The DJI Avata is something special. I knew it the very first time I flew.
I pressed three power buttons, placed a drone on a table, pulled goggles over my eyes, and grabbed the pistol-shaped wand. A double-tap and a long-press of a cherry red button got the bird into the air. And then, with a squeeze of my index finger and a literal flick of the wrist, I was a bird, a plane, Superman taking off into the sky, swooping down to the Earth below, skimming across a field of grass so close I could almost taste it, banking in a turn so smooth and level it felt like a car being professionally drifted around a bend.
I couldn’t wait to go again. And I didn’t have to — there was plenty of battery left.
Today, DJI is announcing the Avata, its first cinewhoop-style drone. It’s not like any flying camera DJI has made before. Instead of folding arms like a Mavic or Mini, it’s outfitted from the factory with a full propeller guard, four fixed rotors that push straight down, and integrated feet barely tall enough to keep those propellers out of trouble. Instead of a three-axis gimbal and collision avoidance sensors to allow it to fly and film in most any direction, the expectation is you’ll be flying this drone forward like a plane, and you’ll have a first-person view of where it’s going through its 1/1.7-inch, 4K / 60fps or up to 2.7K / 120fps camera. The only sensors you get are a pair of downward-facing cameras and infrared sensors, which do an amazing job maintaining a constant altitude while zooming just above the ground.
But if it’s a cinewhoop, it’s not your average cinewhoop, either. You get 18 minutes of battery life, several times what you generally see from the kind of acrobatic drone you might fly through a bowling alley. And it’s not exceptionally light or small: it’s roughly the size of a Mini 2 with its arms extended but weighs almost twice as much at 410 grams, meaning you may need to register and label your drone, and it’ll hit harder in a crash. On the plus side, it doesn’t have any exposed propellers or arms to break like the original DJI FPV.
The biggest difference, though, is that the Avata is not primarily intended to be paired with the traditional, joystick-based controller that lets you fly a drone sideways or backward or do flips and rolls. DJI won’t sell you a kit with one and couldn’t send us one in time for testing. When we tried the one that came with the $1,299 DJI FPV — which DJI does advertise as being able to push the Avata into a full manual acrobatic mode capable of flying 60 miles per hour (27 meters per second) — we couldn’t get it to stay paired reliably.
DJI Avata pricing
|DJI Avata Pro-View Combo (DJI Goggles 2, Motion Controller)||$1,388|
|DJI Avata Fly Smart Combo (DJI FPV Goggles V2, Motion Controller)||$1,168|
|DJI Avata Fly More Kit (2 extra batteries, 3-battery charging hub)||$279|
|DJI Motion Controller (included in combos)||$199|
|DJI FPV Remote Controller 2 (not included in any combo)||$199|
|DJI Avata Intelligent Flight Battery (1 extra battery)||$129|
|DJI Avata Battery Charging Hub||$59|
|DJI Avata Propellers (full set of four)||$9|
|DJI Avata Upper Frame||$19|
|DJI Avata Propeller Guard||$29|
|DJI Avata ND Filters Set (ND8/16/32)||$79|
It’s also a little pricey. Today, DJI’s putting the Avata on sale in three different configurations: $629 for the drone itself, $1,168 with a pair of FPV goggles and the motion controller, and $1,388 with that controller and the new DJI Goggles 2. Those last ones feature a 1080p micro OLED screen that streams footage from the drone at up to 100fps, with latency as little as 30 milliseconds over DJI’s wireless transmission system, and they’re the ones I used.
I briefly owned DJI’s original goggles and an original Mavic Pro in 2017, and damn has the tech come a long way. Back then, I really needed to fly the Mavic slow and cautious, because the 1080p30 or 720p60 picture wasn’t as clear and responsive, and the bulky PlayStation VR-sized headset kept pushing down on my nose. The new Goggles 2 aren’t perfect — I saw some distortion at the edges, and the 51-degree field of view still means you’re looking at a virtual TV screen rather than being fully immersed in something akin to VR. But they feel super comfortable, relatively crisp, are small and lightweight, have extremely easy to adjust diopters to dial things in for your eyesight, and even an unfortunately audible built-in fan that’s kept me from fogging the goggles up so far.
My colleague Vjeran Pavic, who you might know from our drone reviews and a lot of great photography and videography, isn’t quite as sure about the new goggles, though. Here, I’ll let him talk for a bit:
This might sound like a very specific problem to me, but it’s worth pointing out: I am someone who is nearsighted in my right eye and farsighted in my left eye. On top of that, I have a very minor, almost negligible astigmatism. I am noticing that my left eye is struggling to adjust to the screen. I’m having issues with blooming whites, not-quite-in-focus center, and very blurry corners. I even shrunk the display borders to 70 percent (for context I had my DJI Goggles 2 set to 90 percent), but despite the new micro OLED panel, interpupillary distance (56–72mm) and diopter adjustments (+2 to -8), I am still struggling to see it clearly.
But there are other improvements to the headset. The head strap is smaller and feels more sturdy. DJI FPV Goggles V2 now has two foldable built-in antennas; there is no longer a need to screw in four separate ones. The cumbersome joystick is now replaced with a touch panel, which feels very responsive and easy to learn. And there’s also a little plastic snap-on cover for the lenses, which I greatly appreciate. You don’t want to leave those exposed to the sun for too long.
When I combine those goggles with the bundled motion controller, it lets me do things I would generally be crazy to do with a drone, particularly on my very first try — like fly up into the canopy of a tree to see a bird or underneath a volleyball net. It helps that you can see a real-time reticle inside your goggles that shows where the motion controller is pointing — and that the drone automatically and smoothly brakes when you let go of the trigger.
So, forgive me if this particular hands-on post doesn’t go into detail about camera quality, or wireless range, or survivability, or whether its speed will be limiting. (It’s generally half the speed of the larger DJI FPV.)
Or… the fact that DJI has some of the most annoying USB-C ports I’ve ever used. The controllers refuse to charge over a C-to-C cable, DJI doesn’t ship a C-to-A cable or a single charger in the box, the FPV goggles use a proprietary cable, the drone buries its port underneath a propeller — I can go on.
Bottom line: the DJI Avata made me feel like I was flying, and we can save the rest for a future review.
Photography by Sean Hollister / The Verge