To fly your drone, there is likely a companion app provided from the manufacturer, available for Android or iOS, if nothing else. Most drones have basic flight operations handled through the remote control, then they have fancy camera and self-piloting modes controlled through the app on your phone or tablet. This is especially true of the popular DJI Mavic Pro, a trend that continues on the Mavic Air and the Mavic 2 series of consumer level DJI Drones.
The default app from DJI provides advanced flight controls, fine-tuned camera control and, if nothing else, a live video stream from the camera on the drone. This sounds all straightforward to me, but I wonder, are there any other apps out there that can interact with my favorite drone? Of course there are, let’s take a quick look at a few DJI GO 4 app alternatives to fly DJI drones since the Phantom 4 and Mavic Pro.
Please note, most newer DJI Drones, starting with the DJI Mavic Mini and Mavic Air 2, use a new app called DJI Fly.
Why trust Drone Rush?
I’ve been a fan of flight since a young age; while I’ve had few opportunities at the helm of manned aircraft, the hours on my fleet of drones continue to grow. I enjoy putting cameras into the sky, silky smooth aerial imagery makes me happy. My goal is to help all pilots enjoy flight legally and safely.
Before you fly
Please keep in mind that the DJI GO 4 app is the only app that properly and fully supports the ability to version check and update your drone and remote control from DJI. These alternative apps are designed to provide a new flight experience, not to replace DJI’s software entirely.
For the most part, these new apps add in things like waypoint routed flights and easier access to some of the advanced features in these DJI drones. Mostly things that the DJI GO 4 app can do, but perhaps does not do as efficiently or hides in the settings menu.
Of course, all these new features make it easy to break some of the rules. Please be careful that you fly safe. Before we dive into the apps, allow us to remind you some of the best practices and rules, at least in the United States.
Things to know before you fly — drone laws
Note: Most of the applications on this list specify that they are not responsible for damage to your drone, please take all reasonable safety and redundancy precautions that you can.
DJI GO 4 app alternatives
That’s right, the Litchi app for DJI drones is almost entirely a DJI GO 4 replacement. The list of drones that this app can control goes well beyond those listed in the name of the app, including all of the Phantom 4 variants, Phantom 3 variants, Inspire 1 variants and, of course, the Spark and Mavic Pro. The Mavic Air, and Mavic 2 series drones also use this app.
There are a few key features that make Litchi great. Okay, there are more than a few, but the two that most stood out for me, the reasons I explored the app in the first place, the Waypoint flight control and the Virtual Reality mode. Don’t get me wrong, the DJI Goggles are far superior to a Google Cardboard type VR experience, but that does not stop me from being excited for mobile FPV on a DJI drone.
The Panorama mode and a few other camera based modes for tracking a subject or keeping an object in focus have been solid for my testing as well.
As I’ve been overwhelmed with the tools in the app, trying to learn them all, I only just now realized that there is a cool companion app from Litchi. This new app allows you to use another mobile device as a beacon for your drone. Camera detected object detection is pretty good from DJI, but putting a GPS enabled beacon in your pocket ensures the drone will keep an eye on you no matter where you go. Download Litchi Magic Leash here.
Litchi is an impressive app. Now I must inform you that you get what you pay for, Litchi is not free. When you’re ready to take your flight to the next level, pickup Litchi for DJI drones for $24.99 in the Google Play Store for your Android device. This is the version I’ve been testing, thank you to VC Technology Ltd. for providing our review copy.
For the iOS crowd, grab Litchi for DJI drones for $22.99 for your iPad or iPhone.
We were pretty excited to see this update roll out to our mobile device. Airmap has been one of our favorite drone airspace and drone mapping tools for a while now, used along with the FAA’s B4UFly app, we head out with confidence that we are flying somewhere legal. Now, you can use Airmap to control some of your DJI drones. As best we can tell, if DJI GO 4 supported your DJI drone, Airmap can now do the job as well. Look for fun new control methods, and great integration into flight services for commercial pilots.
Check out Airmap for your basic needs, or for your commercial piloting business. We visited with AirMap at InterDrone 2018.
UgCS for DJI
The folks at SPH Engineering offer deep rooted systems for all manner of unmanned aerial vehicles. Flying something like the DJI Spark is just one of the may features available in their software suite. Their mobile app is only half of the story, however. The app may issue the flight commands, but it more of a proxy for the connected desktop application that does the real magic.
UgCS Desktop is robust flight planning software, the combined product with the mobile application make for the ability to create and analyze Waypoint driven routes and so much more. Best of all, from a fun perspective, this allows you to fly your drone using point and click on your computer, or even connect a game joystick to fly like a pro.
The free version of the UgCS software enables the sort of features that us backyard pilots would want. Commercial users have three tiers to choose from, each adding more and more advanced capabilities for automated flight: $65, $600 and $2000 options are available.
Also seen in our Best drone apps list
Instead of completely replacing DJI GO 4 to fly your DJI drone, Pix4D is a powerful companion app for mapping and 3D modeling. Put your drone to work doing more than just capturing those boring (epic) videos of the world around you.
Pix4D is a little like UgCS above, allowing you to design flight paths and patterns for your drone. Tracking the machine in the air, plus putting the video and images it automatically captures to use is all part of the game. Great as a commercial operator’s tool, Pix4D excels at mapping, flying a grid to create the most effective view of an area possible.
Pix4D is free to install on your mobile device, their advanced services and flight tracking tools vary from as low as $50/month up to nearly $1000/month.
Newer DJI drones: DJI Fly
Introduced with the DJI Mavic Mini, the DJI Fly app is a simplified take on DJI GO 4. DJI basically considers this the app for beginner pilots, we can at least say it’s a solid experience. The DJI Fly app is now used for the Mavic Air 2, Mini 2, FPV, Air 2S, and Mavic 3. It sure feels like DJI GO 4 has been retired.
Frequently Asked Questions
For most drones, no, you do not need an app on a connected mobile device in order to fly, however, the flight experience without an app may not be very great. The remote control of our drone usually manages the core of flight, you’ll be able to go up and down and take photos and all that, but you will not have a view from the camera, you likely will not have access to fancy flight features, and you may not get access to safety features such as RTH, but yes, you can fly without an app.
In the case of DJI drones, third-party apps are built upon DJI’s APIs and SDKs. The result is that everything that happens in the app needs to be translated into an action that is sent to the remote control, the remote then sends the desired signal up to the drone. No matter what fun ideas an app has, they will always be limited by their ability to translate your input into controls that the drone understands.
For example, Waypoint flight is managed by the app registering where the drone is, where it needs to be next and then simply sending the basic directional commands to the drone. Spin the drone until it’s pointing the right direction, then move the drone forward until the GPS location of the drone and the next waypoint are the same. More advanced software can manage directional flight without having to point the drone toward the next point, allowing you to use the camera to capture side-sweeping video, for example.
It is, technically, possible to use multiple apps on the same smart device at the same time to control your drone. The majority of apps lock down their connection to the remote, lock to the USB interface of your phone or tablet, as a safety feature to prevent multiple simultaneous app actions, but it is otherwise quite possible to do. In the case of the Fluidity app, for example, we can easily jump back and forth between it and DJI GO 4 on the fly.