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Can You Fly DJI Drones Without a Controller? (Explained)

Over the past 2 years or so, DJI has introduced some really innovative drones to the masses. Covering all sorts of budgets, we have the Mini, Mini SE, Mini 2, Mini 3 Pro, Air 2, Air 2S, and the Mavic 3 Pro.

We can’t forget about the previous popular drones that are still doing well, although a little bit older: Inspire 2, Mavic 2 Zoom, Enterprise, and 2 Pro, Phantom 4 lines, the Spark, and Tello.

That doesn’t even cover all of the drones that DJI has released since the introduction of the Phantom 1 in 2013.

With all these drones in circulation still, can you fly DJI drones without a controller?

The most direct answer is: Yes, you can fly some DJI drones without a controller, whereas MOST DJI drones will not allow you to fly them without a remote controller.

Image Credit: Dan Bayne

Why Would You Want to Fly Without a Remote Controller?

Have you ever noticed how large the remote controller is that comes with the Mini 2, Mini 3 Pro, Air 2, Air 2S, and Mavic 3?

Although not as beefy as the Phantom and Inspire line of RCs, they are still quite large, with some of them as large, if not larger, than the drones they control.

Because of the controller’s size, some might be looking for a more compact and travel-friendly setup for their Mini’s, Air’s, and Mavic 3’s.

A compact setup especially comes in handy when considering outdoor activities.

There are quite a few drone operators that fly on beaches and trails and would rather not have a bunch of different devices to connect, especially if trying to film themselves during some sort of activity, like mountain biking, rock climbing, or hiking.

In these situations, having a minimal setup with just a drone and smartphone might appear to be ideal.

DJI Drones That Can Fly Without a Controller

Out of the line-up mentioned at the outset of this article, currently, there are only two DJI drones that can fly without a remote controller:

  • DJI Ryze Tello
  • DJI Spark

Ryze Tello

If you are fairly new to drones and want to fly without an RC, then the Tello might be what you are looking for.

Tello is a very affordable entry-level drone that does well indoors, due to having position hold technology.

If you are looking to venture out of doors, however, the Tello might not be for you.

With a controlling distance of just 300 feet, a maximum control height of 90 feet, and a very light airframe and weaker motors, the Tello isn’t the best drone for outdoor flights.

If you are planning on staying indoors and controlling the Tello with just a smartphone, then you are good to go.

Tello (Boost Combo)
$149.00

Ryze Tech Tello Aircraft, 4 Propellers (Pair), Propeller Guards (Set), 3 Batteries, Micro-USB Cable, Propeller Removal Tool, Battery Charging Hub.

Pros:
  • 3 Batteries
  • Battery Charging Hub
  • 5mp camera, 720p stabilized video
Cons:
  • Fixed camera that cannot be pointed up or down
Buy from Amazon
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
08/13/2022 12:08 am GMT

DJI Spark

Like the Tello, the DJI Spark can likewise be controlled with just a smartphone.

Unlike the Tello, the Spark is a more advanced drone and has many of the features you’d expect from more expensive drones.

There is a remote controller included in some of the many combos for sale online.

In addition to being able to use the Spark with onscreen Smartphone controls (sans the RC), the Spark also has gesture controls as well, meaning you can control the Spark with hand gestures.

The Spark, when being controlled from only a Smartphone, has a range of about 300+/- feet and a height of 150 or so feet.

If you need to cover more distance, using the remote controller will greatly increase these distances.

The Spark flies well, indoors and outside, and has many of the features DJI owners have come to expect or are used to.

DJI Spark with Remote Control Combo (White)
$469.00
Buy from Amazon
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
08/13/2022 03:11 am GMT

Cons Associated With Flying Without a Controller

As can be imagined, when only using a smartphone to control a phone, there are a few limitations that will impact the flight experience.

Flight Control Experience

When flying a Spark or Tello without a controller, “virtual sticks” are used on the controlling smartphone.

If you’ve ever played a racing or flying game on your phone that uses virtual sticks, then you can understand what the experience is like for flying a drone.

Like the smartphone games played with virtual sticks, flying a drone with virtual sticks is pretty inaccurate and cumbersome.

The drone tends to lumber along while being slightly difficult to control.

To some, this is fine, as they like the simplicity of this setup. For others, this method of flying is difficult and, oftentimes, not very enjoyable.

Another downside is that when flying with the smartphone only, the range of the drone itself is limited due to using a weaker wifi signal than the one the drone’s controller would use.

If using a smartphone-only setup, you’ll find the Spark and Tello will not fly as far as they can with their designated RCs.

Intrusive Notifications

Something that many drone operators deal with regularly when using a smartphone connected to their drone’s remote controller is phone calls and notifications.

While this is a nuisance that can be dealt with fairly easily when flying in conjunction with an RC, it becomes a little direr when using only a smartphone or electronic device to fly a Tello or Spark.

When using only a smart device and a call or text comes in, it is difficult to control the drone before the call or notification is dismissed.

In the short time it takes to do so, control can be lost, causing a safety issue.

Dead Smartphone or Device

One of the great things about using a controller along with a smartphone is that the drone can still be controlled via the RC if the smart device dies, crashes, or becomes unresponsive, even allowing you to initiate RTH (return to home).

If the smartphone or device used to control the Tello or Spark dies, and no remote controller is being used, the drone can no longer be operated (although you might be able to use hand gestures with the Spark still).

This not only puts a damper on the “fun”, but it also can cause an unsafe situation if the drone is in mid-flight.

Minimal Setup Suggestion

If you have a newer DJI drone and are looking in particular for a minimal setup for flying at the beach, on trails, etc., but want to retain all of your remote controller functionality, a DJI Smart Controller, DJI RC Pro, or even DJI RC may be what you need.

How to Pair the DJI RC Pro Controller with DJI Drone (Step-by-Step Guide)

The DJI line of smart controllers allows you to operate your DJI Drone with an RC that has an integrated screen, eliminating the need to have your smartphone or other electronic smart device connected.

The DJI Smart Controller works with the following DJI Drones:

  • Phantom 4 Pro v2.0
  • Mavic 2 Pro, Zoom, and Enterprise
  • Mini 2
  • Mavic Air 2, Air 2S

The DJI RC Pro is compatible with:

  • Air 2S
  • Mavic 3 and Mavic 3 Cine

The new DJI RC:

  • Mini 3 Pro

Conclusion

There are indeed a couple of DJI drones that can operate without the use of a remote controller.

However, with all of the functionality, features, signal strength, and stability built into the DJI RCs, flying without a remote is generally overlooked.

If you are looking to minimize your setup due to time or weight constraints or are just looking to carry fewer devices, a DJI Smart Controller may be exactly what you need to accomplish this.