Looking to gift your child a drone, or just looking for something you can buy to learn the basics of flight? You don't have to spend a fortune for some flying fun. We've tested more than 25 drones — most priced under $100 — that would be great to fly in your backyard, on the beach or in the countryside. We reviewed all of these drones, evaluating them based on design, ease of use, features and overall fun.
All of the drones are small and light, so you don't need to register them with the FAA. But they aren't light on features: many include a camera that can capture video and stills, and companion apps that bring the video to your phone or tablet. There's even a couple on our list that let you fly the drone with just your hands. Any of them would also be a great introduction to drone flying for the aspiring pilot.
Some people may be fine with paying $20 for a fancy sandwich, but what about a drone? Laying down a Jackson will get you this no-frills drone. At just over 4 inches wide, it's tiny but surprisingly tough, with blade protectors around the rotors and a 3-minute flight time from the tiny, 190-mAh rechargeable battery. The drone comes with a spare set of rotor blades, two lithium-ion batteries and a charger, while its diminutive remote is powered by three AAA batteries. It's a fun drone to fly, with a decent amount of speed and maneuverability. It is bare-bones, though: There's no camera, only a few simple stunts and no GPS. It does include a feature called "return-to-home," but that's just a fancy name for a mode that sets the drone to fly in only one direction and then return when you push the right stick up. Still, it's a fun little drone, and for $20, there won't be too many tears if it gets lost up a tree.
Flight Time: 3 minutes
Size: 3.3 x 3.3 x 1.2 inches
What do you get if you stick a small quadcopter inside an airplane? You get the TaoTronics TT-DR001, a cheap drone that pulls double duty as both a quadcopter and a small plane. In quadcopter mode, it's a pretty standard small drone, complete with a snap-on protective frame that shields the small rotors from bumps and hard landings. The TT-DR001 flies well, with a good amount of speed and maneuverability, although the sticks of the small, 2.4-GHz controller are rather sensitive.
Mount the quadcopter inside a push-together foam airplane frame, and the TT-DR001 turns into a small craft that you launch by throwing it into the air. You'll need more space in this flight mode, though. Because it lacks ailerons and other flight surfaces, the TT-DR001 turns slowly. Fortunately, it flies slowly as well, so keeping it within the 20- to 30-foot range of the controller isn't hard.
Because of its size in quadcopter mode, this drone is easily blown around by even a light breeze. Still, for less than $30, you get two flying options, both of which are fun to fly.
Flight Time: 6-8 minutes
Size: 13.1 x 9.2 x 4.1 inches (airplane mode)
If Apple were to design a cheap drone, it might look something like the Aukey Mohawk, whose minimalist, black-plastic design is all sleek lines. It's one of the smaller drones we tested, but its light weight and low-profile design make it one of the faster ones, managing very decent speeds and tight turns. There is no camera, but it does offer a nice one-touch landing-and-takeoff control, plus a few neat stunt flips. The Mohawk is a great budget pick for the aspiring pilot who wants to master flying but doesn't care about airborne videos. However, it's not meant for indoor flight.
Flight Time: 8-10 minutes
Size: 7.7 x 7.7 x 3.6 inches
What do you get if you cross a snowboard, a paraglider and a drone? The Air Hogs Extreme Air Board. It's a combination of all three that flies like a snowboard (but in the air) when you clip the figure on the top of the board, or flies as a paraglider when you hang the figure underneath and attach the plastic paraglider wing.
It's simple to convert the drone from one to the other. Just make sure that you set the switch on the remote to the right mode for the drone setup, or it will be a short flight: The drone crashes immediately if you are in the wrong mode.
In both modes, the drone is simple to control: Tap the takeoff button and the four rotors (two contra-rotating blades on each side) whir into life, and the drone takes off and hovers about three feet in the air. You then use the small control sticks to maneuver. The shoulder button puts it into stunt mode: Click this and push the right control stick up, and it will do a backside flip in snowboard mode or a move called the cyclone in paraglider mode. Overall, it's a simple, fun drone to fly that offers some interesting tricks, with the two different flight modes adding to the fun of the flight.
Credit: Air Hogs
Flight Time: 4-5 minutes
Size: 5 x 3.8 x 2 inches
The Tozo Q1012 bears more than a passing resemblance to the DJI Mavic Pro, with front and back arms that fold against the body. It's a little more than 3.7 inches wide and 4.8 inches long when folded, but measures 13.5 inches wide in flight mode. Although the Q1012 might look a bit like the Mavic Pro, it lacks the smarts of its more expensive relation, with a rather poor quality camera at the front of the small body, no GPS and no smarts to avoid obstacles.
The camera captures video and still images at a resolution of just 640 x 480 pixels, and what it produces is rather blurry and grainy. You do get a preview on the free Android or iOS app that connects over Wi-Fi, though, and you can control the drone from that same app. The small 650 mAh battery gives only about 5 minutes of flight time, and only one battery is included. Still, it's a fun little drone to fly while the battery lasts, with a decent amount of speed and maneuverability from its three flight modes. The game console-style controller is comfortable to use and includes a smartphone holder that puts the camera preview front and center. For $60, the Q1012 is a pretty sweet deal, although it's nowhere near as fun as the more expensive drones it looks like.
Camera: 640 x 480
Flight time: 5 minutes
Size: 13.5 x 12.3 x 3.6 inches
The X708W Cyclone lives up to the name: It's a nippy little drone that can turn and move at a considerable speed. That means it requires a light touch on the sticks of the large included remote: Move too fast, and the drone could easily zoom out of control. The X708W's camera captures either video or still images and a Wi-Fi connection. The drone's app, available for iOS and Android devices, lets you preview or record the video from this camera on your phone, although the video is somewhat blurry and grainy when the drone is moving. You can fly the drone either from this app or the remote control.
Camera: 640 x 480
Flight Time: 5 minutes
Size: 6.8 x 6.8 x 2.2 inches
At about 13.5 inches wide, the U818A is one of the larger drones in this roundup, but most of this size is due to the built-in rotor blade guards. That’s a good thing for novice fliers: the circular blade protectors save the blades from being damaged by sticks, fingers and more. The lightweight plastic case is flimsy, and would easily break in a moderate-speed collision.
The camera hangs below the center of the drone, and can be angled manually to point from straight ahead to about 30-degrees down. It captures a 720P image at 1280 x 720 pixel resolution, stored on the microSD card that fits into the back of the camera body. The accompanying app (available for both iOS and Android) can control the drone and shows a 480P resolution video preview. This can be switched to 720P, but that gets a little glitchy when the drone is more than 20 to 25 feet away.
The U818A flies well, hovering when you release the control sticks on the small remote, but turning and banking quickly when you maneuver it around. It isn’t particularly fast, though. You get about 8 to 10 minutes of flight time from its 350mAh battery, and two are included. This combination of maneuverability, stability and battery life makes it a great pick for those who are more interested in video than aerobatics.
Flight Time: 8-10 minutes
Size: 13.4 x 13 x 3.6 inches