Most will agree that the Mini 2 is a great drone for a great price. 4k Video? Check. Under 250g, so you won’t have to register it if using non-commercially? Check. A tiny footprint, like the size of a small child’s shoe? Check. The mini 2 has a lot going for it.
Considering part of the appeal of the Mini 2 is its portability, it would stand to reason that one would wonder if you can take that portability to the next level, and only bring with you the drone and your smartphone to fly it?
Unfortunately, as with the original Mavic Mini, and most other DJI drones, you cannot fly the DJI Mini 2 with just a smartphone. Although you are not able to fly with just a smartphone, you can fly your Mini 2 without a smartphone or fly it with alternate means, which we will discuss.
Why some would want to fly without a remote controller?
The Mini 2 is an impressively portable drone. Many have purchased it for travel purposes or for having a lightweight and compact setup for when out and about, at the beach, and on the trails. The problem is, for such a portable and light drone, the remote controller that comes with it has a much larger footprint than the drone itself and takes up a bit more space when packed.
Many times, when out and about, some are going for a minimal setup or wanting something that is quick to deploy, get that fleeting shot, and be on to the next scenic locale quickly.
Or, perhaps you want to have the drone follow you around filming, while on a hiking or mountain bike trail. With a large controller that needs to be connected to a smartphone, the process could become monotonous, unwieldy, or perhaps even tedious.
The likes of the DJI Spark, Wingsland S6, and Parrot AR 2.0, just to name a few, do allow you to fly with just a smartphone. However, there are glaring limitations that should be addressed.
The limitations of flying without a controller
Smartphone calls & notifications
In the world of drones, one of the many things that is a constant nuisance is using a smartphone (in conjunction with a remote controller) that gets interrupted in-flight by phone calls or notifications.
When this happens, the operator’s attention is off the drone (even for a fleeting split-second) and things on screen need to be swiped or silenced, etc.
Imagine using only a smartphone to control your drone and the above scenario happens. What would you do? It could lead to some problems, as you try and answer the call.
Imagine answering the call, then accidentally face pressing the actual flight controls and the drone flies off in random directions. This could be a comical scene to think about but, on a serious note, could cause issues for the drone owner or those around the drone.
Dead smartphone battery
Or picture this – what if the drone is a fair distance away, up high, and the phone used to solely operate the drone dies or freezes? What then?
Without a physical remote control, one might be faced with a drone that eventually drops from the sky over the water, into trees, or onto someone’s property when the drone batteries deplete.
Flight control accuracy
Aside from the previously mentioned issues, flying with only “virtual sticks” is not very accurate or responsive and leads to a slew of other problems and control inconsistencies, reported by many in the hobby.
Also, the range of a drone on a Wi-Fi signal is far less than what the Mini 2 is capable of, thus handicapping the drone in the range department.
Flight control alternatives (Remote Controllers)
Up to this point, we can see why flying with only a smartphone and without a controller may not be as appealing as some have hoped.
What are some of the available alternatives then for Mini 2 owners who might want to control the drone slightly differently than the standard setup of the included DJI Remote paired to a smartphone?
DJI Smart Controller
Recently a much-anticipated announcement was made regarding the DJI Mini 2. The Mini 2 would is now compatible with the wildly popular DJI Smart Controller. Now, this is not to get confused with the more expensive DJI Pro Controller, which currently only works with the Air 2S and newly released Mavic 3.
We briefly spoke about the Mini 2’s impressive portability and how many drone owners look to quickly deploy the Mini 2 on trips and at scenic areas. One of the hindrances of any drone setup is the number of devices that need to be connected, powered on, and initialized. This is where the Smart Controller steps in and removes at least one variable from the setup.
The DJI Smartphone can be compared to and looks like a Remote Controller and Smart device built into one unit, meaning there is a 5.5-inch touchscreen integrated into the remote controller.
Having something like this enables you to:
- Carry only your drone and the remote controller and
- Forgo worrying about phone calls and notifications interrupting your day of flight, as you no longer must use your phone to access the DJI Fly app.
All the features found in your smartphone’s DJI Fly app are found in the Smart Controller.
Using the included Mini 2 controller without a smartphone
Another alternative for Mini 2 owners is flying the Mini 2 without a smartphone, using only the supplied remote controller.
While this can easily be done, you will not have the complete picture/video taking and safety experience as you would with the controller connected to a smartphone. Because of this, it is not recommended, although the choice is up to individual owners.
To fly the Mini 2 without a smartphone attached:
- Turn your Mini 2 on, then turn on the remote controller, waiting shortly for the two devices to sync with each other.
- Next wait for the drone to get a good GPS lock (signified by the LED lights flashing green).
- Then simply pull the left and right sticks diagonally down towards the bottom center. The motors will then spin up and you are on your way to flying as usual, sans the display on your smartphone.
If you’d like, you can still take pictures using the right shoulder button, although you will not be able to see if your picture is framed correctly or even properly exposed.
Note: I have personally flown a drone this way only to briefly test out a unit I bought from someone locally, when neither of us had access to our cell phones at the time. For myself, the experience was lacking, though it worked for the immediate intended purpose.
The negatives of flying without a smartphone attached
When using the Mini 2 without a cellphone attached, you will need to rely on understanding what the blinking LEDs mean on the drone. When you have GPS lock, the LEDs will turn green and blink.
However, when you are connected to a smartphone you can not only see if you have GPS lock, but you’ll be also able to see how many satellites are in view as well as get verbal confirmation through the DJI Fly app on your smartphone that your home point has been updated and you are ready to launch.
Having proper GPS lock is important (even when flying with a smartphone connected), as not having a proper GPS lock can cause the drone to act erratically, possibly causing a flyaway or injury or damage to one’s property.
One of the things that make drones so intriguing is the ability to fly them far away and high up (while maintaining visual line of sight).
When controlling the Mini 2 with only the remote controller with no smartphone attached, your flying distance with the drone is reduced, as you must keep an eye on it, so as not to lose and crash it.
One plus, though, is that the RTH (return to home) function will still work in a pinch, by pressing the RTH button on the face of the remote controller, causing the drone to return to its launch/take-off point.
Although you are still able to take photos, would you really want to? The reason being you are not able to set any of the photo options needed to get a properly exposed picture or framed video. You’re essentially going into pics and videos blindly.
Even if you don’t really care about image settings, it’s fairly hard to take a meaningful picture of anything when not being able to see it through a viewfinder or screen of sorts.
Remember back when we had to take selfies with a disposable camera? You’d hold the camera up and blindly reverse point the camera at your friends and yourself, hoping to get anyone in the frame. That’s kind of what it is like when trying to take pictures with a drone that has no screen attached to the remote controller.
For some, it might be disappointing that you cannot fly the Mini 2 with only a phone, especially for those that have done so in the past with other drones, and who like the simplicity of a minimal setup.
For many others, though, having to connect a smartphone to the Mini 2’s supplied DJI Controller is only a slight added inconvenience, one that is offset by having a plethora of robust options in the DJI Fly app to help make the overall flying and picture taking experience the best available.