Best Drones of 2018
Love high-tech toys? A drone might be what you're looking for. Read our shopping guide and check out our top picks to find out the best option for you.
Sky Toys: A Shopping Guide for the Best Drones
One of the hottest "toys" today is a drone. Drones appeal to kids and adults alike; fans of model airplanes, remote-control devices, photography/videography, and other cool technology have fallen in love with them.
Perhaps you're looking to buy a drone for a special person in your life. Or perhaps you've decided that it's time to purchase a drone for yourself. Whatever the case may be, we stand ready to help. At BestReviews, we spent countless hours scrutinizing the drone market in order to bring you the drone recommendations at the top of this page.
To ensure that our reviews remain free from bias, we never accept complimentary samples from manufacturers. You can rest assured that our recommendations stem from honest research and the desire to serve you with integrity. We want to be your go-to source for reliable product information and advice.
As we prepared this article, we had loads of fun immersing ourselves in the drone world. Now we want you to do the same. So if you're ready to find the perfect drone for your needs, please peruse our product recommendation matrix and enjoy the following shopping guide.
What's That in the Sky?
Is it a bird? Is it a plane?
Nope. It's a drone—a remote-controlled flying device that glides both horizontally and vertically through the air. With practice, some people race drones or perform aerial stunts with them. A drone can carry objects too, such as a camera or a small package.
Propellers enable a drone's flight; most drones have two or four propellers. A computer chip inside the drone—called a flight controller—helps keep it stabilized. Manufacturers use the flight controller chip to give a drone more or less stability than average. A drone with less built-in stability can perform more agile movements, but it's also more difficult to control and fly.
Savvying the Lingo: Drone-Related Acronyms
As with most technology, drones possess a unique set of jargon and acronyms. If you're investing in a drone, it's important to understand these terms. Otherwise, you could inadvertently order a product you don't really want. For example, some drones ship unassembled. An acronym denotes this, but if you miss the acronym and prefer not to build the drone yourself, you're out of luck.
Here are some of the most common acronyms you'll encounter in the realm of drones.
● ARF/ARTF: Short for "almost ready to fly," an ARF drone requires some assembly. An ARF drone might not ship with all parts needed to fly, either. For example, an ARF drone package may not include a controller.
● BNF: Short for "bind and fly," a BNF drone requires almost no assembly after you remove it from the box. However, this type of drone does not ship with a controller; you must buy one separately. Some people choose a BNF drone because they want to collect multiple drones in their fleet. In this case, a person could select a single controller for all of their drones.
● FAA: The Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, stipulates several rules regarding the operation of drones. If your drone meets a certain weight limit, for example, you may have to pay a fee and/or register with the FAA. The organization can levy fines and penalties against people who fly drones without registering. Flying in restricted areas can result in fines too. Because FAA rules change from time to time, be sure you've researched the rules before flying your new drone.
● FPV: Short for "first person view," this refers to the video signal from a drone camera. You may be able to see this video signal on a screen with your controller. FPV is particularly useful for people who race drones.
● GPS: Short for "global positioning system," a drone with GPS built into it will be able to follow a preset pattern. A GPS lock feature allows the drone to fly with more stability, which is helpful when shooting video or photos.
● RTF: Short for "ready to fly," an RTF drone has all of the parts required to fly. This type of drone is great for beginners because it's ready to go when you take it out of the box.
● RTH: Short for "return to home," a drone that includes an RTH feature will return to the starting point upon receiving the RTH command. This is an especially helpful feature for a beginning pilot. If the drone strays too far or is starting to get out of control, issuing the RTH command can avoid potential problems.
Getting Your Drone On: Tips for Beginners
Flying a drone can be a thrilling hobby, but it's not like flying a kite. It takes practice, forethought, and a certain level of skill to fly a drone successfully. If you're a drone newbie, follow these tips for optimum results.
Put in some practice time. You'll need at least a few hours of practice before you can begin serious flight with an entry-level drone—and complex drones require more than that. Even a drone that's labeled as "ready to fly" out of the box requires a few hours of practice for a new pilot.
Pick a safe spot. As you're learning to fly your drone, look for a location that is free of intrusive objects. Buildings, power lines, and trees all can pose a threat to those just learning to fly a drone.
Start with a simple drone. Beginners will inevitably crash their drones as they're learning to fly. Basic drones should have guards that protect the blades, so when you crash, you'll hopefully avoid blade damage.
Calculate battery life. If you're planning a full day of drone flying, you'll need extra batteries—or at least a way to charge the batteries you have. Few recreational drones can fly for longer than 30 minutes per charge; many entry-level drones are limited to less than 20 minutes of flight.
Know the rules. You cannot use drones near airports and other areas containing air traffic, and some cities stipulate even more specific laws. Make sure you understand where you can and cannot use your new drone before launching it.
How Much Drones Cost
As is often the case with high-tech devices, you'll find drones at various price points. Here's what you can expect to get for your cash.
Entry-level drones cost anywhere from $25 to $150. Mini drones and toy drones fit this category. They're the easiest to use and typically have the smallest battery capacity, meaning they can fly only a short distance.
Drones at this price point sometimes include a built-in, low-end camera.
Mid-level drones typically cost between $150 and $500. The built-in camera will be of higher quality, and the drone will probably be able to carry more weight, allowing for the attachment of different devices.
Upper-level drones exceed $500 and offer a high level of agility—a true thrill for experienced pilots. These drones may ship with high-level cameras, too, including video cameras with 4K resolution.
● To allow for longer flight times, you will probably want to purchase extra rechargeable batteries for your drone. With multiple batteries at hand, you can charge one battery while using another.
● You may want to purchase a camera and gimbal for your drone.
● If your drone doesn't ship with a controller, you will need to buy one.
● You may have to buy additional parts to repair your drone from time to time.
● Some drone manufacturers offer drone insurance to help you pay for repairs.
● You also may need to pay registration fees with local municipalities or the FAA to be able to fly your drone legally.
Q. What are some practical uses for drones?
A. Drones are loads of fun to fly, but they're not just toys. Photographers and videographers use drones to capture footage of large areas. Law enforcement and the military use drones for surveillance.
The practical applications of drones are likely to expand as time progresses. Delivery companies have considered using drones to carry small packages to recipients. Demonstrations of drones helping to extinguish wildfires have also occurred.
Q. What are some dangers of using drones?
A. The biggest danger with any drone is the potential for a crash. Proper drone flight requires practice as a pilot. You wouldn't want to ruin your expensive drone by crashing it a few minutes after taking it out of the box.
As you're learning, don't fly around large groups of people. Even a lightweight drone could injure someone if it crashes from a significant height. Additionally, any cameras must be securely mounted so they don't pop loose during flight. A falling camera could injure someone, and it would most likely ruin the camera.
Q. Can I fly my drone anywhere?
A. Within the specs list for any given drone, you should find written manufacturer recommendations for usage.
● Some drones are designed specifically for outdoor use.
● Others include precise control mechanisms for indoor use.
● Certain drones may be too large to safely fly indoors.
Pay close attention to local laws regarding these devices. Depending on laws and FAA regulations, you may be prohibited from flying your drone in certain areas.
Q. What are some of the best brands of drones?
A. Given the popularity of drones, plenty of manufacturers have decided to dabble in this market. Naturally, some manufacturers produce better drones than others.
To ensure you get a drone that operates smoothly, we recommend buying one from a respected manufacturer. And should you ever need repair, you're more likely to receive great customer support from a drone manufacturer that excels in the field.
Some of the best brand names in the drone world include DBPOWER, DJI, Holy Stone, Parrot, Syma, UDI, and 3D Robotics.