As a drone enthusiast, I was intrigued to discover EXO Drones, a U.S.-based, consumer drone company. Though the company has had close ties to Chinese drone maker Hubsan it was recently acquired by American company OpenStore.
With its OpenStore tie, EXO is promoting itself as an alternative to Chinese drones like DJI (more on whether it’s fair to call it an American drone company later) OpenStore paid $2.9 million in an all-cash offer in August 2022.
The idea of a U.S.-based consumer drone company is certainly compelling given the long list of great reasons to purchase an American-made drone. But the reality is that the best camera drones are not made in the U.S., largely due to factors like weak manufacturing infrastructure and high cost of labor. Knowing all that, my interest was piqued when I recently had the chance to fly EXO drone’s latest release, the Blackhawk 3 Pro.
So, will the Blackhawk 3 Pro make the list of the best camera drones made in the USA? Well, not yet. While EXO drones (owned by Miami-based OpenStore) designs and handles the fulfillment of the drones, they are still manufactured outside the U.S.
An EXO spokesperson said the company is actively exploring avenues to do even more production in the U.S., likely capitalizing on the heavy interest in American-made drones. Nonetheless, I decided to try out the Blackhawk 3 Pro from EXO Drones.
The Blackhawk 3 Pro starts at $1,249 but is currently on sale for $949 on their website and only $849 on Amazon. Given the lower price tag, plus other potential benefits of shopping on Amazon like ultra-fast shipping, an additional 5% back with the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Card, and easy returns, shopping on Amazon is a no-brainer.
The No. 1 reason why the Blackhawk 3 Pro stands out is its impressive 53 minutes of flight time. This is one of the longest flight times you can achieve on any consumer drone. Among other highlights of the Blackhawk 3 Pro:
- 200 Mbps HDR 4K video quality
- 9+ mile range
- 1/1.3 inch CMOS Sensor
Learn more about the newest drone from the American-based drone company, EXO drones, and more of these features in my review of the Blackhawk 3 Pro here:
Am impressive 53-minute flight time (almost)
When I initially opened up the Blackhawk Pro 3, I was surprised to see only one battery included in the kit. However, after reading through the specs, I realized, you don’t need spare batteries.
The Blackhawk 3 Pro has a 53-minute battery life, something you don’t see every day in the drone market. For instance, DJI’s latest consumer drone release, the DJI Mini 4 Pro has 34 minutes (or 45 minutes when you purchase an additional intelligent battery).
When I took the Blackhawk 3 Pro out to fly, I was out flying, the drone got very close to reaching that 53 minutes of flight time. I was notified of a low battery after around 47 minutes, and personally, I never risk flying once I get that notification.
However, it is worth noting, that the controller still had plenty of battery left when the drone was low battery. By purchasing an extra battery (for an additional $150), you could fly the Blackhawk 3 Pro for hours.
The lengthy flight time is quite impressive, but there are some definite trade-offs, in particular the battery size and weight.
It’s almost double the size and weight of the DJI Mini 4 Pro’s battery. With the battery, the drone itself weighs 600g at take-off, compared to the Mini 4 Pro at 249 g.
The weight of the drone is important not only because it makes it easier to transport but for legal reasons. Drones under 250 grams do not need to be registered with the FAA for recreational operations.
Blackhawk 3 Pro camera and intelligent features
To fly the Blackhawk 3 Pro, you’ll need to download the EXO app and connect your phone to the controller. The app and controller are both user-friendly. The drone also has an extended exploration feature allowing you to fly with a 9+ mile range on a single charge.
The first few flights were smooth with a sharp 4K video quality. The 1/1.3-inch CMOS sensor allows for rich coloring and natural lighting transitions. The video quality on the Blackhawk 3 Pro holds up to the best consumer camera drones in the market. The Blackhawk 3 Pro also has a allowing for low-light captures. But while the camera quality is great, the flying quality? Not so much.
The Blackhawk 3 Pro promotes a range of Intelligent Flight Modes, like ‘Follow Me’, “Return to Home’ and GPS Routing. But while some features like return to home, worked fine, others didn’t work at all. When I put the drone into Follow Me mode the drone seemed to malfunction and crashed into the grass.
I tried this mode a few more times, but I was unable to get Follow Me mode to work. I continued flying without using the intelligent features, however, I quickly faced another obstacle when I received an error alert regarding my gimbal.
The error notification repeated over and over again with a loud beeping noise. Fixing and recalibrating the gimbal was simple. However, it takes some time and the beeping and error message repeats loudly until the error is fixed.
I tried to find a setting to turn off voice notifications or the volume, but I could not. Overall, the footage captured was clear and high quality, but the overall flying experience was rocky.
In terms of price, the Blackhawk 3 Pro’s closest DJI drone competitor is the DJI Mini 4 Pro. The DJI Mini 4 Pro starts at $759. The DJI Mini 4 Pro is $90 cheaper than the Blackhawk 3 Pro.
Below is a side-by-side comparison of the specs of the two drones:
|Blackhawk 3 Pro
|DJI Mini 4 Pro
|< 259 g
|118.7 x 172.5 x 67.6mm
|Max Flight Time
|Max Wind Speed
|Max Video Res
The Blackhawk 3 Pro’s most impressive feature remains the battery life, along with the maximum wind speed. Both drones have similar camera features. The Mini 4 Pro has slightly better video resolution.
In almost every way, the DJI Mini 4 Pro wins.
The DJI Mini 4 Pro also has omnidirectional obstacle avoidance, while the Blackhawk 3 Pro has downward avoidance. This makes the DJI Mini 4 Pro a considerably more safe drone than the Blackhawk 3 Pro. The Blackhawk 3 Pro has obstacle sensors located on the bottom of the drone. On the flip side, the Mini 4 has them in every direction.
With the Mini 4 Pro, you’ll save money and have a safer drone. So, this begs the question, who is the Blackhawk 3 Pro for?
If American companies are a priority for you, then certainly consider purchasing this drone. Without outright naming DJI, EXO’s marketing tactics have leaned into the crowd of anti-DJI pilots.
“For more than a decade, there has been little technical competition in camera drones,” according to a statement on EXO’s page. “One brand with no competition means they can do whatever they want- and they do. High prices, non-existent support, and selling your private data to China.”
That’s all a clear jab at DJI, which has been met with concerns (particularly from government agencies) about data privacy. It’s gotten so brutal for DJI, that the company is on a government blacklist.
But EXO isn’t exactly made in America, given that manufacturing occurs overseas. Still, with EXO you’ll experience many of the perks of buying American, like supporting the local economy and having more reliable customer service.
And while the flying experience may not be as smooth as DJI and other China-made competitors like Autel, you’ll hardly notice the difference in post-production in terms of video and photo quality.