The 11 Best Drones to Buy in 2018

See the world from above with these top drones

Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.

It’s no secret that drones have taken off over the past few years. Looking to get in on the fun? If aerial pictures and videos are what you’re after, try a camera drone, but if you’re simply craving a fun new gadget, a toy drone will serve you just fine. (If you buy a camera drone, you should register it with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for safety reasons, though it technically isn’t necessary.) To find the best drones on the market, we scoured hundreds of reviews — and even took a few into the skies ourselves. Look for the Tested by Lifewire seal to see what our analysts learned from dozens of hours of thorough testing.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: DJI Mavic Pro

DJI Mavic Pro
Courtesy of Amazon.com
4.3

DJI’s Mavic Pro can be summed up in three words: portable and powerful. Capable of collapsing down to as small as a bottle of water, DJI Mavic Pro is a fantastic choice for quadcopter fans. A new OcuSync transmission system will offer up to 4.3 miles of range, 40 mph speed and a flight time around 27 minutes, thanks to a powerful battery. The lengthy range away from the base controller is aided by GPS and satellite to help maintain precise location control. Thanks to sensor redundancy, the inclusion of obstacle avoidance will help the Mavic Pro dodge anything that could knock it out of the sky.

Visually, the 3.27 x 7.8 x 3.27-inch Mavic Pro looks and feels different from DJI’s wildly popular existing quadcopter line and has more contour and angular shapes. It almost gives off the appeal of a stealth bomber, rather than the stark white Phantom line. Shorter legs give the Mavic Pro the appearance of landing on its belly, and the rear arms pivot downward to tuck in the underside while the front arms fold inward toward the top of the main body. Recreating the camera and three-axis gimbal system allows DJI’s designers to create such a backpack-friendly design.

Setup is a snap and, after connecting to the remote control, you can add a smartphone to act as a screen. The compact remote is as well designed as the Mavic Pro itself, with two joysticks controlling height, direction and motion. One scroll wheel on the back adjusts the camera gimbal and the other is open to programming. The camera records 4K video at 30fps or 1080p at 96fps, the latter of which can live stream to Facebook, YouTube, and Periscope at 30fps. Additionally, you can capture stills with the 12-megapixel camera.

Runner-Up, Best Overall: DJI Phantom 4

DJI Phantom 4
Courtesy of Amazon.com
3.9

The Phantom 4 continues DJI’s dominance in the drone market and it's the best camera drone out there. And it comes complete with additional features and functionalities to justify its high price tag. At just over three pounds, most of the Phantom 4’s additional weight over the Phantom 3 Professional comes from the 5,350mAh battery. Both novice fliers and experts will find the Phantom 4 easy to navigate partially due to a safety system that detects obstacles ahead and stops the Phantom 4 in its tracks. It’s not foolproof, but it’s one of the many fine points that helps make this drone well worth the price of admission.

Capable of speeds of up to 45 mph, the Phantom 4 can fly four miles above sea level, but FAA regulations will cut that down to about 400 feet in an area with tight restrictions. Multiple flight modes including autonomous flying, sport mode, positioning and more allow for various capabilities, all of which are handled beautifully by the incredible controller. The 28-minute flight time and 75-minute recharge time puts the Phantom 4 among the best at this price range.

With a fixed f/2.8 aperture and 4K video capture, it’s the camera that truly stands out on this drone. Images can be captured in either JPG, RAW DNG or RAW + JPG at 12-megapixel resolution. The 4K video recording maxes out at 30fps and dropping video quality down to 1080p will add 48, 50, 60 and 120fps shooting. The gimbal does an excellent job of leveling out the camera as you’re flying around and helps avoid some of the shaking and twisting of the drone body from appearing or affecting video. If you’re grabbing 4K video, you’ll want to consider that you can fill up a 16GB memory card during the course of a single flight. Slight caveats aside, the Phantom 4 is one of the best drones available.

Best for Beginners: Syma X5C

Syma X5C
Courtesy of Amazon.com
3.5

If you've never flown a drone before, it’s best to start small, start inexpensive and start with something great. The Syma X5C hits all three of these requirements. Praised by general technology and drone-specific sites alike, the Syma is a great way to introduce yourself to the drone world. There’s nothing here that will knock your socks off and the SYMA is just a great introductory drone.

At just 2.1 pounds, the X5C is capable of a seven-minute flight time supported by a 100-minute recharge time. That’s all fairly standard in the price range of the X5C. However, unlike some its similarly-priced competition, the X5C is capable of being flown both indoors and outdoors, thanks to a wind-resistant build. A six-axis gyro stabilization helps ensure that the X5C has maximum stability during its flight time. Equipped with a 720p HD camera and 2GB memory card, the X5C can take photos and video while in flight but we’d temper any expectations about quality since it’s just average.

The advertised range of about 50 meters is a limit we wouldn’t recommend pushing until you are truly comfortable with the controls. The 2.4GHz spread spectrum technology is designed to help avoid interference and allow for increased distance, but we’d stick close to home until you move beyond the “new out of the box” phase. Thankfully, Syma packs four spare propellers and four spare blade guards with the X5C to help repair any damage from those almost guaranteed first-timer crashes. While the battery life might be short and its built-in camera less than stellar, its overall value makes the SYMA X5C an easy recommendation for beginners. 

Best Budget: Syma X5SC

Syma X5SC
Courtesy of Amazon.com
4.9

While we often look to higher price ranges for the very best in quadcopter and drone technology, there’s plenty of budget options we shouldn’t ignore. The wallet-friendly Syma X5SC offers HD video and pictures, headless mode, a sturdy frame, six to eight minutes of flight time and a 150-foot range of flight. Unfortunately, recharging the 500mAh battery takes two hours, but you have to understand that there will be trade-offs at this price point.

However, for a drone that’s just under .24 pounds, we’re not surprised that stability outdoors is a challenge. A slight burst of wind and it can take some time with the controls to bring the unit back to stability. One last disappointment is the camera, a 2mp camera leads to average photos and, while our expectations are tempered for the price, we’d love to see slightly higher quality photos. Fortunately, the X5SC is very durable and online reviews mention people crashing into doors, trees, walls, ceilings and more with nary a scratch on the unit. The good news is that, for the price, replacement parts are cheap should you ever find yourself in need of new blades or blade protectors.

Although flight time can be short, additional batteries can be purchased for under $20. Even with some shortfalls at the entry-level price, the Syma X5SC is an outstanding value and a ton of fun, earning an easy recommendation as your budget option. 

Want to take a look at some other options? See our guide to the best drones for under $250.

Best Value: DJI Spark

DJI Spark Drone - White
Courtesy of Target.com

The Spark from DJI is an amazing little piece of flying camera machinery. It doesn’t have the space-age look or ultra-ruggedness of the rest of the drones out there, but at its price point and its simplicity of control, you really can’t beat it dollar-for-dollar.

Using a surprisingly intuitive face recognition tech, as soon as it locks into an approved pilot, it will immediately fire up into quick launch mode and hover in place waiting for you to continue piloting. Taking the recognition tech just a bit further, you can use quick, simple hand gestures to control the photo shutter and video shooting, too. If you’re looking for more precise control, you can use the camera-based mobile app to see everything the drone is seeing and use a series of simple, single-touch buttons to lay out the perfect frame and the perfect sweep.

The camera employs a 1 x 2.3-inch sensor to give you a pretty crisp video file on the other end, and it does it all with a mechanical gimbal to keep things smooth and without any jerkiness. It offers up to 16 minutes of flight time, partially because of the small battery needed to accommodate such a small-sized device, and it also gives you a variety of auto features such as object avoidance and a quick, single-tap “come home” feature.

Best Splurge: DJI Mavic 2 Pro

If you want to take drone activity to new heights (literally), the DJI Mavic 2 Pro makes a pretty great splurge. This drone is an evolution of its predecessor, capable of staying airborne for 31 minutes and hitting speeds of 44 miles per hour during flight — faster the previous generation. But we think drone aficionados will find their true joy in the new DJI software. Features like ActiveTrack 2.0 assist the drone with following moving subjects autonomously. Seeing real-time video is better than ever in 1080p with the addition of OcuSync 2.0, and eight gigabytes of storage (with SD card capacity up to 128GB) allow for plenty of HD footage or images from the 20MP camera. 

Software upgrades have improved the steering and navigation, adding omnidirectional sense and avoidance via 10 sensors across the drone’s body. It also has 3D mapping features to help it avoid crashes. That, plus the promise of five years of software support, ensures a long-lasting product that’s worth the investment.

Best for Kids: Holy Stone HS170 Predator Mini RC Helicopter Drone

If your child has been begging for a drone but you’re not sure they’re ready for the responsibility — or you're not ready to make any big financial commitments — then check out the Holy Stone HS170 Predator. The "headless" flight system makes steering easier and more intuitive, which is why it's a great choice for beginners. Plus, the six-axis gyro stabilization system provides a smooth, flexible flight, and the 2.4 GHz technology is low-interference. With just a six-minute charge, this miniature drone (it's only 5.3 x 1.6 x 5.3 inches) can achieve a flight time of 45 to 60 minutes. Not to mention it's a fraction of the price of the more advanced models.

Best for Video: Parrot Anafi Drone

The Parrot Anafi is one of the newest drones on the market, and the company is really gunning for the top-notch hobbyist drone range with some seriously modern features. This device offers 4K HDR video from a 21MP on-board sensor, which is basically all the resolution and brightness you could need. There’s a 180-degree tilting camera letting you fine-tune your angles and capture fields, and you can even use up to 2.8x optical zoom without affecting the resolution.

The Parrot Anafi has an onboard 3-axis-stabilizing gimbal, ensuring that flight turbulence and movement won’t ruin your perfect, smooth shot. It all comes in a fast-folding system that wraps up into a sleek case, and you can opt for quick-charge via USB-C to ensure that you’ll have juice when you need it. The whole package weighs right around 320 grams, so it won’t weigh down your photo bag either. It’s a great, all-around drone with a proper list of modern features.

Best Features: Contixo F18 Advanced GPS Quadcopter

The Contixo F18 Advanced GPS Quadcopter is loaded with interesting features that make this drone a great value compared to similar drones on the market. Thanks to built-in GPS, the F18 knows its location and where it is in relation to you. The return-to-home system commands the drone to move back to the home point when the battery gets too low or when the control signal goes out of range, so you are less likely to lose your drone after a long day of flying. Four powerful brushless motors give it the ability to quickly gain or drop in altitude and stop on a dime, yet they consume less battery life than non-brushless motors so you can fly longer. The onboard FPV FHD camera gives you a drone’s eye view – simply link the camera to the Contixo F18 app and the 5.0GHz band Wi-Fi beams you real-time images with zero latency up to 500 meters away. 

Best Mini: DJI Mavic Air

The Mavic Air takes most of the features DJI has implemented in their Pro drone line and just packs them into a much smaller package. It isn’t exactly mini-drone sized when it’s fully unfolded, but once folded up, DJI touts a size no taller or thicker than the average smartphone. Even the intuitive controller folds up to a smaller size, too, so clearly, DJI was building this drone with portability in mind.

The DJI Mavic Air offers a 32MP sensor, 4K video capability up to 30 fps, and fully panoramic image functions. There’s a 3-axis gimbal for stability when filming in flight, and there’s some pretty detailed environment sensing to help the drone get its bearings while flying. The model delivers up to 21 minutes of flight time, which is on par with much of the mid-to-pro-level drone market. There’s 8GB of onboard storage, HDR capabilities, and more.

The mini drone has a bunch of built-in quick shot functions that let the unit fly itself in preprogrammed aerial patterns, and DJI has even created a SmartCapture mode which lets you control the craft with hand gestures. Hook it up to the DJI Fly app and you can even control the drone with some cool features there, including a tap-to-fly option where you literally touch the place on the camera you want the copter to fly. The whole thing weighs only 430g — a true marvel of engineering for its size. Pick up this package on Amazon and you’ll get everything you need to start filming amazing flight-perspective vistas.

Best Intermediate: Potensic Dual GPS RC Drone

If you’re looking to get into the drone game, or maybe you’re a professional photographer looking to dip your toes into the drone market without breaking the bank, going for something like this quadcopter from Protensic is a safe bet. The dual GPS system offers GPS positioning and GLONASS to provide a really accurate line on where your drone is. That also enables automatic return, low power return, and no signal return — all great features in a drone of any price.

The Protensic's resolution capabilities are a bit lower than higher dollar drones at only 1080p transmission, but that’s one of the compromises you’ll make at the price point. There’s an upgraded 9-axis gyro that steps up the standard 6-axis system allowing for more stability in flight, and three separate speed modes which give you even more customization of control. There’s a high-capacity 2500mAh battery, which delivers up to 15 minutes of flight time. While it’s not going to set any records for flight time, it is a pretty respectable spec.

This system comes with the craft itself, a transmitter, battery, tools for maintenance, extra propellers, and landing gears, and more. Again, it isn’t a top-of-the-line option for drone footage, but it is definitely a great value for those just getting started.

Tested by

How We Tested

Our reviewers spent 31 hours testing four of the most popular drones on the market. They took them home to fly them themselves and find out what their strengths and flaws really were. We asked our testers to consider the most important features when using these drones, and we've outlined them here so that you, too, know what to look for when shopping.

What to Look for in a Drone

Range - The range of a drone indicates how far it can fly without losing communication. Some professional-grade gadgets can fly up to four miles away, while some budget options are limited to 150 feet.

Battery life - Battery life is a factor that many drone manufacturers are still trying to nail down. Some drones can only fly for six to eight minutes, while more powerful ones can last up to 30 minutes. If you’re worried about the battery life, look for one with a “return to home” feature, which automatically directs the drone back home when the battery gets too low.

Speed - Considering range and battery life are generally the limiting factors of a drone, speed might not be all that important to you. Still, some professional drones can travel up to 45 miles per hour, which is quite impressive.

Test Results: DJI Mavic Pro (Best Overall)

4.3

What We Like

  • Well-built

  • Variety of control modes

  • Warns of interference

What We Don't Like

  • Need to use smartphone app

  • Confusing interface

This drone is easy to fly — our testers loved the autopilot take-off and landing features — and records high-quality audio and video. One of our reviewers liked its ability to notify pilots of potential issues: “The interface issued a lot of warnings about obstacles and cellular interference when flying, which is sort of helpful, but also increased the cognitive load of using it.” Though our testers wished the controller had its own video screen (instead, you have to download an app on your smartphone and connect it to your controller), they believed the drone was well-built and, overall, a great product.

Test Results: DJI Phantom 4 (Runner-Up, Best Overall)

3.9

What We Like

  • Tons of features

  • Lightweight

  • High-quality video

What We Don't Like

  • Complex instructions

  • Poor battery life

Setting up the DJI Phantom 4 is pretty seamless — even for one of our testers who had never flown a drone before: “Everything assembled easily and the app download was intuitive,” they said. Our reviewers also loved that this drone is lightweight, easy to fly, and comes with a wide variety of customization options: “There are so many features,” one tester said, “I've barely scratched the surface.” However, on the flip side, our reviewers cautioned that the battery runs out more quickly than expected.

Test Results: Syma X5C (Best for Beginners)

3.5

What We Like

  • Easy setup

  • Inexpensive

  • Small size

What We Don't Like

  • Camera quality

  • Too lightweight

  • Battery life

The Syma X5C is a perfect first drone for someone with little to no experience flying. One reviewer commented on the easy setup process, noting that they were able to assemble and start flying the drone in under an hour (once its battery was charged). Though the drone’s camera quality isn’t very high, our testers believed that, at such an inexpensive price point, a “camera is better than no camera.”

Our reviewers also liked that there was a bit of a margin for error — which is especially ideal for beginners: “I experienced a few crashes, but the drone was so light that I never got the feeling it was going to sustain any major damage,” one tester wrote. “Plus, the controls made it pretty easy to slow the drone down as it got closer to the ground, essentially ensuring a soft landing.”

Test Results: Syma X5SC (Best Budget)

4.9

What We Like

  • Easy to handle

  • Great for beginners

  • Simple assembly

What We Don't Like

  • Fair video quality

  • Short flying time

This budget-friendly drone’s straightforward control features helped our reviewers get a handle on flying it in no time. One tester, a drone beginner, described her early experiences, saying: “I was pretty shaky with it at first — especially being nervous flying it in the house — but I got the hang of it pretty quickly.” Setup was also a breeze, with one of our reviewers calling the process “simple and quick.” Although one tester said a short battery life was a bit of a concern, she would still recommend the drone to others.