HowHow many people would buy flying cameras, aka drones, if they didn’t have to fear every twig on every tree in the world? How much more could you do with a drone that doesn’t crash into obstacles?
These aren’t just rhetorical questions — the $999 Skydio 2 is that drone. Where one wrong move will send most drones to their doom, Skydio’s self-flying system uses AI to duck under canopies and swoop around branches with finesse all by itself. The results have to be seen to be believed: People who’ve never flown a drone in their lives can fly this drone. My three-year-old flew this drone. Better yet, it can fly itself, automatically filming your hikes, bike rides, or the kinds of stunts you’d normally capture with a GoPro, but from the sky instead.
Does that mean you should buy a Skydio 2? That’s a more complicated question because, in some ways, this flying robot camera isn’t very smart at all. It’ll boil down to just how much you can trust this drone — and how much you’re willing and able to let a computer take the controls.
OUR REVIEW OFSKYDIO 2
VERGE SCORE7.5OUT OF 10
Buy for $999.00 from Skydio
If you’re reading these words, I have a hunch you may be considering the Skydio as your very first drone — and you should — so I’m going to explain things I wouldn’t normally explain in a drone review. Namely, drones have always been about trust. You have to trust a $1,000 machine to stay up in the air, respond quickly enough so you can keep it from crashing into things, and automatically return home if or when it loses the signal from your controller. It was a big deal when top drone brands like DJI first mastered those things, but we can generally take them for granted now — the latest DJI drones even have obstacle avoidance sensors that keep them from smashing into big objects as well, even if they’re nowhere near as advanced as Skydio.
SET YOUR EXPECTATIONS APPROPRIATELY
But trust isn’t just about whether you’ll crash. Depending on where you live, society has laws and stigmas against flying drones over people or private property — and you’re generally not supposed to fly a drone unless you can see it with your naked eyes at all times. You should know right out of the gate that when I say the Skydio 2 is a drone that flies itself without crashing, I’m not talking about flying in darkness, fog, walking down the sidewalk through a crowd of people, or along a busy street. We still can’t trust any drone to do those things, and the Skydio handles some of them worse than other drones.
AGREE TO CONTINUE: SKYDIO 2
Every smart device now requires you to agree to a series of terms and conditions before you can use it — contracts that no one actually reads. It’s impossible for us to read and analyze every single one of these agreements. But we’re going to start counting exactly how many times you have to hit “agree” to use devices when we review them since these are agreements most people don’t read and definitely can’t negotiate.
The Skydio 2 app only requires you to agree to four things before you fire up the drone, but they’re extremely pointed:
- Skydio’s terms of yse, which include a binding arbitration clause to keep you from suing the company
- Skydio’s safety and operating guidelines
- Your phone’s location permission: “Your phone GPS allows Skydio 2 to return to you.”
- Your phone’s microphone permission: “Your microphone allows Skydio to record audio during your flight.”
It’s worth expanding upon the safety and operating guidelines more, because they allow the company to deny you coverage under its “we’ll repair or replace it for free” warranty for circumstances which include:
- Flying at night
- Flying over people
- Flying in rain, fog, or snow
- Flying in winds over 25 mph
- Flying in temperatures under 23° F or over 104° F
- Flying over bodies of water more than 30ft across without GPS lock
- Flying around thin branches, telephone and power lines, ropes, netting, wires, chain link fencing
- Flying around windows or mirrors
- Landing when directly above obstacles
- Trying to intentionally crash
Including “thin branches” and “chain link fencing” is weird, considering Skydio explicitly told us the drone should be able to dodge those. That’s four mandatory agreements in total.
But in daylight, in good weather, away from other people, I now trust the Skydio to follow me without crashing at all. I implicitly trust it to flip open its new self-tightening propellers, take off from my hand, and automatically film me walking or scooting around a park dense with foliage. Honestly, I don’t even look back anymore to see how it’s doing — I just listen for the buzz of propellers to know it’s still there.
In a wide-open area with few obstacles, I trust the Skydio 2 to let me bike down a trail at full speed, with it chasing me the whole time.
Add the optional $149 Skydio Beacon, and I trust that this drone will come find me even if I leave it behind, dodging obstacles along the way.
FLYING WITHOUT FEAR
With the optional $149 Skydio Controller, I trust I can easily point the Skydio’s 4K60 HDR camera wherever I’d like in the sky, just like a normal drone, but without the same fear. Time after time, I intentionally flew the Skydio toward the thinnest, trickiest branches I could find — but it always stopped short or swooped around. I’ve accidentally crashed DJI drones twice under far less demanding conditions.
It blows my mind that a drone can do any of these things at all, much less for nearly 20 minutes on a charge in my tests. But you should know that it doesn’t do them all at the same time, or even equally well — and I think that’s down to Skydio’s dizzying array of control schemes.
You can fly the Skydio:
- With a phone, at very short ranges, either automatically following you around or with slightly laggy virtual joysticks or taps
- With the optional Skydio Beacon, with it following you at a greater distance
- With the optional Skydio Beacon’s wand mode, where you point it in the direction you’d like it to fly with a wave of your hand
- With the optional Skydio Beacon’s steering mode, where you press buttons on the beacon to nudge it left, right, up, down, and forward
- With the optional Skydio Beacon paired to your phone over Wi-Fi, merely to let your phone’s virtual joysticks and video preview work at longer range
- With the optional Skydio Controller physically plugged into your phone to give you actual physical joysticks and buttons
You may have noticed I have now written the word “optional” seven times. That’s because while the $999 Skydio 2 comes with a single battery, charger, USB-C cable, pair of spare propellers, and a quality custom-fit hardshell case, it does not come with a controller in the box. But I also can’t tell you which of Skydio’s control schemes you should pick because they’re all frustrating in one way or another.
With the phone and visual tracking alone, the Skydio just couldn’t follow me on a high-speed bike ride, through openings in the brush, or if I walked or biked behind obstacles for more than a couple of seconds. Riding down an occasionally tree-topped trail, the Skydio lost me again and again. With its poor Wi-Fi range, there was no point in using the virtual joysticks to fly it even across a stream to check out something on the other side — the image would get choppy, cut out, and the drone would be forced to return.
I figured the $149 Skydio Beacon would instantly make things better — and in a way, it did. The range issues immediately lessened, with the Skydio 2 able to catch up after I’d left it in the dust. But weirdly, the GPS beacon didn’t stop me from leaving the Skydio behind to begin with or keep its camera locked onto me… and it’s always a pain to fire the beacon up. It takes forever to get a proper GPS lock and sync it with the drone, which left me waiting by the side of the trail more than once with a dumb look on my face — assuming I didn’t also run into errors launching the drone.
And my Verge colleague and first-time drone pilot Felicia Shivakumar didn’t find the beacon easy to use the way I’d hoped: each of its modes only let you have partial control of the drone, they’re each hidden behind multiple button presses, and they all feel a little jerky and imprecise rather than finely tuned.
And then there’s the $149 Skydio Controller, which feels like a cheap toy. Compared to the amazing build quality of the Skydio 2 itself, whose tasteful black and blue magnesium alloy build looks like no other drone (and whose batteries attach with the incredibly satisfying snap only powerful rare earth magnets can provide), the bulky, plastic-y optional controller screams out “I was an afterthought” with every fiber of its being.
Skydio isn’t trying to hide that it’s a rebadged Parrot Anafi controller, but it feels like a poor pick for these reasons:
- It wouldn’t always connect to our phones, sometimes requiring us to flip the USB cable and / or restart the app.
- It doesn’t securely hold onto phones with cases — mine slipped out multiple times
- While Skydio quotes a range of 3.5km, we still saw unreliable connections within easy line of sight
- Some buttons on the controller do nothing, while others don’t work as expected (you can land, but not take off)
- One of the joysticks literally broke off in Felicia’s backpack without it being dropped
On the plus side, it is a real physical controller that does actually work if you’ve got the patience, and my colleague Vjeran found it okay in terms of simply getting the drone where he needed it to go. Personally, I settled on a combination of beacon + phone for the most flexibility: it’s the only combination that lets you stuff the controls in your pocket, burn some rubber on the trail without fear, then spot something awesome in this distance like a graffiti-covered duck habitat, and send the drone over for a look — with a live preview on my phone screen.
Speaking of ducks and graffiti, I love this footage I got with Skydio’s cable cam feature. It was a breeze to just fly the drone to two different points in the sky and get a smooth sliding shot between them:
But the other key thing you need to know about the Skydio 2’s controls is that you’re never fully in control. The more time I spent with this drone, the more I realized how much it tries to protect itself above all else, with unpredictable, sometimes scary results.
If the Skydio 2 thinks it can’t get through a gap, it won’t — even if you could fly a normal drone through it with no problem. If it sees a couple items it needs to dodge on the sidewalk, it might fly out into the middle of the street — even if you’ve told it to stay on the opposite side of you. My tests saw it fly over private property, over people, over cars, and nearly into the path of trains without any way to stop it in time, and I lost count of the times I apologized to people who got buzzed with the wind from my drone passing by.
SKYDIO NEEDS A PANIC BUTTON
Felicia and I agree that Skydio should have a panic button to instantly get out of trouble, or maybe a way to intelligently avoid people and roads, but I also wish it would simply follow me more closely under the obstacles instead of trying to dodge around. In the meanwhile, you probably shouldn’t be flying the Skydio anywhere near people, which really reduces the number of places you can use it.
And you will want to be extra careful when landing the Skydio, because it turns off obstacle avoidance when you manually ask the drone to land… which led to my first unit landing on the edge of a roof and falling to its doom. Skydio claims it’s an intentional design decision, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense: this drone seems perfectly capable of autonomously finding its own safe landing zone when running out of battery, so why throw that out during a manual landing?
Here’s the point in the review you might be rightly wondering: Sean, you don’t fly drones for a living; does this make any sense for pros? How’s the image quality? You’ll want to watch our video to see for yourself, but let me also temporarily turn this review over to Verge videographer Vjeran Pavic, who’s been known to fly an array of aircraft and reviewed the Mavic 2 Pro for us last year.
I’m going to end on an optimistic note, but I should say something bittersweet first. When we first tried the Skydio 2 in October, it seemed like it could be the drone for absolutely everyone — but it’s not quite there.
The Skydio 2 isn’t for pros. It’s not for absolute beginners who don’t know where they should and shouldn’t fly a drone safely (though hopefully our warnings will help). Yes, it’s capable of filming some amazing things autonomously — but I can’t imagine implicitly trusting it to nail extreme sports shots given how often it hesitates to put itself in danger, and how long it can sometimes take to get into the air. It’s not the drone for me, because I try to avoid unfinished products and the Skydio 2 feels that way, with an array of bugs, glitches, and the kind of temporarily awkward design decisions that get ironed out in future revisions.
But for some, there’s nothing else that can do what the Skydio can today. It might be perfect for the would-be drone hobbyist who wouldn’t risk $1,000 on their ability to master a pair of joysticks, or the amateur who needs a tracking shot of a moving person or vehicle, or the influencer who wants a flying camera to follow their exploits (it’ll even record audio from your phone while flying).
And to think that a tiny startup like Skydio produced a sleek, high-quality drone that’s within spitting distance of DJI in so many ways and far more advanced in one… it’s hugely impressive.
If I could go back in time and tell myself not to buy my DJI Mavic Pro, I would. Most of the time, it sits in a closet gathering dust. As a parent, I know I’d use the Skydio 2 far more often, even if it doesn’t fold down as small. But I have a funny feeling I’d say something similar about the Skydio 2 next year, should a Skydio 2 Pro or Skydio 3 show up.
That’s what I’m waiting for. It’s not like I could buy a Skydio today, anyhow. The company says it’s sold out until the middle of next year, when its tiny Redwood City assembly line can catch up with the demand of early adopters who bought it, sight unseen. That’s plenty of time for Skydio to build a pro controller, fix the glitches, and make it a tad smarter.