Best Beginner Drones

Best Beginner Drones

Buying a Beginner Drone

If you’re reading this it’s probably because you’re a novice in the drone world and you’re looking for the best beginner drones. Or perhaps you’re gifting someone with that new tech the world keeps raving about. You do a bit of scrolling around the internet searching different units and find yourself overwhelmed with all the options and opinions out there.

The reality is drones disrupted the market with impressive speed. Whereas a few years ago there were only one or two companies that held notable credibility within the market, now there are hundreds. This phenomenon floods the market with new products and while it’s fantastic for the industry’s growth, it makes the technology seem vaster for the newcomer.

But worry not! We’re here to give you a nice set of guidelines that’ll pave the way to your first ever drone. Listen to us, we’ve been doing this for a while.

What should I expect from a beginner drone?

You probably know what to expect from a drone, as you’ve seen a few products already. To summarize–they’re most commonly known for being quadcopters, carrying integrated cameras (which is what sets them aside from RC helicopters), and having some form of autonomous capability.

While we could explain to you the ins and outs of drone technology and reference multiple different models here, since you’re a beginner we’re going to keep it simple: all you need is a small machine that is easy to use and crash-resistant.

We don’t advocate spending lots of money on your first drone nor buying that professional unit that claims it’s smart enough ‘even newbie pilots can fly it.’ First off, you’re going to crash. Hopefully not a lot, but it’ll definitely happen. There’s a huge difference between crashing a drone that cost you $100 and one that cost you 1k. Secondly, the whole point in the beginning of any new skill is to learn as fluidly as possible.

If you purchase a drone that is hyper-intelligent, intuitive, and professional, chances are you’re going to be able to get away with pressing a few buttons and seamlessly putting the bird in air. Thing is, when it comes to manually navigating your drone (something every great pilot can do with their eyes closed… well not really, but you get it), you’ll be at a loss. That’s why it’s advised you start with a smaller drone that relies solely on your direction to fly. As you begin your pilot experience, you’ll come to understand the physics and dynamic of the vehicle itself without any of that helpful intelligence. If you knew that your car could parallel park itself, isn’t there more value in knowing how to do it on your own regardless?

That’s why it’s recommended that you purchase a beginner unit which has a low-quality camera, a durable build, and very few autonomous components. We recommend that this drone comes ready-to-fly right out of the box and from a credible company. And we also recommend that it comes with prop guards (protective material around the propellers so they don’t break if you crash—which are usually the first thing to go).

So how much are we talking here?

Honestly, that’s up to you. The line between beginner and mid-grade drones is a subjective one. The opinions vary. Generally when people think mid-grade drones they’re envisioning a drone that has autonomous components, can take footage in 1080p, and live-stream the first person view. But others don’t.

If you’re planning for the future and you want to buy a drone that has the capacity to provide more as you improve your skills, then at the most I’d spend $250. If you’re buying a drone because you’re curious about these little robot birds and you want to see what the flight dynamic is like (and learn to fly), I’d recommend spending $100 at the most. The latter is the more popular recommendation.

Do you have any drones you recommend?

As we stated before, what you want as a beginner is a durable drone that’s easy to use, preferably ready to fly right out of the box, and that does everything at the bare minimum. When you’re buying a drone of this caliber, you’re going to see a lot of companies make a lot of promises. The bigger companies aren’t really striving to produce the best ‘beginner drone’ now that professional consumer drones are in such demand.

However, we’ve compiled a list for you here full of drones that are perfect to learn on, won’t break your heart if you fly them into a brick wall, and are relatively easy to use. Hopefully one of these peaks your interest.

These are the best beginner drones in the $100 price range. We don’t recommend spending more on your first drone.

UDI U818A HD

UDI U818A HD

Flies for about 8 minutes per charge. Multiple flight modes. This is NOT the FPV version. Comes with everything needed to begin flight, including new propellers. Comes with two battery chargers and two batteries (meaning you can fly longer).

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UDI is a fantastic company that has been producing quality drones in lower calibers. The U818A is one of their most notable units, and its lightweight, propeller-protecting, durable design makes it a fantastic choice for beginners. It comes with a camera that can take footage in HD, which will help you familiarize with aerial photography. Don’t confuse this model with the one that offers a FPV live-stream, as that one is nearly double the price. Another ‘beginner perk’ to this drone is that it sports two different flight modes. One is slower and the other is faster. As your skills improve, you’ll be able to utilize that control and do more with your drone. It can also perform a slew of acrobatic maneuvers, which makes the learning process a lot more engaging. Oh, and it’s nearly RTF right out of the box.
Hubsan X4

Hubsan X4

Flies for about 5 minutes per charge. Comes with a single battery and transmitter. USB charger included. Entire package for $40.

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This is just about the cheapest, most barebones beginner drone on the market. You’ll see it referenced in just about every article tailored towards beginners, because you just can’t beat what you get for the price. The one we’re talking about here is the standard X4, meaning there’s no camera. It’s only $40 and the price includes the controller (which transmits at 2.4GHz). It allots about 5~ minutes per flight, and should never be flown outdoors (unless in perfect conditions). Why are we recommending it? Because it’s literally the ‘purest’ form of a drone. It’s a quadcopter that uses a 6-axis gyroscopic flight system to stabilize, and it’s durable as hell. It’s easy to use, but there’s a real learning curve when first learning to pilot. But this is exactly what you want: a drone you’re going to learn to fly on without the help of any integrated intelligence, and one that if crashed (and likely you won’t damage this drone) only sets you back $40.
DBpower MJX X400W

DBpower MJX X400W

Flies for about 10 minutes per charge. Comes with a 2.4GHz transmitter. Comes with battery and charges. Comes with USB charging cable. Spare propellers included in the chance they’re broken. Integrated 720p camera that can live stream FPV. Headless mode and one key return. SD card included.

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Definitely a bit more advanced than the first two drones we recommended, the MJX X400W is still under $100 and a highly sought after beginner drone. The integrated 720p camera can indeed live stream FPV but the feature should be thought of as a ‘taste-test’ being that it’s latent and low-quality. The larger battery allows for 10~ minutes of flight and the multiple different flight modes allow you to scale as you improve upon your piloting skills. It has an integrated headless mode (see the referenced terminology above) and comes with your own set of VR goggles. It also sports one key return (see ‘return home’ in the keywords above) and has a control range of 100 meters. This beginner drone, while still durable and simple enough to allow you to hone your piloting skills, also gives you a sneak peak of what it’s like to fly a feature-heavy professional machine. Oh, and did we mention it’s ready to fly?
Syma X5C1

Syma X5C1

Flies for about 8 minutes per charge. Comes with a 2.4GHz transmitter. Comes with battery and charger. Landing gear, prop guards, and camera detachable for lighter payload. SD card included.

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Pay particular attention to the ‘1’ at the end of the name, as this drone is a generation above its predecessor the X5C. Not only is this drone integrated with a 2MP camera, but it’s extremely versatile. As you improve your skills as a pilot, you can ditch the camera, landing gear, and prop guards to lessen your payload and fly at faster speeds. Syma is also a company respected for their unit’s quality and durability. They build these little guys for some serious wear and tear, but also so they’re RTF and easy to use. It flies for around 8~ minutes per charge and can sustain light amounts of wind. One thing people rave about when it comes to the X5C1 is the response-rate between the transmitter and receiver. Not only zippy and maneuverable, but the agility of the X5C1 outperforms many drones in its class. Pair that with the fact that it’s priced at $70, and you have a drone that’ll not only introduce you to the skies in fashion, but and acclimate you with the drone dynamic.
Holy Stone F181

Holy Stone F181

Flies for around 10 minutes per charge. Comes with a 2.4GHz transmitter. Comes with two 750mAh batteries. Comes with prop guards. Comes with extra landing skids. Has an integrated 720p camera. Sports features like one key return, altitude lock, and headless mode. Made with crash-resistant durable plastic.

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Only recently did this drone come in at under $100, and when taking into consideration its arsenal of intelligent features, it’s one of the best ‘bang for your buck’ deals in the beginner space. Integrated with an HD camera that can shoot in 720p, it also features headless mode, one key return, altitude lock (see hover in the keywords), one key 360 degree flips, and continuous roll. This is one of the packages that also include an extra battery, which doubles your flight time. The flight-stabilization board is noteworthy for its impeccable balance, and despite having prop guards and a camera this drone is quite zippy. Holy Stone has engineered some impressive drones in the last couple years, and the F181 is a perfect introduction to their tech. This again is one of those drones that’s durable (it’s built with strong plastic), barebones enough that you’ll be forced to create a solid foundation for your piloting skills, but also allots a taste of what it’s like to have a more professional, feature-heavy drone. The battery is a bit larger than we’re used to in this class too (750 mAh) which allows for around 10~ minutes of flight per charge, which means it’s 20 minutes when both batteries are ready.

Now that I know what the best beginner drones are, what else should I know?

All the elaborate tech explanations can come afterwards. Your little drone isn’t going to be complex, and it’s one of those things where you’ll figure it out as you go. As a basis, know that you should purchase a quadcopter (to familiarize with the build as it’s what’s most common). In an overly-simplified explanation, basically they’re composed of four rotors that each control a propeller. The rotors work independently of each other to produce thrust, pitch, yaw, and roll. Flight is stabilized with a flight-board that balances your drone. Every drone has a flight board.

Your transmitter (controller) will send a signal on either a 2.4ghz or 5.7ghz frequency, which will be intercepted by the receiver onboard the drone, which then delivers a signal to the actuators on the drone which will tell each rotor what to do independently. With these beginner drones, expect a flight time of around 7~ minutes and 45 minutes to charge each flight. Don’t expect to have a machine that can fare in windy or outdoor conditions, nor should you expect one that can live-stream the first-person-view. To that point, if it can live stream (or take photography in general), it’s probably going to be in very low quality and with latency.

As for the tech’s jargon, here are some key terms to be aware of.

  • FPV: First Person View
  • RTF: Ready to fly
  • Headless Mode: A mode that allows you to fly without orientation, meaning you don’t need to know which is the ‘front’ or ‘back’ of your drone. This greatly assists novice pilots, as it’s easy to lose orientation via line of slight.
  • Follow Me: also known as Active Track (coined by DJI), it’s a feature which allows the drone to track a subject autonomously.
  • Return Home: also known as one key return, this feature allows you to press a single button and the drone will return to a rendezvous point your set for it. It can also achieve this autonomously with some units, as the software will trigger the mode if the drone flies out of range or if the battery is EOL.
  • Hover: also known as ‘position lock’ and ‘altitude lock’ this feature allows your drone to autonomously hover in place once you let go of the controls. This is incredibly beneficial for both novice pilots and aerial photographers alike, as you can step away from your controls and not have to worry about your drone crashing.
  • Gimbal: this is the device that holds the camera on most drones, which greatly stabilizes the picture. For more professional drones they’re usually 3-axis systems, while in beginner drones they’re usually absent.
  • Multirotor: a vehicle with multiple rotors used in flight.
  • Quadctoper: a vehicle with four rotors used in flight.
  • Hexacopter: a vehicle with six rotors used in flight.
  • Payload: how much your vehicle can lift, including its own onboard battery and systems.
  • UAV: Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, AKA Drones.

I want to know a bit more other than just jumping in headfirst and buying a drone that’s durable and easy to use.

Great! There is tons of information about drones on the web, and a few hours of research will set you well ahead of where you were prior. But since we’re still talking beginner drones here, let’s keep it specific to that. We’ll give you a few pointers here before you check out the five beginner drones we recommend below.

  1. If it has a camera, expect shitty footage: unfortunately we’re not at a place in the market yet where we can guarantee a quality aerial photography machine for under $100. Most of these drones—if they’re fit with integrated cameras—will take pixelated, low quality footage. Even if they say the camera can shoot in 720p and you know a bit about photography and you’re like ‘well, that’s not so bad!’ Truth be told it is. Reason being is that aerial photography machines thrive when their cameras are fit to gimbals, which minimize the interference of the vehicle’s movement and stabilize the footage. It’s incredibly rare to see a beginner drone fit with a gimbal. Their versions of gimbals are usually shock absorption mounts, which often do close to nothing. Even the best camera in the world strapped to a drone without a stabilization system will produce low-quality footage.
  2. These drones don’t fly long, which can be frustrating. The beginner drones, as stated before, usually don’t fly very long. This can be the source of frustration when you’re trying to learn to pilot, but can only fly for five minutes and then have to wait another hour before doing so. That’s why you should look for packages that include extra batteries, or drones that have removable batteries with an option to purchase additional ones. Maximizing your flight time will greatly improve your skills as pilot, and your experience flying. This is a bit of a double-edged sword, however, as many of these smaller units need the downtime between flights or else their rotors will overheat and burnout. Do you research beforehand.
  3. How bad will the crash be? Ahh! Such an important question. This is actually best answered by scouring through user reviews. Every beginner drone is going to promise they’re ‘crash-resistant’ and that they ‘can take a beating’ but truth is they break. Nothing is more frustrating than opening up that new quadcopter, sending it in air, then driving it into the ground only to end up with a stationary bird. If there’s a drone that you’re contemplating purchasing, make sure to check out the user reviews and see what they said about their experience (most novice pilots will report their accidents and damage). There are some that will immediately pose red flags, whereas others will have headlines in the review that tell you all need to know: ‘crashed it ten times, not a scratch.’

Lastly, make sure you read up on drone safety and the rules and regulations put in place by the FAA to keep you, the pilot, safe and out of trouble. Now, try one of these beginner drones and get flying!

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