(Pocket-lint) - DJI made a big statement launching the Mavic Pro drone.
For the first time the company's best and most useful technological advances are available in a product that costs less than £1,000. What's more, that product is easily the most portable and user-friendly drone to date.
With its impressive spec list, groundbreaking design and relatively low cost, surely the Mavic Pro can't fail to impress?
DJI Mavic Pro review: Design
Perhaps the most impressive feature of the Mavic Pro is its size. We've seen a lot of the technology before, on drones like the Phantom 4, but we've never seen it packed in to such a compact and portable product.
The Mavic Pro is also a much meaner-looking product, with more of the contours and angular sharp edges of a stealth bomber, rather than the bulbous, round finish of the Phantom.
Unlike the Phantom series the Mavic Pro also doesn't rest on a built-in set of helicopter-like stands. It almost lies flat on its belly, resting on the short legs which protrude downwards from the quadcopter arms.
These arms are unusual as they can be easily folded in to the body. The front arms fold inward towards the top of the chassis, while the rear arms pivot downwards to tuck in to the underside, leaving you with a product that easily fits into your hand and can be thrown in to a backpack.
We were able to throw it in to one of our smaller backpacks and still have plenty of space left over for a camera, a spare lens and the controller. It's not heavy to carry around either - it feels no different to carrying a laptop-toting bag on your back.
To make it so compact, the designers also had to recreate the camera and three-axis gimbal system which holds it in place and offers smooth stabilisation. It's not only much smaller than the Phantom's, it sits on the front of the drone, rather than dangling from underneath.
As for the quadcopter blades, they've been designed in a manner that means you don't have to set them up in the right position before taking flight. Just starting up the motors is enough to force them into their correct orientation, optimised for flight.
DJI Mavic Pro review: Getting started
Before taking off, the drone needs to be connected to the included remote control, which can be beefed up with the addition of a smartphone to act as a screen to handle the drone's camera and other features. To switch between these modes - essentially fly only and flying with camera capture - there's a slider button beneath a flap on the right side of the drone.
To switch on the drone and controller, you simply double-click then hold the power buttons for a few seconds. On the drone itself, that's the only button on the top. The remote's power button is a more traditional button with the universal power button icon printed on. Once they're both on, they should connect automatically within a few seconds.
To use a smartphone in conjunction with the controller, simply download the DJI Go app, connect the phone using the included Micro-USB or Lightning cable, and secure it in the controller's bespoke grips.
Launch the app, select Camera Mode and the phone is ready to be used. In our experience, it's always best to use the smartphone as well as the controller. It offers a much easier way to control various features, and has a plethora of settings. It's also necessary to make sure the camera focuses properly for video and photo capture.
Before taking off, ensure that the phone display shows that the GPS position has been recorded, the home location is updated and it says it's ready to fly. On the whole, the process is about as seamless and worry-free as you could imagine.
DJI Mavic Pro review: The flying experience
If you're a first-time drone flyer, there's no better drone to start with than the Mavic Pro. It's almost too easy to control.
The aforementioned remote control has two joysticks, which control the drone's height, the direction the drone faces, and the drone's motion. There are also two scroll-wheels on the back, one of which adjusts the angle of the camera gimbal, the other which is programmable. By default, it shows battery information on the remote's small monochromatic screen.
The remote is compact and easy to hold, and can be used on its own, or in conjunction with your smartphone. The smartphone essentially becomes a monitor to view the live camera feed at up to 1080p resolution, but also has its own on-screen soft keys to control landing, returning home and looking at information like drone battery life, signal strength and such.
The app also contains all the settings changes you can make, and there are dozens of different options you can change. Part of the settings options are entirely camera-focused, so that you can change photo and video resolution, playback and a number of other usual camera options.
There's a plethora of options to change the way things work, from the remote control sensitivity to the drone's obstacle avoidance. Be that changing the sensitivity of the joysticks, or telling the drone to stop in front of obstacles or to fly around them - it's up to you.
To take off, there's a take-off button which you tap on-screen, then “slide to take off”. The drone then lifts itself off the ground and hovers a few feet before you use the left joystick to send it up into the air.
Once the drone is in the air, you can choose how you want to fly it. Of course, you can just manually cruise around using the joysticks.
There's a beginner mode which is really useful for first-timers, as this limits how high the drone can fly and how far away it goes from the home point. It also changes the sensitivity of the controller so that you can get used to what everything does without it accidentally smashing into the sea in a big ball of flames.
There's a gesture mode, where you signal it with a handful of preset gestures. First wave to get its attention, then tell it to take a selfie. In our experience, the gesture mode was hit and miss: sometimes it worked, other times it didn't recognise our gestures.
The most consistent feature in our tests was ActiveTrack. When activated, you draw a square over an object on screen, then the camera locks onto that. By default, the gimbal adjusts the angle and direction of the camera to follow the object around while the drone hovers in place.
However, there are other flight modes that use the tracking technology to follow you, or an object. If it's following from behind, flying forwards, its obstacle avoidance tech ensures it doesn't crash into anything while flying autonomously, by flying around obstacles or stopping in front of them (depending on how you've set it up).
It can also circle around you, or the object, or be switched to the new terrain mode which uses the sensors on the drone's underside to ensure it never gets too close to the ground as you walk up a hill, regardless of how high or steep the ground gets.
Of course, for the racers, there's sport mode that gets the drone moving at up to 40mph, which, incidentally, turns off the obstacle avoidance system. On the opposite end of the spectrum is tripod mode which slows things right down, and boosts the sensitivity of the controller to get nice, smooth and slow movements. Perfect for cinematic film-making
DJI Mavic Pro review: Features
As feature lists go there aren't many that match the variety of useful and market-leading technological capabilities of the Mavic Pro, at least not at this price point or in a device this small.
First up, the 3,830mAh battery - despite being compact - has been designed to handle between 21 and 27 minutes of flight time, depending on what kind of flying you're doing, in what conditions and how fast. That's a maximum distance of eight miles, providing there's no wind. Obviously the battery is a little less long-lasting if the drone is being forced to contend with a stiff breeze.
In our experience, we rarely got anything close to 27 minutes of flying. Being autumn, and thus physically impossible to escape the wind, the drone was being forced to work hard to combat the elements, resulting in the battery draining within 20 minutes.
On the plus side, it did go to show how good the drone is at combatting wind. While you could tell the motors were working hard to keep the drone in the air, and in position, it still managed to stay very steady. That's good news for capture purposes.
Then there's the proprietary OcuSync transmission built in to the new controller, which has a range up to 4.3 miles (7km). In other words, if you fly it as far away as you can before losing signal, it would more than likely run out of battery before making its way back to you. This same transmission technology is used in the new Goggles VR-type headset for first-person-view through the drone's camera.
As with the Phantom, there are a number of important sensors and processors built in to the MavicPro, which make it both incredibly easy to use and very high-end.
Starting with the basics, there's GPS and GLONASS to keep it connected to over 20 positioning satellites to ensure it knows where it is all the time. Then, on the underside, there are sensors to detect how far away from the ground it is as well as cameras to recognise specific parts of the ground.
To do that, it records some video as it's taking off. You fly the drone, then hit the return home button icon on the smartphone screen and it uses GPS/GLONASS to return to the location. As it approaches landing it captures some more video using the bottom-firing cameras, which it overlays onto the video captured at take-off, to match them and ensure it lands in exactly the same place it started from. DJI claims it can land within an inch of its starting position.
However, we've had mixed results with this feature. A couple of units we tested landed perfectly every time, with frightening accuracy. Whereas another drone that was sent to our office failed every time. Instead of landing where it took off from, it would just land wherever it happened to be at that time. Even with us ensuring it recorded the home location correctly, and flying away from that location, it would still just drop down where it was.
DJI Mavic Pro review: Camera
A lot of the end results from the Mavic Pro's camera and video depend very much on how good you are at controlling the drone. Especially when it comes to video footage. If you want smooth panning and cinematic shots, you need to learn how to control the joysticks smoothly. Thankfully, that doesn't take too long to learn.
For the most part, the end results from the camera look good. There's plenty of colour and detail in the images and video.
We did sometimes find that it failed to adjust exposure and focus to match lighter or darker scenes. As with the smartphone camera app, tapping on a different part of the image should change focus and exposure to match - but sometimes it would leave us with a very dark as a result image.
Video can be shaky if the drone is dealing with wind, but the gimbal does a good job overall of dealing with any unwanted movement. And there's always post-shooting stabilisation by software to smooth out the results even more.
One issue that could be improved is that the camera doesn't focus automatically without you touching the smartphone's screen to focus. That means if you want to record video or take pictures you will need to have a phone connected.
It's hard to think of a better drone out there at the same price point as the Mavic Pro. It's nearest competitor, in terms of price, is the GoPro Karma which costs pretty much the same amount if you want the camera included.
The difference, however, is that DJI's latest quadcopter is far easier to carry around and has much better GPS positioning and obstacle avoidance technology.
In short, if you have a thousand pounds to spend on a sky-bound hovering camera, you're unlikely to find anything that comes close to the DJI Mavic Pro.
From £999, Amazon