(Pocket-lint) - The DJI Mavic Mini is, as the name suggests, a mini drone. Indeed, it's what many call a 'toy drone' (DJI prefers 'Fly Cam'), hitting the size and weight points to circumvent the changing legal restrictions in a lot of places. People want drones and this is one way the Chinese company can continue to sell to its fans.
The price is very accessible too. At £369, it's easily the most affordable DJI drone to date. It's this entry pricepoint and the feature set - which includes a stabilised camera and much more - that promise great value and great fun.
- Folding arms
- 3-axis gimbal
- Micro-USB port
The Mavic Mini isn't like the company's last small drone, the Spark, as its name attests. No, the Mini is like a shrunken version of the full-size drone with which it shares its name, including a foldable design to make it even more portable.
All over the body you'll see the Mavic-esque sculpting and angles, with the front that looks almost like a shark's nose, and a camera that hangs beneath it, mounted on a three-axis gimbal.
This point is pretty epic: 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 camera sits at the front of the drone, rather than hanging underneath it like on the Phantom models, 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 of the drone. Here's where you'll find the battery door, which opens upwards to reveal a long and rounded cavity that's designed to hold the newly designed batteries. Unlike other Mavic models, the battery doesn't form any of the external shell of the drone - it's kept inside it.
Beneath, there's a microSD card slot and a micro USB port. It's a little disappointing that this port isn't USB-C, as it's slower to charge given the current port.
Turn the Mini upside down and you'll find the power button and the traditional four LED lights, some cooling vents and a couple of downward-facing sensors. And these are the only sensors on this tiny drone: there are no front, back or side sensors for avoiding obstacles - undoubtedly to both reduce cost and to keep the weight down.
The whole 249g weight is rather important too. That's precisely one gram beneath the legal drone restrictions in the UK (different versions will be sold elsewhere, such as Japan, where it needs to be lighter still), so it's not subject to many of the regulations. In the UK you won't need to register it or take an online theory course, which is necessary for larger drones based on UK laws that came into place from November 2019. The same geo-fenced No-Fly Zones remain impossible to fly in.
Folded up, the Mini is 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 all low-tech 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.
In our testing, however, we never managed to get GPS working. It could use the controller/smartphone location to realise where it was, but we weren't once able to get it to return home to its take-off position to land. Instead, we were required to fly it back manually. And that can be a slightly nerve-wrecking experience when the low battery warning starts bleeping at you with the drone a little distance away, hovering over a dense forest.
Still, while a little stressful, it wasn't a terrible experience. Because it's a DJI drone, it's really easy to fly using the included remote control, which connects to your smartphone by gripping onto it and using that display as the real-time camera stream.
Despite the GPS take-off/landing not working, we were able to create some pretty dramatic shots with DJI's fantastic four QuickShot modes. There's Circle, which orbits around the subject, keeping locked on 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. Last up, Dronie is a classic mode that flies up and away from the subject.
All four modes worked consistently, and even when flying in a slight breeze the drone stayed stable, the camera producing lovely smooth footage. We'd argue it's the QuickShot modes that really make a DJI drone so special. It's so simple to use. The fact you can just draw a square around the object you want it to keep locked onto, then just press a button to start this QuickShot mode still blows us away. It's something you'd find extremely hard to do if you were just doing it manually using the joysticks on the controller.
Perhaps the only downside is that there are only four of these modes. The Mini doesn't have the same full repertoire of QuickShot modes that the Mavic 2 offers.
All 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 everything.
With it not having obstacle avoidance systems, however, you do need to ensure that any flying - whether using the QuickShot automation or manually - is done in a wide space, and high enough to avoid trees and such like.
When you are flying manually, you can switch between three modes: Sport, Photo and Cinematic. For aspiring film-makers, it's the last of these that's the most useful, as it makes camera and drone movement slower, enabling you to create some really smooth video without the abrupt movements you might get in either of the other two modes.
As for battery life, DJI claims you can get up to 30 minutes of flying time from a fully charged unit. In real use, we got roughly 20 minutes before the battery dropped to the dreaded 19-per cent mark. It's possible you'll get another few minutes flying at this point, but the alert beeping and flashing on the screen is enough to make you panic and get that drone back quickly to swap out the battery for another.
As with most of its other drones, we would recommend picking up the bundle with extra batteries. If you want a good afternoon of flying and shooting video, you're going to want the spares. Thankfully, there's a Fly More bundle that includes two extra batteries, plus a charger that can top them all up again simultaneously.
If there's a downside to this, it's that the batteries charge over Micro-USB, rather than USB-C, which means it's pretty slow. If you have all three docked in the charging cradle, it takes all afternoon to charge them all up again.
- 2.7K video recording
- 12MP stills
With a cheaper, smaller drone, there had to be a few compromises. So as well as having fewer sensors, the Mini also has a lower quality camera than its more expensive, bigger siblings. 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, 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.
At 2.7K footage will still be clear and detailed enough for any project you might be working on, particularly if the only screen anyone watches it on is a smartphone.
It takes stills to: in this instance, they're 12-megapixel, but there's no fancy advanced HDR (high dynamic range) or a larger high-end sensor like you'll find on the Mavic 2 Pro.
Compared to the more expensive drones, the image quality is a bit flat and lacking in colour, but it's still pretty good. And because the smooth flying enables this cinematic style movement, there's a special something about the footage overall - it doesn't look janky or too abrupt.
Compared to its much bigger and much more expensive siblings, it's easy to see the Mavic Mini through a veil of shortcomings. But this small-scale drone isn't designed to compete with such pro drones.
Considering its size and how inexpensive it is, the performance and features of the Mavic Mini are fantastic. It offers far more than Spark did, and you're not missing a tonne from the Mavic Air.
If you're after an easy, affordable way to get into the world of drones, the Mavic Mini is a superb option. You'll get the basics of what's available in more advanced machines, but in a smaller package that means fewer legal restrictions. It won't leave a massive dent in your bank account either.
This article was first published 30 October 2019 and has been updated to reflect its full review status