DJI Mavic Mini review: A superb entry point to drone flying

Posted: 29 November 2019 9:24 am
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Close up of the DJI Mavic Mini drone

The DJI Mavic Mini provides a near-perfect entry point into the world of drone flying and photography.

Quick Verdict

DJI's new ultra-light entry level drone is easy to fly, has excellent battery life and is just all-around fun to fly. It's definitely a stepping stone to bigger and better drones, but everyone's got to start somewhere.

The good

  • Astonishingly light
  • DJI Fly app keeps it simple
  • Battery life is better than you'd think

The bad

  • Controller has awkward MicroUSB charging plug
  • Rotor guards take it over the 250g level
  • No 4K video capability

DJI remains the premier brand in the drone space, but getting started with a drone that can tip the scales at well over $1,000 or well over the weight limits where you've got to be a qualified drone pilot can be offputting for just about anybody.

For some time now DJI has offered up "lite" versions of its drone family for those just looking to get started in the world of drone flying and photography. Its latest entry is the generally excellent and exceptionally lightweight DJI Mavic Mini.

Close up of the DJI Mavic Mini drone

Design

  • Only 249g, which is insane
  • Smartphone controller included

The DJI Mavic Mini doesn't look like anything particularly special when you first clap eyes on it, with a standard, albeit compact design that includes fold-out legs for its propellors, a clip-off cover for the front gimbals and an all-white design that you can optionally colour yourself to truly personalise it.

It's only when you pick it up that you're likely to be surprised, because the DJI Mavic Mini tips the scales at a scant, almost ridiculous 249 grams. That's the weight with the battery installed, too, and it's an important milestone for DJI in the smaller drone space.

Close up of the DJI Mavic Mini drone

That's because there are plenty of areas around the world where a drone above 250 grams has to be registered, but lightweight drones are excluded from that obligation. Here in Australia, CASA rules tip in for any drone above 100 grams, which the DJI Mavic Mini exceeds, but it's still a great inclusion if you're going to travel internationally with your shiny new drone.

Quite what you get with the DJI Mavic Mini will depend on which package you buy. The basic Mavic Mini package includes the Mavic Mini drone, the smartphone remote controller, a single battery, spare propellers and connection cables.

Step up to the Mavic Mini Fly More Combo and you'll score an additional two batteries, a charging case for all three batteries (more on this later), a carrying case, three spare propeller sets and a propeller cage to protect it when learning to fly and for use indoors.

Close up of the DJI Mavic Mini drone

One tiny caveat for the propeller cage if you do intend to travel with it; adding it to the DJI Mavic Mini will tip its weight over that 250 gram level. DJI can't make a propeller cage that weighs less than nothing. If it did, it would defy that rather important law of gravity. Frankly, when it can, I'd expect its drone business to fade into insignificance.

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Installation

  • DJI Fly app required
  • Charging, signing up and firmware updating may take some time
  • Controller charging is needlessly complex

It's likely that if you end up with a DJI Mavic Mini underneath the Christmas tree this year, you're going to want to get flying ASAP. You'll need some patience though, because the set-up process for the DJI Mavic Mini does take some time.

The heart of the Mavic Mini flying process is DJI's new DJI Fly app, available for Android or iOS. For the purposes of review, I tested with an Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max phone. That's a larger phone, but it had few issues fitting into the DJI Mavic Mini's included remote controller.

Close up of the DJI Mavic Mini drone

Before you reach that stage, you'll need to charge up the battery. DJI supplied me with the Fly More combo version of the DJI Mavic Mini, which meant I had even more batteries to charge, although that does mean more fun flying time when it's all done. One very neat trick that the battery charging case also enables is charging of any other USB connected device. In effect when it's stuffed full of DJI Mavic Mini batteries, it also acts as a portable battery pack, which is very cool.

Less cool is the way you charge the included controller. The connection point is MicroUSB, which feels rather old-school, but what's worse here is that the actual connection socket is square, rather than the shape of a MicroUSB connector. It's technically possible to try to plug in a charging cable the wrong way around, which could cause serious damage to the controller. I'm baffled as to why DJI didn't opt for reversible USB C for topping up the controller, which would dodge these problems entirely.

Close up of the DJI Mavic Mini drone

Then you'll have to pair the DJI Mavic Mini to your smartphone and controller. DJI actually provided me with the Mavic Mini prior to launch, but the combination of the bushfires and wild weather that have been hitting Sydney of late meant that my flying days were severely curtailed. By the time I actually had clear weather and legal permission to fly, DJI had already released a firmware update for the DJI Mavic Mini, which meant an even longer wait until I could fly. At least that's more time to charge up the controller, I guess.

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Performance

  • Easy stable flight from the first step
  • Pays good attention to safety regulations
  • Lacks 4K video

There's a vitally important step that you should take before you fly the DJI Mavic Mini, or indeed any drone.

No, I'm not talking about donning your aviator goggles, cap and jaunty scarf, although of course those should be assumed.

Close up of the DJI Mavic Mini drone

Instead, it's the matter of working out where you are and are not actually allowed to fly your shiny new drone. DJI itself maintains a database of fly/don't fly zones within the DJI Fly app, but if you're curious prior to buying, you should definitely grab CASA's approved safety app to check the exact rules in your area. At the time of writing that's the OpenSky app, but it's previously been CASA's own "Can I Fly Here?" app.

It's also important to know the full rules around drone flying in Australia (or wherever you take your DJI Mavic Mini for that matter) before you take off, because some of those may not be caught by a geofencing app. It's why I knew I couldn't test the DJI Mavic Mini while there were bushfires nearby (it's illegal) and why it was a bad idea to do so during the bushfire mop-up process, because there were plenty of helicopters hovering nearby.

Those rules carefully checked and adhered to, and I could get to testing out the DJI Mavic Mini. DJI has plenty of form in the drone space, and I was genuinely curious to see what the Mavic Mini could do, especially as it's offered at a lower price than the rest of DJI's offerings.

Close up of the DJI Mavic Mini drone

You do miss out on a few cool features found in the higher-end models, most notably 4K video recording. The DJI Mavic Mini tops out at 2.7K at 30fps, but it'll also be limited by the speed of the MicroSD card you put into it. Lazily dropping an older MicroSD card saw the DJI Fly app complain that it was a slower card, and that video quality would be impacted as a result.

You also don't get some of the neater tracking features or object avoidance baked into DJI's pricier drones, but for the first time drone user, there's plenty here to have fun with.

To test this out, I borrowed some time from my teenage daughter, who had never flown a drone before and took her out for a flying session. Once she'd taken off – a simple process of holding down on the launch button as an animation plays – she was happily getting to grips with the control and quickly testing out the more advanced features. You get fewer pre-defined flight paths, but being able to simply select a target and then shoot video around it in a sphere or spiral pattern still gives you plenty of scope for quick and easy videography.

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Close up of the DJI Mavic Mini drone

Battery life

  • 30 minutes per battery is good for a drone this light

DJI rates the battery supplied with the DJI Mavic Mini as good for up to 30 minutes of flight time. That will naturally vary a little depending on your flight style and prevailing conditions. If the DJI Mavic Mini has to spend more energy stabilising itself it'll naturally fly for less time.

Still, in my testing, that figure isn't too far off what you'll see out of the DJI Mavic Mini off a single battery. It's an area where the Fly More combo does earn that name, because three batteries will, of course, give you triple the flying time, presuming you've remembered to also keep the controller charged in the meantime.

Charging new batteries isn't a quick process at around two hours per battery, and the same rough timeframe to top up the charge on the controller as well. You can at least check the battery status with a single tap on each battery.

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Close up of the DJI Mavic Mini drone

Should you buy the DJI Mavic Mini?

  • An easy recommendation for the entry-level drone user

You can buy much cheaper drones than the DJI Mavic Mini if you just want to dip your pinkies into the world of drone flying, but they're generally very unsatisfying devices that struggle in even the smallest wind and deliver only a few scant minutes of flying pleasure.

The DJI Mavic Mini isn't what you could call "cheap" by the standards of those very basic drones, but in the world of actual quality drones, it's something of a bargain. Those after pro-grade videography will no doubt scoff at its lack of 4K shooting capability, but of course, that's what DJI's more pricey drones are for. If you want a drone with a solid level of battery endurance, good stabilisation and enough fun features to keep you enthralled at least as long as the battery lasts, then the DJI Mavic Mini is highly recommended.

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DJI Mavic Mini: Pricing and availability

The DJI Mavic Mini is available in a standard set in Australia for $599. The Mavic Mini Fly More combo retails at $799, and DJI's "Care Refresh" package which adds insurance for up to 2 replacement drones costs $59.

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