Potensic Atom review: one of the best beginner drones
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Potensic Atom review: one of the best beginner drones

Potensic Atom review: one of the best beginner drones

 

One-minute review

Potensic is a familiar name in the beginner drone arena and enjoys a loyal following, with its Atom range, comprising last year’s Potensic Atom SE and the more advanced Potensic Atom, which was released in September 2023, helping to redefine the low-cost beginner drone market.

The Atom is one of the best beginner drones available, offering performance that belies its low cost. I was impressed with the Atom SE when I reviewed it last year, but I was also acutely aware of its shortcomings, and Potensic has wholeheartedly addressed those here.

Its latest 249g drone sits somewhere between the DJI Mini 2 SE and DJI Mini 3 in terms of features and functionality; it’s arguably more of a competitor to the latter, but with a much lower cost that’s comparable to the likes of the Holy Stone HS720R,  Bwine F7GB2 and Ruko F11GIM2.

In some cases, despite being a much more able performer in terms of both flight and image quality, the Potensic Atom Fly More Combo is even less expensive than the competition, if not similarly priced – it’s excellent value.

The beginner end of the drone market is experiencing a welcome trickle-down of high-end features, and although collision avoidance remains absent at this level for now, many new models, including the Atom, are offering 3-axis mechanical gimbals for smoother video capture.

The Atom features a 12MP 1/3-inch Sony CMOS sensor with a fixed f/2.2 aperture, and a lens that provides a 78-degree field of view. Photos can be captured in raw and JPEG, while video can be captured up to 4K at 30fps, with manual camera control available in both shooting modes. It’s certainly impressive on paper, but let’s take a closer look at how it performs overall.

Potensic Atom: Release date and price

  • Available from September 15 2023
  • Costs from $299 / £279 / AU$505
  • Standard kit and Fly More Bundle available

The release of the Potensic Atom was delayed by a few months, and it was announced on September 15 2023. It’s available to order from the Potensic website initially, with availability on Amazon coming soon. There are two kits available: the Standard kit and the Fly More Bundle, with the latter providing the best value for money in terms of both price and the fact that all the included extras are extremely useful.

The Standard kit costs $299 / £279 / AU$505 and includes the Atom drone, a remote controller, one battery, four pairs of spare propellers, eight spare screws, a gimbal Protector, a screwdriver, a USB-C charging cable, and three adapter cables (micro USB, USB-C and a Lightning connector).

The Fly More Bundle costs $399 / £379 / AU$673, and includes all of the above plus two additional batteries, a fast-charging hub with a power adaptor, four extra pairs of spare propellers, eight additional propeller screws, and a carry bag. At the time of writing, and for a limited amount of time, the Fly More Bundle also includes a free 64GB Lexar microSD card.

Potensic Atom: Design and controller

  • Small and lightweight folding design
  • Unique controller design
  • Intuitive app

Being a 249g folding drone, the Atom is small and palm-sized, measuring 3.5 x 5.6 x 2.3 inches / 88 x 143 x 58mm when folded, which extends to 8.3 x 6 x 2.3 inches / 210 x 152 x 58 mm when unfolded. The light-gray airframe accommodates the 2230mAh battery at the rear, and offers an advertised flight time of up to 32 minutes. During testing, each battery lasted around 25 minutes before Return to Home was initiated once the battery level reached 16%, which is fairly standard for drones of this type.

Despite its small size and light weight, the Atom offers level 5 wind resistance, which translates to up to 24mph. And during testing in gusts of around 21mph, the Atom performed well, although flight times were reduced to around 23 minutes per battery. In this situation, at higher legal altitudes where wind speeds were higher, the Potensic Pro app did warn of high wind and suggested a reduction in altitude.

The Potensic Pro app is new with the Atom, and works with other Potensic drones including the lower-spec Atom SE. It’s easy and intuitive to use once your phone is connected to the controller; the user interface isn’t dissimilar to the DJI Fly app, so everything is where you’d expect it to be, with the main advantage over the old PotensicFly app being that manual control over camera settings is available alongside auto options if you prefer a quicker and easier shooting experience.

The controller itself is unique in that it extends lengthways to hold the phone between the two handgrips on which the control sticks are situated, which provides a comfortable and balanced control setup. For testing, I used a Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, which is pretty much the largest smartphone the controller can accommodate.

The thumb sticks screw into position, and can be stowed away at the bottom of the controller. There’s a Return to Home button, gimbal control, video record button and a shutter button for photos. Unfortunately, though, there’s no flight mode switch, so you have to use the Potensic Pro app to move between Video, Normal and Sport modes; the app will always revert to Normal mode when the drone is switched off.

Potensic Atom: Features and flight

  • Smooth flight controls
  • Improved GPS positioning
  • Effective subject-tracking algorithms

The Atom is by far the best drone that Potensic has made to date, offering a reliable balance of cost, features, and flight performance that make it one of the best drones available for under $300 / £300 / AU$550 (for the Standard kit) if not the best. Flight performance is reliable overall, with the Video, Normal and Sport modes offering different flight speeds. I noticed that when I was flying forwards or backwards and then released the pitch and roll control stick to enter a hover, if the gimbal was pointing the camera straight down it tended to lift slightly, and I had to adjust it to maintain a straight-down viewpoint.

With no collision avoidance, you have to take care when flying manually or when using the subject-tracking features if there are trees or other obstacles nearby. The lack of collision avoidance is unsurprising for a drone of this price, and on the plus side the Atom has improved positioning compared to other Potensic drones, using GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou systems. Then there’s Return to Home, which can be initiated manually using the button on the controller, or activated automatically when the battery is running low.

The connection between the Atom and the controller is solid within realistic and legals distance for a drone of this size, although Potensic’s PixSync 3.0 transmission technology is claimed to provide a maximum video transmission of up to 3.7 miles / 6km to provide improved connectivity over the Atom SE. This couldn’t be tested to the extreme because of local aviation laws, but it suggests why the transmission at shorter distances is undoubtedly reliable.

In terms of flight features, there are QuickShots automated flight patterns, which include Pull-away, Rocket, Circle, Spiral, and Boomerang. Plus, there are the subject-tracking modes which use a new algorithm to identify and track the moving subject; these are easy to set up and use, with a few parameters that can be adjusted, and they’re highly effective despite the absence of collision avoidance. However, once again, you have to be mindful of your surroundings when using these features to avoid a potential collision.

Potensic Atom: Image quality

  • 12MP photos and 4K 30fps video
  • 3-axis mechanical gimbal
  • Photos can be captured in DNG format

With any camera drone, even beginner models like the Atom, image quality for photo and video capture is incredibly important. And, thanks to a 3-axis mechanical gimbal, video capture is indeed smooth, with an equally smooth tilt range of +20 to -90 degrees. Some lower-cost beginner models feature a rather unrefined gimbal tilt that’s unusable during video capture, but the Atom performs more like DJI and Autel drones in this respect.

The camera itself features a 12MP 1/3-inch Sony CMOS sensor, paired with a lens that has a fixed f/2.2 aperture and provides a 78-degree field of view. This is also a fixed-focus lens, relying on hyperfocal distance to ensure sharpness throughout the scene. In stills, closer subjects are much sharper than those in more distant scenes, which are only acceptably sharp rather than pin-sharp, and subjects with bright areas in the frame exhibit a haziness. There’s also subtle yet noticeable vignetting in photos, so hopefully these deficiencies can be ironed out with future firmware updates.

Video capture, on the other hand, doesn’t suffer from these issues, and 4K video looks great. The only downside here is that there are no ND filters available to control shutter speed in brighter conditions to maintain the 180-degree shutter rule for capturing natural-looking movement. Video can be captured in 4K up to 30fps, 2.7K up to 30fps, and 1080p up to 60fps in the H.264 codec.

Just like the Atom SE before it, the Atom can capture photos in both JPEG and raw formats (in 16:9 ratio), which is rare for drones at this level, and a hugely useful feature for photographers. Manual control over ISO, shutter speed, white balance, video resolution and frame rates is also available alongside automatic shooting, so you can take as little or as much control over the camera as you want.

Potensic Atom 4K 30fps video

Should I buy the Potensic Atom?

Potensic Atom in flight

(Image credit: James Abbott)

Buy it if…

Don’t buy it if…

How I tested the Potensic Atom

I tested the Potensic Atom over a couple of weeks, initially with the developer version of the Potensic Pro app and then with the full-release version. Testing was conducted in a range of locations, environments, and weather conditions (excluding rain) to test flight performance, flight features, overall handling, and image quality for both photo and video capture. All testing was conducted in compliance with local aviation laws and restrictions.

Drones are always tested using manual flight patterns for video that are typical of professional aerial video capture to shoot visually interesting footage. This also provides the opportunity to test aspects such as the connection between the drone and controller, latency between the two, and the accuracy of the controls and flight in general. Automated flight features are also tested to assess their accuracy and overall performance.

I have nearly 30 years of photographic experience and 15 years working as a photography journalist, and I’ve been writing about and reviewing drone reviews for a number of years. As well as flying most consumer and prosumer models, I’ve previously held a PfCO (Permission for Commercial Operations) issued by the Civil Aviation Authority in the UK, and now fly under an A2 CofC (A2 Certificate of Competency).

First reviewed September 2023

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