DJI Mavic Air 2 vs Skydio 2: Cycling Test Shootout!

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Today DJI announced their latest drone, the DJI Mavic Air 2. For those of you that follow the gear I tend to use, the original DJI Mavic Air is one of my main drone go-to’s, largely because of its small form factor that fits in a jersey pocket, as well as the fact that I can use my phone to control it for quick Instagram type shots.

The Mavic Air 2, as you might surmise, is the successor to that. It boasts higher specs in basically every category from 4K/60 HDR video capture to 8K Hyperlapse support to 34 minute flight time, it’ll even show real-world aircraft on your screen using ADS-B technology (just like real pilots in real aircraft would see – though it doesn’t transmit your position to them). But of interest to me is the upgraded Active Track 3.0 with new APAS (Advanced Pilot Assistance System – or basically the obstacle avoidance bits). With that, the company says they’ve increased the sports tracking capabilities significantly, and most notably also improved the ‘re-acquisition’ aspects for when you go behind a tree.

So naturally, I set out to test that out. As hard as I could. Someone’s gotta do it?

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Note that this post isn’t a review post, rather, more of a heads up that my video on the topic posted – since I’ve seen a lot of comments/questions on my thoughts of the Mavic Air 2. I find that for many of these video-focused products, a video review is just waaaaay better at telling the story. Especially when the story involves the astoundingly-loud clank of hitting at gigantic metal sign at 20MPH/30KPH.

But hey, that’s only the half of it. Hit up the play button below for my initial tests compared to the Skydio 2 autonomous drone:

As for a full review and specs and all that goodness, that’s coming! I figured I’d focus on the priority bits now (how well sports tracking works), and then get into all the other fun non-sports pieces later. Plus all of the trade-off aspects too. The requirement to use the controller (versus a phone) with the Mavic Air 2 is a tough pill to swallow – and essentially impossible for sports like running.

Still, there’s certainly plenty of valid cases where if you have a secondary person helping out to hold the controller while Active Track takes care of everything else – then this becomes super compelling. Especially if you layer in the new ‘Focus Track’ feature atop that, where basically you fly the drone where you want it from an angle standpoint, and Active Track keeps it focused on the person.

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Anyway, more to test down the road. And more to write. I might focus my DJI Mavic Air 2 review on purely the sports bits this time, rather than the entire thing (meaning, skipping aspects like general video/photo pieces). Those do super well for me on YouTube, whereas folks here seem more interested in the sports tracking components.

With that – thanks for reading, or watching!

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23 Comments

  1. Fabian

    Nice video. I saw your Pebble watch on your hand hehe. vintage review ?

    • Left hand would have been the Polar Grit X, and right wrist is the Whoop band. Sadly, no Pebble here!

    • Chris Goslar

      Cool vid. Looking forward to the full review. When can we hope to see the whoop review? 😉

    • David

      Liking the whoop strap?

    • Whoop strap coming up in the next few days! I was waiting for the ‘April Performance Assessment’ report to show up, which should be sometime today. Then I’ll pull things all together.

      Overall it’s highly mixed. I think the user interface and way it presents the data is mostly awesome. I think the flexibility of the platform to track curious things is awesome. Unfortunately, after over three months of data capture, I think the underlying accuracy of the optical HR sensor that drives 100% of the data in the platform…is crap at the one thing that matters most for this device: High intensity exercise.

    • David

      👍 looking forward to the review! Sounds like it will be a compelling read.

  2. Andrew M

    Totally bummed that there is no good footage of the sign crash. That would be epic!

    • GLT

      Maybe next time Ray will target one drone to follow the other. The top appears to be the only surface where mounting an additional independent action cam could work.

    • I’ve found that one drone targeting another doesn’t work (99.9% of the time). The challenge is usually getting it to actually even agree to track an object that small. You can usually do it if you get super close initially, but that it often loses it like 3 seconds later.

      As for the sigh, yeah, I was super-bummed. I figured I’d at least have the screen recording, and then to see that was swiped back to the main DJI splash screen it was like @#$#@#. I forgot to include the footage of me going into the bushes below the sign to find/get it. I mean, it wasn’t hard to find it, half the Netherlands heard it hit that sign.

  3. David

    Usual top drawer stuff Ray. Just wondered what a head to head on the same route with the Mavic Pro 2 would be like. Also, do you think (know whether) the improved tracking is something DJI will add to the MP2 via a software update or is the MP2 hamstrung by its hardware limitations?

    • I sent back the original Mavic Pro 2 units (media loaners), and re-buying those didn’t really fit into my use cases.

      My best guess though, since I tested those units just a couple KM away on a very similiar route, was that it would have actually struggled quite a bit at the beginning in that tree-lined straight ‘open’ road area – it didn’t seem to like confinement as much. And then for loss of tracking in the dense trees, I don’t think it would have handled that too well either unfortunately.

      I don’t know if the Mavic Pro 2 has the processing power for this. My bet is not. The reason is that we see on the Mavic Air 2 that the advanced APAS 3.0 feature aren’t available in 4K/60 mode (nor other high speed framerates). Which tells me they’re borrowing from that pipeline to pay for the APAS pipeline. If we look at the Mavic Pro 2 series is basically almost 2 years old now, my guess is that it’s on a much further back processing spec. Just a guess.

  4. Chris

    Has there been any news on when the Skydio 2 is going to be offered outside the US and Canada? Even a pre-order option for Europe would be great.

    • I haven’t heard anything recent. As you may know, they stopped US production last month due to shelter in place orders (they build them in California). So as a result nothing is going to any customers right now.

    • fiatlux

      Yep, that’s the biggest problem with the skydio : getting one. By the time they’re widely available in Europe, DJI might have released its Air 3 🙁

  5. Tyler Robinson

    Thanks for this initial review… still trying to figure out if I’m going to replace my spark and my very aged P3P for the Mavic Air 2. Looking forward to additional content.

    • From either, this would be a substantial upgrade. Only downside though (especially from Spark) is losing WiFi control, if you use that at all.

    • Tyler Robinson

      Thanks for the reply Ray! I’ve been teetering on buying the Mavic 2 Pro Zoom for a few weeks, but have been waiting on the Air 2 release to make my decision. I guess I’ll have a fun weekend of rereading your reviews and hovering over the “Proceed to Checkout” buttons.

  6. Ken

    Ray,
    I noticed you started out under ‘hummers’ (high-tension electric lines). I’ve take a class on Flying in the Wire Environment which was designed for helicopters. It’s amazing how two photographs – 5 mins apart – sunny vs. cloudy background; a change in elevation & corresponding change in background from say sky to trees, &/or from opposite sides of a wire change whether a wire is visible or not to the human eye.
    While I don’t suggest trying it with high-tension lines, have you had the drone at the height of lower power (cable, telephone) lines & will it see & avoid those obstructions which are much smaller than a sign or a tree; something even less than the diameter of your pinky. I could see the drone getting clotheslined.

    • In my original Skydio 2 test, I did some super-thin tree branches and it avoided those no problems (early winter).

      Also, it avoided some similarly thin wires on the bridge (you can see that briefly), actually weaving between them. The Mavic Air 2 never made it that far in the test, preferring each time to mate with the sign or tree. :-/

    • Jan

      Just to add some clarification as to why Ray can’t realistically use power & telephone cables for testing: in the Netherlands all communication lines and power below 50kV are underground. With a really small exception for lower power (400V), not in the vincinity of Amsterdam: 180 km is still on poles due to the swampy (bog) grounds. The other 220.449 km is underground.

  7. imac

    Great test! Unfortunately new EU/Swiss regulations coming in at the end of this month makes amateur drone usage in Europe somewhat more restrictive and more of a hassle.

  8. Ron M

    A great video! Very thorough and interesting as per usual.
    It’s amazing to see what modern drones can do.

    I was a bit surprised by the conclusion, though. Based on the tracking video that the drones produced, I thought the Skydio 2 won hands down – the DJI was just too far away and the drone not fast enough.
    To me that trumps portability – if the drone doesn’t produce the video that I’d like, then I’d bring one that does or not bring one at all!