Like a DJ artfully sampling pieces of music to make a powerful whole, DJI’s Mavic Air ($799 with remote) blends the best of its consumers drones to make a desirable end product and one of the most exciting consumer drones in recent memory. The company unveiled the foldable drone at a private event in New York City on Tuesday.
The DJI Mavic Air surmounts the DJI Spark’s battery deficiencies while beating it on size (folded). It inherits the Mavic Pro’s foldability, while improving on the concept. So much so that, when folded, the Mavic Air shrinks to sub-Spark drone size. It’s also significantly lighter than the Pro.
Despite its enviable portability (it’ll fit in your coat pocket), the Mavic Air promises to leave the Spark’s paltry 16-minute fly time-per-charge (in perfectly still air, real world was more like 11) in the dust with up to 21-minutes of per-charge flight. Suddenly, the idea of trade-offs seems ridiculous.
The Mavic Air maintains the Mavic Pro’s 3-axis gimbal, while recessing it further into the drone body for greater protection (and perhaps reliability).
The compact body does nothing to diminish the Mavic Air’s speed or agility. In sport mode, DJI promises the Mavic Air can reach a blistering 42.5 mph. It’s also up for a stiff wind, letting fliers, according to DJI, maintain control at 22 mph.
This is not, however, just a mashup of the greatest hits of the Mavic Pro and Spark. The Mavic Air has more sensors than the Pro. It can, in fact, see behind it, similar to DJI’s Phantom 4 Pro +.
Like that drone, the Mavic Air uses the landing gear for something more than sticking the landing. The Phantom puts visual sensors on the legs. On the Mavic Air, those fold out appendages serve as antenna, which means better connectivity over longer distances. The Mavic Pro has a promised 2.5-mile range (which is all well and good, but most consumers should never fly any drone further than they can see with the naked eye).
Like the Mavic Pro, the Air features a 4K-ready camera, but then adds new capabilities like 32 MP panoramas, 360-degree images, and 120 FPS HD slow-mo video.
Naturally, the Mavic Air is as adept as the Spark at gesture-controlled flight, but then it takes this concept a step future, adding the ability to take off and land from the ground with, essentially a wave of your hand. There’s no complicated handshake between the drone and its pilot.
For my brief test flight, we placed the Mavic Air on the ground. As I stood roughly 15 feet away from it, the Mavic Air appeared to see me (this is a robot, after all). The lights turn green and then, with my palm pointed out toward it, I wordlessly commanded it to spin up and rise from the ground. Making the Mavic Air land was just as easy.
The drone also used gestures to take photos of and video of me. Based on the front lights, I think it did, but I never got to see what was on the flier’s 8 GB internal storage. BTW: This may be the first DJI drone to support a USB-C connection.
DJI has also ratcheted up the responsiveness on the Mavic Air. Back when I tested the Spark, I noticed that it often lost track of me (I could see its gimbal-bound camera furtively searching for me). The Mavic Air appeared to have a much better lock on me and my raised digits. This is by no means a full test, but I noticed the difference. DJI has also added Intelligent Flight modes including Boomerang, which essentially takes the Mavic Air on a boomerang flight path (all while tracking you) and Asteroid, which integrates the 360 image capabilities.
There are also new terrain-avoidance capabilities, which rely heavily on the new 7-camera vision system. DJI gave a brief demo, showing how the Mavic Air could navigate Styrofoam rocks and 4ft-tall cardboard pine trees, but I can’t really assess these abilities until I try them for myself.
Build-wise, the Mavic Air shares the materials and quality of both the Spark and Mavic Pro. It feels substantial, but not heavy in the hand and the act of folding and unfolding it is, if anything, more seamless than it was with the Mavic Pro.
One thing the Mavic Air is not is quieter than the Mavic Pro. DJI recently introduced the Mavic Pro Platinum, which DJI claims is 60% quieter than the original model. One rep told me that the Air is probably at around the same sound level as the Pro. In the hall where DJI introduced the new drone, it was hard to isolate the drones sounds from the hubbub of attendees.
The DJI Mavic Air is, it appears, a symphony of good choices. It checks off boxes for power, portability speed and battery life. $799 is not an entry-level price, but it is a good value. It’s hard to imagine how would-be consumer drone competitors will respond.
Gurupriyan is a Software Engineer and a technology enthusiast, he’s been working on the field for the last 6 years. Currently focusing on mobile app development and IoT.