While DJI, Yuneec and 3D Robotics, have many powerful high-flying drones, most of us will be flying less expensive radio-controlled multirotor toys made to zip around your living room or backyard for a few minutes at a time until you inevitably crash or get stuck in a tree. They’re fun to fly and because they’re small and relatively inexpensive, you can have a good time without worrying about losing over $1,000 as your watch your drone plummet to the ground and run away.
There are plenty to choose from, though, so we’ve rounded up some of the best to give you a starting place. Keep in mind when you’re shopping that flight times on toy drones are typically around 5 to 8 minutes, so if you want to keep flying without charging first, go with a model that uses removable rechargeable batteries. Also, if this is your first toy drone, we recommend going with one that has replacement parts readily available.
#1 SYMA X5C
The X5C is nothing special. It’s a simple quadcopter that almost looks like a DJI Phantom at first glance, but you won’t be taking amazing aerial videos with it, or racing through the forest. It has gyros and accelerometers to keep it stable and an auto flip feature like most drones out there. It also comes with a small camera for recording video with quality similar to a an old webcam.
So why is the X5C on the top of the list of toy drones for sale? There’s nothing particularly special about the Syma X5C, but it works and it’s really cheap. It’s a blast to fly if you’ve never flown anything before and it’s cheap enough where you don’t have to feel bad if you lose it on the roof top of your house. That’s probably why it has over 4,200 reviews on Amazon, which is a number that no other drone has come close to.
#2 HUBSAN X4
The Hubsan X4 is personally my favorite (small) beginner drone. It’s about the same size as the Nano QX, but roughly half of the price. There’s 4 different versions of the Hubsan X4.
The cheapest version is about $45 USD (including the controller). It doesn’t have an agility mode like the Nano QX so you can’t fly with complete manual control, but it’s pretty fast and maneuverable (even with auto leveling). It also has 6 LED lights which can be turned on and off from the controller. Speaking of controllers, the controller that comes with the 3 cheaper Hubsan models is actually pretty nice. I like it better than what comes with the Nano QX and the Proto x).
The next 2 versions of the Hubsan X4 have cameras. They’re slightly bigger and heavier than the cheaper version of the X4, but the flight time is about the same. The H107C is the version with a standard definition camera and the 61170-02 is the one with a 720p camera. The Hubsan X4 with the standard camera is ok, but the 720p camera takes much better video. The only problem with the HD version is that it’s more expensive and the flight time is slightly less.
The most expensive version of the Hubsan X4 is the H107D. It’s mainly for FPV, which allows you to see everything that the drone can see in real time. The design is slightly different from any of the other models and it has a black antenna on the bottom. Although FPV is really cool, this is probably my least favorite version of the Hubsan X4, mainly because the flight time isn’t as good as the other models and the FPV range is only a couple hundred feet. It’s also about 2 times more expensive than the Hubsan with the HD camera.
The Nano QX is a lot like the LaTrax Alias but smaller. Because it’s a few inches smaller than the Alias it doesn’t have as much yaw authority, but it’s still a lot better than the tiny Proto X.
It has two flight modes, stability and agility. In agility mode, you have full control over the quadcopter to learn how to fly manually (it will not auto level itself). In stability mode, it will automatically level itself when you let go of the controls.
The Nano doesn’t have the auto flipping functions that the Alias does, but that isn’t a problem since you can do flips manually and it’s more fun. Since the Nano QX is smaller than the Alias, it’s only $90 instead of $150. The only annoying thing about having a smaller quadcopter like the Nano QX is that it’s harder to see when flying far away, so it’s easier to lose orientation, but in general, it’s still a good quadcopter to learn with, especially since you can also use it with any DSMX RC transmitter.
#4 LATRAX ALIAS
If you want to learn how to fly a quadcopter manually, the LaTrax Alias is a great way to start. The reason why it’s a good quadcopter to learn with is because it has a full manual flight mode and it’s extremely durable. This means that you can learn how to fly without worrying too much about crashing.
Since it’s about 7 inches wide and has big propellers it also has great yaw authority, so doing bank turns, pirouette maneuvers and more would be no problem. It’s also big enough to carry a small camera like the 808 keychain camera. I’ve even seen people install video transmitters and do FPV.
The only downside about the Alias is the price which is about $150. It might seem a little bit pricey at first, but at the same time it’s built well and even if you do manage to break it, all of the parts are replaceable. This is not the type of quadcopter where you end up throwing it away after a month of use.
When the AR Drone 2.0 first came out, it was one of the coolest drones for sale on the market. It has a 1GHz 32 bit processor, 1GB of ram, gyros, accelerometers, magnetometers, a pressure sensor, an ultrasonic sensor, 2 cameras and more. Even though it’s over 2 years old, the AR Drone is still one of the most advanced quadcopters available in its price range which is $299.
The biggest feature of the AR Drone is that it can be controlled from your iPhone. You can also see a live video feed from the phone screen and record video. It’s even running Linux and there’s an AR Drone open API platform, so you can program it to do whatever you want.
Like the other multirotors on the list, this is “not” a perfect quadcopter. The biggest feature of this drone is actually one of its biggest problems. The AR drone can only be controlled with your phone, meaning that you can’t use a normal RC controller with real control sticks. That also means that there’s no way to fly manually.
If you’re planning on learning how to fly so you can operate a more advanced model in the future, you won’t learn anything with the AR Drone.