Air 2S Review You Cannot Miss
Summary: When buying a drone, there have always been tradeoffs to make for portability and affordability.
Buying a compact and/or low-cost drone typically means giving up camera quality, obstacle avoidance, transmission capability, or speed.
However, the DJI Air 2S may be the rare device that falls into this sweet spot, the Goldilocks zone where all but the most minor of compromises dwindle into irrelevance. On paper, this drone is a portable, affordable powerhouse, but can it live up to such lofty expectations?
As someone who has flown the DJI Mavic 2 Pro and Zoom on an almost daily basis since those drones launched, my first impression of the Air 2S was of just how small it is. The drone isn’t as small as the Mavic Mini, but at 3.3 x 3.8 x 7.1 inches and 1.3 pounds, it’s shockingly small considering what it’s capable of, and it strikes a good balance between portability and capability.
A small but significant detail of the Air 2S is its camera gimbal protector, which is much better than those included with other DJI drones I’ve flown. Its release system makes it easier to remove, while providing a much more secure fit at the same time. These kinds of little fixes are present throughout the design of the Air 2S, such as the folding arms that have a more robust hinge than those on my Mavic 2 Pro.
The new controller design for the Air 2S is pretty decent. It’s a solid piece of hardware with removable thumbsticks that stow away in special slots at the bottom of the controller. All the familiar controls are there, so as a long time DJI drone pilot I had no trouble getting used to it. It’s all very straightforward, so new fliers should be able to get to grips with it fairly quickly. The shape of it is designed to be as compact and easy to stow as possible, without sacrificing ergonomics, and it’s quite comfortable to use.
It comes with a USB charging cable, as well as several different adapters (USB-C, Apple Lightning, and MicroUSB) for the necessary wired connection to your phone. These are attached inside the retractable phone holder. I appreciated that they are very easy to swap out, which has not been my experience with the Mavic 2 Pro controller.
The phone holder itself is also an improvement over previous DJI designs, with a robust spring loaded and rubber padded arm extending from the top of the controller. However, if you have a big phone like my Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, especially if it’s in a case, it’ll be a tight fit.
Every DJI product I’ve ever owned has been a bit of a pain to set up, and the Air 2S wasn’t without its hiccups. It works through the DJI Fly app, which requires an update to fly the new drone. However, the update download failed twice for no apparent reason. The third time the phone glitched out and eventually told me I had to grant permission for the installation.
After this, the option to connect an Air 2S drone appeared, but the phone wouldn’t detect the controller or the drone. I restarted both the controller and the drone, and finally the phone was able to see it and walked me through the pairing process.
After activating the drone to my DJI account, it asked me whether I wanted DJI Care Refresh or not, and then proceeded to a major firmware update for the drone itself. With my slow internet this took some time, particularly since the download speed was wildly inconsistent and persistently slow even for my poor home connection.
The Air 2S is a massive upgrade in every way from the previous Mavic Air 2. Most significant among the many advantages this drone has over its previous iteration of DJI’s Air series of drones is its camera. With 20MP and a large 1-inch sensor, this camera is vastly superior to that in the Air 2. You also get ADS-B Airsense capability, among tons of new features and generally improved performance across the board.
Flying the Air 2S felt very familiar to me compared to similar DJI drones I’ve flown. It’s very comparable to the Mavic 2 Pro and Zoom drones, with its top speed of 44Mph. Speed and obstacle avoidance behavior vary between cinematic, normal, and sport modes.
It’s subtle, but my experience with the Air 2S was that it’s actually a tad more responsive and nimble than the other drones. You get a whopping 31 minutes maximum flight time, which I found to be more than enough to film and photograph locations with a battery to spare.
The maximum transmission range is about 7.5 miles, though of course this is heavily affected by the terrain around you. I found that within safe, line-of-sight operating distances, the signal never wavered in the slightest. However, I did find that the video signal suffered from occasional minor hiccups that, while not a major concern and just a mere annoyance, were consistent in every flight with both the standard and smart controllers.
In previous small, lightweight drones from DJI, a universal compromise was in photographic capability. However, that changes with the Air 2S. The 20MP 1-inch sensor is comparable to that of the Mavic 2 Pro, and in terms of overall image quality, I might actually give a slight edge to the Air 2S.
It’s 22-millimeter equivalent f/2.8 aperture lens is super sharp, and the high megapixel count gives you plenty of latitude for cropping in post. It excels in low light, making filming around sunset or sunrise during the blue hour possible with minimal noise. Colors look great, and RAW images offer plenty of dynamic range for editing.
The camera can capture RAW images, as well as Jpeg, and offers plenty of useful video recording options as well. You can go up all the way to 5.3k 30fps video, or 4k 60fps, or 1080p 120fps video for decent-looking slow motion. HDR, timelapse, and panorama modes are also available, among others. Images and video are stored on 8GB of onboard storage, or an optional micro-SD card.
I have only two complaints regarding the camera in comparison to the Mavic 2 Pro. One is that the gimbal on the Air 2S is unable to be pointed upwards, which is a function in the Mavic 2 Pro that I find useful for navigation and for capturing panoramic images. The other thing missing here is an adjustable aperture, so the camera is locked at F2.8, unlike in the Mavic 2 Pro. These are hardly deal breakers, but they are factors worth considering.
Something that will be of particular interest to more advanced pilots will be the fact that the Air 2S is compatible with the DJI Smart Controller. This controller eliminates the need to connect your smartphone and greatly reduces the time required to set up and fly the Air 2S. Pairing the Smart Controller to the Air 2S was easy enough, though it was necessary to make sure that both controller and drone were fully updated, which took an entire afternoon on my slow DSL internet connection.
Once the initial setup is out of the way, the Air 2S functions just about flawlessly with the Smart Controller. If anything, I found the signal to be more reliable than with the Air 2S’s bundled controller.
The Smart Controller is a very expensive $750 accessory, which comes close to doubling the initial cost of the drone. However, it represents a major upgrade for the Air 2S that’s certainly worth it for professional pilots. It also makes the drone more appealing to drone pilots who already own and use the Smart Controller.
In the past, I’ve never found much use for DJI’s intelligent tracking features, or their automated filming modes, but the Air 2S definitely challenged my long-held prejudices against what seemed like gimmicks in the past.
First of all, the subject tracking is absolutely phenomenal. Once it locks onto something, it holds on and just won’t let go, and the excellent obstacle avoidance system prevents it from running into anything while it's tracking you.
Even better, through a number of intelligent controls you can change the position of the drone around the subject it's tracking, or have it orbit at varying speeds. I see this as being immensely useful to new drone pilots and seasoned professionals alike.
I still can’t see myself using the automated shooting modes in which the drone pulls off a pre-programmed maneuver. The Air 2S features a new one called Mastershots that captures a series of cinematic clips of a chosen subject, which is kind of cool and good for beginners, but with a little practice you can pull off these moves yourself and that’s much more concerning.
The big problem with these programmed shots is that if you’re using an Android device to control the drone you can film in only 1080p. If you’re using an iPhone you’re fine, but there’s no reason, at least as far as I know, that Android users should be so limited.
The Air 2S features the most powerful collision detection system in any DJI drone to date, and with it enabled you’d be hard pressed to run into anything if you tried. Even better, the drone features an ADS-B warning system that’ll let you know when aircrafts are nearby, though during my time testing the drone I never encountered a situation where this feature would have been activated. If you do run into trouble, such as your signal being interrupted, the drone is GPS equipped and its "return to home" function is capable of bringing the Air 2S back to you unharmed.
With an MSRP of $1,000, the DJI Air 2S is easily the best drone on the market from a value perspective. It makes both more expensive drones and less expensive drones look less attractive from a features to dollars point of view.
Considering that it’s more than half the price of the Air 2S, the Mavic 2 Pro should blow the Air 2S out of the water, even if it may be getting a bit long in the tooth. However, these two drones are evenly matched, each offering minor advantages over the other in terms of functionality.
Once you factor in the significant size and price advantage of the Air 2S, it seems as though the Mavic 2 Pro has been almost wholly outdated by the Air 2S. If you already own the Pro you probably don’t need to switch, but if you’re deciding between the two, the Air 2S is clearly the better buy.
Our reviewer purchased Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville so that they could do a thorough play-through of the game. Keep reading for their full take.
To embrace the game's pun-filled writing, Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville is part of a universe that blossomed from its humble roots as a casual, free PC game of the tower defense variety. This includes planting the seed of the franchise's signature hilarity and oddball rivalry into a series of multiplayer third-person shooters: Garden Warfare, Garden Warfare 2, and now Battle for Neighborville. This latest entry resurrects with not only a new name, but also new classes and revamped game modes, both in terms of cooperative player-vs-environment (PvE) and competitive player-vs-player (PvP) action.
Battle for Neighborville is also available on PlayStation 4 and PC, but I played it on Xbox One. If you're looking for a shooter on our list of the best Xbox One kids' games, this one's a no brainer.
Pop the disc into your Xbox One for the first time and you'll have some installation and updates to wait through. The process took about half an hour in total for me, but during installation the game lets you while away the time in a pared-back garden defense demo session.
When setup finishes, you're thrown right into the colorful social lobby/hub world of Neighborville, populated by your fellow players and important non-player characters (NPCs). You can switch to the zombie side at any time, but you're encouraged to start as a plant and go through tutorial missions led by a sunflower named Major Sweetie. These quick quests help orient you to all the features you can access from the lobby area, which is helpful since there's unfortunately no simple menu to navigate the game modes. Having to walk around to everything may be more immersive, but it's less convenient.
A central part of the hub world is Giddy Park, a carnival-themed battle area that's made for testing out characters and abilities alongside/against other players. It offers a safe place for newbies to start, with the co-op campaigns as the next suggested place for players to dig in.
You probably didn't pick up a Plants vs. Zombies game for the plot, and there's not much on offer here. You can set off with your party to one of three free-roam PvE regions (one for plants, one for zombies, and the Town Center shared by both) to play through a few storylines, but they're mostly strings of lighthearted, nonsensical missions. Most start with a quest-giver and end with a boss, with key items along the way to be earned by completing wacky sub-tasks. Round up a plant posse to stop a Wild West-style jailbreak. Save the tackling dummy worshipped by a zombie cult. The usual stuff.
Meeting even the silliest objectives, though, isn't always a walk in the park. You can't always see quest markers and objectives when you need to. While you can check the map and set a waypoint, navigation still can be more cumbersome than it should be. There are also some sections that seem overly tough to get past—it took me way too many tries to defend a taco store either solo or with a coop partner.
Where Battle for Neighborville leaves a more memorable mark is in the absurd, over-the-top (but inoffensive) dialogue that nearly every NPC spouts in your direction. It can be a lot to wade through if you're just trying to get to the action, but there are genuinely funny gems to be enjoyed if you're paying attention.
At the core of Battle for Neighborville's gameplay are its 20 characters—10 plants and 10 zombies. There are some analogs across the sides, but each for the most part has a distinct style of play. Five characters on each side are classified as damage-focused Attack classes. These include the undead explosion-loving 80s Action Hero and the stealth ninja mushroom Night Cap. Each side also has Defend classes, like the shield-wielding orange Citron and the zombie Space Cadets that can join up into a single powerful space station. Rounding out the selection are two Support classes per team that are focused on healing, crowd controls, and buffs.
Each character has three unique abilities they can use on cooldown, with over-the-top animations and effects that make them a blast to use. You can further customize them with a swappable selection of upgrades that boost abilities and alter other aspects of their performance—new upgrades are unlocked as you promote your units every ten levels. This all adds up to a lot of ways to play the game, and a lot of flexibility to try out a variety of builds for every character.
There are complaints among the player community about balance issues that the developers need to address, but it shouldn't be a concern to most casual players. The addition of unlimited sprinting in Battle for Neighborville has also received mixed responses. It can make your life easier when catching up to a skirmish or fleeing one, but it can be annoying when your opponents scamper away before you can finish them off.
To be real, as someone who's not even close to an elite player at more "serious" multiplayer shooters, I found Battle for Neighborville easy enough to pick up and be decent at from the jump. At the same time, I still had a lot to learn about how to best use my abilities and get around the maps, and I fed opponents a lot of easy vanquishes in my initial 14 hours of play. The idea of improving enough to hold my ground against veteran players was a nice incentive to keep at it, and it doesn't feel like an impossible challenge.
There's just no rest in the eternal war between anthropomorphic plants and reanimated corpses. The variety of online PvP modes available to Battle for Neighborville players can keep you busy battling almost endlessly. Turf Takeover puts you in a sprawling 8v8 conflict with multiple objectives, while Battle Arena is a more intimate 4v4 deathmatch that forces you to use a different character each round. Team Vanquish is a straightforward race to 50 kills, and Garden/Graveyard Ops are throwback cooperative defense matches against multiple enemy waves. Finally, there's a Mix Mode that cycles through three more team battle variants.
It won't be hard for most players to find a favorite mode based on their preferred brand of bedlam. Rotating weekly events and challenges, though, encourage you to concentrate on certain modes or characters, often with limited-time cosmetic pieces as rewards. These updates roll out regularly, and the cycle continues.
There's no mistaking the visual style that Battle for Neighborville is going for. Colorful creatures jump around in a flurry of leaves and patched-together machinery. Bright laser beams, flame walls, and electric bolts zip back and forth. Cheese-filled tubes and giant marshmallow projectiles pass overhead. It's over-the-top and cartoony and proud of it.
To add to the madness, players can customize the appearance of their characters with costumes, hats, and a hodgepodge of other accessories earned through challenges or bought with in-game currency on the randomized prize machine. And these customizations go well beyond subtle uniform changes. There are some very distinct wearables to mix and match and show off your character's unique look and flair, which, for many players, is plenty of incentive to keep up the fight.
The Giddy Park hub area itself gets a periodic makeover, too, with dramatic changes to the environment based on the seasons or holidays. (I'm playing during the winter-themed Snow Day festival.)
A major selling point of Battle for Neighborville is that it takes the fun of multiplayer shooters—usually more realistic in their depictions of violence—and makes it more appropriate for younger players. You're still trying to attack and defeat your foes with intense weaponry, and the undead are everywhere, but there's no blood or horror or references to adult themes. Even the "kills" are rebranded as "vanquishes" across the game.
The relative simplicity of the gameplay also makes it a nice entry point into the class-based shooter genre. My daughter was too far below the target age range to be competitive, but she was still able to enjoy jumping into combat, deploying wacky abilities, and assembling hilarious ensembles.
The biggest knock against Battle for Neighborville's price is the quantity of competitive shooters available for free, costing only the price of an online subscription. But if you're looking for a more lighthearted, family-friendly alternative, Battle for Neighborville will give you plenty for your money, including a potentially endless amount of replay value from its many modes, regular challenges and rewards, and ongoing updates.
You can also spend real money on premium currency (Rainbow Stars!) to buy specific costume pieces, available in limited time windows. You'll be able to choose what you want rather than earn them through challenges or get random pulls with in-game currency. But these are all cosmetic and add no gameplay advantage, so it's a potential life lesson for younger players on what's worth—or not worth—your money.
Battle for Neighborville enters a shooter arena filled with established heavyweights, and it waltzes in with a Pea Cannon. But does that mean it can't hold its own? One of the biggest names among its competitors is Overwatch, another team-based hero shooter with a diverse cast of characters, complementary class types, and unique abilities.
A fundamental difference in gameplay is Overwatch's first-person perspective, rather than a third-person view that steps back and emphasizes your avatar. And, of course, Overwatch's competitive depth has made it a popular esports title, something Battle for Neighborville can't match. But sometimes competition isn't the most important thing if your goal is a good time. There's the matter of your players' maturity levels: Overwatch also sports a cartoonish style, but it's not as exaggerated as Battle for Neighborville's, and contains less kid-friendly elements that warrant its Teen ESRB rating. Overwatch also doesn't offer the option of solo or offline co-op PvE campaigns.
Want to take a look at some other options? See our guide to the best Xbox One games.
Our reviewer purchased Yoku's Island Express so that they could do a thorough play-through of the game. Keep reading for their full take.
Yoku's Island Express is a game you go into without knowing what to expect. I could tell you it plays like a 2D platforming adventure that incorporates open-world elements and pinball mechanics, set in a strange jungle environment inhabited by even stranger creatures, but it's hard to fully imagine. As you play, you start to understand, and you gain a feel for how the game flows. Yet it still never gives you exactly what you expect—one of the many reasons it's such a delightful and unique experience.
Playing through the game on Xbox One, I found it well-deserving of a spot on the list of best Xbox One kids games. It's also available for the Switch, PlayStation 4, and Windows PC, and I'd expect the experience to be similarly engrossing on those platforms.
As the title character, Yoku the beetle, you arrive on the island of Mokumana just as something with ominous green claws starts attacking within the forest. You're met on the beach by the old postmaster (a "posterodactyl," obviously), who decided to bail when the strangeness began, so you're the lucky new delivery beetle of the Island Express. You head for the village rolling your ever-present white ball. (No, it's not a dung ball, and yes, there's a way to change it to one.)
You soon learn that your main quest is to help heal the island elder, Mokuma, who was injured by those green claws. You also quickly learn that you'll have a lot of other odd tasks given to you by the island's residents, distracting you from your primary mission—if you let them. You can tackle quests in a non-linear way, or explore as you please. It gets tricky to keep track of all the unfamiliar names of creatures and places thrown at you, but you have quick access to a map where important spots are marked.
Many of the tasks seem ridiculous until you actually dig into them, then they begin to make a strange sort of sense. At times you'll find more than one way to meet the request and face a choice on how to proceed. Going beyond simple branching dialogues, these instances happen organically enough that it feels like the control is in your hands.
You'll eventually progress to where the story needs you go, but not without plenty of surprises along the way. Because of how original the characters and situations are, it's hard to predict what's coming next. You quickly start to embrace the weirdness and enjoy the ride.
Rolling your ball left and right is simple enough, but beyond that is where your pinball skills come in (and where the real novelty of the game's traversal shines). The left and right trigger buttons activate blue and orange bumpers that can boost you up to higher ground or launch you to new sections. Other times they come in the form of traditional pinball flippers that you use to bounce your ball around an enclosed area, much like the playfield of a pinball machine. You hit switches, activate lights, pass through spinners, and break past barriers to reach the next area. There are even some boss encounters and other special instances when you end up with multiple balls, among other twists.
Your ball tends to travel precisely and consistently, so the pinball sequences are never overly frustrating. Sometimes it may take several tries to make it do what you need, but you don't lose your ball if it drops between the flippers. You're only docked a few of your fruits, the game's ubiquitous "currency" that's easy to get back. You'll usually have enough fruits to open up locked bumpers that let you access new areas.
The other tools you gain along the way have unexpected uses, too, creatively putting new skills at your disposal. Tooting a party horn is your main non-pinball mechanic, and it's surprisingly useful. Also helping you blaze new trails are a slug vacuum and a soot creature loved by carnivorous plants.
You'll appreciate anything that helps you explore the enigmatic island, which is where Yoku's Island Express becomes a Metroidvania game with fresh twists. You travel bit by bit across essentially the entire island in one big 2D cross section. You can see it all on your map, though fog of war covers the parts you haven't visited. For obsessive gamers, exploring every inch holds a lot of appeal.
There's an immersive flow to the game—you keep rolling along, discovering new areas. At times it feels like you have too many paths or quests to choose from, but you can eventually wrap back around to most things if you're patient and diligent enough. You'll eventually unlock the Beeline for a sort of fast travel to get around more quickly, but it sometimes still takes multiple retreads of old paths to get where you want to go.
The same imagination that went into the gameplay comes across in the game's visuals as well. The rich, hand-painted visual style of Yoku's Island Express conveys all the beauty, mystery, and quirky personality of the environment better than any advanced graphics technology could. Far from a tropical paradise, it deftly illustrates Mokumana's wildly varied landscape of forests, flora, caves, swamps, and snowy peaks.
Bringing life to the land are all manner of creatures, from lumpy humanoids to talking bunnies to monsters that look almost torn from a surreal dreamscape. Some creatures come across creepy and disconcerting at first, but—as just another unexpected part of the game—you start to find them lovable as they talk and explain their simple needs and become part of your journey. Though it's not a message the game hits you over the head with, you can't help but come out with a bit more respect and admiration for the weird and wonderful living world than you went in with.
Audio plays a valuable role in the presentation, too, including the gibberish voices of the characters. The soundtrack starts off as mellow background music and builds accordingly, shifting depending on the area and the mood it's meant to set. The music on the Beeline bops especially hard, though if you're zipping around too fast, the visuals can suddenly freeze up as the game tries to load the next area. It's only for a second or two, but enough to bump you out of an otherwise immersive rhythm.
It gets an E10+ ESRB rating for fantasy violence, animated blood, and crude humor, but Yoku's Island Express is in general an excellent game for younger players. Many may enjoy the weird humor, oddball characters, and even the dark or creepy parts. The pinball-centric gameplay is simple and forgiving enough for inexperienced players, too.
Available for $20 or less, it's a small price for the unique gaming experience you can get out of Yoku's Island Express, especially if you appreciate the originality and creativity involved in almost every aspect of the game. If you're a pinball aficionado looking for more traditional gameplay, though, you'll likely be happier with a dedicated pinball simulator.
Factoring into the game's value is its relatively short play time. It took me less than seven hours to get through the main game, and that was while pretty obsessively trying to discover as much as I could along the way. Aiming for 100% completion will give you much more time with the game, but there's not much replay value after you've gotten to that point.
Yoku's Island Express has mixed together so many unique elements that nothing is quite like it, but Hollow Knight is another acclaimed indie 2D adventure in the Metroidvania tradition. Each title has its own distinct, polished art style with diverse environments. Both titles give players a lot to explore across a large, connected map, and choices in how to approach your journey.
Besides the lack of pinball and dung beetles, a clear difference is that Hollow Knight is darker in mood throughout, not to mention more challenging. There's much more fighting and combat involved, where Yoku's Island Express has hardly any, and focuses more on the pure joy of exploration and discovery.
Want to take a look at some other options? See our guide of the most fun online games for kids.