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The Mavic weighs in at 1.6 pounds when ready to fly with a microSD memory card installed. That means you'll have to spend a few bucks to register with the FAA before flying if you don't already have an identification number, and make sure the aircraft itself is marked with that number. If you're a first-time pilot, be sure you familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations before taking flight. The Android and iOS DJI Go smartphone app, which is required to see the view from the Mavic's camera and change settings, includes a flight simulator to help you get used to the controls.
The drone is finished in gray, with yellow accents. You'll need to unfold its arms before flight, first pulling the front rotors out and away from the body and locking them into the forward position, then pulling the rear struts down and back into their locked setting. The rotors, which fold in half, don't have to be removed between flights. If you need to replace one, they have a push and twist design for installation and removal. A clear dome protects the camera—you can fly with or without it, but you'll need to remove the gimbal clamp, a small piece of plastic that locks the camera into place during transport, before flight.
The battery snaps in and out of the top. DJI claims it can power the Mavic for up to 27 minutes under ideal conditions. In my field tests, which combined high-altitude flying on a breezy day, some low-altitude testing of the obstacle avoidance system, and a few jaunts across a football field in the high-speed Sport mode, all while rolling footage at 4K resolution, I netted 23 minutes of flight time by utilizing 90 percent of a fully charged battery. Recharging takes about an hour, and spare batteries are priced at $89. If you think you're going to get a couple of spares, consider the Fly More bundle—priced at $1,299, it includes two extra batteries, ten propellers, and a carrying case.
Remote Control and Operating Range
I reviewed the Mavic Pro, which ships with six propellers, one battery, and doesn't include the carrying case. There's one other option available, the Mavic ($749), which is the same as the Pro edition, minus the dedicated remote control. If you plan on flying exclusively with your smartphone as the controller, it's a solid way to save some money, but it cuts the maximum operating range to about a 0.6 miles (1km) and throttles down the top speed to 9mph. I recommend you spend the extra money on the remote. It's small—smaller than an Xbox controller when folded—and flying a drone with joysticks offers more control.
DJI states that you can fly up to 4.3 miles, but that's under absolutely ideal conditions. In real-life testing I was able to fly about 2,000 feet from home base in a suburban setting before the communication became spotty. In a rural environment I flew a full mile (5,280 feet) without any sort of hiccups or stutters in the video feed. I opted to turn the drone around and bring it home at that point, rather than trying to get any more distance out of it. But that's enough to tell me you don't need to worry about limited operating distance.
You'll also enjoy fast flight with the remote. The top speed (with obstacle avoidance enabled) jumps to 22mph, and you can enable Sport mode to enable 40mph flight. With obstacle avoidance disabled, but not flying in Sport mode, I got the Mavic up to about 33mph when flying at 240 feet.
The controller features dual joysticks—the left controls altitude and spins the Mavic about its axis, while the right moves it in in the direction you push the stick. It also has two control wheels—the left adjusts the gimbal tilt and the right brightens or darkens video. There are buttons to take a picture, start and stop video recording, activate Return to Home mode, and pause automated flight. Two rear buttons launch the the app's camera menu by default, but can be customized. Likewise, any of the four directional presses of the small joypad that sits at the right of the monochrome information LCD can be customized.
Two antennas sit atop the controller, folding down for storage. The clip to hold a smartphone—it had no problem accommodating a phablet—sits at the bottom. Cables are included for Lightning and micro USB connections, but if you use a phone with USB-C you'll need to buy an $8 accessory cable.
App and Flight Modes
Your phone runs the DJI Go app, which allows you to change camera settings, view live video from the Mavic's camera, and see where the drone is on a world map—useful if you've lost track of it in the sky. It's technically possible to fly the Mavic with the remote control only, but we don't recommend it. You won't be able to adjust video or image settings, you can't access any of the intelligent flight modes, and you won't be able to see what the drone's camera is seeing.
The app really lets you take control of the 4K camera. You can adjust the color balance if desired, capturing video that's more vividly saturated, or with a flat color profile that can be graded in post-production. You can also filter JPG photos, or set the camera to capture Raw images in DNG format.
The app is also where the Mavic's Intelligent Flight Modes live. Like the Phantom 4, you can set the drone to orbit a point in space (Point of Interest), repeat flights along a preset path (Waypoints), follow you (Follow Me), and change the way it responds to joystick control (Home Lock and Course Lock).
It also inherits TapFly, which allows you to control the drone's path in the air simply by tapping on a portion of the screen. A generation raised on smartphones may find this to be more intuitive than flying via a joystick, but it's not my favorite way to pilot. There's also ActiveTrack, which can recognize and follow a moving target. Both of these work with the obstacle avoidance system, which reduces the chance of an accident.
New to the Mavic is a Terrain Follow mode, which uses its downward facing obstacle sensors in order to maintain a constant altitude above the ground. It's a solid choice for low tracking shots when flying over uneven terrain. And there's Gesture, which snaps your picture when you wave at the Mavic. We'll call the resulting shot a dronie.
The app also displays important telemetry information—the current altitude, distance from the home point, speed, and orientation. You can swap the full-screen live view feed with the embedded area map, a big plus in locating the Mavic in the air if it's flown a good distance from its takeoff point.
Video Quality and Performance
The Mavic's camera is a new design, smaller than the 4K unit used by the Phantom 4, but matching it in video modes and bit rate (60Mbps). Its field of view is slightly narrower, closer to a 25mm full-frame lens than the wider 20mm optic on the larger Phantom. Landscapes won't appear quite as wide, but you still get solid coverage for aerial video.
In a first for a drone, the camera module can rotate from the standard landscape orientation to a vertical portrait orientation. This works for both stills and videos, and while it is my strong belief that shooting vertical video is a cardinal sin, shooting a vertical 4:3 photo is often preferable for a portrait.
The camera is also the first I've seen attached to a drone that supports focus adjustment. Most are fixed focus designs that capture everything from a certain distance to infinity in crisp detail. The Mavic can focus closer—to 19 inches (0.5-meter)—but locking in close means that distant objects will appear blurred. You aren't likely to use the close focus ability for aerial shots—the obstacle avoidance system will stop you from getting 19 inches away from your subject—but the Mavic is tiny enough where I can see it being used as a handheld camera. Just make sure you don't start the motors when doing so.