DJI’s Mavic Pro made waves for its portability: It was the first drone to have arms that folded against its body, making it supercompact. Since it launched, many others have fielded knockoffs with a similar design, but it looks like only DJI can knock the Mavic Pro off its perch as our favorite camera drone. And it has, with the Mavic Air.
Smaller (and $200 less) than the Pro, the $799 Air also has folding arms and the same 4K camera and gimbal as the Pro. But the latest model also comes with a new object-avoidance mode that makes it even easier to pilot in narrow spaces. It’s the best camera drone yet.
It’s like the Mavic Pro, only smaller. The Mavic Air has a sleek look with swooping curves that make it look like it’s flying, even when it’s on the ground. Like the Pro, the Air’s four arms rotate outward from the main body for flight mode.
When folded, the Mavic Air is about 3.5 inches wide and 6.5 inches long. With the arms extended, the drone expands to about 7 inches wide, not including its rotors.
The Mavic Air has a sleek look with swooping curves that make it look like it’s flying, even when it’s on the ground.
The front of the drone houses its 4K camera and three-axis gimbal, which is the same as on the more expensive Mavic Pro. Here, though, the camera is protected on two sides by the drone’s body. On the Pro, the camera was more exposed, so a clear plastic shroud was needed to protect it during transport.
The Air is studded with sensors that help it navigate its environment: Above the main camera are two forward-looking sensors, while the underside and rear add two more sensors each.
The bulk of the bottom of the Air is taken up by its removable battery, which has four lights to indicate how much charge it has.
Similar to the controller for the DJI Spark, the Mavic Air’s controller has two arms that extend from the main body to hold your smartphone in place. I like that the Air’s controller uses a physical cable to connect it with your phone (there are adapters for Android and iOS devices); with the Spark, you had to first pair your phone wirelessly with the controller, and then with the drone — a minor but annoying extra step.
Otherwise, the Air’s controller is much the same: Two joysticks control altitude and motion, while shoulder buttons rotate the camera, take photos and video. Other buttons on the face land the Air, engage Sport mode and power the controller on and off. Everything is laid out well. Anyone who’s used a PS4 or Xbox controller in the last decade will have no problems figuring out how to use the Air’s version.
Another nice touch: The controller sticks for the Air unscrew and can be stowed in the body of controller, which makes it much easier to carry around. I seemed to always forget this, though, and had to unfold the controller’s arms, stow the sticks and fold the arms back up again.
If you want to skip the controller entirely, the Mavic Air, like the Spark, can be controlled using nothing more than hand movements. You can launch the Air, move it up, down, right and left, and take photos and videos.