Best Drones Under $100
Looking for an inexpensive aerial toy? While full fledged camera drones offer longer flight times and cinematic quality video, their cheaper counterparts can be much more fun to fly, if nothing else because a serious crash doesn't mean losing hundreds of dollars. Apart from just being plain fun, inexpensive drones can be a great, risk free way to test the waters and see if you actually want to make an investment in a high end model. Some sub $100 drones even have cameras, so you can get a feel for being an aerial videographer without breaking the bank. We combined meticulous research with our experience conducting hands on camera drone reviews to bring you a list of the best drones under $100. Whether you're looking for a fun toy for the kids to play with, or want to dip your toes into the world of camera drones, we can help you find the perfect quadcopter.
Most complaints you'll find about sub $100 drones is that someone flew their cousin's/uncle's/sister-in-law's $1000 drone, and by comparison the cheaper models are impossible to fly. That's because high end models have a myriad of sensors (both optical and GPS) and internal algorithms that lock them into a stable, predictable hover as a default. More inexpensive models lack these sensors and offer a much more by-the-seat-of-your-pants flying experience. That experience is still fun and, with a little practice, you can pull off some crazy maneuvers. Just don't expect to be able to put one of these models into a perfect hover right out of the box.
Aerial Video at a Bargain Price
DBPOWER X400W FPV
If you're looking for an introduction to aerial videography, the DBPOWER X400W FPV is the perfect first step. It utilizes the same remote control with smartphone video feed interface that full fledged camera drones use, so you can get used to flying with a camera. If you're having some trouble getting the orientation down, it also offers a beginner friendly headless flight mode. This essentially calibrates the drone so that the remote control always treats the side facing away from you as the front, which can be less confusing when you're flying around in circles. If you really want an immersive experience, you can pair this drone with third party first person view headsets and feel like you're actually flying.
Beginner friendly flight
Camera with real time video feed
Camera quality is mediocre
Some assembly required
The DBPOWER X400W FPV has two minor downsides. The first is that it ships in multiple pieces, so you have to do a little construction work before you can get it flying. This process is fairly easy, but it does rob you of that fun straight out of the box satisfaction. The camera is also quite small and thus fairly low quality. You can still take some cool shots and flying with the real time video feed is fun, but if you view those videos on anything larger than a smartphone they look quite grainy.
Read review: DBPOWER X400W FPV
Most Fun Per Dollar
EACHINE E010 Mini
There's nothing quite like buzzing a tiny quadcopter around your house, and the EACHINE E010 Mini provides that entertainment at a rock bottom price. The included remote control lets you fly with intuitive joystick controls. It has a beginner mode that ramps the power back a bit and makes flying much easier, and an advanced mode for once you earn your pilot wings and develop a need for speed. If you like to tinker, there are many online tutorials about how to add a camera to this drone and turn it into a first person view flyer if you start craving a new flying experience.
Just plain fun
Somewhat short battery life
By far the least attractive quality of the EACHINE E010 Mini is its battery life. In beginner mode flight times top out at around 5 minutes per charge, and can be even shorter if you're flying fast. You can somewhat get around this by buying some spare batteries. Again, if you fancy yourself handy, there are also plenty of online tutorials for rigging the EACHINE E010 Mini with larger batteries.
Read review: EACHINE E010 Mini
Simple and Durable Flying Fun
Holy Stone HS170 Predator
If you're looking for something that is simple and fun to fly, you can't do much better than the Holy Stone HS170 Predator. This tiny firefly of a drone offers quick and responsive flight. With a little practice you'll have it weaving figure 8's around your furniture. The included remote control is fairly intuitive and mimics those of larger models. It also can stand up to some pretty nasty crashes, and comes with an extra set of blades in case you do manage to break a propeller. The maximum flight time of 8 minutes gives enough time for some fun aerial maneuvers before a 50 minute recharge cycle. If you're the impatient type, you can buy extra batteries to keep the fun rolling. Holy Stone also offers great and responsive customer service in case anything goes amiss.
Easy to fly (once configured)
Great customer service
Initial configuration can be a little finicky
The biggest problem facing the Holy Stone HS170 Predator is a tendency to lurch forward during flight. This can be fixed by properly calibrating the drone, which involves holding the joystick down and to the left before you take off. When this is done the quadcopter is quite stable, but if you are so excited to fly that you don't read the manual, you may be left thinking you've purchased a dud. It also lacks a camera, which may be a dealbreaker for some. If you like Holy Stone and want a camera you can upgrade to the Holy Stone F181, but it generally sells for just over $100 and thus was not included in this review.
Foldable and Portable with a Decent Camera
TOZO Q1012 X8tw
Perfect for people who are on the go, the TOZO Q1012 X8tw folds down into a tiny package that can easily be tossed into a backpack. It also features a camera and a real-time video downlink that lets you see what the camera is seeing as you're recording. It also has three flight modes, including a beginner friendly headless mode that orients the drone based on which way the pilot is facing. All this functionality can give you a feel for what flying a higher end camera drone is like, but without the big price tag.
Easy to fly
Real-time video downlink
Folds up small
Mediocre battery life
The TOZO Q1012 X8tw's biggest downside is its battery life. Most users get around 5 minutes of flight time before needing a recharge, whereas most models in this range can get 8-9 minutes. That may not sound like a big difference, but that extra 3-4 minutes can feel like an eternity, especially if you've had some not so patient kids waiting an hour for the battery to charge. Also, like all models in this price range, the video this drone produces is ok if viewed on a small screen, but quickly gets pixelated if you move to anything larger than a smartphone.
Better Video in a Durable Package, But Without A Real-time View
Nudging right up against our $100 limit, the UDI U818A carries one of the best cameras we've seen on a drone in this price range. It has two flight modes: a beginner and video friendly slow mode, and a full speed mode for whipping around the trees in the backyard. If you're having trouble staying oriented it also has a headless mode, which orients the drone based on the position of the controller, something many people find much more intuitive. Both the propellers and prop guards are very flexible, meaning the drone will bend rather than break in most crashes. Though the maximum flight time is an average 8 minutes, the drone comes with a spare battery and a portable battery charger, so you can keep the fun going for hours.
Easy to fly
Lots of accessories included
Comparatively good video
No of real-time video downlink
Large Controller not great for small hands
While the UDI U818A does have a relatively good camera, it still has quite a small sensor, so you have to keep your expectations realistic. The video and photos it produces are pretty good, certainly better than those from the DBPOWER X400X FPV and about even with those from the TOZO Q1012 X8tw, but they still look grainy on anything larger than a smartphone screen. You also don't get a real-time video feed, so you're essentially shooting video blind. The DBPOWER and the TOZO both let you see what you're filming while you're filming it.
Fun and Durable in a Larger Size
While teeny tiny models like the EACHINE E010 Mini are fun to fly around the living room, sometimes you just want something that you can zip around the backyard and not worry about light breezes or minor crashes. That's where the Syma X5A-1 comes in. It provides fun, worry free flight in a size that makes it feel like you're flying a real piece of machinery rather than a tiny toy. It also has a headless flight mode so that beginners can more easily get oriented.
Fun and simple
Mediocre battery life
The biggest knocks against the Syma X5A-1 are its lack of a camera and its relatively short, 5-minute battery life. If you're just looking for a fun flying experience, you won't miss having a camera, but you might miss those few extra minutes of flying while you're waiting for the battery to recharge.
Camera with Real-Time Feed in a Super Portable Package
Holy Stone HS160 Shadow
A relative newcomer to the inexpensive drone world, the Holy Stone HS160 Shadow provides a decent camera and a slightly lagging real-time video downlink (with the use of a smartphone) in a package that can fold down into a profile so slim you can put it in the back pocket of your jeans. It also boasts a maximum flight time of 8 minutes, and it comes with a spare battery, so you can keep the fun going. If you want something with a camera that you can toss in your bag just in case the urge to fly strikes, this is a great choice.
Folds up very small
Has camera with real-time downlink
Comes with a spare battery
Not the most durable
No headless feature
Like all models in this price range, the video from the Holy Stone HS160 Shadow is usable, but certainly not high definition. You also get a bit of a trade off in durability due to its small size, it feels a bit flimsier than most of the other models on this list. Finally it does not have a headless mode. This is fine once you get used to flying, but many beginners appreciate having a headless mode when they're first learning to fly.
Read review: Holy Stone HS160 Shadow
Inexpensive Drone Buying Advice
Whether you call them drones, quadcopters, or unmanned aerial vehicles, four-rotored fliers have exploded in popularity in the last few years. Once the sole domain of professional filmmakers and the most dedicated hobbyists, you can now get in on the flying fun for less than a $100 bill.
There are, however, many pitfalls when going drone bargain hunting. Like all electronics, once you reach into the lower drone price range you must wade through a slew of smartly advertised yet poorly built knock-offs before you can find the few true gems. Luckily, we've already done that for you (see the list above). We've also compiled some helpful tips below on what to look for when shopping for an inexpensive drone.
A Tip for New and Aspiring Pilots
This review focuses on drones with list prices of less than $100. In contrast, most consumer level camera drones list for anywhere from $500 to $2000. Spending more can open up whole other worlds of capabilities, namely producing video that is worthy of being watched on a big high definition screen, but starting with a sub $100 model is the perfect way to gauge if you want to take the leap and spend the big bucks.
Pros of Inexpensive Drones
Inexpensive drones have the advantage of being, well, cheap. This means you can fly them relatively carefree without visions of your last paycheck crashing into a tree and going up in a cloud of smoke. Budget models are also a great way to hone your pilot skills before upgrading to one of the more expensive models. Some even have cameras, so you can get the full flying experience without making a huge financial commitment.
Cons of Inexpensive Drones
High end drones have an impressive amount of technology stuffed into their shells, which means they have a lot of capabilities that their cheaper siblings don't. Namely, they have sophisticated sensors that allow them to achieve a perfect, stable hover with no user input. With cheaper models you'll be doing a lot of feathering of the joysticks to get them to stay still. High end drones can also generally fly over a mile away from their controller and have batteries that last between 20 to 30 minutes. For sub $100 models those figures shrink to about 200 feet of range and 5-9 minutes of flight time per battery. Finally, high end models can produce beautiful, high definition video, while the footage from cheaper models generally doesn't fare well on anything larger than a smartphone screen.
The above video compares footage from one of the better sub $100 camera drones (left: Holy Stone HS160 Shadow) and one of the least expensive high end camera drones (right: DJI Phantom 3 Standard, lists for $500). You can see that the inexpensive drone video looks grainy and choppy compared to its high end sibling.
A Real Remote Control is the Way to Go
Many models shave their prices by using a smartphone app as a control instead of providing a physical remote control. You'll want to avoid those models at all costs. Even $500+ models that have fine tuned sensors and flight controls to keep their flight stable can be finicky to fly with a smartphone app, translate that to a cheap model without all the special flight hardware and you've got a recipe for some big crashes. Definitely opt for a model that includes its own remote control with real live joysticks.
What is a Headless Flight Mode?
Most models have different color LED lights to indicate the front and back of the quadcopter but if you've never flown before it can be surprising difficult to keep track of those lights once you take off. Headless flight modes orient the drone so that pushing the joystick forward also makes it fly away from you, and pushing the joystick back makes it fly towards you. This is somewhat limiting if you're trying to do some intricate maneuvers, but it can often make flying feel much more intuitive when you're just starting out.
Do I Need a Camera?
This sort of depends on your reason for buying a drone. Are you using it as a test run before investing in a high end model? In that case you'll definitely want a camera, and a real-time video downlink, so you can get the full experience. If you just want to have some fun zipping a drone around your backyard, you might as well save a few bucks and go with a cameraless model. If you're looking for an inexpensive way to get some aerial photos and videos, then definitely get a camera (having a real-time video downlink will make framing those shots much easier too). Just be sure to keep your expectations in check. Sub $100 drones generally have cameras with tiny lenses and sensors. Even if it technically is a 720p camera, shoving all those pixels onto a tiny sensor is not going to create a true HD image.
Get Some Spare Batteries, You'll be Happy You Did
Most models of this caliber have sub-10 minute flight times, so you'll be quite happy to have another fully charged battery ready to go in reserve. Some models come with a spare battery, and the UDI U818A even comes with a portable charger so you can have one battery charging while you're flying with the other.
Sub-$100 drones can provide hours of entertainment for both kids and adults, and can provide a low cost 'trial period' before making a big investment in a high end model. However, like all inexpensive electronics, you can easily buy a promising looking model that ends up being a piece of junk. So tread carefully, check out our recommendations, and get flying!
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata
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