The Mavic Mini is so small and light (just 249g) you won't need to register it with the FAA – you were registering your larger drones with the FAA, right? But that size isn't just about doing less paperwork, it's about doing more flying. With a drone you can literally slip in your back pocket, there's almost never an inconvenient time to bring along, assuming you have a second pocket for the controller. (You can't fly the Mini with just your phone like you could the Spark.)
DJI has traditionally been good about giving its smaller / cheaper drones premium features. The Air, for example, cost less than the Mavic Pro that came before it, but it had features its pricier sibling didn't. Even the little old Spark offered gesture control and follow-me features on a budget. With the Mini, though, there are quite a few compromises ̵1; but the majority shouldn't deter most people.
Perhaps the most crucial missing feature is obstacle avoidance. The Mavic 2 Pro and the Air both come with sensors that detect obstacles, allowing for safer flying. The Mavic Mini has none. This seems reasonable given that the Mini costs more than $ 1,300 less than the Mavic Pro 2 and $ 500 less than the Air. But DJI is also pitching the Mini at beginners who would benefit from those sensors the most.
The second notable compromise is the camera. As with the Spark, there's no 4K video here but the Mini will record at 2.7K / 30 (along with FHD up to 60 fps at 40Mbps), so there's at least some form of high resolution to enjoy. Another trick the Mini has is that the Spark doesn't have the ability to fold down its arms. The Spark's body is a similar size, but its fixed arms make it much less portable.
The Mavic line's foldable design has become something of a calling card. What makes drones unwieldy are those all-important protruding arms. DJI came up with a clever design for the first Mavic, and it's been present in nearly all its consumer drones since. When fully folded down, the Mini is about the size of a soda can and weighs about as much as a large phone (my OnePlus 7 Pro with a case comes in at around 230g).
For photos, you'll only see the self-explanatory options for "Single" or "Timed shot," though under the main settings menu, you'll find options for photo aspect ratio (4: 3 or 16: 9), toggles for the onscreen histogram and overexposure warning, gridlines and so on. As already mentioned, for video, your options are FHD and 2.7K, and then a choice of frame rates: 25, 30, 50 and 60 for FHD versus 25 and 30 for 2.7K. No 24 fps here for some reason.
The selection of QuickShots on the Mini is limited. You have Dronie, Rocket, Circle and Helix – the names broadly describe how the Mini will move around a target. There's no Asteroid or Boomerang this time around, and that's fine. I'm more disappointed at the lack of ActiveTrack – DJI's people-tracking feature. It's been present on most products, including the Osmo Mobile, which doesn't have a camera at all (it uses your phone's). What's curious is that the QuickShot modes the Mini does have ask you to click on a human target for it to focus on – so the bones of the technology are there, but for some reason the company chose not to include it. Long story short, the Mavic Mini can't follow you autonomously. But it feels like something that's just a firmware update away.
Despite the minor annoyances, like the small power indicator (it's literally a small battery icon with a percentage number like on a phone), the app is easy to use. Connect your phone to the controller, open the app and you're pretty much good to go. The bigger problem is that the connection with the drone is done over WiFi, which doesn't handle the video stream nearly as well as DJI's proprietary Ocusync technology. For the most part, it's fine, but there were too many times when the stream stalled or skipped. This was particularly frustrating when I was relying on that connection to line up and monitor my shot.
A related issue, not unique to the Mini but exacerbated by its size, is that it's remarkably easy to lose sight of the drone in the sky after you've looked down at the video stream. Line-of-sight flying is important. I see too many people flying with the drone out of view, relying on the video stream to know where it is. But that video stream can fail, and it did with the Mavic Mini just enough that I would never rely on it for navigation. Even just a quick glance at the app, look back up and … where the hell did it go? It caught me out a few times.