The Best Drones for Kids of 2020
Related: The Best Drones of 2020
The Ryze Tello is something of an anomaly in the kid-friendly drone world, as it is one of the very few models on the market that manages to sport effective flight stabilization sensors while keeping its price tag reasonably low. As such, it is the only model we've found in this range that a true beginner can easily bring into a stable hover and then fly in a straight line. All the other models in this review lack any active stabilization and require a good bit of practice before one can fly them with any semblance of control. Thus, we think the Ryze Tello is the most likely to be fun right out of the box for kids. It also has a camera that is serviceable enough to give kids a new perspective on familiar places.
The biggest downside of the Ryze Tello is that it lacks a physical controller — you fly it using virtual joysticks on the touchscreen of your phone. In our experience, this is a much less immersive experience for kids. You can rectify this, however, by getting a compatible Bluetooth gaming controller, as long as you don't mind spending a little extra. The video captured on the Ryze Tello's camera also comes out quite choppy, but that is pretty standard for models in this price range. The Ryze Tello by itself is a great drone for kids, and if you add a Bluetooth gaming controller, it can become a perfect drone for kids.
Read review: Ryze Tello
As we said, the Ryze Tello is revolutionary in that it has flight stabilization sensors while keeping the cost impressively low. It hovers at the press of a button and flies predictably. The rest of the inexpensive models we tested offer a more fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type of experience. Getting any of them into a stable hover will require some skill and a lot of joystick feathering. Likewise, getting them to fly a controlled pattern will take some practice. The added challenge of this kind of flying can be fun (we've flown the EACHINE around for hours), but if you want something super easy to fly right out of the box, the best inexpensive choice is the Tello.
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 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 when 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 when you start craving a new flying experience.
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 they can be even shorter if you're flying fast. You can get around this somewhat by buying spare batteries. And if you fancy yourself handy, there are plenty of online tutorials for rigging the EACHINE E010 Mini with larger batteries.
Read review: EACHINE E010 Mini
For those that want the experience of flying an aerial camera around on the cheap, the DBPOWER X400W FPV is a great choice. For an impressively low price you get both a physical remote control and a realtime 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.
There are two things you should be aware of before buying this drone. First, it requires some assembly before it can take to the air. Although this could be a fun project for some kids, it may be a disappointing barrier in the way of flying fun for others. Also, the camera is quite small, so the resulting videos look quite grainy, 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 bargain.
Read review: DBPOWER X400W FPV
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 comes with 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 definition. There is also 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 the hang of flying, but many beginners appreciate having a headless mode when they're first learning to fly.
Read review: Holy Stone HS160 Shadow
Perfect for people on the go, the TOZO Q1012 X8tw folds down into a tiny package that fits 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.
The TOZO Q1012 X8tw's biggest downside is its battery life. Most users get around 5 minutes of flight time before they need to recharge, whereas most models in this price 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 have 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.
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 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 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 we definitely 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 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 get oriented more easily.
The Syma X5A-1 lacks some of the accouterments other drones in this size class have, 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, which is 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.
Read review: Holy Stone HS170 Predator
Why You Should Trust Us
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-rotored 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 very 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 inexpensive aerial fun.
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, namely producing a video that is worthy of being watched on a big high definition screen. Starting with an inexpensive model is the perfect way to gauge if you want to take the leap and spend the big bucks.
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, the video quality is generally pixelated and choppy. Though those cameras can still offer kids interesting perspectives of otherwise familiar places, in a world 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 necessitate smaller batteries, meaning flight times generally max out in the neighborhood of 5-9 minutes. Therefore, you might want 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. Instead, they 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 adjustment 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 to learn 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. However, it can make some models 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 cameras on models in this price range tend to be quite low quality, 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 keep the good times rolling. 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!
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata