DJI Mavic Mini – Part One

The DJI Mavic Mini is the company’s latest kid off the block – although in this case the term “kidlet” is more apt. It is tiny, but still technicaly packs a punch.

I am doing this review in a couple of parts (at least), as it warrants a little more than a simple review I feel. This is because the DJI Mavic Mini could be the most important drone – commercially for them – that DJI have made to date. And there is a lot to explore.

Over the years I have tested many drones from various manufacturers such as Parrot, GoPro, Dobby, and Swann but none of these has come even close to what DJI has offered in the past.

The last DJI drone I tested was the original Mavic which I took up to Broome and zipped it around the tidal beaches for some fun, and even made a couple of videos at Eco Beach Resort showing the differences up in the Kimberley of Western Australia region between high and low tide.

But that cost a coupla grand, putting it out of the reach of many, thus leaving a price hole for the knock-off manufacturers to plunder with inferior product. The Mavic Mini is only $599 though and from only a single 2 minute flight shows its quality and capability in comparison. The knock-offs cannot even hope to compete.

My benchmark comparison for drone testing, which many may scoff at as I admit, this was not a commercial success, is my GoPro Karma. Why is it the benchmark? Quite simple; I can take it out of its case, press the starter’s button and assuming all is fully charged, it just works. There is no need to use a smartphone as a pseudo controller as it has a dedicated one with its own LCD screen, and I like this.

In comparison, the Mavic range, including the Mavic Mini uses a combo of your smartphone and a dedicated controller to do its thing. And I do find some aspects of this a little fiddly.

You see, a cable is used to connect from the controller to the charging / comms port on your phone and hence to the DJI Fly software installed. I just find this cable, which can be USB-C, mini-USB or a Lightning cable with all three supplied, quite short, and with the Huawei P9 phone I was using (my own Samsung Galaxy 7 is not that flash in bright sunlight) was a bit o’ a bastard to setup with this cable and get into the slot of the controller.

Once that is done, you do need to pair the controller to the Mavic Mini, or more correctly, I had to. I would have thought this was automatically done at the factory, but there you go. Prior to this though, both units need to be turned on and unless you have Mavic experience or read the manual (which wasn’t in the box and had to be downloaded), this basic step alone will drive you nuts!

It is not as simple as just pushing the go button on each of the controller and drone as would be (seemingly) obvious. Oh no. You have to press once, let go and then do a press and hold on each to actually get the engines firing.

Aha! Success you think, until you see a warning message on screen letting you know the firmware is out of date and therefore has to be updated before you can fly. This takes another 15 minutes or so and even then, you cannot just walk outside and go for a leisurely spin above the treetops. First, I had to set the compass by doing a drone vertical and horizontal orientation.

Then and only then can you navigate the software and actually get the thing in the air.

Now, for the seasoned drone users out there, I know this stuff is mostly the norm for the more advanced drones that need GPS and the like to be able do the party tricks their masters have instilled in those clever little silicon chippy things on board.

But I think a better pre-first-ever-flight cheat sheet would be a good idea so as to prepare the newbie user for the sequence(s) needed.

It’s a bit like getting a new toy for Christmas only to find it needs batteries and all the shops are shut.

Yes you can play with it Johnny, just not straight away…

My review unit also came with optional prop protectors, and whilst a 5 year old who is au fait with Hungry Hippo or Mousetrap will tweak straight away how to fit them, many will need to hunt down the YouTube video I suspect. They are akin to those puzzles of yore, where two seemingly simple blocks are put together to make a pyramid, but you go insane working out what are the correct angles to place them both at.

Despite these criticisms, they are in the overall scheme of things quite minor, and I only mention them here to pre-warn potential buyers of what to expect.

In the bigger world, the Mavic Mini is a fabulous piece of kit with capability way beyond what you’d expect from the price tag.

I know you’d sort of expect that by now, with it coming from the brains of a company with a pedigree in this area that is now just about without peer. But it is still really nice to be surprised.

More on the actual capabilities and flying experiences in the next instalment (only caused by the fact at the moment here after 10 days+ of glorious above 30 degree windless days, we have lots of bushfire smoke and a stiff breeze which is not conducive to mini drone flying obviously).

And I can’t wait!

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