The tablet used with Pilot is the hub of the DroneSense platform and is responsible for a tremendous amount of processing and data transmission. Because of this, you will want to use a device that has plenty of computing power.
DroneSense currently supports the iPad for the Pilot app. We are rapidly completing support for Android devices (including the Crystal Sky) and hope to have those supported soon.
The newest version of the iPad Pro is the most robust device available, so if budget is not a concern this device is going to be your optimal choice. Either the 11- or 12.9-inch sizes will work well, but do keep in mind the added bulk and weight of the larger device.
The next best options are the newest iPad Air and iPad Mini 5. These devices have similar specs to the iPad Pro, but at a significantly lower price point. For newer programs, this might be the best choice - especially in hot, sunny climates where it can be valuable to have backup tablets available in the event of overheating. The newest "generic" iPad has specs just slightly below the Air and Mini 5 and should provide adequate performance as well.
Memory storage on the device is not an important factor for DroneSense performance, so the less expensive models with less storage should perform well. If you have a compelling reason to purchase an iPad with more app and file storage, do so.
Another important decision is whether to choose WiFi only or the WiFi+Cellular models. WiFi-only tablets will often have issues reporting an accurate GPS location of the tablet (and therefore, the pilot), which can lead to the drone bearing indicator reporting incorrect information. We therefore recommend WiFi+Cell iPads.
TIP: If your organization is on a tight budget, you might opt to skip setting up data plans for each WiFi+Cell iPad device, and instead use a mobile hotspot for internet connectivity. While this approach may add some complexity to your network setup, it does afford you multiple connectivity options and still allows you to take advantage of the internal GPS on the iPad for accurate reporting of the tablet/pilot location.
Tablets are susceptible to overheating in challenging environments. The DroneSense Support site has detailed information about ways you can mitigate overheating so that you can stay in the air longer and with optimal performance.
Specific to purchasing, avoid darker color devices (such as space gray), as they absorb sunlight more readily. Every little bit of heat mitigation helps!
Android & Crystal Sky Support
DroneSense is actively working on a native Android version of the Pilot app that will support most Android-compatible drones, including those from DJI, Parrot, and Skydio. But Android-based devices are not without their limitations.
The Crystal Sky is purpose-built for use with DJI drones and the Cendence controller and provides solid performance for solo flight. Agencies will need to keep in mind that it's an aging device built on a custom version of Android that is not up to date (and therefore carries potential data security risks, among other concerns). DroneSense will support the Crystal Sky, but performance might not be optimal in many real-world scenarios due to the limitations of the hardware and the version of Android running on the device. Therefore, if you intend to invest in the Crystal Sky, you should also strongly consider adding other tablet devices to your fleet to ensure you will have optimal coverage.
The currently available Android tablets, such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab series of devices, are designed primarily for the consumer market which generally means that most lack the computing power sufficient for the rigors of UAS operations, and therefore are not recommended.
The DJI Smart Controller is an Android-based device and is likely the best long-term solution for agencies needing Android support. Note, however, that DroneSense is still working on completing its native Android app, so it is not yet available.
With any tablet, the latest hardware is always going to be the best bet. The iPad Pro provides better overall performance, but the iPad Air and iPad Mini 5 have very similar specs for considerably less money. Many of the consumer-focused features available on the Pro models don't really benefit the typical drone pilot, and thus the Pro can be an unnecessary added expense. You can save money by choosing models with less storage. Because WiFi-only iPads can have issues with accurately reporting the pilot's location, we recommend WiFi+Cell devices.
For Android, we are reluctant to recommend new purchases of the Crystal Sky tablet unless DJI revises the hardware and software. Similarly, Android tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 are also underpowered for use with DroneSense and are therefore not recommended. The DJI Smart Controller is currently the best option for agencies that need Android and are willing to wait for complete DroneSense support.