If you’re looking to get started with a drone hobby, but you don’t want to dish out the kind of money for the DJI products or even the mid-grade drones, then you’re probably looking for something $200 or less. For those buying drones on a budget –or simply testing out the hobby—there are an array of options available. In fact, drone technology has reached a point where drones in these lower price categories can still offer the full dynamic of the drone flight experience. In short, that means the drone can fly outdoors, contains at least one autonomous feature, captures aerial footage, and can livestream the first-person-view directly to a smartphone, tablet, or VR goggles. Basically there are two key factors in the drone flight experience; aerial photography and immersion.
We’ve compiled a list of the best drones under $200 available in 2017. If you’re someone new to the hobby, we expect you’ll be a bit surprised to discover what some of these lower-end drones are capable of. If you are a well-versed, active member of the drone community, you’ve probably seen a lot of these drones already. But for those who aren’t used to drone terminology, here are a few things to know going through this list (although the terms will also be explained in the drone descriptions).
Now that you are jargon savvy, here are the drones for all of you to get started on a budget:
Drones Under $200
WLToys isn’t some rickety company that makes inexpensive drones; it is a well-known establishment that has a whole arsenal of RC toys and drone units. WLToys has engineered drones for all segments of the market except the profession grade and they know what they’re doing. That’s apparent with the V686G as this drone (for under $100) comes with a camera that can take low-quality video, shoot 2MP stills, and livestreams the first-person-view. It flies for around 8-10 minutes and has a control distance of up to 150 meters (although the FPV transmission tends to falter if you keep it over 100). The drone takes about an hour and a half to charge and is quite resilient in a crash (it comes with integrated propeller guards). This drone will allow you to achieve the full drone dynamic, accomplish complex aerial maneuvers, and it will be a lot fun.
In terms of simplicity, this drone computes with a software application which you can operate via tablet or smart phone. For its price point, it manages to livestream FPV at 720p. That’s serious clarity in the camera of an inexpensive drone. It comes with the Return Home autonomous feature – activated at the click of a ‘return’ button featured on the remote control application. It has an implemented headless mode, flies for up to 10 minutes, give or take, and can hover (which is huge since you can take your hands of the controller and the drone will stay in place, rather than kamikaze dive-bombing onto your grandma’s head). It has a control range of 50 meters, but this thing is tiny you’re not going to want to fly it that far anyway. It comes with prop guards, spare propellers, a micro SD card, and the screws to assemble it. Basically, once assembled, all it needs is a lengthy charge and it’s ready to go. Again, this comes in under $100.
While the other low-priced drones we’ve mentioned take a minimal amount of assembly, the Blue Jay is ready-to-fly right out of the box. It has a sleek, dark black design with two blue propellers in the front to establish orientation (the rear rotors are black). In terms of autonomy, it comes with auto takeoff and landing (you literally push a button for each command). It has a high-definition camera that captures 2MP stills and shoots in 720p at 30fps (sort of a standard camera spec for these drones). It comes with headless mode as well, so if you direct it ‘forward’ it moves in the direction you are looking even if the two blue rotors are facing to the right or left. It also has altitude-hold, often known as position lock or hover, so if you step away from the controls, the drone will remain in place (incredibly helpful for learner-pilots). The built-in WiFi hotspot allows for FPV transmission and connects to your tablet or smartphone. It also has VR headset compatibility if you want the fully immersive drone experience –or if you’re curious at all about what it looks like in the seat of a drone racer (yes, drone racing is a thing now). It comes with all the goodies you need to start flying and capturing footage (4GB micro SD card, SD card reader, etc.). It also comes with spare propellers in case you crash – entirely feasible since in this price range, you are probably not a weathered pilot. This drone comes in around $120, well worth the price.
This is often regarded as the best quadcopter under $200 –and also a drone that is the most well-rounded in terms of its engineering in this grade. Perhaps what makes this drone stand out isn’t even the HD camera or the FPV capabilities but the handling in air. For its size and build, it has surprisingly accurate controls and suffers little to no interference. The drone is nimble, prop-protected, and can fare well in clear outdoor conditions. It comes with two different flight modes, one that monitors the drone’s speed and eases the pilot into learning the ropes of drone piloting, and one that’s more manual and allows for maximum speed control and movement. It’s got integrated headless mode and return home features, flies for around ten minutes (another standard in this caliber of drone) and comes with everything you need to store your footage (SD card reader, 4GB SD card). If you crash and lose your propellers, there is an extra set. It takes about an hour and a half to charge and the extra battery can double your flight time (careful though – do some reading on the rotors and actuators, as lots of these little drones are meant to experience downtime between flights in order to continue performing). However, of all the drones mentioned here, take an extra look at the U818A’s reviews – you’ll find that most who own the product speak highly of it, not just because of performance, but because these little mavericks are built to last. And last they do. This drone is a bit more expensive than others we’ve listed, but it is still below $200.
This drone packs a BIG punch in a tiny chassis. This 4 channel, 5.8Ghz transmission quadcopter can take HD 720p videos, livestream FPV, complete an assortment of aerial maneuvers, and has a notably dynamic 6-axis gyroscopic flight system (to be fair –all of these drones do, but the H502S has been noted to fly particularly well). It’s ready-to-fly and comes with everything you need except for four AA batteries. In terms of autonomy, it has an integrated return-home feature, flight-stabilization, and follow me (it can track you autonomously – the first drone in this category we’ve noted that has this system implemented). It flies for a good long 15 minutes depending on usage and weather conditions. The built-in GPS unit allows for higher flight accuracy and position control. With a bit of research, you’ll realize that this is Hubsan’s bread and butter: low-grade, affordable drones that deliver what they promise. The H502S FPV is no exception to their standard of engineering.
Here’s another Holy Stone machine – apparently we’re feeling pious with this list. It’s a great drone for beginners and those looking for a toy, as its four speed settings allow for a larger range of control for the new pilot. Note, this drone doesn’t offer FPV livestreaming, but it still has an HD camera onboard that can take decent footage (as decent as you’re going to get in this caliber). It has a slow yaw, but that’s to be expected, as it’s not as zippy as the other drones we’ve mentioned. It has integrated headless and return home features, a control range of up to 100 meters (don’t know why you’d fly this far without FPV though), and flies for around 10 minutes. As with most of these drones, it takes around an hour or so to charge. It has a dynamic, new-age aesthetic and LED lights that assist with night flying (and just simply make it look cool). As a company, Holy Stone is known for their reliable engineering and outstanding customer service (this is really a key one –as a lot of the companies dealing more with smaller-end drones haven’t really figured out how to manage customer support teams).
With a name like Sky Viper, how can you go wrong? In this case, you can’t. It comes with an HD camera that livestreams FPV and an easily usable app (called Sky Viper); it contains one-button auto takeoff & landing, headless mode, and position lock. Basically, it has all the autonomous features of the abovementioned drones except for the follow me feature of the Hubsan H502s FPV X4. It is durable, nimble, and surprisingly quick. There’s a sensitivity-adjustment control smackdab in the center of the controller that you can slowly adjust as you gain confidence as a pilot. If you’re looking for a drone proven to carry out all the cool aerial maneuvers (flips, barrel rolls, dives), then the Sky Viper checks out (nice that you’ll be able to see through FPV since the Viper comes with its own VR headset!). You unfortunately can’t adjust the camera, but it has a nice field-of-view so it shouldn’t really be too big a problem. It comes with all the necessities to start flying, and extra replacement blades in case yours break.
For starters, this drone has the best camera on the list – it can take 8MP stills rather 2MP of all the previously mentioned drones. It has dual speed modes, again tailored to those needing more control when first learning to pilot. It flies a distance of 100 meters –but pilots who have tested this say it works best at half that (which is far enough since you don’t want to lose sight of your drone). It comes with altitude hold, headless mode, and a 360 degree aerial stunt button. Integrated LED lights allow for night flying and also give it the ‘cool’ factor. It flies for around 8 minutes and takes a couple hours to charge. Although it has the best camera of the drones we’ve listed, it doesn’t offer FPV so you’ll only be able to fly the X8HG using your own line of sight. It’s autonomous, dynamic, and can take good pictures. If the lack of FPV is a biggie for you, this isn’t your drone. At any rate, Syma has released some reliable and highly-recommended units these last couple of years.
This drone is just nearing the $200 mark, but for good reason. It’s an RTF machine which comes equipped with a camera that takes fresh, clear 2MP stills and records in HD 720p. It offers FPV (just look at the name). One thing to note about this drone is that in professional machines, you’ll see cameras mounted to gimbals which basically help to stabilize the camera. This drone has its own form of a gimbal called a 'vibration absorption mount’ to give you stabilized footage. Since this drone checks out with all the goodies you’ve seen listed (headless mode, return home, multiple flight modes, etc.), the fact that it has equipment which helps stabilize footage is enough to set it at the top of the leaderboard. The transmitter uses a 5.8GHz frequency which works basically without interruption. As you can probably guess by now, it flies for around 10 minutes and takes an hour and a half to charge.
There you have it –that’s our list of the best drones under $200. If the industry continues with its current development trajectory, the capabilities, intelligence and flight-potential in the smaller sized drones are going to continue to expand. With manufacturers battling for the lead in the industry, the drones in this category are only going to get cheaper, and those replacing the current price point will be even more impressive.