DJI Mavic Mini Drone Hands On

I got to try and fly DJI's ultra-light, affordable Mavic Mini drone

DJI mavic Mini
The new, 249 gram DJI Mavic Mini.

 Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

In the world of drones, you have two choices: lightweight toys that fly poorly but cost little or larger, more expensive drones that also require some flying expertise and a government-issued FAA license.

Granted, getting the license for most prosumer drones isn’t hard or even expensive ($5), but it’s one extra hoop most consumers would rather not fly…er…jump through.

DJI Mavic Mini
The new DJI Mavic Mini ships with the controlle rand one battery for $399. You can get a package with three batteries and a special, multi-battery charger for $499.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

With the new DJI Mavic Mini, a 249 gram almost pocketable drone that the company unveiled this week, DJI manages a relatively affordable flyer that, slips, by one gram, under the legal limit where the FAA requires a drone license, while still offering the power, stability and performance of drones that cost and weigh at least twice as much.

Hello, Tiny Drone

For its diminutive size and $399 price tag, DJI managed to squeeze a remarkable number of features inside the all plastic-composite chassis. First of all, the DJI Mavic Mini is a foldable drone (the best kind). Its four rotors fold neatly against its bug-shaped body in much the same way the larger Mavic Airs do. There’s a mechanical, 3-axis gimbal camera that shoots 2.7k video at 30 fps and takes 12 MP stills. The battery is smaller and lighter than that of the larger Mavic Air, and yet DJI claims you get a shocking 30 minutes of fly time on a charge. The drone even ships with a remote control that’s large enough to hold your iPhone. It’s essentially the same remote you get with pricier Mavic Air.

DJI Mavic Mini
The Mavic Mini folds up into a neat, almost pocket-sized package.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

The drone doesn’t skimp on flight intelligence features either. It still takes off with the press of a software button and can auto land thanks to its downward-facing sensor system. The Mavic Mini can fly out 2.5 miles, but if the battery gets low or it loses connection with the remote, it automatically returns home. The Mavic Mini can also accept all of DJI’s preprogrammed flight patterns, including Rocket, Circle and Dronie, which tracks the subject while flying back and up at the same time (it's a pretty dramatic effect)..

DJI also significantly updated its flight software. Company executives explained earlier this week that they removed “all the previous flight app’s cluttered UIs and overwhelming experiences.” The new app, DJI Fly, has a cleaner flying experience (even the lift-off routine is different) and includes, among other things, a new flight simulation tutorial mode that lets you learn how to fly a Mavic Mini without actually flying the hardware drone.

DJI Mavic Mini
The Mavic Mini has a 2.7K-capable camera floating in a 3-axis gimbal. Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

So what do you lose in this ultra-light, low-cost DJI drone? Obstacle detection. Basically, the precision control is a very good thing because, other than the down-facing sensor, the drone has no other obstacle sensors and will not automatically avoid walls, objects or people. At least it comes with a detachable, 360-degree propeller guard.

Test Drive

DJI let me take the Mavic Mini on a pair of short test flights in Brooklyn. I’ve flown consumer and prosumer drones of almost all sizes and have found, in general, that the smaller the drone, the more difficult it is to control and the more tendency it has to get caught in the smallest updraft.

But not the Mavic Mini.

Lance Ulanoff flying a drone
Despite its small size and light weight, the DJI Mavic Mini is an impressive flyer.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

I cannot recall flying a steadier or more responsive drone of this size. In fact, its responsiveness rivals that of the larger model. I flew it first in standard mode, which dampens speed and response a bit to help new flyers learn how to control the drone. Then I flew it in sport mode and had some real fun making the drone race away from me at top speed.

The Mavic Mini is also a surprisingly quiet drone, considering its size. Most of the mini drones I’ve flown have an almost ear-piercing, high-pitched drone. I’m not saying the Mavic Mini is whisper quiet. It’s not, but it’s also not annoyingly loud.

DJI Mavic Mini
The Mavic Mini is a smooth-flying drone.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

The marriage of drone and remote is as good as I’ve seen with any drone and I was honestly stunned at the precision. I could imagine navigating this tiny drone through some very tight spaces. In fact, during the launch event we saw some video YouTuber iPhonedo shot of the drone flying through tree branches and a metal gazebo’s narrowly-spaced metal bars

While I don’t have hard numbers on flight time, I did notice that one demo unit went through multiple test flights without needing a battery swap.

I captured all my moves on the tiny micro-SD card that I slipped inside the Mavic Mini body. I could also capture video direct from the drone to the phone connected to the Mavic Mini controller and, if I wanted, share the video to various platforms, all directly from within the app. Though I only shot a few minutes, video looked good and, most importantly, steady.

Without more time flying Mavic Mini in more challenging conditions, it’s too soon to tell if this gadget is a must-buy, but based on the size, quality and my limited experience with performance, I have a feeling that the Mavic Mini will be a very hot holiday gift gadget.

Preorders for the Mavic Mini open on October 30 and it starts shipping on November 11.