9-underscored dji mavic mini review
CNN  — 

Last week, I offered my first impressions of DJI’s $399 Mavic Mini drone. The flying camera is small, portable and easy to use, and it has long battery life. After a few more flights (and nearly losing the review sample), I’m sold and ready to write a full review.

You can order the Mavic Mini for $399, which includes the drone, one battery, a set of extra propellers and a controller; but I recommend going for the $499 Fly More Combo that includes the drone, a controller, a carrying case, three batteries, a battery charger, extra propellers, a propeller guard, and an 18-watt wall adapter to charge it all up.

Overall design

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The Mavic Mini has four propellers, each one mounted on an arm that folds into the body. With all four arms folded in, the Mini is not much bigger than a smartphone, save for its overall height, of course.

With the arms out and propellers installed, the Mini is roughly the size of a couple of books placed next to each other. In other words, when it comes to drones, the Mini fully deserves its name.

On the front of the Mini is a 12-megapixel camera that’s attached to a gimbal that keeps the camera steady and free of shakes or vibration when in flight. The gimbal is what keeps your photos and videos looking crisp and clear, despite the camera being attached to a flying object.

DJI designed the Mavic Mini to weigh 249 grams, about 9 ounces, putting it just below the Federal Aviation Administration’s 250-gram weight limit that requires a drone to be registered. It’s probably a good idea to register your Mavic Mini anyway, especially if you add any accessories like the propeller guards that will bring its total weight over the 250-gram mark.

On the bottom of the Mini is the power button, along with four indicator lights and a trio of sensors that are used to detect the ground and help with landing the Mini.

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A door swings open on the rear of the Mini and provides a spot for the 2,400-mAh battery, a micro SD card to store photos and videos, and a micro USB port to charge the Mini’s battery.

A controller is included with each Mavic Mini. The controller has two antennas that are used to communicate with the drone, a pair of joysticks, and two arms that fold out to hold most modern smartphones. If you want to use something like a small tablet, you’ll need to purchase an adapter that makes it possible.

The controller connects to your phone via a cable. DJI includes cables with USB-C, micro USB and Lightning connectors, which covers nearly every phone available right now.

You’ll need to charge the controller on its own, and that’s something to be mindful of, especially if you use an Android phone. The 2,600-mAh battery in the controller is good enough for 4½ hours of use with an iOS device, or just 1 hour and 40 minutes with an Android phone. That big difference is due to the controller charging your Android device while the two are connected.

The controller’s arms and antenna collapse into its housing, making the combination of the Mini and its controller very portable. I wouldn’t say you can carry either piece around in your pocket, but it’s not far-fetched to say you can easily throw them into a backpack or bag.

If you opt to buy the Fly More Combo, it includes a carrying case that will also hold extra batteries, a charger, propellers and any cables you might need.

What it’s like to fly

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Let me cut to the chase: Flying the Mavic Mini is a ton of fun. I’ve flown it through my house (using the included propeller guards) as well as outside for around 20 flights now.

Battery life is impressive. I let the Mini hover in my living room without any input or direction from me, and the battery lasted 23 minutes and 30 seconds. That’s a little short of the 30-minute estimate that DJI advertises, but impressive nonetheless. I think I saw lower battery life simply because I’m flying at a higher altitude (almost 4,700 feet) and the thinner air has an impact on the battery life of drones in general.

Even if my experienced time is a bit shorter than DJI’s estimate, flying for 20 minutes is more than enough time to get some cool shots and practice your piloting skills. Each battery takes about 90 minutes to charge up.

I really enjoy using the controller to fly the Mini, but I do wish the mounting bracket for my phone was above the joysticks instead of below them. It’s a matter of personal preference, and I’ve certainly grown accustomed to the placement. But I’ve found the other arrangement works better for me, especially when it comes to tapping on the screen to do things like activate the special flying modes or switching to the map view.

That said, the fact that DJI provides a controller that can control the Mini from 2.5 miles, at this price point, is crazy.

On the back of the controller is a dial to control the gimbal, along with buttons to quickly take a photo or video. There’s also a Return To Home button directly on the controller that will bring the drone back to the home spot that was created during takeoff, or one you created during the flight.

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The Mini doesn’t have any sort of obstacle avoidance, so it will run into a tree or fence if you’re not paying attention. That’s a feature more commonly found on more expensive drones, so just make sure you’re always paying attention to your surroundings when flying the Mini.

My only complaint about flying with the DJI Fly app is that the warnings it gives aren’t very descriptive or educational. As I wrote in my first impressions of the drone, I receive various warnings before each flight at my home, due to being so close to an airport. But besides telling me what kind of airspace I’m located in, it doesn’t tell me exactly what that means. After far too many Google searches and reading a bunch of aviation jargon, I figured out that I live in an area where I’m required to submit my flight plans and get FAA approval.

It sounds complicated, but using an app like Kittyhawk, the process takes maybe a minute, and I have approval another 30 seconds later. I just wish DJI had told me that, instead of leaving it up to me to figure out on my own.

I can’t complain too much about the app, though. Why? Because without it, I would have lost the Mavic Mini forever.

Dear reader, I lost the drone

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On Thanksgiving, I was able to get out into an open area and test out the Mini’s overall range. At home, I was only able to fly to around 1,000 feet away before there was enough interference to pretty much cut off the feed from the drone to the controller, and it would want to return home.

But in a wide open area free of any Wi-Fi networks or large structures, I was able to fly a mile away within a couple of minutes and had complete control over the Mini the entire time. It was crazy to me to know the Mini, a really small drone, was a mile away.

I didn’t want to push it any farther, thanks to a couple of high-wind warnings the app started giving me once I was already in flight. After I turned the Mini around and started to bring it back home, the wind took over. I’ll save you the embarrassing details, but at the end of the day, I gained an entirely new appreciation for the DJI Fly app’s Find My Drone feature, which helped me track down the Mini after the wind carried it another three-quarters of a mile away from me. There was a crash landing next to a river (thankfully it wasn’t in the river) and a very panicked 10 minutes of searching.

I have to give credit to DJI: The Find My Drone feature led me directly to the Mini, and the drone was undamaged. Actually, I think the experience gave me more confidence when flying the Mini, knowing that should something go wrong, I most likely would be able to recover it.

Picture and video quality is pretty darn good

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There are far more expensive drones with higher quality cameras, but the Mavic Mini is no slouch. I’ve been impressed with the 2.7K video quality and the photos I’ve been able to capture when flying.

If anything, I think the photos are a little overexposed at times, especially in a bright environment, but overall the photos and videos I’ve been able to shoot with the Mini are more than good enough for sharing on Facebook or Twitter.

Using the DJI Fly app, you can make manual adjustments to the camera’s exposure, ISO and other photography settings in order to fine tune your shots, if you really want.

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Syncing whatever you’ve captured from the drone to your phone is done through the DJI Fly app and is a convenient way to quickly get a picture off the drone and ready to share. If you’re not in a hurry, I recommend waiting until you can pull the micro SD card from the Mini and transfer directly to a computer. It’s much faster, and you don’t have to worry about battery life for the Mini, controller and phone when transferring.

I’m sold

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Right now, the Mavic Mini is sitting atop my Christmas list – and I imagine I’m not alone.

I’ve always entertained the idea of getting a drone, but I was stopped by the overall cost and questions about how much I would really use something that would end up costing over $1,000.

After spending time with the Mavic Mini, however, I’m sold. Not only is it affordable at $399 (or $499 for the Fly More Combo, which is worth it), but it does everything I want a drone to do. I can use it to fly around and have some fun, or if I’m in a more scenic area, I’ll be able to quickly pull it out of the case and get it in the air for a more creative photo.

The Mavic Mini is a fantastic drone for beginners, and surely has some appeal to more experienced drone pilots who want something that’s even more portable and easier to travel with.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailer’s listed price at the time of publication.