Let’s get one thing straight, the last thing we want to do with our drones is crash, but it’s going to happen. Beginner pilots have a lot to learn, flying a quadcopter or similar drone is fairly easy, but mastering it can take some time.
We’ve discussed cheap drones, the ones that you can afford to crash, but we’re taking a different perspective here today, these are the drones, regardless price, that are the best drones for beginners.
Before we dive into our list of drones, let’s talk about your pre-flight procedures, as a well planned flight is often a safe and error free flight.
First up, know your local laws. In the United States all drones over 0.55lbs will need to be registered with the FAA before you fly. You will also have to follow a strict set of guidelines that ensure the safety of others. Update: FAA registration has been suspended. Check out the following:
Next up, basic safety and flight procedures. We preach time and again flying safely and legally in your area. Safety is easy with a few smart decisions. From there, ensuring your drone comes back in one piece is another topic. We have decent first flight procedures and a things not to do in the following links:
More than anything else, have some fun out there. Quadcopters and other small drones are so much fun to fly, offer an amazing camera experience and are easy to operate safely if you take your time.
Hubsan X4 H111
If you desire to start your piloting career indoors, or just want to test the waters with as small of a drone as possible, the Hubsan X4 H111 is a solid offering. There are quite a few nano drones on the market, most all offering up a similar experience, this Hubsan unit is the one on my desk.
It is not indestructible, but shows no signs of damage after many bumps into the ceiling and hard landings on the hard floors. I have not bumped into the wall yet, so I can’t rightly speak to that, but the idea remains the same, this is the size of drone that is fun to fly, but will cause little to no damage if crashed inside the house.
See also: Hubsan drones at CES 2017
I will not tell you that this is the sort of drone you should use to learn to fly. These nano drones are often twitchy and unbalanced, but they are quadcopters and they do fly, so if you can only take off in your living room, this is the size of drone for you.
Check out the Hubsan X4 H111 for $19 on Amazon today.
Syma produces many toy-class drones, but the X5C (look for the X5C-1, sometimes called the X5C Explorer) is the ideal starter drone. For a very low price point, you can be up in the air with this stable drone. The optional camera gives you a taste for aerial photography and the controls and responsiveness prepare you for more professional drones when you’re ready.
I am not going to lie, this drone was very fun to learn on, I was able to take risks without worry, as repairs are inexpensive and easy. That said, despite a few tangles with trees and some hard landings, my X5C is completely original. It feels like a cheap plastic toy in hand, but has proven one of the more resilient fliers in my arsenal.
Once you step up to a more capable drone, you may never fly your Syma X5C again, but the lessons learned on this low cost flier have been invaluable. Of all the drones on our list today, if you are a beginner, this quadcopter, or one like it, is my top recommendation for learning to fly.
Unique toys: Air Hogs drones
Please do not mistake any of these drones for high-quality fliers, however, if you have a small budget and just want to have some fun, there are some really cool ideas in the Air Hogs lineup.
All around fliers
DJI Mavic Pro
Update: DJI has announced the new Mavic Pro Platinum, an iterative update to the Mavic Pro, but a powerful one. New flight controllers and updated propellers make for longer and quieter flights. Stay tuned for more on the new Mavic Pro Platinum as we go.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, the DJI Mavic Pro is my all-time favorite drone. I can comfortably recommend this drone to anyone that wants a solid, reliable, functional and easy to use quadcopter. Let’s be fair, it practically flies itself, you just tell it where to go.
As such an easy to fly drone, it is safe to recommend for beginner pilots. You really do have to put in a little effort to crash this thing, not too much effort, but some. The default flight when your hands are off the controller is at a very stable hover. There is also a ‘Pause’ button on the remote that halts everything and puts the drone into a hover.
Because this drone is so absolutely easy to fly, however, I do not recommend it as the machine you learn on. You really are not learning how to fly with the Mavic Pro, not really, leaving you at a disadvantage if you ever plan to pick up a racing drone or one of the many less capable fliers out there.
I suppose I must conclude, if you will never fly a different drone, or at least stick to drones that are as capable as the Mavic Pro or Phantom 4 and up, the Mavic Pro is a fantastic beginner’s drone. However, if you plan to try other drones, save the Mavic Pro until you’ve learned some basics of flight on a less flight-assisted machine.
Learn more about the Mavic Pro, our favorite drone on the market today.
DJI more recently released their new small drone, designed for a multitude of uses for the drone enthusiast or casual consumer, the DJI Spark. Spark is very versatile, you can control it by mobile device, remote control, or even just with your hands. In between the completely gesture based controls and the advanced autonomous flight techniques, called DJI Quickshot, Spark is an attractive machine to a first time pilot.
DJI Spark is not as capable as the larger, folding DJI Mavic Pro, but it packs a few more tricks for flight and comes in with a much smaller price tag.
Phantom 3 or Phantom 4
DJI’s Phantom drones have long been the iconic design and representation of the modern drone, more specifically, the modern quadcopter. There is a reason the Phantom drones have been so successful, they are good. The Phantom 3 and Phantom 4 are both roughly on par with the camera and in air capabilities of the Mavic Pro, they are simply larger machines that do not fold down as small for travel.
The Phantom 4 Pro is a superb machine, if we continue to talk about the line, offering a superior camera and flight safety sensors. At $1499 – $1799, maybe not what you want for a beginning pilot.
The Phantom 3 has been seen for as low as $400 brand new in the last few months. Unheard of not long ago. At this price, a beginning pilot can enjoy some of the basics of assisted flight along with respectable cameras for your aerial photography.
We still would recommend the Mavic Pro over the Phantom 3 and Phantom 4, which is still about $1000, for it’s size and portability. But, you can’t go wrong with the Phantom line as far as a flying machine goes.
To learn more about the Phantom 3, check out our full DJI Phantom 3 value piece. For the Phantom 4, to be fair, it is superseded by the Phantom 4 Pro and Phantom 4 Advanced, but we’ve got all that Phantom info over here.
Let’s take a break:
FPV or VR flying
Parrot Bebop 2 with VR
As seen in our Best drones under $500 list
The Parrot Bebop 2 is a unique drone, it is not exactly a toy class unit, but it doesn’t really live in the higher end world either. Perhaps you would say that it is the just right drone in the family. Made of extremely light-weight materials, it packs some advanced flying features to ease flight and make for a top notch experience in thee air.
The big thing with the Parrot Bebop 2 is that it has an accompanying VR headset, made for FPV flying. (That’s First Person View.) As the drone scoots through the air, you can see first hand what the drone is seeing with the live-streamed video. A fun experience.
Be aware that this violates one of the FAA rules of flight, breaking your line-of-sight to the small aircraft, but we can’t ignore the segment, as VR and FPV flying are rapidly becoming very popular. Just ask our writers on VRSource.com what they think of VR, if you need some idea.
Yuneec is a company that we largely looked over until recently. A big mistake. They are a passionate group of pilots, like, real pilots, that are sharing their love of the air through drones. They have some impressive machines that utilize Intel technology for advanced flight systems, but they also have a smaller, almost toy-class unit that anyone can fly, the Breeze.
Attempting to make the Breeze a one-stop machine for any beginning or entry-level enthusiast, Yuneec has built a low cost drone, then added on a low cost accessory pack that includes a FPV headset. Instead of providing a fully functional headset, however, you are to use your mobile device as the display for their gear.
If you are familiar with the Google Daydream headset, you have an idea what Yuneec is doing here.
Walkera F210 3D
Let me stop you right there, if you have never flown before, this is probably not the drone for you. This is a high-speed flier, made for a race course at the hands of an experienced pilot. That being said, it is also one of the easiest racing drones to get into the air.
In the world of racing drones, most machines are highly customized or even built from the ground up. If you are just getting started, building from the ground up is a daunting task, which is why Walkera sells the F210 3D ready to fly. Just open the box and go crash into the wall.
Aside from flying fast, a lot of the racing leagues take things indoors. In this case, it is legal to fly using a FPV headset. Walkera has a headset or two to choose from, but the F210 3D will connect to most common head gear on the market. Essentially, if you are looking to race, this is one of the best drones to not only get you started, but stick with you as you advance through your skills.
Check out the Walkera F210 3D for $420 on Amazon today. Previously $420.
Also seen in our Best drones for kids list
Propel has a good thing going, they’re adding some class and excitement to a fairly simple set of drones. Their Star Wars collection drones are very well built, extremely well packaged and are not terrible little fliers to boot. They are almost a collector’s item more than a smart purchase for a flying machine, but they’re small enough to fly inside, and have a fun laser tag game built-in.
Check out all four of the Propel Star Wars drones for $99 each. Previously $199 and normally $179.
Possible contender: GDU O2
The newly announced GDU O2 is one of the only drones announced at InterDrone 2017 that you might want in the hands of a beginner. The drone itself is, for all intents, unremarkable once in the air – I don’t mean that in a bad way, not at all, just that its flight modes pail in comparison to how well it travels. Instead of folding down, this drone slides into itself and then the drone snaps to the remote. The package protects all the important bits, making it one of the most portable machines around.
Check out the GDU O2 for $732.
Discontinued, but still good: 3DR Solo
I have been remiss. The 3DR Solo is a much older machine, it is discontinued and is sometimes hard to find new, but we stumbled on it for cheap this holiday season, and we think you should have a look. Packing a mount for an older GoPro camera, this is a solid drone that rivals the DJI Phantom line in size. We’re still unboxing ours, we’ll be sure to let you know how things go when we actually get airborne.
For now, check out the 3DR Solo for as low as $285 for the drone, flight bundles for about $625, but do watch for killer sales from vendors clearing out their stock.
More than a paper airplane, PowerUp FPV
Have you ever thought about putting these drone motors on your own creation? PowerUp certainly has. They’ve come a long way in the last four years since I first heard of them – a few iterations later we get the PowerUp FPV. Take your paper airplane and attach this dual propeller motor assemble with FPV camera. They teamed with parrot to create the 720p shooter module, and the kit comes with a Google Cardboard type viewer, so grab your phone, fold some paper and get ready to fly.
Check out the PowerUp FPV for $139 on Amazon today. (We’ve seen lower prices for this unit, keep an eye out for savings.)
There are so many styles of drones out there, we primarily stuck with the quadcopter setup, it is the easiest to fly and by far the most common. Although we do suggest starting with an inexpensive drone to learn the basics, we can understand how wanting to step up to your full time drone immediately can be appealing. If you take it slow, be very careful and give yourself lots of room to operate, we suspect you can get by. Just try to avoid some of the more common mistakes pilots make.
The real thing to keep in mind for any beginner out there, know your local laws, take precautions so that you don’t make any of the common mistakes most first time pilots do and give yourself lots of room to operate.
Have some fun, but always fly safe!