As cool as they are, drones are a dime a dozen these days. If you’re a drone manufacturer and you want your gizmos to stand out, they better have something special: compactness, a superb camera, affordability or, y’know, rockets.
Drones from the Chinese company DJI seem to have all of the above, except the rockets, which is why they’ve been dominating the market for some time now. Their Mavic Pro is somewhat of a standard-setter for consumer drones, the Phantom 4 Pro challenges other companies to up their specifications game, and the Spark satisfies the needs of mobile users who want a portable drone.
So, what is it that the DJI Mavic Air hopes to accomplish that the company hasn’t already done?
Look past the small size and you’ll see impressive innards
We’ve got plenty of praise for DJI drones here, but they’re not all perfect. The Phantom Pro brings power, but at a prohibitive cost for some – this refers to both the price, which can go up to $1800, and the massive size. In contrast, the Spark’s tradeoff in size and relative cheapness leaves some users wanting more range, flight time and a better camera.
This left the Mavic Pro as the company’s flagship model for all-purpose use. The Mavic Air clearly wants to overtake this spot, and it has everything needed to do so.
The 6.2 x 2.7 x 2.7 inch size and 0.95 lb weight place it right between the Spark and the Mavic Pro. While the latter was already seen as a reasonably-sized drone, the Mavic Air is going to give users who need portability exactly that.
Although the Spark gave up a lot of its recording power to shrink (with only a 2.1 MP, 30-FPS 1080p camera), the DJI Mavic Air makes no such sacrifices. Its ability to capture at 8.8 megapixels and 4K resolution places it right beside the Mavic Pro and the Phantom 4 Pro, and the camera’s 1080p frame rate actually beats the Mavic Pro’s by a significant margin (120 to 96 FPS).
This brings a somewhat awkward question: where does the newest model leave the Mavic Pro? Yes, it has a range of 7000 meters compared to the Mavic Air’s 4000, and much has been said about this. But how far are hobbyists really flying these drones? The truth is that most users won’t find the extra range noteworthy, which doesn’t make it much of a competition considering the Mavic Air’s superior specs and $200 lower price.
How does the DJI Mavic Air fare against its rivals?
As noted, the Mavic Air has already beaten one of its major competitors, the Mavic Pro. This leaves the Parrot Bebop 2 and the Xiro Xplorer V as the drone’s main competition outside the company.
Bebop 2 and its kits remain a popular alternative to DJI and have no doubt taken their market share. One of the main perks is the price, which starts at $550 for the Bebop 2 versus $800 for the Mavic Air. However, many Parrot users find themselves needing to upgrade their drone with the FPV pack, which brings the cost to the Mavic Air‘s range.
Once there, it’s really not much of a contest – the Bebop 2’s 1080p recording limitation makes the Mavic Air worth the extra money in almost every scenario, and its inability to avoid obstacles doesn’t help its case.
The Xiro Xplorer V’s strongest point is its design. The thing looks straight out of a black budget project whereas most drones look clunky and tame by comparison. Although its camera options are similar to the Parrot Bebop 2 and therefore significantly lesser than the Mavic Air‘s, its looks and the $300 entry price tag will continue to make this an extremely popular acquisition for novice drone enthusiasts, albeit not with more serious users.
The reviewers are in agreement: this is the drone to look out for
Early reviews of the drone, including showcases of its tremendous camera, are pretty much what you would expect. TrustedReviews thinks this drone has what it takes to topple last year’s best-buy, the DJI Mavic Pro, while Techradar calls it “the pocketable 4K drone you want in 2018”.
We’ll go ahead and disagree with TrustedReviews a bit. To us, the Mavic Air has already toppled the Mavic Pro and then some – with a significant upgrade in every stat besides range, which it still has plenty of, the Mavic Air has everything it takes to leave DJI’s current top pick in the previous year.
It seems likely that this drone is going to widen the already-considerable gap between DJI and other manufacturers. The price remains less-than-ideal for some who are just looking to fly a drone around, but anyone wanting features will be ready to shell out $800 and not look back for a while.
The only thing we can imagine raining down on the Mavic Air‘s parade would be debilitating faults with the drone, the likes of which we aren’t used to from DJI, or an over-reliance on upgrades that would bring its price closer to $1000.
That’s the worst-case scenario, and we aren’t willing to bet on it. If you still aren’t as hyped for the Mavic Air as we are, check out these aerial shots that show just what a 4K camera can do compared to a 1080p one, which seemed awesome just a few years back.