GoPro is amazing at advertising their products, so much that I bought the Karma (briefly) with little thought. But after having a bunch of problems, it wasn’t meant to be.
This review will explain what occurred with the Karma, why I wasn’t even able to take it off the ground once and why after all the troubleshooting issues, not only did I return it, but I experienced a host of other problems with GoPro itself.
My problems reached such a point, that I refused to buy any new product from them. While I am on the fence about the Hero 7 Black, let me tell you, in this review, you’re going to see the headache I went through with this drone…
Stats and info on product:
Typical flight time: 10-15 minutes.
Range: 1-2 miles.
Size: This is a pretty big model, it’s about the size of a large, flat football and when you extend the wings, it’s even bigger.
Price: $799 for regular model, without a camera and with the Karma “grip” which is a stabilizer that does not attach to the drone and $1,100 for the model, the grip and camera (Hero 5 Black) together.
Camera quality: It shoots anywhere from 1080p to 4K and the photo quality is about 12 MP (adjustable). Since there’s a Hero 7 out right now, you can use that on the drone.
Rating of product: 45 out of 100 points. I wish I could rate this higher. The camera is good, but the drone itself is not top tier, it is closer to middle tier and I found a bunch of issues with it and inconveniences I think a lot of beginner operators will find frustrating like I did.
A full disclosure on my experiences with the Karma:
In early 2017, a sudden urge to buy a drone struck me. Being that prior I had no experiences with them, didn’t know a thing about parameters, filming with them, operating them, ect…, I basically went in blind.
However, what I did have was 2 GoPro cameras, the Hero 4 and 5 black and being that this was the only familiar thing to me, it felt only natural to buy a Karma (since it is part of GoPro) and so I did, for about $800+.
Plus considering GoPro was and is such a huge name, I figured buying their drone was my safest option (I would end up being wrong).
What followed after this was an initial surge of excitement, the anticipation of flying my first drone, all of which quickly went downhill as I couldn’t even get it up in the air due to firmware issues.
Despite a bunch of troubleshooting steps I tried to take to get this model to work, in the end, like I said, I couldn’t even fly it. Apparently, my camera (Hero 5) was screwed up and I even had to return it back to GoPro and get a new one, and this happened after the Karma was returned.
But by the time I had discovered this, I had already done so much research and concluded the Karma was not for me. In fact, after learning more and more about drones, most people also do not consider the Karma itself a good drone. The cameras themselves are good (but also have their own defects), but it’s not just the camera which matters, the quality of the drone matters a lot too and the Karma sadly in my opinion is not a good quality model…
In addition to having all these issues, I also discovered there was a previous recall that occurred with that drone in late 2016, which while it was corrected, mixed with the problems I had already found, made it an easy decision for me to not continue trying to fly this thing. Luckily I returned it back within a 2 week period to Best Buy without questions.
So what I’m getting at here is that this review will focus on the little I managed to do, with a lot of the other information being things I learned about it, so if you are unsure about whether or not my review will be good enough, I can understand if you wish to click out of this page.
But know that after my experience with the Karma, I purchased 3 more drones and gained a great deal of experience on the hobby, which I now look back at in hindsight and know I made the right decision not to go back to the Karma.
Overall the drone is “decent”. It is not a high quality model in my experience, but it is also far from a low class model too.
I think pilots who are intermediate will be able to use it better, but honestly, if you’re a good pilot and you appreciate these things, you will probably want to buy a higher end model anyway.
The few pros of the Karma:
1) The camera is detachable and has pretty good quality.
I’d say it’s close to the quality of the Mavic Pro 1 camera, although the Mavic’s a bit more high class in my opinion, but the fact that you can detach it from the Karma is a HUGE plus.
Most high end drones, with the exception of the Inspire have a camera attached to it in a way that cannot be removed so if you wanted to take pictures/videos with a high quality camera on those models, you would have to take the drone along.
Not with the Karma luckily.
And add to it that the Hero 5 Black (which is the default camera that attaches to this model), you are going to get a good quality result. I take that camera with me on hiking trips and use it quite often.
I am very happy with it. I also briefly owned a Hero 6 (why I got rid of it) and here is the exact same area I took a picture of with both cameras:
One thing I will always applaud GoPro for is the fact that their model actually has interchangeable cameras. This is something MANY drone fans have wanted from competing companies like DJI for years, but that has been reserved for super expensive models like the Inspire 2.
But interchangeable cameras are a big plus connected to a LARGE number of cons too in this case, which is why the Karma is not very popular…
2) The grip is good too.
The idea of using a stabilizer is great because the size of the drone (and restrictions on many locations where you won’t be able to fly) will not make it possible to use it all the time and having the camera detach, attach to the grip and to use it on bike trails, runs and other activities to get good, stable footage is a huge plus.
3) The drone itself is pretty durable.
I think out of all the models I’ve seen so far, the Karma is probably the strongest. I’ve seen it crash a number of times but still remain “flyable”. The only real danger are the propellers as they are the likeliest to break should an accident happen.
Also let’s add to it that it’s very wind resistant. It’s size and power does make it a good choice in rougher weather. But still, if you’re going to fly with it, you need to be very careful (drone flying tips for safety), as it does not have a single sensor and it does drift in the air.
4) 4 flight modes called “shot paths”.
On other drones, like DJI ones, these would be called “intelligent flight modes”, on the Karma it is known as shot paths and there are 4:
Droney: A mode where you have a point A and B, the Karma will fly from one point to the other with the camera pointed at you and take pictures/videos. The farther it goes (to point B), the more of a zooming effect that takes place.
Orbit. A point if chosen (A) and the drone flies around it in an “orbit” (circle).
Cable cam: Here the drone is set to also go from point A to B, but in a straight line and film from the side and you can regulate the rotation of the camera. So if you’re driving a car in an open area, the benefit here is that you could use the drone to film the car with a beautiful background behind it and in motion.
Reveal: Another point A to B straight line type mode where the camera looks at the bottom and slowly rotates up. So say if you were filming a beach as point A, point B can be a sunset that the camera slowly rotates to “reveal”.
While these options are nice, drones like the Mavic Pro and other top tier ones have far more intelligent flight modes. See the 13 on the Mavic Pro here.
5) Custom controller.
I honestly liked the controller. I don’t have to hook up my phone to anything or download any apps (updates are a different story).
6) It comes with it’s own backpack.
I like it, it’s a mix of briefcase and backpack (right):
1) You cannot fly this thing if the following 3-4 things do not align.
The camera, the controller, the gimbal and the Karma itself. In my case, I had everything but the camera fully updated and ready to go, but because one thing out of the 4 was out of alignment, the whole operation was ruined and I could not fly at all.
On other models I’ve flown, even if you require a firmware update, you can STILL fly the drone. Here, it feels like you need to have bullet points set up before you can even get the green light…
2) Very “basic” flight modes.
Yes they were listed as a pro, but honestly, after seeing actual intelligent flight modes on other models, these are just lower level functions in my view. While you can capture great footage using 4 of them, the other models I’ve tried have at least 12 and they can actually be considered intelligent operations.
For example: I have not seen a single mode on the Karma that says it can track people. The only one which seems likely to do this is the “Orbit” mode but honestly, I think you just select a point and not a person for it to orbit around whereas on more advanced models, you can pick a target such a person, car, any moving target (that’s slow enough) and track it.
3) No sensors!?
I did say that intermediate pilots may be better suited for this drone and I stick by that argument because this one has no sensors. If I took this model and flew it straight at a person, it can hit and hurt them.
Now obviously if you’re a decent pilot, you won’t fly anywhere near people, but come on, as advanced as GoPro cameras have become, was it that tough to place a sensor on the front at least?
Other models I’ve flown have sensors which react nearly impeccably that make the flight much safer and more beginner friendly.
4) Flight time is really, really low.
I don’t know how this thing can have a 15+ minute flight time. I’ve seen video after video testing this and it doesn’t go that far. It can literally hover in the air and lose time just as quickly as it would if it were flying in any direction.
Other advanced models manage their power output based on the amount of speed they fly at, meaning if they hover, they will lose battery power FAR slower than if they were flying in any direction.
Even a small drone like the Spark which has one of the smallest batteries can fly just as long if not longer than the Karma. If a small model like that can fly as long as the Karma (and it shoots well and costs almost 3x less), why not get that one instead? Read the review since I own it.
5) It does not appear to be stable when hovering in one place.
This model needs work when it comes to GPS stabilization. It can drift in the air and if you’re close to the ground, it can hit it. I really see this lack of stability as though it’s flying in atti mode which is a mode where drones drift when there is no GPS picked up.
Use nice end models like the Autel Evo or even the same DJI drones I’ve been talking about in this review, and those stay up and still in the air. The only time you see them drift is in high winds, but even then, they do a great job of maintaining their position.
6) Manual skill required to land.
Let me use another model as an example again. The Mavic Pro has a feature where it safely lands when it reaches a height of 2-3 feet. Then when you hit the down joystick it automatically lands slowly to make the landing safe and soft. Karma does not have this so you have to become a better pilot to make your landing smooth.
7) Despite foldable wings, this thing is not very portable.
Although you do get a backpack I like, it’s still a big, heavy drone that’s inside that you need to carry. It’s a bit heavier than the Phantom 4 from my understanding. You really have to have extra energy and patience to carry this thing around.
8) Very loud.
If you’re looking for a quiet flight, this may not be the model for you (The Mavic 2 Pro is a great example of how quiet a drone can be, while also filming very well). This thing is louder than the Phantom and I happen to think the Phantom is pretty loud.
My point on noise is that I typically do not want to fly and disturb anyone or anything. One additional thing to note is that the noise is transferred over to the video recording since the GoPro camera does record noise so you will hear a lot of buzzing.
Other models do not have the ability to record noise so that’s also a bad thing, but honestly, if the main thing you hear is nothing but buzzing, then it ruins the sound anyway.
My score of the GoPro Karma:
45 out of 100 points.
Lots of improvements need to be made, but there is a lot of potential.
There are more than a few “holes” in this drone that need to be addressed if it’s going to compete with the superior models, particularly DJI but the good news is that at least now they (GoPro) have adjustments they can make if they have a second version come out.
I am fairly certain if they could make improvements on the current issues this model has, that it could become quite the popular product which I would have no problem buying. At this point however, I am still glad I returned it and upgraded (yes upgraded) to the better models.
Since I first got the Karma, YEARS have passed and while the cameras have been upgrading, all the way to a Hero 7 now, there has been absolutely 0 evolution with the Karma drone itself. I don’t understand why GoPro ceased evolving here. They had some great ideas, but their first generation model should have used competing models as an example of what to do.
My recommendations on the product:
If you take the value of the Karma itself, you’re looking at a near $400 product (I would honestly price it at $100 given how the quality is low). The grip is $300 and the camera is about $400, making the total $1,100, right at the exact same price the package is at right now.
I’d say the price of this drone is pretty accurate considering it’s quality which I said is OK, but far from great. Base wise, you can only really get this right now at $800+ and if you don’t have the Hero 5 Black, then $1,100.
If you’re willing to spend that much money on the Karma, I’d say get the Mavic 2 Pro, Phantom 4 or Phantom 4 Pro instead for another few $100. You’ll have a much safer, easier flight and more enjoyable experience in my opinion.
I am absolutely glad I went for the other models because they are at least a level above Karma, though I hope in the future, GoPro will up it’s game and make the improvements I talked about.
Looking at all the events that took place when I first purchased the Karma to going through all the nonsense I did, I am glad it’s over because it made me better appreciate the other, truly great models out there, 3 of which I have an want to continue collecting. I hope a future, improved Karma will be on that list.
Update: New Hero 6 Black was released today. Does it make buying the Karma worth it?
The short answer is no. I got the Hero 6 the first day it came out and honestly, I have very few good things to say about it, so much so, that I am actually going to make the following claim: The Hero 5 is better (I make the case here), at least when it comes to picture taking.
But honestly, it’s not so much the cameras we’re looking at in this review, but rather the quality of the drone itself and frankly, for the price it’s actually OK for a drone ($400), but you can’t just get that, it has to be purchased with other accessories, making your minimal price point $800 and that’s WAY too much for this. An argument could have been made if you could just buy the drone and remote, but it’s designed that you need to get that extra $400-$500 camera with it, so that argument falls flat…
This drone is supposed to “technically” be top tier and compete with the likes of DJI but when you compare it DJI’s top tier drones or Yuneec’s drones (another major company), the Karma is AT BEST in a minor league level compared to these major league drones. Here’s a comparison to the Mavic and there’s seriously little to compare other than that the Mavic is way better.
And don’t even get me started on how it compares to the Phantom 4 and above…
Now look, I’m sure there’s big fans of GoPro out there (I was one of them) who will appreciate the Karma and honestly, it’s a powerful flying machine, but it’s short on battery life, short on safety features and at least in my case went through numerous issues (camera + drone) and that’s the conclusion you come to when you see the other, BETTER models out there.
Update: Hero 7 released. Now is it worth it?
I wrote an article on the Hero 7 Black release and how it affects my rating of the Karma. Read about it here. You’ll be surprised.
And another update, I got the Hero 7, and now it’s going back. See why this is the case.