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The DJI Avata Is the Most Fun I've Had Flying a Drone -- Even When I Crashed It

This drone with FPV -- or first-person view -- is small, light and amazing fun to fly.

DJI Avata drone, first person view goggles and motion controller
The DJI Avata with the FPV goggles and motion controller.
Andrew Lanxon/CNET

The DJI Avata is the latest FPV flying machine from the dominant drone-maker, and it improves on its predecessor by being smaller, lighter and safer to fly thanks to its new enclosed propellers.

FPV stands for first-person view, meaning you get a nose-eye perspective while flying the drone. The VR-style goggles and motion controller make it super easy to get up in the air and start practicing high-speed maneuvers. Despite two crashes, my review model came out unscathed. And it was an exhilarating flying experience overall. 

The Avata goes on sale today and costs $629 (£499 in the UK) without the FPV headset or controller. But you'll likely want one of the two bundles: The $1,170 Avata Fly Smart Combo (£989) which includes the DJI FPV Goggles V2 and motion controller, or the $1,390 Avata Pro-View Combo (£1,229) with the Goggles 2 and motion controller. 

If you've been on Instagram or TikTok recently then you'll almost certainly have seen exhilarating videos of similar FPV drones flying through bowling alleys, factories or doing other incredible aerial maneuvers. To achieve that, FPV pilots wear headsets that let them see through the eyes of the drone, navigating those twisting turns and zooming through tight gaps as if they're behind the controls and up in the air. 

Read more: Best Drones for 2022

DJI Avata FPV drone in motion; it looks to be about four of Andy Lanxon's hands large

The Avata is small and light.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

And that's exactly how you'll fly the Avata. Like the previous DJI FPV, the Avata comes with FPV goggles that put you up in the sky to see the world through the camera on the drone's front. Now I've been flying drones for years -- since DJI's Phantom 1 in 2013, in fact -- but the first person experience is something very different and very exciting. It's the nearest you can get to actually feeling like you're flying that doesn't involve strapping on a wingsuit and jumping off a mountain. 

Now playing: Watch this: DJI Avata Makes FPV Easier, Safer and More Fun
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So what does the Avata offer versus the older FPV model? Well, the design has seen a big shift with a much smaller body. The previous model had a much larger body with long fixed rotor arms that made it quite a chunky beast, but the Avata's diminutive size makes it much easier to chuck into a backpack and carry into the wilderness.

DJI FPV drone and DJI Avata FPV drone

The previous DJI FPV (left) and new Avata (right).

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

Then there's the new protective cage around the propellers that not only keeps people safe from those spinning blades, but means it can bump into walls or trees or other objects without jamming the propellers. It doesn't fully protect it, and while I found I could skim some leaves without much issue, I got a bit cocky on a couple of occasions that resulted in the drone being fully taken down... once deep inside a hillside full of head-height ferns, which I had to spend hours wading through in order to find it.

But it's not just the drone that's smaller: The FPV goggles are, too. This makes them much more comfortable to wear for longer periods, but if you're prone to motion sickness (like I am) you may still struggle with the fast first-person motion. I found I could manage about 10 minutes at a time before the nausea set in, which is just the nature of these headset views. (I have the same issues using VR headsets.)

The goggles have upgraded OLED displays which are sharp enough to give a crystal-clear view, and there's almost zero latency so you don't need to worry that your drone has crashed before you've even seen it happen. But with your own vision obscured by the goggles, you may need to fly with a spotter nearby depending on local aviation laws. Always make sure you're flying safely with the right permissions.

Image of the DJI Avata FPV drone

The new goggles are smaller than the last ones, too.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

The camera can shoot video in 4K resolution at up to 60 frames per second, and the footage looks great. It's smoothly stabilized and handles high dynamic scenes well, balancing bright skies against darker foregrounds. There's plenty of detail and enough resolution for the TikTokers among you to do a vertical crop down the middle -- because the camera cannot shoot in portrait mode. It struggles more in low-light areas, however, so keep that in mind if you're planning your own flight around a dimly lit bowling alley. 

In its sport mode it'll fly at up to 14 meters a second (46 feet), but there's a manual mode I haven't tried that will almost double that top speed. Sport mode was already incredibly nippy, but it's still easy to control using DJI's excellent motion controller. Rather than use more typical dual joystick controllers like you'd find with the Mavic Pro line, the motion controller is a single handgrip-style controller that flies the drone based on your hand movements. 

You'll see a little crosshair in the viewer that you simply move around the screen using gentle controller movements. And wherever the crosshair goes, the drone goes, so it's easy to point it toward a tiny gap you're hoping to squeeze through and aim the drone. Well, it's easy in theory. It was my first time flying using the motion controller but within 10 minutes I felt I was flying well and already trying more exciting maneuvers. 

And I only crashed twice, so I'm counting that as a win.

DJI Avata motion controller in hand

The motion controller makes flying a breeze.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

DJI reckons you'll get up to 18 minutes of hovering time, so that'll be a lot less if you're absolutely hammering the throttle to send it careening through obstacles. There will be a fly more combo that comes with three batteries which is worth getting if you plan on shooting on location for any length of time. 

So is this a drone you should go and buy? Well if you want more typical cinematic aerial footage of your landscapes or of you hiking through the hills then it probably won't be for you. Instead consider DJI's Mavic 3, which can capture stunning footage from its larger camera unit. Alternatively, there are the DJI Mini 2 or Mini 3 Pro if you're more of a beginner.

Image of the DJI Avata FPV drone

The camera shoots video in 4K resolution.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

But if what you want is an exhilarating flying experience where it feels like you're actually up there zooming through the trees, and you want to capture solid-looking footage for your TikTok videos, then the DJI Avata is a hell of a lot of fun to fly and well worth looking into.