DJI has launched an all-new drone - the Mavic Mini - which is cute and tiny, yet light enough to escape legal restrictions in a lot of places.
Despite its small size, the Mini has got plenty of tech and some of the features that make the Mavic series so immensely enjoyable. It's also much cheaper, with prices starting at £369. That's almost half the price of the Mavic Air.
Therefore the Mavic Mini is an entry point into DJI's ecosystem. But that doesn't mean it's entry-level in terms of features, given the ease of flight, fun features and shooting modes from the built-in image-stabilised camera.
- Folding arms
- 3-axis gimbal
- Micro-USB port
Unlike DJI's last tiny drone - the Spark - the Mavic Mini unsurprisingly looks like a smaller version of the Mavic. And that means you get folding arms. The front arms fold out to the sides, while the back ones fold down at out. Unfolded, it rests on feet that protrude downwards from the front arms, and two much smaller ones that protrude slightly from the rear of the drone.
All over the body you'll see the Mavic-esque sculpting and angles, with the front that looks almost like a shark's nose. The camera hangs beneath this, mounted on a three-axis gimbal. This is a pretty epic feature: it's the first time DJI has put a three=axis mechanical gimbal on a drone this small. So not only does it fold up, it has much more stable footage than the Spark was capable of producing.
Because it's a Mavic, the Mini's camera sits at the front, rather than hanging underneath - as you'll see in the Phantom series - and it's covered by a transparent plastic housing that clips into place when you're not using the drone.
All the important ports are on the back. It's also where you'll find the battery door, which opens upwards to reveal a long rounded cavity designed to hold the newly designed batteries. Unlike other Mavic drones, this battery doesn't form any of the external shell of the drone. It's kept inside it.
Beneath it, there's a microSD card slot and a Micro-USB port. It's a little disappointing that it's not USB-C, as the batteries charge slowly as a result of this port choice.
Turn it upside down and you'll find the power button, the traditional four LED lights, some cooling vents, and a couple of downward-facing sensors. These are the only sensors on the tiny drone: there are no front, back or side sensors for avoiding obstacles. Presumably this is to keep both the cost and weight down.
That weight is a key point too: because it's under 250 grams, the Mavic Mini fits into a category of 'toy drones' - which various governmental bodies across the globe deem to be safer. It also means that it's exempt from UK registration laws that come in place from November 2019. We even checked it on some kitchen scales to make sure - it weighs exactly 249 grams with the battery and microSD card installed and the lens hood removed. In other words: it's exactly this weight in the condition in which you'll be flying it.
Folded up, it's around the same length and width as a smartphone, so it really is very compact. Small enough that it can fit in a coat pocket quite easily. In fact, it's roughly the same size as its controller, which is essentially the same control pad you'd get with a Mavic Air, with detachable joysticks and a folding arms for holding your smartphone and folding antennae.
Tech and flying
- 2km transmission range
- 30 minute flight time
It's not at all low-tech just because it's a "toy" though. The Mini still uses GPS and visual positioning (with those bottom-firing sensors) to detect where it is in the world; whether that's indoors or outside.
Because of this, you can still make use of the awesome QuickShot features to create some pretty dramatic shots. There's Circle which orbits around the subject, keeping locked onto them as it flies around at a steady altitude and distance. Rocket points down at the subject and flies straight up. Helix combines those two, circling the subject and flying upwards at the same time. Dronie is a classic mode that flies up and away from the subject. All these are something you'd find extremely hard to do if you were just doing it manually using the joysticks on the controller.
This capability is enabled using a refreshed app called DJI Fly, which works in a similar to manner to the app we've got to know from flying all of the other DJI drones over recent years. As part of the app, you get a flying coach at the beginning which helps any inexperienced drone flyers to get to grips with the basics.
Despite being a smaller drone, the Mini is still equipped with geo-fenced restrictions, so it won't fly in No-Fly zones. It'll also automatically return home to its take-off point when it's running low on battery or if it loses connection with the controller. We haven't had the opportunity to fly it ourselves yet, so we'll reserve judgement until we've had a few stints flying it in the North Wales countryside.
- 2.7k video recording
- 12MP stills
With a cheaper, smaller drone, there had to be a few compromises. In addition to having fewer sensors than the full-size Mavic, the Mini also has a lower quality camera. It shoots video at up to 2.7K resolution, rather than 4K.
Still, that's plenty sharp enough for you to view and edit footage for sharing on social media. And given just how low the price point is - compared to the Mavic Air and Mavic 2 - that's not too hard a compromise to make. Shooting at 2.7K will still be clear and detailed for most projects, particularly if the only screen anyone watches it on is a smartphone.
The Mini takes stills too. In this instance they're 12-megapixel, but there's no fancy advanced high dynamic range (HDR) or a larger high-end sensor like you'll find on the Mavic 2 Pro.
We'll not judge this drone on its photographic capabilities until we've spent a decent amount of time with it. At which point, we'll update this preview piece into a full review.
On first looks, the Mavic Mini seems like a lot of fun. Not only does it correct the issues we had with the DJI Spark - namely the stabilisation, lack of folding arms and steep price point - but it's more fun too.
The basic drone kit costs £369, which is significantly less than any of DJI's other drones. As always, we suspect the Fly More kit is a worthwhile purchase, for the extra batteries alone. Still, with 30 minutes flight time promised per charge, that might end up not being much of an issue.
The DJI Mavic Mini is small, portable, will have a bunch of accessories available, and has some advanced flight features. It might be a toy drone, but it's no childsplay when it comes to top features.