The 7 Best Drones to Buy in 2017 for Under $250

Shop for today's top drones without breaking the bank

Drones have become super popular recently (both recreationally and professionally), and if you're looking to buy one, it's important to do your homework first. If you're just starting out flying drones, it's best to buy a cheaper option since it'll take you some time to get used to the controls and maneuverability. And even though you're buying a more inexpensive model, you can still get a decent drone that has a good amount of flying time, a camera, range and more. Read on to see which beginner/budget drone is best for you.

Our pick for the best overall drone is the Syma X5C, and it also happens to be Amazon’s No. 1 best seller. It has only seven minutes of flight time and we’d love to see that number triple for our top choice, but the low price tag has to have some drawbacks. Fortunately, it only takes around 90 minutes of charging before you’re back in business and up in the air again.

The X5C is durable, but has plenty of cheap available parts in case of damage. The 720p camera won’t win any awards, but it’s more than enough to capture the moment and provide some eagle-eyed views of the world around us. The six-axis gyroscope allows for flight both inside and outside and, while there’s balance, we’d recommend keeping it out of any strong winds. Flying with the controller is responsive and smooth and the 150-foot range is more than enough for first-timers.

This drone is a fantastic deal, punching well above its price tag and providing a great introductory experience to the drone and quadcopter world. If you want something that will help you learn how to fly before stepping up to more expensive models, the X5C is a great place to start.

The DBPOWER MJX X400W is a stellar budget drone that gives you a crazy amount of bang for your buck. What makes this model so affordable is that it shoots and sends 720p HD video directly to your phone, which sits on top of the remote control. What you see on your phone screen is what the drone is seeing from the sky and you can record what you’re seeing, too.

In terms of design, the MJX X400W measures 11.8 x 11.8 x 2.9 inches and weighs just .25 pounds. The battery only lasts about nine minutes and takes 120 minutes to charge fully, but this is good for a budget drone that shoots video. This drone also has “headless mode,” which means you don’t have to worry about the orientation. Whatever direction you choose, the drone will immediately move in that direction. One other cool thing this model offers is compatibility with VR headsets. If you own a VR headset, you could see what the drone is seeing in 3D, offering some potentially wild experiences.

Amazon reviewers have been happy with this model, giving it an average 4.3 out of 5 stars. Several customers said this was a great beginner drone, especially since it costs less than $100.

When you’re trying to find an indoor drone, you want to make sure the unit is agile, durable and safe to fly inside. The OCDAY Mini RC Indoor Helicopter Drone checks all those boxes and more.

The OCDAY Mini Drone measures just 3.3 x 1.1 x 1.1 inches, so it can fit in the palm of your hand and you don’t have to worry about it taking up much space when flying indoors. It offers “headless mode,” which means you don’t have to worry about the drone’s orientation when piloting it and makes it easier to learn how to use. Another cool piloting function on this unit is “one-key return,” which means you can press a button on the remote to make the drone automatically return to the pilot. While you probably won’t use it, this model also has an HD camera for taking photos and videos, but the recording quality is simply OK.

Many Amazon reviewers noted the OCDAY Mini Drone is a good first drone purchase and an excellent gift for children who are just learning about drones. They also commented that the unit is durable and can survive lots of crashes.

When you’re specifically looking for an outdoor-friendly drone on the cheap, two things are important: a strong, durable engine that can deal with wind and the ability to fly a decent amount of distance from the transmitter. With this criteria in mind, the MJX Bugs 3 is the clear winner in the outdoor category.

The MJX Bugs 3 drone keeps afloat with a brushless motor that makes the engine more durable and able to carry a half-pound camera without breaking a sweat. It can fly up to 500 meters away from the transmitter, ensuring you can get some great views. The company claims it can last 18 minutes on a single charge, but reviewers said it’s closer to 15 minutes, which is still admirable. One other cool thing: the MJX Bugs 3 also has bright LED lights on the bottom, so you can still see it while flying at night.

Keep in mind that this model does not include a camera. Most buyers of the MJX Bugs 3 have attached GoPro, Xiaomi or other action cameras to the bottom of the drone using its included camera mount. Several buyers have also noted that they purchased additional drone batteries, so they can use the unit for longer periods of time.

If you’re looking to master the basics of flying a drone before you take the leap into the more advanced stages, the UDI 818A drone is the best place to start. Make no mistake, the UDI 818A relies solely on you, the pilot, developing the appropriate flying skills to keep this bird in the air. The controls are simple and easy to grasp, and it’s a heck of a lot of fun to fly. We only wish the 2mp camera didn’t feel like it was from 10 years ago. It’s OK for what it does, and, if you keep your expectations for video and photography low, you’ll be fine.

The 500mAh battery lasts around eight minutes, which is fairly on par for the course at this price range. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of warning on the UDI 818A for low battery. It just stops wherever it is in the sky. With a max height of around 90 feet, that could lead to some concern of just dropping out of the sky. One additional disappointment about the UDI is the nearly two-hour recharge time. That’s lengthier than most of the other drones in this price range and, while spare batteries are less than $10, we’d love to see this cut closer to an hour overall.

For beginners, understanding the remote is critical and, fortunately, the UDI shines in this area. The controller is comfortable, albeit boxy, and sports a fairly traditional set of functions. There’s a bonus LCD display that displays battery level, signal strength and thrust, which is nice considering the UDI doesn’t provide for control via any smartphone or WiFi capable device.

Affordable and easy to fly, the Holy Stone F181 is a great choice if you're looking to get your feet wet in the quadcopter world. It has a range of anywhere between 50 to 100 meters and a flight time of 7 to 9 minutes. While the recharge option is fairly slow at 80 minutes, grabbing a fast charger along with the included spare battery will keep you flying. 

The addition of altitude hold function allows you to hold the F181 steady while you shoot pictures with the two-megapixel camera. Measuring 12.2 x 3.5 x 12.2 inches, the propeller protectors will help you avoid any damage to the body of the F181 until you get familiar with the controls. Aesthetically, there’s a slew of LED lights that add a little flair and little function.

The ABS plastic body will help protect against some medium altitude bumps, which reinforce the belief that the F181 is a fantastic drone choice for beginners. It’s unfortunate the camera doesn’t allow streaming back to a smartphone to see a live feed from the drone, but realistically, that’s a standard feature at higher price points. The controller looks familiar to any video game console user and is very comfortable (with four AA batteries should last over 30 days).

Once you drop below a certain dollar point in the drone market, you open the door for an additional category, the mini drone. These palm-sized (sometimes slightly larger) models are available at prices that won’t scare you off and will allow you to have a ton of fun while learning to fly.

Before you get too excited, flying time hovers around seven minutes with charging time taking another 40 minutes off the clock. In fact, one perk of the Hubsan is that, unlike a good number of its competitors, the proprietary battery doesn’t need to be removed for charging. Just plug the drone directly into a USB cord. Add in the 720p camera with microSD recording and you’ll find a quality camera at a price that’s easy to afford.

One specific callout of the Hubsan is something that truly grabbed our attention at this price point: altitude-hold mode. In this mode, you’ll be able to capture 720p video without a three-axis gimbal and still take semi-stable footage. For a recreational drone that’s miniature in stature, this is quite a perk at such a low price point. The range for the Hubsan extends to around 150 feet before the controller will lose control, a fairly default range at this price point. At the end of the day, this is still a mini drone so expectations have to be kept to a minimum.


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