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Compare drones: Your guide to choosing the right model

Choose the best drone for your needs and budget.

Quick facts about drones

  • Drone prices range from $20 to $250 for toys drones, and $300 all the way up to $9,000 or more for sophisticated models.
  • Some drones are designed as toys, others are for photography and filming and others are for racing.
  • There are strict regulations about where and when you can fly, so familiarize yourself with your local aviation authority.

Top picks

DJI Mavic Air 2

Longer flying time, 4K video and three-way obstacle sensing lands this drone on our must buy list. Plus, it comes with plenty of glowing reviews — one happy customer dubbed the DJI Mavic Air 2 “seriously something incredible.”

DJI Mavic Mini

Best for beginners looking for a quality device, this mini drone is ultra lightweight, comes with a user-friendly interface and can be flown in the U.S. and Canada without being registered with the government.

Autel Robotics EVO 4K Drone with Controller

We love this design for its foldable structure and a Return to Home feature, which brings the drone back when the battery is low or the remote control signal gets interrupted.

What is a drone?

Originally developed for military applications, drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are becoming an increasingly popular pastime. Most drones on the market are quadcopters, with four rotor blades, though hexacopter and octocopter configurations exist.

Drones are great for photography and recreational flying, and racing circuits are popping up across the world. More than anything, flying them is a lot of fun!

Types of drones

Consumer drones can be broadly broken down into four categories. The type for you depends on what you want to use it for and how much you are willing to spend.

  • Toy. If you’re unsure about the hobby and want to dip your toes in without a hefty commitment, consider a toy drone. The basic principle is the same as serious models, they’re just smaller, lighter and significantly cheaper. The downside is toy drones aren’t the easiest to fly because they lack advanced features like automatic takeoff and landing features, and various stabilization measures. And since they’re lighter they get bounced around by the wind more, too. Battery life is generally in the five- to 10-minute range.
  • Recreational. At this level, you’ll find a serious drone, but one that’s balanced towards ease of use. They require very little assembly and are generally ready to fly (RTF) out of the box. You’ll be able to take good photos and fly for significantly longer than toy drones. This is the best option for casual hobbyists.
  • Advanced. At the advanced end, components and features — and pricing — are geared towards professionals. They require more practice or even coaching to fly well. They’re faster, equipped with better cameras — some are capable of recording 4K video — and have professional-grade gimbals to help images stay focussed during less than ideal conditions. If you’re using a drone for real estate photography, TV, cinema or mapping and surveying, you’ll want something in this tier.
  • Racing. Racing drones are lighter, faster, more maneuverable and the top of the line are custom-built and require a lot of assembly. Cameras on these drones are used for first-person-view flying and don’t take quality photos or video.

Drones and the law

There are strict laws governing drone use in most countries. Be sure you’re allowed to fly it where you intend to before purchasing one.

And laws differ across the world. For example, in the US, the maximum altitude allowed is 400 feet, or higher if your drone stays within 400 feet of a structure.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has a list of rules for small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) that you should read in detail. Also, know the local laws when traveling with your drone. It’s a good idea to check an FAA-approved airspace app, so you can ensure where you’re flying is legal.

How to compare drones

Consider the following factors when selecting a model:

Battery flight time

Flight time on a single charge ranges from five minutes to around 30 minutes. Manufacturer estimates are always on the generous side, so expect less in real-world flying conditions. You also need to allow time for the drone to return to you to change batteries, so effective flying time is shorter still.

If your drone is for professional use, don’t skimp here. When you consider that it can take more than two hours to charge a battery, a few spare batteries in your pack will come in handy. If you can afford it, always go for the larger battery.

Controller type

Do you want a drone that comes with a dedicated controller — typically a box with two flight sticks — or do you want to fly using an app and the touchscreen on your phone? The former provides greater control and tactile feedback, but the latter is more portable. Professionals tend to prefer dedicated controllers because there’s a slight response lag when using a phone, but mobile is still a viable approach for most purposes except racing.


Drones come with either a fixed camera or the ability to attach different ones. If you opt for a fixed model, make sure it’s a quality camera because you won’t be able to upgrade it later. Fixed camera models go up to 4K resolution. Some come with optical zooms, but they cost more.

If photography and filming is a serious hobby, or you’re intending to gather footage for commercial purposes, you’ll want a drone with a decent gimbal. Gimbals stabilize the camera across multiple axes, allowing for smoother video and sharper photos in windy conditions.

Safety features

If you’re new to the hobby, you should get a drone with advanced safety features like mandatory tutorials, autotakeoff, autolanding and object-avoidance technology so you don’t crash into trees. If you’re losing control, being able to initiate an automatic return using the onboard GPS can be the difference between landing and losing your expensive new toy.


Some toy drones only have a range of approximately 65 feet, more than enough to have fun at home or the park. Advanced drones have an effective range of a couple miles — top-end models currently max out at around five miles.

Replaceable parts

Let’s be realistic: If you’re starting out, you’re going to crash — quite a bit. Rotor blades are the part most likely to be replaced, so pick up some spares.

Four things to consider

  1. Headless mode. Some pilots find “headless mode” helpful. This is an alternative control scheme that ignores the drone’s orientation and instead moves it in relation to the pilot. In headless mode, it doesn’t matter which way the drone is facing; if you push left on the controller, it will move left. Look out for this feature if you think it will be helpful.
  2. Reconsider buying the latest model. DJI is the dominant manufacturer in the field. If you’re opting for one of its drones, know that DJI releases new models regularly with iterative upgrades. So, unless the newest feature feels essential to you, you could save some money by not buying the latest model.
  3. People can be wary of drones. Not only will you make strangers in the vicinity nervous, but you’ll also probably get asked what you’re doing. This is perfectly reasonable — it’s new tech that’s been used for military and espionage purposes, so some skepticism is to be expected. Simply explain what you’re doing — you never know, you might end up with new flying partners.
  4. Be respectful. Drones at their noisiest sound like a swarm of angry bees. Be respectful of other people sharing public space. It’s best to fly somewhere as far from other people as possible.

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