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The best drones combine the sheer exhilaration of flight (especially when experienced in conjunction with one of the best VR headsets) with the childlike joy you get steering an RC car around the open asphalt. The drone market has really boomed in the last few years, too, which means a growing range of options, whether you're a total beginner or a seasoned pro looking to enter your drone in a high-stakes drone racing league.
That said, price is a key consideration for most people, and luckily there are a lot of excellent budget options out there now for those that don't want to spend as much on their new toy as on a used car. Beyond that, there's camera integration and quality, as well as how compatible each drone is with the best drone accessories. We selected the best options across a wide range of budgets and use cases, to spare you some shopping headaches and get you flying ASAP.
Easy to set up and use
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.
Class-leading photo and video performance
Easy to fly
Highly portable design
Very smart obstacle avoidance
Susceptible to wind
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. Our reviewer Jonno loved the Mavic 2 Pro's amazing photo and video quality, and the easy to pick up and learn controls.
"The drone we’ve all been waiting for, delivering professional camera results and ample obstacle avoidance in a foldable design small enough to take absolutely anywhere." — Jonno Hill, Product Tester
Surprisingly stable flight
Poor video quality
Somewhat flimsy construction
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. In his review, Jonno specifically called out the incredibly stable flight, and the X5C's inviting price point.
"The SYMA X5C RC Quadcopter is a ton of fun and an easy recommendation for first-time drone shoppers who wish to learn on a platform that won’t break the bank." — Jonno Hill, Product Tester
Capable of flight 4 miles above sea level
Some issues with obstacle detection
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.
Can be unsteady
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.
Sturdy carbon fiber frame
Slow to charge
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-CE offers HD video and pictures, headless mode, a sturdy carbon fiber frame, six to eight minutes of flight time and a 100-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.
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.
The drone comes with double batteries for doubled flight time, and 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.
4K HDR video
180-degree tilting lens
2.8x optical zoom
Occasional video drops
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.
Small and portable
Short flight time
Difficult to control
Easy to lose
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, something our tester Jonno called out in his review, as well as emphasizing the incredible portability of the HS170.
You may want to read up on drone safety so you and your child can be informed of the right way to use the product.
"Offers beginners and budget-conscious shoppers an opportunity to get a foot (or maybe just a toe) into the door of the world of drones for a fraction of the cost of brand name drones." — Jonno Hill, Product Tester
32MP sensor, 4K video
8GB of storage
Optional VR accessory is poor quality
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.
Dual GPS positioning
Automatic return feature
Only 1080p video
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.
The DJI Mavic Pro is by a lot of metrics the perfect drone, a great balance of power, portability, and features. For the true enthusiast, however, the DJI Mavic 2 Pro is an unbelievable product, truly the cutting edge of consumer drone tech in every regard.
David Beren is a tech writer with more than 10 years of experience, with a background in mobile devices and consumer tech. He's previously written for tech companies like T-Mobile, Sprint, and TracFone Wireless.
Jonno Hill is a tech journalist with broadly varied experience, ranging from gaming to mobile devices and across the entire industry. He's written for several top tech and culture sites.
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.