DJI Air 2S DJI Fly app

Traditional RC toys rely on dedicated controllers to operate, but modern technology put an extremely capable smart device in your pocket and many manufacturers look to use it for their new toys. I refer to quadcopter style drones you can control with your smartphone or tablet.

Higher-end drones still rely on a dedicated remote for actual flight controls, but many toy class units fly using nothing more than an app and a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection. Let’s take a look at some of the best on the market today.

Jonathan Feist, Drone PilotJonathan Feist

Why trust Drone Rush?

I’ve been a fan of flight since a young age; while I’ve had few opportunities at the helm of manned aircraft, the hours on my fleet of drones continue to grow. I enjoy putting cameras into the sky, silky smooth aerial imagery makes me happy. My goal is to help all pilots enjoy flight legally and safely.

 

Drones controlled by smartphone

DJI Air 2S: Best drone under $1,000

DJI Air 2S DJI Fly app

The DJI Air 2S is simply our top pick for the best drone under $1,000, which makes it our top pick for any pilot that wants to fly a camera for fun. To be fair, almost all DJI drones can connect directly to a mobile device, and they all offer nearly the same control functionality, so the advantage to this drone is the drone itself not the connectivity.

Ignoring the mobile connectivity range, the Air 2S is a class-leader in terms of range, with up to 7.5 miles of connectivity when connected to the remote control.

Why we fly the DJI Air 2S

If you are looking for the best possible camera drone that can connect directly to a mobile device, the Air 2S is the one for you!

What we like


  • Great 5.4K camera
  • Easy and fun to fly

What we don’t like


  • Limited controls without the remote

DJI Air 2S
DJI Air 2S
  • Great camera
  • 5.4K video
  • 8X zoom
  • Compact and easy to use
  • Fantastic range
Affordable 5.4K flying camera

The DJI Air 2S is easily the best camera drone for most uses. The 1-inch sensor produces fantastic images from the sky, and the compact, folding design of the quadcopter is familiar and reliable – it may not be in the name, but this is still a Mavic drone.

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DJI Mini 2: Best drone under $500

DJI Mini 2 front camera angle

The DJI Mini 2 is the best drone under $500. It includes a capable 4K camera, good flight time, and weighs under 250g, so you do not have to register with the FAA before you fly. If portability is your goal, there are few drones that travel as easily as the Mini 2.

Why we fly the DJI Mini 2

We love the DJI Mini 2 for how portable it is, and we are genuinely impressed with the camera output at this price point and size of drone, however, we use bigger drones for professional video shoots.

What we like


  • Fun and easy to fly
  • Good 4K camera
  • Weighs under 250g
  • Very portable

What we don’t like


  • Only a ‘good’ camera

DJI Mini 2
DJI Mini 2
  • 4K camera
  • Very portable
  • Easy to fly
  • 249 grams
Best drone under $500

The DJI Mini 2 is a superb update from the Mavic Mini, now offering a 4K camera, Ocusync 2.0 and more power.


DJI Mavic 3: Best consumer drone

DJI Mavic 3 Cine flying

The DJI Mavic 3, in particular the Mavic 3 Cine, hit the market at the end of 2021, and was easily the best consumer-class drone. Armed with a powerful Micro Four Thirds camera, up to 46 minutes of flight time, and up to 1TB of internal storage, the Mavic 3 Cine is both a great drone, and an amazing flying camera.

The optional DJI RC Pro remote control takes things to new levels as well, but is the opposite of what you might be looking for today. While you can connect the DJI Fly app via Wi-Fi to your Mavic 3, you’re only getting a small set of navigational tools this way. But, the same is true of most all DJI drones, so why not go with the best possible model?!?

Sadly, the starting price of the Mavic 3 is worth almost five Mini 2 drones, so price becomes a major consideration.

Why we fly the DJI Mavic 3

As the reigning best consumer drone on the market, and one of the top camera drones around as well, the Mavic 3 and Mavic 3 Cine are crucial tools for professional aerial photographers. We love to capture the best possible images from the sky, so we also choose the Mavic 3.

What we like


  • Powerful drone
  • Superb 5.1K camera
  • Up to 28x zoom
  • 15KM range with O3+ connection
  • APAS 5.0 & ActiveTrack 5.0
  • Optional RC Pro remote has a great display
  • Optional 1TB internal SSD
  • All-direction obstacle avoidance

What we don’t like


  • Price

DJI Mavic 3 Cine
DJI Mavic 3 Cine
  • Fantastic camera
  • Huge flight time
  • Safe and capable drone
Imaging Above Everything

A Micro Four Thirds camera, 1TB of storage, 5.1K video capture, the RC Pro remote, and 46 minutes of flight time make the DJI Mavic 3 Cine perhaps the best camera drone you can purchase today.


Skydio 2: Best AI drone

Skydio 2 front angle

The Skydio 2 is the cream of the crop in terms of flight capabilities when controlled by your mobile device. That being said, there’s not much to flying the Skydio 2, it’s made to lock on to an object and follow it wherever it may go.

Why we fly the Skydio 2

The Skydio 2 is a tough recommendation, it is unmatched for its ease of use and follow-me modes, but it is otherwise an unremarkable drone. The optional remote control is not packed with flight features like many other drones, this is a follow-me drone through and through.

What we like


  • Exceptional follow-me modes
  • Self-piloted master
  • Very safe

What we don’t like


  • Limited use

Skydio 2
Skydio 2
  • Superb follow-me drone
  • Powerful AI features
Superior follow-me functionality

The Skydio 2 is a consumer drone with the power of a commercial drone. An array of sensors and a powerful on-board computer make for safe and autonomous flight.


Ryze Tello: Fun and educational toy drone

Ryze Tello Iron Man Edition

The Ryze Tello is a fantastic starter drone. It was made to fly by mobile device, but there is an optional remote control. before you fly, Ryze can let you code some custom flight routines, making the Tello a cool tool for the classroom.

Why we fly the Ryze Tello

The Tello is an older drone, and it’s a simple toy craft that isn’t great for outdoor flight or to capture photos and video from the sky, but, it’s easy to fly, and an excellent starter for a pilots of all ages.

What we like


  • Easy to operate
  • Fun to fly
  • Versatile controls
  • Educational

What we don’t like


  • Limited uses
  • Low quality camera

Ryze Tello
Ryze Tello
  • Educational drone
  • Safe for indoor flight
  • Fun to fly
Educational drone

The Ryze Tello is one of the most capable and versatile mini drones around, enjoy different designs, code your own flight features, or just fly in your living room for fun.


Sphero BB-8

What is a drone? The military builds them as highly capable unmanned aircraft for reconnaissance and more, the toy store says it’s a flying multi-rotor remote controlled toy, but if we are to be fairly exact about it, we’re looking at an unmanned craft of pretty much any sort. Under the water, in the air or across the ground, whether autonomous or remote controlled, there are many types of drones, and within these guidelines, Sphero’s BB-8 has got to be one of our favorite.

Control BB-8 with your smartphone, roll along the ground and enjoy some fun sound effects, augmented reality stories and more. Check out our initial thoughts on this toy over on Android Authority. I might add that Edgar, who wrote the post, got his hands on this droid at CES 2016. We’re serious fans around here.

Check out Sphero BB-8 from $39 on Amazon today.


Wrap-up

That sums up some of the best drones you can fly using your smartphone or tablet. There are many, but mostly just toy-class units that you can control completely via mobile device, however, keep your phone charged, it is a valuable tool for most drones even if you can’t directly control them.

Read: The best drones for kids

What is your favorite drone to fly using just your Android phone or tablet?


Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need a smartphone to fly these drones?

Most of the drones on the market are designed to work along with your connected mobile device, but the actual controls for the drone are handled by the remote control, not the app. In most cases, the app provides many quality of life and advanced features, along with access to important settings, but you can still fly the drone without a connected smart device, if you want.

Can I use an old phone to fly my drone?

Yes, and no. As with the question above, your smart device is not actually in control of the drone, so your chosen phone or tablet can be older. However, many drone apps are demanding apps, requiring a relatively new phone to keep up. It is a nuisance when your phone stops working mid-flight, particularly because you lose access to the live view from the camera and other advanced flight modes, but as long as you are flying within line-of-site and can bring the drone in safely with manual navigation, your connected smartphone does not much matter.

Is it better to use a phone or tablet to fly my drone?

Your flight situation should dictate your mobile device needs. Truth is, it all depends on how big of a display you need. Most of the time a phone is enough, but if you really need to get the shot lined up right, or need to inspect something in the camera, a larger display is crucial. No matter what, we recommend not using your daily driver phone, use a secondary phone so you are not distracted by incoming calls or lose your phone if something goes wrong.


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