Cheap drones allow you to get the thrill of controlling a high-speed airborne vehicle without completely emptying your wallet. We understand the word “cheap” is relative, so we’ve given ourselves a price cap of $200. Many of our recommendations fall well under $100, though. We were surprised at how many drones are offered in this price range given the technology required to make them, and were pleased that many companies were able to make ones without very many compromises.
If you’ve never flown a drone before, getting a cheap drone will allow you to learn how to control this style of vehicle, which can be tricky for first timers. You can decide whether to upgrade to a more expensive model after a few months of drone flights, or figure out which features matter most to you as we delve i to the best cheap drones.
Do You Need To Register Your Drone With The FAA?
The FAA has strict guidelines on flying drones, but none of the models we’re recommending in this buyer’s guide meet the requirements for registration. Only drones that weigh over 55 pounds are legally mandated to be registered. You may need to get special permission from your local municipality if you’re planning on flying your drone for commercial purposes, and we recommend you review the FAA’s surprisingly easy to understand website, which addresses most people’s common questions on the topic.
While you don’t have to register any of the drones in this guide, you are on the hook for following some general rules set by the FAA regarding recreational drone flying. These rules include keeping your drone within your line of sight, not flying your drone under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and avoiding other aircrafts.
How We Picked the Best Cheap Drones
Our cheap drone recommendations are based on a mix of research and hands-on testing. Below are the factors we considered most highly when deciding which cheap drones to include in this buyer's guide.
Size: All of our drone recommendations are under one and a half feet long, and weigh under five pounds. This means you can easily carry them in a backpack and store them in a closet between flights. We made the decision to favor smaller drones because they’re a better option for hobbyists who may be trying a drone for the first time.
Camera: Most of the drones in our guide are equipped with a camera, which allows you to record aerial video of the area you’re flying in. The quality of the cameras differs from drone to drone, but we made sure to only select models that can record in either 1080p (Full HD) or 4K, so the footage will look clean when viewed on a big screen TV.
Battery Life: You should expect to get about 20 minutes of flight time with the drones in this guide before their battery needs to be recharged. That may surprise you if you’re a first-time drone owner, but it’s the standard for models in this size class.
Auto-Return: Some of the drones we’ve selected have a feature called “auto-return,” which allows it to navigate back to your location when it loses its connection to your smartphone. You should never lose sight of your drone (per the FAA’s rules), but this is a handy feature to have if that happens.
Accessories: Many drone makers bundle their device with accessories, like extra batteries or a carrying case, so you’ll have everything you need to use and maintain your device. We paid attention to which companies were the most generous, as it increases the overall value of the drone itself.
Best Cheap Drones: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: Holy Stone HS175D
Why It Made The Cut: The Holy Stone HS175D’s advanced video features and excellent battery life make it an excellent choice for videographers and hobbyists alike.
— Weight: .47 pounds
— Battery Life: 23 minutes
— Camera Resolution: 4K
— High-resolution camera
— Auto-return support
— Excellent battery life
Holy Stone’s HS175D is an incredible deal for anyone looking for a cheap drone. This is the only drone in our guide that can record video in 4K, which means your videos will look extremely clean and professional from your first flight. It comes bundled with two batteries, which give it a combined flight time of 46 minutes, and a number of smart features that make using it a lot easier. It supports auto-return, which is helpful if you lose track of your drone, but we’re more impressed by its follow me and circle flight modes.
Follow me mode allows you to set the drone to follow your movements, which it can detect because it’s paired to your phone. Using this feature is helpful if you’d like the drone to record footage of you while you bike, skateboard, or perform other outdoor activities. “Circle fly” mode allows you to automatically fly the drone around a specific point, which will let you get a 360-degree view of a person or thing from an elevated angle. Both of these features are incredibly useful tools for videographers, and require no manual control, so you’ll end up with perfect results every time.
The HS175D comes bundled with a traveling case with slots for the drone and its included batteries. The drone’s wings fold inward, which makes the HS175D’s footprint really small. If you don’t mind spending a little extra on your cheap drone, this one from Holy Stone is our top recommendation. It’s also worth noting that the HS175D is $30 cheaper than normal at the time of publication, so it’s an even better deal right now.
Best Budget: Hilldow D13
Why It Made The Cut: Hilldow’s D13 can hold its own when directly compared to drones twice its price.
— Weight: .95 pounds
— Battery Life: Eight minutes
— Camera Resolution: 1080P
— Small size
— Gesture Selfie mode
— Battery life
Hilldow’s D13 is a surprisingly feature-rich drone considering its sub-$50 price tag. It has a 1080P camera, which is common for drones in this price range, and should still produce high-quality results in favorable lighting conditions. It doesn’t have an auto-return mode, but you can trigger a selfie if you show the drone an open palm, which is a neat feature. This is also the first drone in Hilldow’s lineup that uses infrared sensors to avoid obstacles, which is very nice to see in a budget-friendly device.
Our only qualm with the Hilldow D13 is its low battery life. It can only fly for up to 10 minutes in “low speed mode” or eight minutes if you fly in its medium and high modes. Hilldow combats this limitation head on by bundling the drone with three batteries, but the best-case scenario is that you can use this drone for up to 30 minutes at a time. That’s sufficient for short video shoots or short bursts of backyard fun, but we’d have preferred if the flight time was a little longer. The D13 also comes with a compact carrying case.
If you’re only interested in flying your drone every once in a while, and keep its batteries charged up, the Hilldow D13 is a good choice.
Best for Video: Potensic T25 GPS Drone
Why It Made The Cut: The Potensic T25’s video features make it an indispensable tool for anyone shooting footage outdoors.
— Weight: .55 pounds
— Battery Life: 10 minutes
— Camera Resolution: 2K
— 2K camera
— Smart flying modes
— Protection guards
— Battery life
Videographers who plan on making extensive use of drone shots for their videos should consider Potensic’s T25 before any other cheap drones. On the hardware side, this drone has a 2K camera, which will record higher-than-HD video. This is paired with excellent software that includes the same auto-return and follow me modes found in our top cheap drone pick. But the T25 also has a “Waypoint Fly” mode, which allows you to create a flight path for the drone by selecting different points on the map in Potensic’s app.
If you’re recording a scene where you’d like to get footage of two people, or a survey of different places in a large area, Waypoint Mode lets you do that without having to fiddle around with the drone’s controller. This ensures you’ll get the result you want instead of having to do copious reshoots. These features are helpful because the Potensic T25’s battery life is only so-so. You’ll get 30 minutes of flight time with the drone, but won’t be restricted to a low-power mode like those who opt for Hilldow’s D13 drone.
The ability to get the most out of your drone’s time in the sky is key, especially if you’re working on a set with an impending deadline. If you’re trying to get the right shots at an important time of day — sunrise or sunset especially — the T25 can deliver the goods. It’s a little pricier than many of our other cheap drone recommendations, but it’s worth the extra cost.
Best for Kids: AVIALOGIC Mini Drone
Why It Made The Cut: The AVIALOGIC Mini Drone can be outfitted with guards that prevent the machine’s blades from coming into contact with younger flyers.
— Weight: .71 pounds
— Battery Life: 10 minutes per battery
— Camera Resolution: 7200P
— Protective shields
— Voice control
— Not the most powerful
Drones are classified as toys, but they can cause damage if they crash into you, which makes them unsafe for kids. Avialogic solved this issue by bundling its mini drone with shields that attach to the drone’s wings, and sit under the blades. The drone’s blades cannot hit the child from above or the sides when these guards are attached to it.
On a technical level, the Avialogic Mini Drone isn’t very advanced, but that’s fine given the drone is designed for kids. The drone’s 720P camera will still produce okay results, and its two batteries give the drone a total flight time of 20 minutes. We appreciate the fact that this drone has three flight modes, so parents can have some say in how fast it moves.
This drone’s standout feature is the ability to control it using your voice via the microphone in your smartphone. Simple commands like “fly” and “land” can help make using the drone a little easier for first-time flyers. If your child is struggling with using this drone’s controller, you can help them draw a path for the machine on its corresponding smartphone app.
If your kid has been asking for a drone but you’re concerned about safety, we highly recommend this model from Avialogic.
Best Mini: DoDoeleph Syma X20 Mini Pocket Drone
Why It Made The Cut: DoDoeleph’s Syma X20 is small enough to fit into a pants pocket, and doesn’t require a smartphone to work.
— Weight: .01 pounds
— Battery Life: Five minutes
— Camera Resolution: N/A
— Pocket-friendly size
— USB charging
— No phone required
— No camera
DoDoeleph’s Syma X20 is arguably the most interesting drone in this guide because of its extremely small size. It’s tiny enough to fit in a pants pocket, so you can take it with you anywhere, and even fly it indoors (carefully). The Syma X20 is the only drone we’re recommending that doesn’t have a camera, but that’s understandable given how tiny it is.
The X20 has a flight time of five minutes, but can be recharged using its included USB cable. If you take the drone on a trip, you can top it up several times using a power bank. This is also the only drone we’re recommending that doesn’t require a smartphone to work. Instead, you can simply use its included controller. Its functions are limited — you won’t find features like auto-return here — but it all comes down to the Syma X20’s size.
If you’re looking for a fun toy to keep yourself and others entertained at family functions, or want a way to de-stress that’s cooler than squeezing a stress ball, DoDoeleph’s Syma X20 is the answer.
Things to Consider Before Buying the Best Cheap Drones
Smartphone Requirement: Most of the drones we recommend require you to set them up using an app on your iPhone or Android device. This is a requirement, as it’s the only way to monitor your drone’s location, monitor what’s being captured by its camera, and transfer the footage back to your smartphone.
Your smartphone and drone communicate with each other on a 2.4GHz or 5.0GHz frequency band, which is typically used to connect your device to a WiFi router. These wireless frequencies have a far greater range than Bluetooth, which is preferable for drones because they’re designed to be relatively far away from you.
Memory Cards: Drones store the video they capture onto a memory card rather than storage built into the device itself. You’ll need to buy this accessory yourself, and we recommend getting a card that can hold at least 64 GB (gigabytes) of data because video files can get fairly large. You don’t want to have to pause between every flight because your drone’s memory card is full.
Q: Do I need to register my drone if I only use it in my backyard?
No. As long as you follow the FAA’s general rules on recreational drone flying, you’ll be fine.
Q: Can the FAA track my drone?
No. The FAA can only track drones that were registered with the governmental body.
Q: Are drones waterproof?
No. We recommend you avoid flying your drone over large bodies of water to avoid it falling in. If that happens, your drone may be permanently damaged.
Q: How long should I expect my cheap drone to last?
This is entirely dependent on how careful you are when flying your drone. If it gets wet, or you crash it into trees or other hard, stationary objects, your drone can be broken beyond repair in just a few flights. If you’re careful, your drone should last a few years.
Q: Can my drone hurt someone?
Yes. If your drone crashes into someone, it can hurt them. The severity will depend on the current speed of your drone, and where they’re hit.
Q: How do I recycle my old drone?
If you're replacing an older drone with one of our recommendations, we recommend reading our guide on how to responsibly dispose of e-waste.
Related: The Best Drones
Best Cheap Drones: Final Thoughts
Cheap drones are a cool toy for older kids or adults looking for an interesting outdoor hobby, but we recommend them most highly to budding videographers. An inexpensive drone will allow you to capture professional-looking video from vantage points you wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise.
We were continuously amazed at the drone hardware we were able to find for under $200, especially considering the portability of the models we ultimately recommended. In some cases, we directly compared models released one year apart from one another before making our final selection, which allowed us to better understand the annual improvements to cheap drones. The biggest gains happened in the battery life department, which is one of the factors we deemed most important when compiling this guide. We can definitively say that there’s never been a better time to fly a cheap drone, so prepare for takeoff.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.