We spent weeks buzzing the best kid-friendly drones around the office, flying them outside, and with those that have cameras, capturing footage. After 100 hours of flight time, we found the perfect drone for every child, whether they want something small and nimble that they can weave through a homemade obstacle course, or are aching to see what the front yard looks like from the sky. There are a lot of inexpensive drones available today. However, many of them provide somewhat disappointing flight experiences. We can help you avoid those duds and instead gain hours of fun.
The Ryze Tello is extremely unique when it comes to drone choices for kids because it is one of only a few models with accurate flight stabilization sensors without an exorbitant price tag. We haven't found another model within this price range that a new drone operator is able to smoothly launch into a steady hover and then fly straight ahead in a line. The other models we tested don't have active stabilization; you have to practice consistently to achieve control while flying. Because of the active stabilization, the Ryze Tello provides kids and newbies with immediate flying fun without a major learning curve. There is also a trusty camera that will allow for fresh perspectives on familiar places.
The biggest drawback of the Ryze Tello is that there is no physical controller; instead, it is flown with virtual joysticks on your phone's touchscreen. This makes the flight less engaging than with a controller in hand. Still, if you really want the full immersive experience and have additional funds to spend, you can purchase a compatible Bluetooth gaming controller. The Ryze Tello's recorded video comes across as pretty choppy but isn't any worse than most other models at this price point. Overall, this is an excellent drone for kids, and with an additional Bluetooth gaming controller, the Ryze Tello is pretty much flawless.
As noted above, the Ryze Tello is innovative in its offer of flight stabilization sensors at a low price point. With the push of a button, it hovers and flies as expected. The other low-cost designs we tested are more of a learn-as-you-go foray into drone flight. You have to develop some skills and practice joystick feathering to fly most of them into a steady hover. This also applies when trying to fly them in an orderly style — it takes a few practice flights to get it under control. This added challenge can be fun (we've flown the EACHINE around for hours), but if you want something inexpensive and super easy to fly right out of the box, the best choice is the Tello.
There's nothing quite like buzzing a tiny quadcopter around inside your house, and the EACHINE E010 Mini provides that entertainment at a rock bottom price. The included remote lets you fly with intuitive joystick controls. It has a beginner mode setting that scales the power back a bit and makes flying much easier. Then once you feel you've graduated to the next level, you can switch it up to advanced mode for the extra speed. If you like to tinker, there are many online tutorials about adding a camera that turns this drone into a first-person view flyer.
The main shortcoming of the EACHINE E010 Mini is its short battery life. In beginner mode, flight times average about five minutes per charge. Fly fast, and you'll get an even shorter flying time than that. You can circumvent this issue by keeping some spare batteries on hand and swapping them out frequently. If you're the do-it-yourself type, you can also find numerous online tutorials for rigging this model with larger batteries.
For those that want to fly an aerial camera at a bargain price, the DBPower X400W FPV is a great choice. At an impressively low cost, you get both a physical remote control and a real-time video feed to your smartphone, which makes for an interesting and fun flying experience. It also offers a beginner-friendly headless mode that can make it more intuitive to fly. There is even the option of pairing the drone with a third-party first-person view headset to make it feel like you're actually in the cockpit.
Before buying this drone, there are a couple of things to take into consideration. First, it requires some assembly before it can lift off the ground. For some kids, this could be fun; for others, just an obstacle to the fun. Also, the small camera produces grainy images, even when viewed on a small phone screen. However, we don't feel like this takes away from the experience of getting a real-time video feed while flying. So if that's what you're after, this quadcopter is a great deal.
The Holy Stone HS160 Shadow provides a decent camera and a slightly lagging real-time video downlink (with the use of a smartphone), all in a package that can fold down into a profile slim enough to fit in the back pocket of your jeans. It boasts a maximum flight time of 8 minutes and includes a spare battery, so you can keep the fun going even longer. 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.
As with all models in this price range, the video from the Holy Stone HS160 Shadow is usable, but certainly not high-def. There is also a trade-off in durability due to its small size — it feels a bit flimsier than most other models on this list. Finally, it does not have a headless mode. This is fine once you get the hang of flying, but many beginners appreciate having a headless mode when they're first learning to fly.
The TOZO Q1012 X8tw is a perfect pick for people on the go. It folds down into a tiny package that can easily fit in 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. Three flight modes allow for different flying experiences, 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 higher-end price tag.
Short battery life is one of our biggest gripes with drones, and such is the case for the TOZO Q1012 X8tw. The average flight time before needing a recharge for most users was around 5 minutes. Most models in this price range can get 8-9 minutes. While it may not sound like a huge difference, that extra 3-4 minutes can feel like an eternity. This is particularly true if you have some not-so-patient kids waiting an hour for the battery to charge. Like all the other drones in this price range, the video quality is mediocre when viewed on a small screen. Try watching on anything larger than a smartphone, and it quickly gets pixelated.
Better Video in a Durable Package, but Without A Real-Time View
Nudging right up against our price 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 beginners find more intuitive. Both the propellers and prop guards are very flexible, meaning the drone will bend rather than break in most crashes. Although the maximum flight time is an average of 8 minutes, the drone comes with a spare battery and a portable battery charger, so you can keep the fun going for hours.
While the UDI U818A does have a relatively good camera, the sensor is quite small, so you have to manage your expectations. The video and photos it produces are pretty good, certainly better than those from the DBPower X400X FPV and about the same with those from the TOZO Q1012 X8tw, but they will 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. Finally, the UDI lacks any sort of fight stabilizing sensors, which make a world of difference on the identically priced Ryze Tello. So while the UDI is a good choice if you can find it on sale, if you're paying full price and had to pick between the two, we suggest going with the Ryze Tello instead.
While teeny tiny models like the EACHINE E010 Mini are fun to fly around the living room, sometimes you just want something that can handle the larger space of the backyard without worry about light breezes or minor crashes. That's where the Syma X5A-1 comes into play. It provides a 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 get oriented more easily.
The Syma X5A-1 lacks some of the other drones' accouterments in this size class, like a camera or extended battery life. The battery maxes out at 5 minutes of flight time, which is well short of the 8-10 minutes you can find on other similarly sized models. These shortcomings, however, are accurately reflected in the Syma's price. It sells for about half of what those camera-equipped, higher-stamina models cost.
For those that look around your house and see obstacle courses ready to be flown through, the Holy Stone HS170 Predator is a fun little hummingbird to buzz around. In our testing, we found its flight performance to be on par with that of other comparable models and that it could stand up to the beating of failed attempts to shoot that gap between the lamp and bookshelf. Its battery supplies up to 8 minutes of flight time (depending on how aggressively you're flying) and charges up in just 50 minutes. If you want to keep the fun rolling, spare batteries are fairly inexpensive.
The biggest downside of this drone is its price. It generally sells for a good bit more than the similarly performing EACHINE E010 Mini. Plus, the Predator's controller requires 6 AA batteries — three times as many as the EACHINE. Since both of these drones perform very similarly, we only suggest getting the Predator over the EACHINE if you can find it on sale.
Authors Max Mutter and Steven Tata have extensive experience with drones of all shapes, sizes, and price ranges. In the last four years, they've personally flown more than 40 different models, from expensive behemoths that wouldn't be out of place on a Hollywood film set to tiny $20 mosquitoes that lend themselves to indoor flying fun. Thus, they know what to look for in a budget drone, whether you're just hoping for some fun shenanigans or you want something that could be a stepping stone towards a more ambitious quadcopter.
This review represents more than 100 hours of flying small drones around the office and front yard (weather permitting). We also researched more than 100 of the most promising inexpensive drones on the market, wading through loads of duds before finding the ones most likely to provide our readers with a fun and enjoyable flying experience.
How to Choose a Drone
Drones are becoming more and more common, and it probably won't be too long before a friendly, four-rotor flier delivers your pizza. Now you can get in on all the flying fun for just a double-digit price. Like all inexpensive electronics, however, drones in this price range differ widely in quality. We've curated a list of our favorite inexpensive models and have compiled some useful buying advice to help you in your quest for some affordable aerial fun.
A Tip for New and Aspiring Pilots
This review focuses on drones with low list prices. In contrast, most consumer-level camera drones cost 5 to even 20 times as much. Spending more can open up whole worlds of capability, specifically producing a video that is worthy of being watched on a big high definition screen and not just your smartphone. Starting with an inexpensive model is the perfect way to gauge if you want to take the leap and spend the big bucks and also a good way to get your feet wet as a novice flier.
Pros of Drones for Kids
The biggest advantage of drones geared towards kids is that they are generally smaller, lighter, and less expensive than the more advanced models. This means they tend to stand up a bit better to crashes and don't present as big of a tragedy if they don't survive an accidental run-in with a tree.
Cons of Drones for kids
Most drones designed for kids lack any of the flight stabilization sensors found in higher-end models (the Ryze Tello being a notable exception). While this lack of stability creates a much more wild, video game-esque flying experience, it can be frustrating for kids that can't quickly get a feel for piloting such erratic vehicles.
Although many kid's drones include cameras, pixelated and choppy video is typically the standard. Though those cameras can still offer kids interesting perspectives of otherwise familiar places, in a day and age full of high-definition screens, some kids will find that footage to be disappointingly dull.
Finally, the smaller size of kid's drones tends to equate to smaller batteries resulting in flight times generally maxed out in the neighborhood of 5-9 minutes. Therefore, it might be a good idea to consider investing in some extra batteries from the beginning.
A Real Remote Control is the Way to Go
Many manufacturers keep their kid-friendly drones inexpensive by not including a remote control and instead opt for a smartphone-based app. This is fine if you're flying something very stable like the Ryze Tello, but most inexpensive drones require you to make lots of quick adjustments to keep them flying straight. It's very hard to make those sorts of quick adjustments using virtual joysticks on a touchscreen because they don't provide any tactile feedback. Therefore, for the vast majority of models in this range, we suggest choosing one that comes with a physical controller.
What is a Headless Flight Mode?
One of the hardest things for new fliers is keeping track of the orientation of their drone and adjusting the use of the controller accordingly. For example, if your quadcopter is facing you, pushing the joystick away from you will make it fly towards you, and pulling the joysticks towards yourself will make it fly away from you. This can be completely counterintuitive when you first get your hands on a controller. Headless flight modes force the drone itself to readjust so that, regardless of its orientation, pushing the joystick away will make it fly away, and pulling the joystick back will make it fly towards you.
Headless flight modes can make things feel a lot more intuitive for beginners. On the other hand, it can cause some models to be a bit less responsive because the drone has to constantly recalculate to make sure your controls stay constant as it spins.
Do I Need a Camera?
This depends on the kind of experience you think your child will enjoy. The quality of the cameras on models in this price range tends to be quite low, so if your child is more interested in aerial acrobatics than seeing things from a new vantage point, a camera is going to be superfluous. However, if your child has any sort of interest in photography, we think that the relatively grainy footage produced by the camera-toting models we tested will provide a fun and entertaining addition to their drone flying experience.
Get Some Spare Batteries, You'll Be Happy You Did
Most of these models have maximum flight times of around 5-9 minutes, followed by an hour to recharge. Five minutes of flying followed by an hour of waiting isn't exactly a tremendous fun-to-boredom ratio, so you'll probably want to get a spare battery or two so you can avoid feeling like the fun ended while it barely got started. Some models come with two batteries in the box, and the UDI U818A even has a portable charger so you can top up your batteries while on the go.
Drones designed for kids can provide hours of entertainment for both young and old and can serve as a low-cost 'trial period' before making a bigger investment in a high-end model. Like all electronics, however, 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!