DJI Mavic Air: Big Features in a Small Drone (With Test Flight Footage!)

Back when crypto was still doing amazingly well, I finally picked up a drone because I felt I could afford it. Little did I know what a big shit both the stock and crypto markets were about to take. Oh well, may as well still have some fun droning.

I chose the Mavic Air because it boasted 90% of the functionality of the Pro at a lower price point and 50% the size. I do not want to need a dedicated drone backpack. I already have a backpack I like. I want the drone to be small enough to tuck in there without hogging all the space.

There are some drawbacks. It has a flight time of only 21 minutes, versus the Pro’s 27. Might seem trivial but with such limited flight time in the first place, every minute matters. Still, a sacrifice I was willing to make for portability. Build quality is good, the new AI obstacle avoidance features looked good, so I pulled the trigger.

Look how small that sucker is when folded up. I mean I have huge hands, but still. This isn’t my first drone, mind you. I bought a cheapo $90 unit, one step above toy grade as it could transmit video back to my phone, just so I could learn how to fly without worrying about wrecking something really expensive. I’m glad I did, since I crashed that thing a bunch of times before I got the hang of it.

A spare battery will probably be my next purchase, so I can charge one while using the other. They don’t charge from USB-C as you might expect, but require their own proprietary cable. You have to buy a converter cable from DJI to charge these from USB-C or USB power banks, which is major dildos. At least it’s possible to do, however.

The controller folds up small, just like the drone. The control sticks are removable and stash inside it when folded up. It has its own battery rather than running off your phone, and even charges your phone while it’s connected (serving as the display, probably some of the AI, and extra storage for video besides the 8 gigs onboard the drone)

Unlike some other DJI drones, this controller has no LCD display of its own, it relies entirely on your phone’s display. I have to admit it was a chore to get through setup. It seemingly always needs a firmware update before you fly it, which takes many minutes, while your drone drains its battery just sitting there.

I actually managed to drain it down to 75% just waiting for the firmware to update before even getting it in the air. Apparently the controller can connect to a tablet by wifi if you want a bigger view, but I couldn’t get that to work. The drone never showed up in my wifi list, and the QR code scanning alternative didn’t work either.

Plugging the phone directly into the controller works though, and after the tedious setup is complete, every time after that it basically just connects itself as soon as your phone is connected to the controller, the controller is turned on, the drone is turned on, and your phone is running the DJI GO 4 app.

There’s also all kinds of warnings, tutorials, and a test you have to take to prove you’re not a dingus before they will let you fly the thing. I appreciate the wisdom in this, and that it placates nervous legislators, but it’s not really needed for people who trained on a cheaper drone already.

Anyways, have a look at the footage from my test flight below. It’s set at 720p/30fps just so I didn’t fill up my phone in one flight, but can be set all the way up to 4k/30fps, with 1080p and lower offering framerates up to 120fps if you want.

All in all, pretty satisfactory for the $800 I paid. I could have gotten a used or refurbished Mavic Pro for that and gotten longer flight times and twice the transmission range (2 miles, vs. 1, assuming no obstructions). But I don’t have any such need. The needs I do have mostly center around portability. Besides, by the time I’m ready for something better, there will be new models out. That’s a bridge I can cross when I come to it.

As an aside, the rules I looked up and strove to abide by during the flight were as follows: Do not fly over crowds, do not fly near airports, do not fly higher than 400 feet, do not fly after dark, do not fly near landmarks or government buildings, and maintain visual line of sight. I bent that last rule a few times, but all in all the flight was mostly kosher.

If you want to know why I was so nervous about breaking some guideline, the fines for illegal use of a drone are insanely steep. We’re talking several thousand dollars in some cases. It’s nothing to trifle with, and I’m not looking to throw many times what this already expensive device cost down a pit.

That’s all for this time. If I can think of some interesting sites to capture aerial footage from in the future (and in fact I have a few in mind at the time of writing) I’ll be sure to write articles about it with footage included for your viewing pleasure.

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