Bottom line: Because it is rugged enough to handle a few crashes and comes with built-in safety software, the Mavic Air 2 is my pick for the perfect beginner's drone.
34 minutes of fly time
Multiple beginner safety features
Quick-release propellers in case of crashes
Rugged body can take a few hits
Works with iOS and Android devices
Only 8GB internal storage
On/off trigger is confusing
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If you've never flown a drone, and maybe never even thought you'd want to, let me tell you what an amazing ride it is to fly a camera straight up into the sky and look around you without having to go anywhere. Seeing the world from a new angle, going where you couldn't have ever gone yourself ... it's like flying with your own set of wings. Actually, it's more like being a beast master. You control the flying beast and can see through its eyes. The Mavic Air 2 is rugged, easy to get started with right out of the box, and has dozens of protection features to keep you from breaking your expensive new toy the first time you try to lift off.
If you've always wanted a drone, but never knew which one to get, read my Mavic Air 2 review. I think you're going to like it as much as I do.
Mavic Air 2 review: What I like
My first impression of the Mavic Air 2 is just how easy it is to set up and start using it. Once unpacked and batteries are charged for the controller and the drone, I downloaded the companion DJI Fly (opens in new tab) app, and the instructions to set it up were all presented to me in an easy-to-understand tutorial, including how to properly attach the propellors.
Obstacle Detection and Advanced Pilot Assistance Systems (APAS) help the drone avoid obstacles. With Detection turned on, it will hover if it detects an object like a tree. APAS will automatically avoid obstacles in autopilot mode.
You can set maximum altitude and distance parameters, but there is also a beginner's setting that will automatically set these for you by default. Once you're more familiar with drone flying, you can take off those training wheels and set these restrictions based on local fly zones (you don't want to end up in a no-fly zone accidentally).
"Straight to Home" will quickly return the Mavic to the precise location it originally lifted off from just in case you can't find it to navigate home or if the battery is starting to run out, and you need to get it home in the fastest straight shot.
There are three settings on the controller, each with different safety functionality. Tripod mode is actually the most beginner of beginner modes. It reduces the overall speed of the drone to about one-tenth of its normal speed, and the amount of time it takes to break is reduced, so you can more quickly stop if you're heading for an obstacle.
Normal mode is what it sounds like. There are some flight restrictions to keep the Mavic from flying too high or getting too far away. You can enable Obstacle Avoidance and other safety features.
With Sport mode, the wheels come flying off. It's designed to make it easier to catch fast action shots from high above and low to the ground. You can fly faster and move around with precision. There are no safety features enabled with Sport mode, so don't go flipping the switch right away and only use it if you really are trying to catch some sporty action.
These are the safety settings, most of which can be overridden at your discretion once you feel more comfortable with flying and feel responsible enough to control your own destiny.
In addition to the software safety mentioned above, the Mavic Air 2 is generally a rugged piece of hardware. The propellers have a quick-release function that will pop them off if you clip something while trying to fly. I did this on more than one occasion. Luckily, I was right near the ground, so the drone didn't spin out of control high up in the air or anything.
The legs and body are also sturdy and have weight. It's not heavy, though. It has presence. I toppled the drone a couple of times close to the ground, got it tangled into a tree about 6 feet off the ground, and got it stuck upside-down on a roof. Every time, it came off the battlefield like a pro. I found myself being more willing to stretch outside my comfort zone and eventually took it to the foothills and flew it over a cliff for a couple of minutes. It was exhilarating.
This is what I mean about feeling like you're a beast master controlling a flying creature and seeing through its eyes. I realize that drones are intended to be used to take photos and video, but I was just mesmerized by my ability to see things from different angles and go where I would never have been able to go on my own two feet.
The Mavic Air 2's camera functions and specs are incredible. If you're a beginner and don't care about camera specs, you may want to get started with the DJI Mini, but if you know you want advanced camera functions, here's where DJI's mid-level drone really shines.
The camera supports JPEG and RAW in 4:3 or 16:9 and has a photo resolution of 48MP. There are several different functions, like smart shot, AEB, burst mode, and timed shots.
When capturing video, you can set 4K wide or 4K zoom and create these amazing time-lapse videos that look like the beginning of an action movie starring Bruce Willis. My personal favorite video capture feature is called Quick Shot. Set the drone in front of you and go stand about 10 feet away. Tap the Quick Shot button. It'll slowly lift off and fly backward, keeping the camera focused on you the entire time. It's like the closing credits of a talk show.
There are lots of camera features on the Mavic Air 2, plus some onboard editing features right inside the DJI Fly app. So, if you're out and about and want to edit and publish a drone video you just threw together on the fly, you don't have to worry about uploading it to a different editing source.
While doing some research on how to fly a drone, I came across DroneXFactor on YouTube, and I just wanted to give them a shoutout and recommend their channel if you're getting started with any of the DJI drones, yourself.
Mavic Air 2 review: What I don't like
Turning on the drone and the controller is a two-step process. You tap and then hold down on the power button. This is the exact opposite of intuitive. I could get on board with tapping twice or pressing and holding for a few seconds, but one tap and then one hold ... I forget how to do it every time because it's just not intuitive.
The Mavic Air 2 also only comes with 8GB of on-board storage, which you'll use up pretty quickly taking 4K video. Yes, you can buy a plethora of SD cards for photography, and you won't have to worry, but I'd love to be able to have more on-board storage in a pinch for those times when you forgot to clear out your SD card and want to grab some beautiful shots in the air.
Mavic Air 2 review: The competition
The GDU O2 is a similarly-specced drone that supports 4K video and has a 13MP sensor (the Mavic Air 2 has a 12MP sensor). It comes with 16 or 32 GB of storage but does not have an SD card slot, so no storage expansion. It's also quite a bit more expensive to buy the GDU O2 on Amazon (opens in new tab).
The Parrot Anafi Drone is a compact outdoor drone that supports 4K video and has a 180-degree vertical swivel camera. It's a few hundred dollars less than the Mavic Air, but also has lesser camera and battery specs. You can get the Parrot Anafi on Amazon (opens in new tab) for about $500.
Mavic Air 2 review: Should you buy?
You should buy the Mavic Air 2 if ...
You're just getting started with your drone hobby
This is an amazing and perfect beginner drone, but it's also so much more than just a beginner drone. It's the one you'll have for a very long time. And even when you are ready for a more advanced drone, you'll still use this one as a second unit.
You've already got a beginner or basic drone
If you already own a cheap, simple beginner drone and you're ready to take the next step, the Mavic Air 2 is perfect. It can be set up with all the safety features you're accustomed to, but you can also take the training wheels off and fly like a pro. It's rugged enough to take a few hits and advanced enough to let you take your drone filming to the next level.
You're buying a present for someone who loves drones
If you've got a friend or family member that has a drone and they're thinking about getting a new one or second one, the Mavic Air 2 is an excellent replacement or companion drone. It's reasonably priced for all of the features it comes with and is an amazing all-around drone.
You should not buy the Mavic Air 2 if ...
You already own an advanced drone like the Mavic 2 Pro
Though the Mavic Air 2 is a high-quality drone with a lot of incredible features, if you already have a drone with a more advanced camera, better battery power, and more optimized sensors like the Mavic 2 Pro (opens in new tab), this may seem like a downgrade if you're looking to replace what you already have. It does make a good companion to a more advanced drone, though.
You will never use a drone outdoors
The Mavic Air 2 is not intended for indoor use. It's too powerful, and the auto features are designed for outdoors. Instead, you should consider the Mavic Mini (opens in new tab). It's smaller, lighter, and has precision hover so you can maneuver around tighter spaces. I still recommend practicing outdoors until you get the hang of it, though.
You're on a tight budget
The Mavic Air 2 costs $799, and that's without the added cost of an SD card. It's worth every cent, but it's an expensive investment. If you can't justify spending that much money, or if you just don't want to invest that much on your first drone, you can get the Mavic Mini on Amazon (opens in new tab) for about $400 less, which is a little easier on the pocketbook.
The Mavic Air 2 is an incredibly versatile piece of hardware that's perfect for beginners just getting into a new drone hobby and for more advanced Dronies (I just made that word up) looking for an all-around good product. With 4K video, 8K time-lapse, and a 34-minute flight time battery (the most I've seen on a drone in this class), it's well-worth the investment.
I do hope DJI considers fixing the awkward on/off action on the Mavic lineup. It seems like something that could be changed in a firmware update. It's so confusing that I always forget how to turn it on (and off).
If the Mavic Air 2 were optional with 16GB of on-board storage, it would make this already-versatile drone even more useful in on-the-fly flying moments.
Bottomline: I highly recommend this to anyone new to drones and for old-school Dronies alike.
Lory is a renaissance woman, writing news, reviews, and how-to guides for iMore. She also fancies herself a bit of a rock star in her town and spends too much time reading comic books. If she's not typing away at her keyboard, you can probably find her at Disneyland or watching Star Wars (or both).