Jefferson Graham has an exclusive first look at the new DJI Mavic Air, a smaller, lighter and less expensive version of the DJI Mavic Pro drone.
PALOS VERDES PENINSULA, Calif. — Drones keep getting smaller and smaller, with one of the latest a new, high-quality flying camera the size of travel headphones.
Chinese drone powerhouse DJI offered us a first look at the latest, just announced Mavic Air, a sequel to 2016’s Mavic Pro. The Mavic went on to become the best-selling consumer drone, with a $999 price tag.
On Tuesday, DJI introduced the Air, which is about 40% smaller than the Pro, has a similar high quality camera that can shoot video in 4K resolution, a lower $799 price tag, and can do all sorts of cool flying tricks.
Best of all, we’ve crashed drones many times, (it’s part of the price of admission, and there are growing pains with flying these things) so we love this new Air obstacle avoidance feature. With the seven cameras of the drone that are used for navigation, the Air knows to get out of the way of say, a bush, building or a trash can. In our first look tests, we watched it fly along in a straight line, until it met the bush, and then flew upwards to get out of the way.
We flew the Air towards us, and saw the drone head towards our faces, before getting the hint and flying over our heads instead.
Best of all, those crazy gesture controls we first saw on DJI’s 2017 $399 Spark drone have come to the Mavic Air. So if you like to use your hands like Yoda to tell the drone when and how to fly, the Air will let you do it. (The Spark’s camera captured video in 1080p, so you’ll get higher quality footage on the Air, and it will be steadier too. The Air has a 3-axis gimbal, as opposed to 2-axis on the Spark, and that just means there are more mechanics at work to keep the camera smooth.)
With the smaller drone size come some compromises. You’ll get less flight time from the smaller battery, at 21 minutes a reported 27 minutes on the Pro (we own a Pro and never topped 20 minutes–battery life goes fast.) Easy solution: buy an extra battery before you go out, or spring for the deluxe $999 edition, which comes with three batteries and a carrying case.
Another new feature we like: the Air has a slot for memory cards, but also comes with 8 GB of on-board storage, so if you’re flying and run out of room on your card (which has happened to us often), you’ve got an additional 8 GBs to play with.
The quality of the 4K video from the test footage we saw from the Air looks right on par with the Mavic Pro, sharp, colorful and smooth.
Flying the drone itself was a breeze, and the DJI smartphone app that’s needed to operate the drone has several cool new photo features, such as “Asteroid,” which flies the drone backward and upward and captures a spherical panorama at the end of its flight path, while “Boomerang” flies around a subject in an upwardly sloped oval, with the video finishing at the start point.
We’ll be back with a more complete review after the Mavic Air is released at the end of January.
Follow USA TODAY’s Jefferson Graham on Twitter, @jeffersongraham
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