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Drones rocketed from the obscure to the mainstream in just a few years. However, as much as you might want to own a drone, buying one is a complex process. A sea of devices exist. Plus, distinct features further complicate drone-buying.

Budget and intended purpose are excellent criteria for most buyers. Learn how to select the best drone, from asking the right questions to finding the right specifications.

Drone Buying Considerations

Before you purchase a drone, you’ll want to first consider these eight questions 8 Questions to Ask When Buying Your First Drone 8 Questions to Ask When Buying Your First Drone Buying a drone is equal parts exciting and confusing. Here are some common questions most beginners have when purchasing their first drone. Read More . Notably, what you’re looking for is likely not a drone but a quadcopter. By definition, a quadcopter is an aircraft with a set of four blades, but many “drones” may have six or even eight blades. These models are hexacopters and octocopters. Because the term “drone” is widely used as an interchangeable term for these copters, we’ll use that catch-all.

There are plenty of criteria you may use to narrow your quest for the perfect drone. The main features we’ll concentrate on are:

  • Budget.
  • Ease of use.
  • Number of motors.
  • Flight time.
  • Peripherals.

Budget Drones

Syma X5C Explorers

Syma X5C Quadcopter equipped with HD cameras, 2.4G 6 Axis Gyro Syma X5C Quadcopter equipped with HD cameras, 2.4G 6 Axis Gyro Equipped with HD camera Buy Now At Amazon $39.77

The Syma X5C Explorers Syma X5C Quadcopter Review and Giveaway Syma X5C Quadcopter Review and Giveaway If you've any interest in drones but have been put off by the steep prices, buy the Syma X5C. It's a hell of a lot of drone, and just as much fun. Read More is incredibly affordable. With a sub-$100 price tag, it’s one of the cheapest drones available. Despite its extremely low price point, the Syma X5C does not skimp on features. This budget drone sports a 720p HD camera and 4 GB microSD card. Interchangeable parts make the Syma X5C a phenomenal value. Break a motor? Just replace it. Want a camera with Wi-Fi? Simply buy an updated version and swap it out.

Beware, though. Cutting costs sacrifices premium features. While the 720p camera is HD, a CNET review notes quality falls short. Also, the Syma X5C lacks image stabilization, so images can appear blurry. The main drawback is its weak battery. Powered by a 3.7-volt 500 mAh battery pack, you’ll likely only clock about 7–10 minutes off of a full 90-minute charge.

At around $50, it’s difficult to complain about image quality and flight time. Ultimately, the Syma X5C Explorers is a hefty drone for the price of a toy drone.

  • 3.7-volt 500 mAh battery (7–10 minutes flight time from a 90-minute charge).
  • 720p HD camera.
  • 4 motors.
  • Extremely user-friendly.

Parrot Bebop

Parrot Bebop Quadcopter Drone - Red Parrot Bebop Quadcopter Drone - Red Easily updates to meet FAA requirements Buy Now At Amazon $229.98

The Parrot Bebop Parrot Bebop Drone and Sky Controller Review and Giveaway Parrot Bebop Drone and Sky Controller Review and Giveaway Soar through the sky and see the unseeable with fantastic aerial photos and smooth videos: this is the Bebop Drone and Sky Controller. Read More is a premium and budget-friendly. This quadcopter runs more than the average toy drone at about $230, but less than the mid-range DJI Phantom 3 ($400). Parrot’s Bebop boasts beefy specs: it’s rocking a 1080p camera, it’s capable of HD video, it’s safe to fly inside. You can control the Bebop with a mobile device like a phone or tablet, and it performs simple tricks, like flips and rolls. PC Mag praises the Parrot’s stability, so this comes with a low learning curve.

However, the Parrot Bebop only offers 8 GB of built-in storage. And there’s no microSD port. Battery life is pretty limited: CNET reviewers averaged around 10 minutes. You do get two batteries, but you’ll need to land safely to swap batteries. The Parrot Bebop may be controlled with a phone or tablet, and it’s pretty easy to use. An optional remote is available, but once you shell out the extra cash it’s worth considering a slightly more expensive and capable drone.

Within its budget segment, though, the Parrot Bebop is a compact yet durable drone that balances budget and high-end features.

  • 10 minute flight time (two batteries included).
  • 8 GB built-in storage.
  • Controllable via phone and tablet.
  • Standard Wi-Fi.
  • Replaceable parts.
  • 4 motors.
  • Full 1080p video.

Since this article was published, Parrot has released a new version of the compact drone, the Parrot Bebop 2 FPV.
Parrot Bebop 2 FPV - Up to 25 minutes of flight time, FPV goggles, compact drone Parrot Bebop 2 FPV - Up to 25 minutes of flight time, FPV goggles, compact drone Compact and lightweight quadcopter drone (1.1 lbs) Buy Now At Amazon $449.50

Mid-Range Drones

Yuneec Breeze 4K

Yuneec Breeze Flying Camera - Compact Smart Drone with Ultra High Definition 4K video - safe to fly indoor and outdoor Yuneec Breeze Flying Camera - Compact Smart Drone with Ultra High Definition 4K video - safe to fly indoor and outdoor 4K STUNNING VIDEO & PICTURES with breathtaking 4K Ultra High Definition and ultra-clear 13 megapixel stills. Buy Now At Amazon $399.00

Just as 4K televisions and monitors are all the rage, so too is 4K a popular spec in the drone realm. The Yuneec Breeze 4K offers 4K support in a lightweight and small package. The app, available on Android and iOS is easy to use so it’s perfect for beginners and comes loaded with a slew of automated flight modes.

Unfortunately, flight time is pretty limited at just around 12 minutes. Thankfully, the Yuneec Breeze does Although there is 4K support, image stabilization is only available at 1080p and 720p resolutions. One of the preset modes automates selfie photography — watch the video! The Yunteec offers quality, durability, and a compact frame. It boasts a slew of premium abilities, at a reasonable price.

  • 4K resolution (image stabilization limited to 1080p and 720p).
  • 12-minute battery life (two batteries included).
  • Easy to use.
  • 4 motors.
  • GPS.

Xiro Xplorer V

XIRO Xplorer Aerial UAV Drone Quadcopter with 1080p FHD FPV live Video Camera and 3 Axis Gimbal -- V Version XIRO Xplorer Aerial UAV Drone Quadcopter with 1080p FHD FPV live Video Camera and 3 Axis Gimbal -- V Version Complete quadcopter, remote transmitter and ready to fly. Super easy to set up: pre-tuned by factory and ready in minutes! Just charge the included battery, attach the propellers, start the remote controller and you're ready to fly Buy Now At Amazon

The Xiro Xplorer V sports an all around superb experience in a small package. Its ease of use, return-to-home functionality, automatic landing and takeoff, and commendable stability posit the Xplorer V as a top drone pick.

While the battery is rated for 25 minute flight time, PCMag reviews found about 19–20 as a realistic measurement. There is 1080p support, but no 4K. Oddly, 4K resolutions are commonly found in other drones as this price point including the Yuneec Breeze 4K. However,  the combination of stability, HD images, and extreme ease of operation make the Xiro Xplorer V one of the best drones available at any price. The DJI Phantom 3 Standard is a great alternative, although it’s much larger.

  • 1080p.
  • 25-minute flight time (two batteries included).
  • Very stable.
  • 4 motors.
  • Extreme ease of use (auto takeoff and landing, return to home).

High-End Drones

DJI Phantom 3 Professional

DJI Phantom 3 Professional Quadcopter 4K UHD Video Camera Drone DJI Phantom 3 Professional Quadcopter 4K UHD Video Camera Drone 4k UHD video recording with fully stabilized 3-axis gimbal; Vision Positioning system allows stable flight indoors Buy Now At Amazon $936.00

DJI Phantom drones rank high among the most popular, and recognizable, drones available. In the top-tier drone category, the DJI Phantom 3 Professional is a top tier pick. While pricey, the Phantom 3 Professional does rock an impressive roster of features. There’s 4K support, a 20mm wide-angle lens, built-in GPS, and a return-to-home function. The DJI Phantom 3 Pro also boasts automated flight modes which are really useful for beginners and foster an easy learning curve.

A PC Mag review praises the video quality and flying experience. Battery life remains skimpy, and the wide-angle lens occasionally displays distortion around the edges. Nevertheless, the DJI Phantom 3 Professional is the best upper echelon drone for the price.

  • 4K resolution (live streaming limited to 720p).
  • 23-minute flight time.
  • 4 motors.
  • GPS.
  • microSD expansion.

DJI Phantom 4

DJI Phantom 4 Quadcopter DJI Phantom 4 Quadcopter Auto takeoff and auto return home with GPS technology, makes controlling easy. App enables monitoring/camera operation easy Buy Now At Amazon $963.95

The DJI Phantom 4 may not be the cheapest drone on the market, but it’s probably the best available and most consumer-centric. Upgrades for the Phantom 4 include an awesome Sport mode that increases speed for reaching a destination faster or merely zipping around for fun. An Obstacle Sensing System improves safety by helping to avoid collisions. It even includes a slow-mo video feature. Like many other drones, the rated flight time and real-world numbers differ. It’s rated for 28 minutes but realistically gets about 23 minutes.

Unfortunately, the Phantom 4 suffers from a few rough edges. Notably, the Obstacle Sensing System only covers the drone’s front. And the Phantom requires a mobile device. Unlike other drones, the DJI Phantom 4 is not compact, and moreover, the camera and landing gear are fixed to the drone, so you can’t chuck it in a pack. Despite a few minor quibbles, the DJI Phantom 4 offers the best bang for your buck in the high-end drone category. An upgrade to the DJI Phantom 4 Pro adds enhanced obstacle sensors and a better camera, as well as long-distance controls. However, it also bumps the price well above $1,000 making it tough to recommend for the average consumer.

  • 4K support.
  • 28-minute flight time.
  • Image stabilization.
  • Sport mode.
  • Easy to use (Sport mode not for beginners).
  • Obstacle Sensing System.

Final Drone Buying Thoughts

There’s certainly no shortage of drones available on the market. DJI tends to be a go-to vendor for good reason: DJI drones present a superb balance of top-tier elements and consumer accessibility. Ultimately, budget and use are the major limiting factors. Sure, you can snag a 4K drone for below $500, but its 4K recording and image stabilization abilities would suffer. If video and image capture are most important, you’ll want to prioritize those features over flight time or performance.

The one area that almost every drone could improve on: battery life. Within the high end, drones like the Phantom line were rated for about 25 minutes, but only clocked around 19 minutes of flight. Granted, it’s probably difficult to engineer a coptor that stays airborne while lugging a massive battery and camera.

Drones are increasingly popular, and the future promises to continue this trend 5 Amazing Uses For Drones In The Future 5 Amazing Uses For Drones In The Future Unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly called drones, are now infamous for their surveillance capabilities, but like most tools, the usefulness of a drone depends on who's in control. Read More . Additionally, we’ll likely see drones revolutionizing business 5 Amazing Uses For Drones In The Future 5 Amazing Uses For Drones In The Future Unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly called drones, are now infamous for their surveillance capabilities, but like most tools, the usefulness of a drone depends on who's in control. Read More .

Which drones are your favorites and what are you using your drones for?

Image Credit: Dmitry Kalinovsky via Shutterstock

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  1. Suzanne Sholer
    February 4, 2017 at 2:41 pm

    I read that a company in Africa is using drones to deliver medicines and medical supplies and thought it might be a good solution for isolate communities in Northern Canada.
    What kind of drone would you recommend for something like that?

  2. Mat
    January 22, 2017 at 2:10 pm

    No Mavic Pro? I have this drone and it is amazing. Folds up tiny, but has nearly all the featurea of the Phantom 4. My kids flew it with almost zero instruction. It's the drone to beat in 2017.