Our Life

GoPro Karma sucks

Summary: Do not buy a GoPro Karma.

I made the poor choice to buy a GoPro Karma drone, even after all the bad reviews. They first released it a year ago and had to recall it months later because drones would just fall from the sky. They supposedly fixed that bug and updated the software and re-released it.

The Karma seems attractive because you can attach your GoPro camera to it, you don’t have to use a camera that is built into the drone. I figured a GoPro camera would be best, I already have one, so I wanted to use it. The Karma is also thinner, the camera mounts on the front rather than underneath so it can look upwards as well as downwards, is supposedly quieter, the controller looks much better than the competition and has its own screen rather than require you to use your iPhone and includes the Grip. It originally did not have a “follow me” feature but they added it a few months ago in a software update. It seems like a decent product, but the devil is in the details…

The first thing you want to do is put a GoPro camera in the drone’s harness. The instructions simply show a pictograph of the camera sliding into the harness. But if you try you can’t do it because the door covering the ports won’t let you plug the camera into the harness. I found a YouTube video explaining how to do it – you have to remove the door!

Once you turn on the drone, it tells you that you must update the software. The Karma remote is the only way to update the software on the drone and you simply connect to your WiFi network, download the updates and update the devices. I couldn’t get it to connect to my home WiFi — it silently fails to connect, no error messages. I spent 30 minutes with their tech support and they had no idea why it didn’t work. They insisted that I was mistyping the password, but I was sure it was correct.

Also, there’s no way to see the WiFi password you entered so you can’t check for typos after you enter it. Worse, there’s no way to re-enter a WiFi password so if a WiFi network you’re using ever changes the password, you have to restore the Karma remote to factory firmware, go through setup again, enter the new password for the WiFi network, then download and update the software on it again. It’s unbelievably bad software design.

I eventually found someone on YouTube with the same problem and the commenters figured out that it is because they all were using Google WiFi. I tried taking Google WiFi out of the equation and created a hotspot WiFi network from my Mac. But the remote doesn’t even see the WiFi network. I contacted GoPro tech support and here’s their answer from “Ericka A”:

Hotspot and Mesh network will not handle the update of the Karma drone that is the reason we advise customer to connect it with a stable connection.

That’s a ridiculous explanation, Google WiFi is stable enough for me to update the OS on my iPhone, iPad, desktops, all software I use, even Google WiFi’s firmware itself. Plus, the GoPro camera can be updated over Google WiFi just fine. But not the drone. And note that they don’t “advise” customers to not use it, they don’t say that anywhere, it just silently fails. Bad design.

I had to bring all the hardware to a cafe and use their WiFi network to download the software and update all the devices.

Unfortunately, the drone comes with one device that can’t be updated by the Karma controller: The Grip. And the Grip does not work with their newest camera, the Hero 6. You must update the software on it before you can even turn it on. The only way to do that is to use their Quik app on a desktop computer, but the Quik app doesn’t work — as soon as I log in, the screen goes black and you can’t do anything. They’ve known (or should know) about this since June 2017 and they still seem to be clueless about it and have no fix.

To be clear, you update the drone itself, the stabilizer and the drone controller over WiFi using the drone controller. There’s no other way to do it and, again, it only works with some WiFi networks. You update the GoPro camera with the iPhone app (which works fine over any WiFi network). And you update the Grip with the desktop app only. It’s dizzying how many different ways you are required to update your GoPro equipment.

Once I got everything updated, I tried to fly the drone. This takes you through a compass calibration step. It took me 20+ attempts to calibrate it, which takes a minute of you holding it and turning around slowly. Step 1 always worked, Step 2 always failed. Eventually it worked. So I started the propellers and lifted off. It started flying north all by itself and it was out of my control. I was on top of our building and it was heading off the roof so I frantically tried to get it to land. I got it to descend enough to run into a tarp on the wall, the propellers cut gashes into the tarp and broke 3 of the propellers.

I’d had enough at this point and contacted GoPro to get a refund. They told me they don’t take refunds because I broke the (replaceable) propellers. So I bought replacement propellers, put them on, recalibrated the compass, recalibrated the joysticks (!) and tried again.

After several complaints that it could not connect to GPS, it finally worked. 8 days after getting the Karma, I had my first successful flight. I’d be happy but after all the hell I’ve been through and after spending $1,000 for this thing, I just can’t like it. But I’m stuck with it.

Note that I still cannot get the Grip updated. As I write this, I have been talking to GoPro’s tech support for 95 minutes and they have no clue what the problem is with their Quik software. Again, it’s been an unresolved issue on their own forums for 5 months but they don’t know anything about it.

I’ve been using tech products since the 1980s and I’ve had my share of frustrations with them. Maybe there’s been worse back in the early days of computers, but not by much. DO NOT BUY A GOPRO KARMA DRONE! Get the DJI Phantom instead.

The good news is that I imagine it’s only a matter of time before the drone falls from the sky and is destroyed and I no longer feel compelled to keep using it.

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