Should you buy a drone from DJI?

It's safe to say that the best selling camera drones around come from DJI.  They are very popular and when they work well are easy to fly and produce excellent footage.

The real challenge is the rest of the time, such as when you have a problem.  In fairness, DJI has achieved significant improvements since the first Phantom.  That was mostly a flying crash waiting to happen.  The current Phantom 4 is a superb flight experience with good control capability and a decent enough telemetry app called DJI GO.

I have some decent experience with their consumer and prosumer products having flown all the models and taught drone safety classes using all of the models other than the Inspire 1.  I dread a problem that gets beyond my relatively deep knowledge of the product.  I get called upon fairly regularly to help retailers and users with their DJI products.  Most of the time this can be done by deciphering the owner's manual, or helping the client through a firmware update.  However if it comes to the point where I need to reach out to DJI for support, I have reached the conclusion that I, and anyone else in this position, is screwed.  

DJI forums are filled with screeds against DJI support.  I will not repeat any here.  Any vendor could end up displeasing a customer, without intent.  The sheer volume is troubling to me but I try to be balanced and reasonable.

I was recently asked by a friend to try to resolve issues with an Inspire 1.  The aircraft is on older firmware, but cannot see the gimbal and camera when they are attached.  The aircraft can connect to the controller but cannot be removed from travel mode.  One of the two batteries, new in the fall of 2015 is completely dead and is not rechargeable.  The controller is on an older version of firmware but the DJI Go app offers no ability to update the firmware, seeing this older version as correct, even though there have been at least two versions since the release on the controller.  On each start, the controller indicates it needs a full calibration, but one cannot be completed.  Ever.

Thus far I am into a multi-day email exchange with DJI support.  They are not quick but appear willing to help.  I understand that they must follow a prescriptive plan but it is enormously frustrating when it becomes obvious that your message is either not being understood and clarification not requested, or as it appears more likely, not read at all.  I finally gave up today as I post this article.  DJI wanted a video of the thing not working.  A video of something doing nothing struck me as rather silly since there is nothing for them to see other than an idle Inspire 1 and controller.  I packed the thing up and returned it to my associate.  I have no idea what he is going to do with it, but to me, it is a multi-thousand dollar doorstop and based on my experience I cannot recommend these products.

I was also called by a friend at a local retailer who had a customer come back with a Phantom 4 that he claimed was DOA.  Since most all retailers mark these devices as final sale, there was no return.  David acted as my eyes and hands and following a prescriptive process, was able to get the customer's device to a flyable state in a few hours.  Given the minimal margin on these things, that retailer lost money on that sale.

As I finish this article, I got a call from another owner, one that I provided teaching to so he could be successful.  He loves his Phantom 4, but yesterday he got a notice that it needed a firmware update.  He followed the instructions and it is now a brick.  He's now got to drive it in to me so I can try to bring it back to life.  He's already concluded that DJI documentation and support would need to improve a lot to attain the level of sucks.

Resellers will sell DJI over other products because they can ride on DJI's marketing engine.  They make a serious mistake however by not understanding that DJI Customer Service is widely seen to be lousy, and my personal experiences over the last four years do not convey a different story.  The selling organization will wear the crap being hurled because their vendor does a poor job of standing behind the product.  Are other vendors better?  I really don't know.  

All the documentation and support should be better.  For the cost of these devices, the level of customer disregard is appalling.  A truly professional organization would be ashamed.  We are no longer looking at camera drones as something you build from parts, requiring a significant level of builder skill.  These are devices that should be ready to fly out of the box.  When they do, the customer experience is great, but when there's a problem, the whole cart gets on a steep slope to hell.