Best Drones rocketed from the obscure to the mainstream in just a few years. However, as much as you might want to own a drone, buying one is a complex process. A sea of devices exist. Plus, distinct features further complicate drone-buying.
Drones all the rage at the moment, but the sheer amount of choice as well as the huge range of prices can make it difficult to know what to buy and how much to spend. Here we explain what you need to know about buying a drone, and review the best drones for all budgets.
Budget and intended purpose are excellent criteria for most buyers. Learn how to select the best drone, from asking the right questions to finding the right specifications.
Drone Buying Considerations
There are plenty of criteria you may use to narrow your quest for the perfect drone. The main features we’ll concentrate on are:
- Ease of use.
- Number of motors.
- Flight time.
Syma X5C Explorers ($58/£37)
Beware, though. Cutting costs sacrifices premium features. While the 720p camera is HD, a CNET review notes quality falls short. Also, the Syma X5C lacks image stabilization, so images can appear blurry. The main drawback is its weak battery. Powered by a 3.7-volt 500 mAh battery pack, you’ll likely only clock about 7–10 minutes off of a full 90-minute charge.
At around $50, it’s difficult to complain about image quality and flight time. Ultimately, the Syma X5C Explorers is a hefty drone for the price of a toy drone.
- 3.7-volt 500 mAh battery (7–10 minutes flight time from a 90-minute charge).
- 720p HD camera.
- 4 motors.
- Extremely user-friendly.
Parrot Bebop ($190/£326)
However, the Parrot Bebop only offers 8 GB of built-in storage. And there’s no microSD port. Battery life is pretty limited: CNET reviewers averaged around 10 minutes. You do get two batteries, but you’ll need to land safely to swap batteries. The Parrot Bebop may be controlled with a phone or tablet, and it’s pretty easy to use. An optional remote is available, but once you shell out the extra cash it’s worth considering a slightly more expensive and capable drone.
Within its budget segment, though, the Parrot Bebop is a compact yet durable drone that balances budget and high-end features.
- 10 minute flight time (two batteries included).
- 8 GB built-in storage.
- Controllable via phone and tablet.
- Standard Wi-Fi.
- Replaceable parts.
- 4 motors.
- Full 1080p video.
DJI Phantom 3, standard ($499)
Typically, DJI’s quadcopters sell for a lot more than $500, but with the company now focusing on the Phantom 4, the cheapest Phantom 3 models have fallen into the sub-$500 category. This allows you to grab a UAV with features not normally found at this price point. The Phantom 3 Standard has a built-in, 2.7K camera capable of capturing video at 30 frames per second, along with 3-axis gimbal stabilization and the ability to live stream 720p video straight to your mobile device. It also touts 25 minutes of flight time, and an automatic return-to-home feature.
Another cool feature is that you can fly the Standard on a number of preset flight patterns. One is designed to continuously fly in a circle facing a set point of interest, one will track behind you, and the third allows you to map a series of waypoints, allowing you focus on your camera work while the drone flies in a preset pattern.
Traxxas Aton Plus ($400)
If you have an action cam that isn’t a GoPro, the Traxxas Aton Plus might be a good solution. The drone’s camera mount is universal, so non-GoPro cameras will work just fine. The device also includes a two-axis gimbal for stabilization, and a 5,000mAh battery that should provide at least 20 minutes of flight time. Moreover, the Aton Plus includes three different flight modes: a film mode for capturing video, a sport mode which unlocks some of the built-in safety protocols for beginners, and an expert mode that allows for manual control of the drone’s flying functions through an accompanying mobile app.
Parrot Bebop 2 ($450)
Parrot’s original Bebop made it to our initial list, which our own Drew Prindle reviewed last year. The Bebop 2 — its successor — has been out since November, but only recently fell below $500 at some major retailers. Like the original Bebop, it excels in simplicity, durability, and a really enjoyable flying experience. Instead of using a traditional joystick controller, the Bebop takes commands from your smartphone or tablet — which is a bit limiting at first, but also pretty fun and approachable for beginners. A wireless connection provides you with a first-person view of what the drone sees, and you simply tilt your phone to steer it around. The second-gen Bebop extends the flight time from 22 to 25 minutes, and adds a fish-eye lens and a flashing LED on the rear to increase visibility in darker scenarios.
Lumenier G10 QAV250 ($90)
If you’re not scared of doing a little bit of construction, and aren’t looking for a drone for video purposes, then we’d recommend going with the QAV250. The drone excels in what drone enthusiasts call FPV flying, which is short for “first person view.” Since the camera is fixed and isn’t stabilized, with the right equipment — say a VR headset — you can get a virtual idea of what it’s like to fly. And if you have a 3D printer, you can save a good deal of money by printing out your own frame and putting together a DIY clone of this beast for well under $200.
Yuneec Breeze 4K ($351/£422)
Just as 4K televisions and monitors are all the rage, so too is 4K a popular spec in the drone realm. The Yuneec Breeze 4K offers 4K support in a lightweight and small package. The app, available on Android and iOS is easy to use so it’s perfect for beginners and comes loaded with a slew of automated flight modes.
Unfortunately, flight time is pretty limited at just around 12 minutes. Thankfully, the Yuneec Breeze does Although there is 4K support, image stabilization is only available at 1080p and 720p resolutions. One of the preset modes automates selfie photography — watch the video! The Yunteec offers quality, durability, and a compact frame. It boasts a slew of premium abilities, at a reasonable price.
- 4K resolution (image stabilization limited to 1080p and 720p).
- 12-minute battery life (two batteries included).
- Easy to use.
- 4 motors.
Xiro Xplorer V ($449)
The Xiro Xplorer V sports an all around superb experience in a small package. Its ease of use, return-to-home functionality, automatic landing and takeoff, and commendable stability posit the Xplorer V as a top drone pick.
While the battery is rated for 25 minute flight time, PCMag reviews found about 19–20 as a realistic measurement. There is 1080p support, but no 4K. Oddly, 4K resolutions are commonly found in other drones as this price point including the Yuneec Breeze 4K. However, the combination of stability, HD images, and extreme ease of operation make the Xiro Xplorer V one of the best drones available at any price. The DJI Phantom 3 Standard is a great alternative, although it’s much larger.
- 25-minute flight time (two batteries included).
- Very stable.
- 4 motors.
- Extreme ease of use (auto takeoff and landing, return to home).
DJI Phantom 3 Professional ($749)
DJI Phantom drones rank high among the most popular, and recognizable, drones available. In the top-tier drone category, the DJI Phantom 3 Professional is a top tier pick. While pricey, the Phantom 3 Professional does rock an impressive roster of features. There’s 4K support, a 20mm wide-angle lens, built-in GPS, and a return-to-home function. The DJI Phantom 3 Pro also boasts automated flight modes which are really useful for beginners and foster an easy learning curve.
A PC Mag review praises the video quality and flying experience. Battery life remains skimpy, and the wide-angle lens occasionally displays distortion around the edges. Nevertheless, the DJI Phantom 3 Professional is the best upper echelon drone for the price.
- 4K resolution (live streaming limited to 720p).
- 23-minute flight time.
- 4 motors.
- microSD expansion.
DJI Phantom 4 ($899/£1,130)
The DJI Phantom 4 may not be the cheapest drone on the market, but it’s probably the best available and most consumer-centric. Upgrades for the Phantom 4 include an awesome Sport mode that increases speed for reaching a destination faster or merely zipping around for fun. An Obstacle Sensing System improves safety by helping to avoid collisions. It even includes a slow-mo video feature. Like many other drones, the rated flight time and real-world numbers differ. It’s rated for 28 minutes but realistically gets about 23 minutes.
Unfortunately, the Phantom 4 suffers from a few rough edges. Notably, the Obstacle Sensing System only covers the drone’s front. And the Phantom requires a mobile device. Unlike other drones, the DJI Phantom 4 is not compact, and moreover, the camera and landing gear are fixed to the drone, so you can’t chuck it in a pack. Despite a few minor quibbles, the DJI Phantom 4 offers the best bang for your buck in the high-end drone category. An upgrade to the DJI Phantom 4 Pro adds enhanced obstacle sensors and a better camera, as well as long-distance controls. However, it also bumps the price well above $1,000 making it tough to recommend for the average consumer.
- 4K support.
- 28-minute flight time.
- Image stabilization.
- Sport mode.
- Easy to use (Sport mode not for beginners).
- Obstacle Sensing System.
Final Drone Buying Thoughts
There’s certainly no shortage of drones available on the market. DJI tends to be a go-to vendor for good reason: DJI drones present a superb balance of top-tier elements and consumer accessibility. Ultimately, budget and use are the major limiting factors. Sure, you can snag a 4K drone for below $500, but its 4K recording and image stabilization abilities would suffer. If video and image capture are most important, you’ll want to prioritize those features over flight time or performance.
The one area that almost every drone could improve on: battery life. Within the high end, drones like the Phantom line were rated for about 25 minutes, but only clocked around 19 minutes of flight. Granted, it’s probably difficult to engineer a coptor that stays airborne while lugging a massive battery and camera.