Seagate DJI Copilot: Full, in-depth review
Last time Seagate and DJI teamed up to offer a unique storage solution to drone pilots, their approach was admirable but, ultimately, a little too narrow for its own good. The Fly Drive was a decent hard drive but it didn’t do quite enough to justify its branding as ‘the portable storage device’ you’ll want if you work with drones.
In our review of the DJI Fly Drive, we said as much. Back then, we noted that “the core idea behind the Fly Drive - a portable hard drive perfect for drone photography - is a good one, and the product itself does a reasonable job of angling itself to towards the needs of that core audience. However, I emerged from my brief time with the product wishing it took things even just a step or two further.”
Picking up where the Fly Drive left off, the new Seagate DJI Copilot looks to take exactly those steps.
Dimensions: 11mm x 126 mm x 111m
Durability Features: Removable rubber cover
Ports: SD Card (UHS-I and UHS-II), MicroUSB, USB 3.1, USB-Type C
Pack Ins: 1 month membership for Adobe CC All Apps Plan, 3-year Rescue Data Recovery Services plan, wall-charger, connection cables for USB, USB-C and Lightning.
Compared to last year’s Fly Drive, the DJI Copilot is a beefier and bulkier affair from the outset. It’s thicker, features many more ports but offers up the same 2TB of storage.
The corresponding pros and cons here are pretty self-explanatory. It’s slightly heavier, and thus, less portable. But the extra connectivity options make it a whole lot easier to integrate with whatever your content creation pipeline happens to look like. Whether you’re connecting to the Copilot via USB, USB-C, MicroUSB or Lightning cable, Seagate have you covered here.
That’s not all. With the FlyDrive, the premise of a drone-centric hard drive was more lip-service than reality. With the Copilot, this doesn’t feel like the case at all.
First of all, the Copilot can ‘ingest’ content straight from an SD card. Most drones (and DSLRs) use SD cards for storage. So, after filming your footage, you simply plug in the SD card and hit the action button on the Copilot and it will automatically backup your content from the SD card to the hard drive.
The Copilot boasts a unique status screen that’s integrated with the physical surface of the drive itself. It sort of looks almost-holographic at times - which is neat - but it’s held back by the single-button control scheme and frequent bouts of unresponsiveness. Often-times, I’d hit the action button and be unable to whether the device had recognised that input. Other times, the drive would be seemingly-time out in the middle of either copying or deleting data and become unresponsive. There’s no obvious power or reset button here, so snapping the Copilot out of these situations proved tricky.
Thankfully, the Copilot can be accessed and used from your phone as well as a PC. After downloading and installing the Copilot Boss app, you’re able to pull up content that’s been ingested by the hard drive and bring it straight over to your mobile, tablet or other smart device. You can also clear out space on either the hard drive itself or any connected SD cards using this app - allowing you to cut any finicky computing or disk management out of the process entirely.
The Copilot is also subject to another limitation in the form of battery life. Fully charging the Copilot takes about three hours, and it’ll take about the same amount of time to run itself down. Backing up my regular 128GB SD card took about an hour and ate up just shy of 50% of the battery on the Copilot. So you’re probably looking at between only a handful of ingestions, depending on how large your SD card happens to be.
You can also use the Copilot as a power-bank for your phone, which adds a little bit of extra utility to offset the bulkiness of the unit.
The ideas here are solid here but the execution is all over the place.
Twice, the Copilot failed to ingest the content on my SD card for reasons unknown. Given that the process of actually doing this is so time and battery intensive, this proved a major pain-point for me.
The ingestion process also saw the Copilot build up a searing amount of heat. Safe to say, it’s a good thing that the hard drive’s rubberized casing acts so well as an insulator.
Pulling content off the Copilot using the app works well enough - but pulling it onto a PC using a traditional cabled setup is slow and cumbersome. Pulling approximately 38GB of video footage and photos onto the hard drive via a USB-C to USB 3.1 cable took a staggering 22 minutes and 16 seconds. Pulling the same files off in the same method took 9 minutes and 20 seconds.
This ended up being almost tenfold the time it took for an SSD like the Samsung T5 or Seagates’ own Fast SSD to accomplish the same tasks. Granted, the T5 doesn’t have the same breadth of ports, nor the rich mobile experience that the Copilot offers.
The Bottom Line
If anything, the bigger drawback here is the price. Yes, the DJI Copilot is a specialized solution to a specialized problem. However, in 2018, paying $549 for 2TB of storage feels like a stretch - even for a product like this one.
Don’t get me wrong, I really love how the DJI Copilot embraces and leverages the unique pain-points of the drone photography experience to create a product that’s genuinely smart in how it approaches them. But I can’t help but feel like the cost exacted by that innovation is going to leave this product out of reach for many drone pilots.
If you’re the specialised user that Seagate is seeking out with the Copilot, rest assured, it delivers the goods. I just wish it delivered them a little cheaper, quicker and more consistently.
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