DJI has announced a new remote controller with a built-in screen that supports its Mavic 2 Zoom and Mavic 2 Pro drones. The DJI Smart Controller is basically a $650 R/C controller fitted with a 5.5-inch 1080p touchscreen that runs Android. It’s an expensive accessory, but it could prove to be useful in the field as it addresses issues that nearly all drone flyers share, like the distraction of direct sunlight in your eyes and staying in radio range.
DJI is focusing on making its Smart Controller usable while out in the elements by including protection from harsh temperatures ranging from -20 degrees Celsius to 40 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit to 104 degrees Fahrenheit) and having a bright 1,000 cd/m2 screen, making it possible to view your aerial footage and control the drone in direct sunlight.
From personal experience, sunlight has been an issue for me when I’m flying drones and looking up at the sky — which can be partially rectified with sunglasses — but looking down at a bright screen with shades on is counterintuitive. I’m definitely curious to see just how bright the Smart Controller’s display is with my own eyes.
The Smart Controller is also well-equipped in terms of radios, with support for Bluetooth 4.2, Wi-Fi, and DJI’s own OcuSync 2.0 video transmission technology, which automatically switches between frequencies to avoid interference and maintain contact with your drone up to 8 kilometers (4.97 miles) away. The underlying Android device that runs the DJI app and communicates with your drone (as well as video editing apps) has 16GB of ROM and supports microSD UHS-I Speed Grade 3 cards up to 128GB. However, DJI hasn’t specified which version of Android the Smart Controller runs.
On paper, DJI’s Smart Controller sounds like a useful accessory for both professional and amateur drone flyers who want more precise controls than they can get by simply using their phone’s touchscreen. Here’s the catch: all that radio tech and screen crammed into a small package requires a big battery — with a 5,000mAh capacity — but DJI says the smart controller only lasts 2.5 hours on a full charge, and it will take two hours to recharge the non-removable battery.
That’s a pretty low number, especially if you’re spending $650 on a controller, then you probably also have spare battery packs for your drones that will eventually outlast their own controller.