Little Wings: The 8 Best Drones for Beginners

If you’re like most people, your first car was a beater, because odds were pretty good it was going to end up in a ditch somewhere. Your first bike was likely a hand-me-down from an older sibling, and your first computer was a Commodore 64. The point is, firsts are usually meant to be abused while you’re still learning. They shouldn’t cost you a fortune, and shouldn’t cause you to gnash your teeth or rend your hair if they get lost or broken. Your first UAV, quadcopter, or drone for beginners shouldn’t be any different. It should be inexpensive and ready for abuse.

Your first drone needs to allow you to hone your skills. You can get something dirt cheap that is more toy than Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, but it isn’t going to give you the abilities required. It should be responsive enough that it can grow with you, durable enough to take a licking and keep on flying – because crash it you almost certainly will – and it should have fewer features, since those often detract from the experience of the newbie. So that you don’t waste money, but still find your sweet spot, we found the 8 best drones for beginners to start on their quadcopter pilot’s license.

Hubsan Q4 Nano

Hubsan Q4 Nano

Pro: Front and rear lights show drone orientation
Con: Cannot work outside

Tiny Dancer: Normally we wouldn’t suggest that any beginner start off their quest for drone supremacy with a miniature, since they are less stable, harder to fly, and easier to damage. Many of your skills aren’t going to translate into their larger brothers and cousins, either, so starting on a micro will often leave you on one, but the Q4 Nano isn’t quite as esoteric. It has a larger model, the standard X4 that is often touted as a great learner UAV, and the Nano is just a smaller version of that. It is one of the smallest 2.4Ghz quadcopters available.

Purchase: $33

Hubsan FPV X4 Mini RTF Quadcopter

Hubsan FPV X4 Mini RTF Quadcopter

Pro: Saves pictures to an SD card
Con: Gyro stabilizer is passable, but adjustment is weak

Most for the Money: Made with rubber feet for soft landings, color-coded LED lights along with rotor blades of red and black to show the direction this is facing, it’s obviously meant for the beginner who doesn’t know whether their drone is coming or going. With a 4GHz RC controller remote, bearing a range of about 30 meters and a 7 minute flight time, you can get just enough distance without it being able to get away from you. You also get a front-mounted FPV camera that shoots well enough for a 640 x 480 pixel camcorder stuck to a flying hairdryer.

Purchase: $41

Syma X5C

Syma X5C Explorers Quad Copter Drone

Pro: Unbeatable value
Con: Hard to determine orientation, especially at height / distance

Get the Shot: If you one day yearn to buy one of the $1,200 Phantom Vision R/C drones then this is going to be the place to start. The Syma X5C uses a plethora of cheap parts tarted up to look like the Phantom, so while it is a knock-off, it’s ideal for getting you used to piloting a basic drone with a camera. It also has propeller guards, which is unusual on a camera drone, so you can fly it indoors or outside. Just don’t expect gorgeous footage.

Purchase: $49

Air Hogs Helix X4 Stunt

Air Hogs Helix X4 Stunt

Pro: Never marks walls or ceilings
Con: Loud screaming operation noise

Utterly Harmless: Surrounded entirely with black styrofoam, you’re not going to really impress anyone with the look of the X4 Stunt. On the flip side, you can whip it into your plasma TV at full speed without fearing that it is going to wreck it. Outside of homes with tons of urns from the Ming dynasty or shelves full of Hummel figurines, this isn’t able to hurt much of anything. It can even work outdoors if you like, but is mostly for kids or adults who tend to run toward the reckless or clumsy.

Purchase: $58

UDI U818A

UDI U818A Quadcopter

Pro: Many cheap, easily replaceable parts
Con: Camera is a 640×480 grainy mess that just adds weight

Safe and Sound: The first trick to learning how to fly a drone is just teaching yourself how to avoid crashes. Often, this is accomplished by smashing it into something over and over again. That’s why the U818A is a beloved choice for a beginner’s drone. The rotors are protected by large guards that also add flight stability for a smoother, more professional flying appearance thanks to the 6 axis gyro stabilization. Cheap parts such as the rotor blades and guards can easily be replaced, and will absorb a lot of punishment before they let the more expensive pieces bear the brunt of an impact.

Purchase: $73

Dromida Ominus

Dromida Ominus

Pro: Grows with you into the intermediate stage
Con: Motors tend to burn out rapidly

Stunt Flight Trainer: If you’re less interested in shooting video than you are in learning to get some really good aerial acrobatics out of your beginner’s drone, then the Ominus is the way to go. It has a body like a preying mantis that keeps the weight at the absolute minimum while permitting the long limbs to create a stable balance that can really spin and flip in the hands of an experienced user. You can also get about 15 full minutes of flight off a charge, which is astounding for such an agile craft.

Purchase: $75

Blade Nano QX

Blade Nano QX

Pro: Let’s you turn off the safety for more impressive flights
Con: Powerful motors and weak chassis make it easy to damage

No Greenhorn: If you’ve already logged a little time fiddling with aerial or even ground-based drones and know your way around an RC vehicle, then you can skip right into the Blade Nano QX. Bringing a little less safety but a lot more power and ability, this uses full hobby grade motors to run it, not reconditioned motors meant for running small fans. Start it in beginner mode for more stability, then switch to pro for a few outdoor stunts and a little more freedom to roam.

Purchase: $90

Ei-Hi S911C Huge

Ei-Hi S911C Huge

Pro: High stability platform
Con: Very large

Super Sized: For a little more money the Huge is a hulking brute for those who want to perfect their outdoor skills and learn to deal with rougher weather while still mastering their camerawork and stunt flying. The greater heft and size of the body give it enhanced protection from brambles and branches while simultaneously bringing in the power needed for spins, flips, or lugging around an action camera. It has a 6 axis gyro stability control that keeps its posture perfect when engaged so it can’t get tipped topsy-turvy when the wind picks up.

Purchase: $155

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