Instead of spending hundreds of dollars on a drone, parents and hobbyists can get a quadcopter for less than $100. Most of the models today have decent controllers, are small enough for indoors and have a camera.The principles for flying inexpensive quadcopters are pretty much the same as those for flying $1,000 drones.
For newbies, a quadcopter might be a good place to start before damaging an expensive rig. Small drones do not require FAA registration.Below are five of the best quadcopters available for beginners without costing a ton of money. All of the models have small removable parts, so children prone to putting everything in their mouth should not operate these quads without supervision.
This quadcopter has six gyroscopes and measures a little more than 12 inches across, so it’s reasonably safe to operate indoors. There are blade protectors to on the device to help in case of collisions. It also has skids for landing.
Outdoors, the transmitter is good for about 32 yards. It requires four AA batteries. The quadcopter itself has a lithium battery that users can charge through a USB connection. The aircraft can fly for 7 minutes on one charge. Recharging takes about 100 minutes. The quadcopter does well outdoors, except in windy conditions.
The transmitter has left and right controls. There also is a 3D eversion switch that allows users to flip the quadcopter. Users can throw or launch the aircraft from their hand.
To shoot photos and video with the X5C, users need to press a button on the transmitter. A red indicator light on the transmitter means the camera is in operation.
The SD card stores all photos and video.There is a small LCD monitor on the transmitter with lots of flight information. The Syma X5C includes flashing lights for night time operation.
The U818A is simple to fly. The main difference between the X5C and the U818A is design. The U818A has larger blades and fixed circular guards. The blades and guards take up 90 percent of the aircraft’s body. The drone measures 13 inches x 13 inches.
The transmitter is sufficient for 32 yards and allows for photography and video with a single button. The video quality is not incredible, but it’s not bad for messing around.
There is a small LCD shows battery level, Wi-Fi signal strength and thrust level. There also is a button for flipping the aircraft. The UDI U818A does well in crashes, and replacement blades are available.
The quadcopter comes with a battery recharger. It takes about two hours to charge the battery. Flights can last up to 8 minutes. There is no option to recharge with USB. It’s easy to find a spare rechargeable battery and an extra SD card. The transmitter requires 4 AA batteries.
Parrot MiniDrone Rolling Spider
This miniature quad measures 7 inches x 8 inches and shoots photos and video. Users control the aircraft through a Bluetooth 4.0 signal. The cellphone/tablet app for controlling the aircraft is quite extensive. Parrot made a video demonstrating the app and several flight tricks.
The quad does flips, and users can throw it. The huge wheels on the aircraft are detachable for easier flight. With the wheels attached, the Rolling Spider can climb walls.
The Parrot MiniDrone Rolling Spider comes in three different colors. The removable lithium battery is good for about 8 minutes of flight time. Users can charge the battery through USB.
This quad measures 4 inches x 4 inches. It has a flight time of more than 10 minutes. The battery recharges in 30 minutes via USB. There is a radio controller included. The controller needs 4 AAA batteries.
The transmitter has a small LCD, and can make the X4 flip in four different directions. The transmitter is simpler than an Xbox One controller. The X4 has lots of LEDs for flying at night.
The X4 is very fast, and because it’s so small, users may lose sight of it outdoors. There is no camera on the Hubsan X4.
Holy Stone F181 RC
The F181 measures 12 inches x 12 inches. It comes with the standard 2.4G transmitter, lithium battery, and a USB charging cable. The camera shoots photos at 1280 x 720, and the video is 30 frames per second. The Holy Stone is the most expensive quad of those reviewed here and has the best camera.
Flights can last up to 9 minutes. The quadcopter battery takes 80 minutes to recharge. The transmitter looks very much like an Xbox One controller with the addition of a small LCD display. The F181 comes with bright LEDs for night flights. The transmitter takes 4 AA batteries.
One thing different about the F181 is it has a headless fly back mode. Different quadcopter makers refer to with various terms, but essentially, the quad will fly back to the pilot in a straight line with the press of a button. It will take users some practice to get headless fly back to work properly.
The user manual is quite extensive. Many replacement parts are available for the Holy Stone F181 RC, including the motor.
Quadcopters certainly have caught on in recent years. The inexpensive models reviewed above won’t be delivering Slurpees, but they can be a lot of fun and great training for more advanced aircraft. As cellphones become more advanced and get better batteries, more companies will use them as controllers like the Parrot.