(CNN) —  

Last year, DJI released the Mavic Mini, a 249-gram drone that’s incredibly fun to fly. Its versatile features and low price made it a compelling drone for beginners, especially with a release right before the holidays.

A year later, DJI is back with the Mini 2, a drone that looks nearly identical to its predecessor but adds some key features that make up for some of its shortcomings. Better range, improved battery life and, yes, 4K video are just a few of the new features we’ve been testing on the Mini 2.

Shortly after DJI announced the Mini 2, we detailed our first impressions after a flight or two. Now, having spent more time with the Mini 2 and taken it out for some long-range flights, we’re ready to offer up our final opinion: This is one heck of a drone with very little compromise.

PHOTO:
Jason Cipriani/CNN

You have two options when it comes to buying the Mini 2. You can either buy the drone, by itself, which includes the controller, a battery and the drone. That package costs $449. Or you can buy the Fly More Combo for $599, which comes with the drone, a controller, a carrying case, three total batteries and several additional accessories (like extra propellers).

The combo is by far the better deal out of the two, and something we strongly suggest you opt for. Despite the 31-minute flight time, having to wait a couple of hours in between flights as you recharge a single battery is annoying.

When looking at the original Mavic Mini and the Mini 2, it’s not easy to tell them apart. The Mini 2 has a USB-C charging port on the back, replacing the Micro USB port the original Mini used. The same goes for the battery charging station, with DJI making the switch to USB-C — something we’re thankful for.

The front of the Mini 2 has a new LED light to help you identify which direction it’s facing in low-light situations. You can control the color of the light in the DJI Fly app, with several different colors as an option — or, as we opted to use, a rainbow mode that has the light constantly switching colors.

Just below the new light is a gimbal that holds the 12-megapixel camera, which offers an 83-degree field of view and can capture 4K video at up to 30 frames per second. The ability to record 4K video is new on the Mini line and something we’re glad to see make its way into the compact drone.

There are four motors, each with two propellers, that have orange tips — whereas the Mini’s propellers have gray tips. The motors look the same, but in fact, they’re more powerful than the previous generation’s. The added performance allows you to push the Mini 2’s abilities in wind up to 24 miles per hour without suffering any performance issues.

If you recall, in our review of the first Mini, we noted an experience where the wind carried away the drone and we nearly lost it.

The Mini 2 still weighs the same 249 grams, just under the 250-gram Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) weight limit that requires a drone to be registered. You should still register your drone, especially if you attach any accessories to it that put it above the limit. And remember, you’re also still required to follow all of the FAA’s flying guidelines, such as staying below 400 feet and maintaining line of sight.

One downside to this year’s setup is the size of the controller. The Mini’s controller folded down into a compact size, making it easy to throw the drone and controller in your bag to take with you everywhere. The OcuSync 2.0 controller is fairly big and takes up a decent amount of space. The entire kit is still portable, and we feel as if the benefits of the OcuSync 2.0 controller (more on this in just a minute) over the previous model outweigh the added size.

The Mini 2’s improvements include a longer range, up to 31 minutes of estimated flight time, along with sharper photos and videos.

Let’s start with the range and connection improvements, which also happen to be the reason for the price increase on the second-generation model. Instead of using a Wi-Fi-based controller that’s susceptible to interference, especially if you’re in an area with a lot of residential or commercial Wi-Fi networks, the Mini 2 comes with DJI’s OcuSync 2.0 controller.

DJI has normally reserved its OcuSync tech for its higher-end drones, like the Mavic Air 2. However, with the Mini 2 now incorporating it, you’re able to fly the drone up to 10 kilometers away and won’t have as many interference issues.

When we tested the original Mini, we were able to get around 1,000 feet away from our house before the signal would cut out and the drone would automatically start to return home. With the Mini 2, however, we were able to fly exactly one mile away before we decided to turn around. We could have kept going (there were no signal issues), but we didn’t want to push our luck.

Again, we think the addition of DJI’s OcuSync 2.0 tech is a fair trade-off in exchange for the increase in the overall size of the controller. And if you purchase the Fly More Combo, the included carrying case makes it nearly a nonissue.

DJI estimates battery life at 31 minutes per charge. That number comes from DJI’s own tests, which include flying the Mini 2 at 4.7 meters per second in windless conditions. We were able to get right at 26 minutes of flight time, with the Mini 2 just hovering inside our office. Realize, these are two different tests, and other factors play into battery life, such as altitude (thinner air means the motors have to work harder to keep it in the air, in turn lowering battery life). Still, 26 minutes is an impressive amount of time for any drone.

The camera’s performance also received a boost, with crisp 4K video and a 12-megapixel camera for still shots. We’ve taken quite a few photos and videos during our time testing, including some in a relatively pitch-black night of some Christmas lights.

Overall, we’re impressed with the Mini 2’s photographic capabilities, from more automated photo options, like the ability to take panoramas with a couple of taps, to photos that are a bit sharper than we recall on the first-gen Mini. We didn’t find any of our photos to be overexposed, as was the case with the more expensive and capable Mavic Air 2.

The Mini 2 doesn’t have all of the fancy object tracking and obstacle avoidance features of the Air 2, but it’s also a few hundred dollars less. But you do get some smart features, like the aforementioned panoramic photos, as well as quick shot modes to take a “dronie,” where the Mini 2 flies up and away from you while recording. Or a “rocket” that triggers the drone to fly straight up while recording.

PHOTO:
Jason Cipriani/CNN

For someone who has been hesitant to get their first drone because of the starting price, the Mini 2 is built for you. This is a drone that isn’t terribly expensive but has some of the advanced features you’d expect to pay $1,000 for.

The $599 Fly More Combo is the best way to approach the Mini 2, because we guarantee after you fly a few times, one battery just isn’t going to be enough.



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