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Best drones in 2020

Best drones
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

When you're looking for the best drone, you have a lot of choices. Gone are the days when you practically needed a pilot's license to fly a drone. Now, thanks to newer sensors and technology, drones pretty much fly themselves, and can remain stable in the air in all but the most challenging weather conditions.

At the same time, consumer drones have also become better at taking aerial photos and video. Not only have the cameras improved, but so has the software, so drones can now track people and objects, and help you record some truly cinematic scenes. On the whole, drones have also become less expensive. We're not just talking about the sub-$100 toys you can find on Amazon, either. Where a few years back, the best drones cost upwards of $1,000, you can now find excellent models for half that price. But that makes finding the best drone all the more difficult.

What is the best drone?

After flying dozens of drones around the sky for countless hours, we think the best drone for most people is the DJI Mavic Mini. It's the company's least expensive and most compact drone, making it easy to carry around and fly virtually anywhere. It packs up with its controller into a carrying case no bigger than a lunchbox, with room left over for spare parts and extra batteries.

While it can't shoot 4K video—you'll need to step up to the DJI Mavic Air 2 for that—the Mavic Mini's camera is gimbal-mounted, so your videos will be super-smooth. And, with a 30-minute battery, it can stay up for longer than most other drones.

The best camera drone is the DJI Mavic 2 Pro, which has a 1/2.3 Hasselblad sensor, much larger than you'll find on other drones with built-in cameras. If you're looking for something with a zoom lens, then the Mavic 2 Zoom, which has a 2x zoom lens, is your best option.

If you don't want to spend more than a grand, then we suggest the DJI Mavic Air 2 ($799), which features a long 34-minute flight time and a new camera with a 1/2-inch sensor that's capable of taking 48MP stills and recording video at resolutions up to 4K/120 fps.

Looking for a drone under $100? Here is a list of the best cheap drones, many of which are great for kids and those learning how to fly.  

There's a few new drones we're interested in: The PowerEgg X (starting at $999) has a modular design, so you can use it as a handheld camcorder. You can also get it with a waterproof housing and pontoons, so you can fly it in the rain and land it on water. The V-Coptr Falcon ($999) only has two rotors, which enables it to last up to 50 minutes in the air, by farthest the most we've seen from a consumer drone. Last, the AirPix drone ($99) is small enough to fit in your pocket, and can take 12MP photos and 1080p videos. You can control it using an app, or by hand gestures.

The best drones you can buy today

The best drones

DJI Mavic Mini. Credit: Mike Prospero/Tom's Guide (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

1. DJI Mavic Mini

Best drone overall

Flight Time: 30 minutes | Camera: 2.7K/30 fps | Smartphone Controlled: Yes | FAA Registration: Not required | Indoor Use: No | Rotors: 4 (2 blades per rotor, replaceable) | Size (unfolded): 9.6 x 11.4 x 2.1 inches | Weight: 8.8 ounces

Relatively inexpensive
Long battery life
Easy to fly
Lower resolution camera than Mavic Air
More susceptible to wind gusts

For most people, the DJI Mavic Mini will be the best drone for their needs. It's tiny—able to fit in the palm of your hand—easy to fly, and can last up to 30 minutes in the air. And, at less than $400, it's also the least expensive of DJI's drones, making it more accessible to the masses.

The Mavic Mini's camera resolution tops out at 2.7K/30 fps, so it's lower than that of the 4K-capable Mavic Air and Mavic Pro, but we like that it's gimbal-stabilized, which produces just as smooth video. Because of its light weight—249 grams—you don't need to register the Mavic Mini with the FAA, but it also means that the drone is more susceptible to high winds. Still, it's amazing what DJI packed into the miniscule Mavic Mini.

Read our full DJI Mavic Mini review.

best drones: DJI Mavic Air 2 review

DJI Mavic Air 2. Credit: Mike Prospero/Tom's Guide (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

2. DJI Mavic Air 2

Best drone for those who want 4K video under $1,000

Flight Time: 34 minutes | Camera: 4K/60 fps | Smartphone Controlled: Yes | FAA Registration: Required | Indoor Use: No | Rotors: 4 (2 blades per rotor, replaceable) | Size (folded): 7.1 x 3.8 x 3.3 inches | Size (unfolded: 9.96 x 7.2 x 3 inches | Weight: 1.25 pounds

Fast, nimble flier
Great battery life
Comfortable controller
Excellent photos and video
Drab design compared to previous model

The DJI Mavic Air 2 is the best drone for those who want to record 4K video, but don't want to spend more than a grand. This second edition of the Mavic Air has been upgraded with a better camera, capable of taking 4K videos at 60 frames per second, as well as super-slo mo 240p video at full HD resolutions. And, it can take super-large 48-megapixel photos, too.

DJI also boosted the flight time to an excellent 34 minutes, and improved the drone's object tracking, so that it can now maintain a lock, even if you duck behind a tree for a moment. Additionally, the Mavic Air 2 can receive ADS-B signals, so you can better know when aircraft are approaching. The only quibble we have is that the Mavic Air 2 now shares the same drab looks as the Mavic Mini and Mavic Pro. But who cares about looks with performance like this?

Read our full DJI Mavic Air 2 review.

The best drones

DJI Mavic 2 Pro. Credit: Mike Prospero/Tom's Guide (Image credit: Future)

3. DJI Mavic 2 Pro/ DJI Mavic 2 Zoom

Best camera drone

Flight Time: 31 minutes | Camera: 4K/30 fps | Smartphone Controlled: Yes | FAA Registration: Required | Indoor Use: No | Rotors: 4 (2 blades per rotor, replaceable) | Size: 12.7 x 9.5 x 3.3 inches | Weight: Pro: 32 ounces; Zoom: 31.9 ounces

Easy to fly
Long battery life
Excellent cameras
360-degree obstacle avoidance
Expensive
Rotor flicker in sunlight

If your aerial photography needs are a little more complex, another DJI drone can get the job done for you. The DJI Mavic 2 is the best drone for videographers and photographers looking for an all-in-one aerial platform. (There are other, more expensive drones that let you mount DSLRs and other third-party cameras, but are much more expensive).

The Mavic 2 is available in two versions: the $1,449 Mavic 2 Pro offers a 1-inch Hasselblad sensor for capturing high-quality photos and video, while the $1,249 Mavic 2 Zoom features a 2X optical zoom lens. Either version is a good choice, though the Zoom proved a little more versatile in our tests. Whichever Mavic 2 you opt for, you can count on an easy-to-fly drone that now features 360-degree obstacle avoidance.

Read our full DJI Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom review.

The best drone: Ryze Tech Tello

(Image credit: Future)

4. Ryze Tech Tello

Best drone for kids

Flight Time: 3-5 minutes | Camera: 720p | Smartphone Controlled: Optional | FAA Registration: Not Required | Indoor Use: Yes | Rotors: 4 (2 blades per rotor, replaceable) | Size: 6 x 6 x 1.3 inches | Weight: 3 ounces

Small, fast drone
Easy to control
Comfortable remote control
Scratch programming language is tricky to set up
Short battery life

For just under $100, the Ryze Tech Tello—designed by DJI—makes for a good, inexpensive drone for first-time fliers. However, what elevates it above other inexpensive drones for kids is the fact that it can be programmed using Scratch, turning this toy into an educational device. 

In addition, the Tello has a 720 camera that records pretty good video, and is easy to fly around. The biggest issue we had with the drone was its short 5-minute flight time, so you'll want to stock up on a few batteries if you decide to pick it up.

Read our full Ryze Tech Tello review.

Best drone: Blade Nano QX RTF

(Image credit: Blade)

5. Blade Nano QX RTF

Best drone under $100

Flight Time: 8 minutes | Camera: No | Smartphone Controlled: No | FAA Registration: Not Required | Indoor Use: Yes | Rotors: 4 (2 blades per rotor, replaceable) | Size: 5.5 x 5.5 x 2 inches | Weight: 0.6 ounces

Fun and responsive
Simple controls
Includes spare blades and canopy
Short battery life
Very sensitive to wind

Looking for an inexpensive drone to learn the basics? The Blade Nano QX is the best drone for the job, offering a great selection of features for the flier who wants more without spending more than $50. The no-frills Blade Nano QX RTF lacks a camera, but it's fast and maneuverable. 

We also liked its sturdy blade guards, which help keep it in one piece if it crashes into something. However, it has a short battery life of around 7-8 minutes, but through Amazon, you can purchase a pack of four batteries for around $20.

Read our full Blade Nano QX RTF review.

How to choose the best drone for you

Drones aren't just fun to fly. They can let you capture breathtaking footage, some in high-resolution 4K video. They're also more affordable than ever, as quality beginner models now cost less than $60. Good camera drones start at a few hundred dollars. More complex drones, starting at less than $1,000, offer customizable and programmable features, turning them into truly autonomous devices that can make their own decisions. Plus, a new class of racing drones has started hitting the scene.

Drones aren't that complicated, but there are a few key features you should consider when you are shopping. There are also some key rules you need to follow when you take to the air.

Legal Requirements

FAA has rules you have to follow. The most important two: Never fly around or above people, and always keep your drone in sight. The FAA has a full list of safety guidelines for model aircraft that you should check before you take off. There are also restrictions on where you can fly: For example, within 5 miles of an airport is off limits. Mapbox provides a great interactive map of no-fly areas, and local RC (Remote Control) aircraft clubs may list fields that they use.

Non-commercial drones that weigh between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds have to be registered (there's a $5 fee), and have to carry your license with you while flying the drone.

MORE: How to Register Your Drone with the FAA

Remote Control

Most drones use a remote control with two joysticks — a bit like one of the best PC game controllers. One stick controls what's called the attitude of the quadcopter, including roll (tilting left and right) and pitch (tilting up and down). The other stick controls throttle and the rotation of the quadcopter. A good remote control should fit well in the hand, with sticks resting comfortably under your thumbs and providing a smooth, responsive feel that allows you to guide the quadcopter by touch.

Some models skip the remote control, or offer it as an extra-cost feature, and instead use a smartphone connected via Wi-Fi and a flying app. These apps often provide a live video view from the quadcopter camera. However, apps don’t allow the precision of real controllers: It is easier for your thumbs to slip, possibly causing a crash.

Construction and Repair

Despite what the ads tell you, drones crash all the time. A good drone will take an unplanned descent and ground interface (aka: a crash) in stride, without damaging the frame. It will also include shields to protect the rotors and electronics from harm.

Regardless, things still get broken sometimes, particularly racing drones. A good model will offer a ready supply of cheap parts like rotors and struts to replace the broken ones, and will make it easy to swap these parts out when required. The same is true of batteries.

Batteries

Very few drones offer more than 20-30 minutes of battery life, so an easily swapped battery can give you more flying time without hassle. This tends to be a feature of more expensive models, with a spare battery typically costing more than $100. 

Camera

Want to show off your aerial exploits? A camera, either built-in or add-on, can capture those dramatic vistas for posterity. The best drones will have cameras that can record video at resolutions of 4K or higher, but even budget models are getting better, able to capture video at 720p. However, they tend to use smaller image sensors, so the quality won't be that great.

Some drones also offer first-person view (FPV), sending a pilot's-eye view from the drone itself to a phone or tablet. Some models offer video goggles for the ultimate pilot-seat flying experience.

How we test drones

When we take a new drone out for a spin, we evaluate it based on a number of factors:

  • Design: How well is the drone built, and does it look good? If it comes with a controller, we take a look at its ergonomics.
  • Durability/Repairability: Face it. You're going to crash your drone at least once, but a good model should be able to survive a few mishaps without a problem. And, if something happens to break (it's usually a rotor), how easy is it to repair?
  • Flight Performance: How easy is the drone to fly? Is is stable when hovering, or does it require a lot of stick work? How does it respond to your commands?
  • App: How intuitive is the app? What sort of features are available?
  • Camera Quality: If the drone has a camera, then how good are the photos and videos it takes?
  • Flight time: How long can the drone stay in the air before its battery runs out? This varies a lot based on the size of the drone, but the best drones have batteries that last up to 25-30 minutes.
  • Price: Obviously, we don't expect a $50 drone to perform as well as a $1,000 drone, so we take its cost into consideration when rendering a final verdict.
  • lourson
    Archived comments are found here: http://www.tomsguide.com/forum/id-2333707/drones-2014.html
    Reply
  • Brendan_3
    Where can you buy a phantom 3 for 675?
    Reply
  • glitchsys
    Brendan, SamsClub I think.
    I just got the U818A HD+ (under the brand name 'Holy Stone'). I wanted something a little better than the regular U818A and the Blade Nano QX seemed too much like a toy. With the 90 dollar U818A HD+ (it's more upgraded than the U818A mentioned in this article, it has a 720p camera, return to home and headless features) I hope to learn to fly a drone and see if I enjoy it. I think it borders between a toy and a real drone. If the neighbors or whomever gets upset about the drone I can say "Relax, it's not a professional drone, it's just a cheap toy drone" and they'll be like "oh, ok. cool toy" and then let me fly/learn in peace. Once I master the U818A HD+ if I really enjoy it and want something more, next stop will be the DJI Phantom 3. But I figured besides learning to fly one, I'll get a better sense of peoples reactions around my house and around the park when I fly the drone. If I encounter nothing but resistance, or I simply don'y enjoy it, then at least I didn't waste 650.
    Reply
  • Brandon_31
    Just curious why there is no mention of the Syma x8c? It would be great for beginners if not for it's size and mass, but other than that it is very affordable at ($70-100), very stable, easy to fly, has a cam, headless mode, and best of all it is very tough. I have crashed mine many many times and some times very hard crashes from 30ft up on to asphalt without an issue other than the plastic body getting just a little off, which is easily fixed.

    True is is advertised at only 50 meter range, but the truth is more like 300 meters. I have tested it to 300 meters and still not lost signal. Many others have reported up to 450 meters right out of the box. There is also an easy to do modification that gets you over 1000 meters.

    Overall I see it as a top 10 drone. I see it in the top 2 for affordable drones. It's not a "toy" or a "agile" quad, but it is a perfect camera platform when on a budget. If you want a Phantom, but cannot afford it, give the Syma x8 series a try. You won't have GPS, but once you get used to controlling it manually, it can be used almost the same as the Phantom.
    Reply
  • Cory Mangine
    You really should change UDI drone the the Syma X5 because it is more maneuverable has a better battery life and is more durable. Plus the shell on the UDI is cheap plastic junk and breaks easily. So really you can get a better drone for the same price. Plus there is no way you'll be able to get a DJI Phantom 3 for under 900$ anywhere unless its black friday.
    Reply
  • tennis daddy
    Seems like prices are falling fast - both Best Buy and Amazon have DJI Phantom 3 Standard for $500. That's going to be the price-point for the rest to beat.
    Reply
  • Stokes344
    The Phantom 3 standard is now $499 and the advanced is $799. They had a $200 price drop starting the beginning of the year for the companies 10th anniversary.
    Reply
  • realdaveking
    Thanks Brandon_31 for the tip on the syma x8. Just getting my feet wet in this hobby and that is a nice looking drone.
    Reply
  • ROG2000
    IMO a better list:
    1) Hubsan X4 H107L
    2) Syma X8C
    3) Parrot Bebop 2 (I will agree with this one)
    4) Yuneec Q500 4K
    5) 3DR Solo
    6) Yuneec Typhoon H
    Reply
  • akattkisson
    I can't wait to get my hands on the DJI Phantom 4. Follow me feature is both creepy and cool.
    Reply