture to 12MP and video to 4K. All of these machines are capable of capturing 48MP images and 8K video, but Autel Robotics has chosen to enable 8K video, instead of pixel-binning to ensuring the best possible image quality.