Drones for Beginners: A 2021 Buying Guide

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The popularity and use of drones has exploded over the last decade because they are used for so many different purposes. There are drones for all levels of users. Whether someone is thinking about drones as a hobby or a profession, there is one thing everyone has in common: they have to start somewhere. This buying guide is for drones for beginners. It will give you an overview of drone basics and some considerations to look for when shopping. We end with our Top 10 Drones for Beginners, all of which are less than $100.

Understanding Drones

What are drones?

A drone is, quite simply, an aircraft without an onboard pilot.  Instead, the “pilot” flies the drone remotely with a controller.  And while the definition is pretty straightforward, the different types of drones are huge.  There are some interesting pros and cons of drones to consider, but they are only growing in popularity. 

Drones are commonly associated with the military.  They are also used in fields as diverse as agriculture, oil and gas, map making, firefighting, and home delivery.  With all of these uses, it’s no wonder that flying drones is becoming a popular hobby as well.   Some are complicated to fly, and you can even take classes to become a certified drone pilot.  There are plenty of drones that anyone can fly for fun, though, and this guide is focused on those.

When were drones invented?

Drones were actually invented not long after the airplane itself, and the history of drones is interested.  In World War I, a pilotless aircraft was just one of many news types of weapons that were explored and developed during the conflict.  The technology continued to develop, mostly for military applications, until the 1960s. That’s when radio-controlled (RC) airplanes started to become a popular hobby for kids and adults.  These were often sold as kits.  The hobby drones that we see today started to become popular around 2010. The number of styles, models and options has exploded in the last 10 years.

How do drones work?

Most hobby drones are powered by batteries.  The batteries power a motor (or motors) that spin the rotors (or propellers) to create an upward force that lifts the drone and allows it to hover above the ground.  With multiple motors and rotors, drones are able to move up and down, side to side, and forward and backward.

To fly a drone, the operator uses a control pad that often looks a lot like a video game controller.  These range from simple to complex, from kid-friendly to expert only.

How high can drones fly?

There are actually two ways to answer this question.  The first answer is about how high is it possible for a drone to fly, and the answer is very high: up to about 13,000 feet.  The more practical answer, though, for how high drones can legally fly, is 400 feet.  This blog is not a legal resource, but you can find official guidance directly from Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and this fact sheet

Important features for drones for beginners

As you start to compare different types of drones, you will want to make sure you consider things like battery life, drone weight, ease of controls, and whether or not there is a camera.  The value you place on these features can vary, but they are good starting points for comparison shopping.

Battery Life

You shouldn’t expect hours of flight time on a single battery charge.  An average drone will be able to fly for about 7-10 minutes. Higher-end drones might be able to stay in flight for 20 – 30 minutes.  The good news is that you can easily get some back-up batteries and swap them out between flights to set you up for a longer session of flying.  When shopping for a drone, the cost of back-up batteries and how easy they are to change is just as important as the battery life itself. And when it comes to flight time, lengths are estimates. The time is affected by speed, wind, camera use, etc.

Drone Weight

The weight of a drone impacts both battery life and flight stability.  The lighter the drone, the less taxing it is for the battery.  Of course, a lighter battery also means a smaller battery.  A heavier drone is less impacted by wind, which can lead to a more stable flying experience.  When it comes to drone weight, it’s all about find a good balance and prioritizing flight time or flight stability.

One key thing to know about drone weight is the key threshold of .55 pounds. (That’s 8.8 ounces, or just less than 250 grams).  You do not need to register a drone that weighs .55 pounds or less if it will be flown exclusively for recreation.  That doesn’t mean that you should avoid a heavier drone if that’s what you want, though.  Just be sure to register it with the FAA.

Ease of Controls

It is common to hear the line “drones are easy to fly and easy to crash.” For a beginner, the best drone design is the quadcopter.  With 4 sets of propellers covering the front, back and each side of the drone, it provides the best stability and control of direction.  Be sure to take a look at the control pad, or remote control, itself as well.  Are you prioritizing ease of use or availability of features?  For most beginners, ease of use might he best way to go to make sure early flying experiences are positive ones.

Buying Drones for Beginners

How much do drones cost?

As you might expect, the large range of drone types means there is a large range of drone prices, too.  Experienced (or wealthy) drone operators can easily spend thousands of dollars on their flying machine.  One of the great things about this hobby, though, is that the entry price can be quite low.  For our list of drone recommendations, we stay focused on drones less than $100.  (Recommendations are based on personal use, comparisons of product features, and an overview of customer reviews.)

The 10 Best Drones under $100

Here’s our list of the 10 best drones for beginners, with a price point of less than $100. Look below for a comparison chart, and then for our Top Picks in the categories of Best Overall, Best for Kids, and Best for Photography.

$54.99 $63.99
in stock
October 23, 2021 5:21 pm
Amazon Amazon.com
Last update was on: October 23, 2021 5:21 pm

Comparison Chart

DroneMax Flight TimeWeightCamera/VideoBattery

Holy Stone F181W
8-10 min..31 lbs; 5 oz; 142g1080p videoRechargeable 3.7v 750mAh LiPo (backup included)
Snaptain S5C8 min.1.55 lbs; 24.8 oz; 703g1080p videoRechargeable LiPoly (backup included)
Force 1 UFO 30007-9 min..8 lbs; 12.8 oz; 363gN/A3.7v Lithium ion (spare battery and USB charge cable included)
Sanrock U61W7 min..44 lbs; 7.1 oz; 201g720p videoLithium ion (spare battery and USB micro charger included)
RYZE TELLO10 – 13 min..18 lbs; 2.88 oz; 82g5MP photos; 720p videoTello Intelligent Flight Battery
SYMA X5C7 min.1.6 lbs; 25.6 oz; 726g2MP photos; 720p video3.7V 500mAh Li-poly
UDI U818A-HD6-9 min..26 lbs; 4.2 oz; 119g1MP photos; 720p video3.7V 500mAh for Udi (backup included)
HUBSAN X4 H107C6-7 min.1.1 lbs; 17.6 oz; 500g2MP photos; 720p video3.7V mAh LiPo (USB charging cable included)
Dwi Dowellin D10 Blinking Drone10-11 min..17 lbs; 2.68 oz; 76gN/A800mAh LiPo (spare included)
Holy Stone Mini Drone for Kids7 min..10 lbs; 1.55 oz; 44gN/A3.7VmAh LiPo for Holy Stone (2 spares included)

Our Top Picks

Top Overall Pick for Drones for Beginners

The Holy Stone F181W is our overall top pick of drones for beginners. It’s a small drone, and it’s suitable for practicing inside or outside. It has a bit more weight than some of the micro drones, and that gives it a little more flight stability. It’s still very light, though, so be careful of wind! With the 1080p video camera, you can get fantastic pictures. The camera also has a 120-degree wide-angle lens. Hook up the live video feed to your smartphone, and you’ll have a great deal of fun with a birds-eye view. At about 10 minutes of battery time and a backup battery included, the flight time of this model compares favorably against others in this class. As a bonus, the drone comes with a carrying case.

Holy Stone F181W 1080P FPV Drone with HD Camera for Adult Kid Beginner, RC Quadcopter with Carrying Case, Voice Control, Gesture Control, Wide-Angle Live Video, Altitude Hold, 2 Batteries, Easy to Fly

$89.99  in stock
2 new from $89.99
1 used from $71.01
Free shipping
Amazon.com
as of October 23, 2021 5:21 pm

Features

  • Optimal Package -- An carrying case and a bonus battery are included. Flight time up to 20 MINUTES. Easy to take the drone out or put it aside with the original CARRYING CASE.
  • 1080P HD Camera FPV Live Video -- The upgraded and adjustable 120° Wide-angle camera broadens your views. You are also able to see real time first-person-view on the App.
  • Easy to Use -- Equipped with auto-hovering; one key operation enables you to start it, land it or change speed by pressing a single button. 3 Speed modes can satisfy both beginners and the advanced.
  • Smart Control -- There are some smart functions waiting for your exploration, including Voice Control, Trajectory Flight, Gesture Control and Gravity Control.
  • Fun Features -- 3D Flips adds fun to your flights. The luminous LED lights on the drone can be turned on/off at your will. Headless mode eliminates need to adjust aircraft position & improves learning curve.

Top Pick for Photography

The Snaptain S5C is our top pick among beginner drones for photography. Considering the price point of this drone, the 1080p video capability provides a high-quality picture. There are higher-end drones out there capable of 4K video quality, but if you are beginner who is interested in drone photography, this is a great model to start with. The camera is similar to that of our top pick, the Holy Stone HS100D, but the larger size and heavier weight of the S5C means you get better flight control and stability for your outdoor photography. For the ultimate immersive experience, you can put your smartphone into your VR goggles and get a 3D view from the drone’s camera!

SNAPTAIN S5C WiFi FPV Drone with 1080P HD Camera,Voice Control, Wide-Angle Live Video RC Quadcopter with Altitude Hold, Gravity Sensor Function, RTF One Key Take Off/Landing, Compatible w/VR Headset

$69.99  out of stock
2 new from $69.99
1 used from $60.22
Free shipping
Amazon.com
as of October 23, 2021 5:21 pm

Features

  • ✈USER-FRIENDLY✈ SNAPTAIN S5C drone is user-friendly. Simply press one button, it will take off, land or return to your command. Smart voice control, headless mode, and the fascinating 360° Flips & Rolls come handy even for the drone newbies.
  • ✈Farther & Clearer✈ The SNAPTAIN S5C provides video transmission within a range of up to 80m. Edit and upload instantly your videos on Social Media by iPhone or a video transmission signal up to a scale of 80m, allowing you to fly farther. Edit HD footage and directly upload it to social media from your iPhone or iPad. The video clips are automatically saved to the Micro SD card.
  • ✈POWERFUL & SAFE✈ Protective Propeller Guards to ensure a safe flight. High quality ABS material to free your worries of a sudden shock or drop. Best choice with enough fun for beginners.
  • ✈STEADY & TRACKABLE✈ Altitude-Hold function ensures a steady hover in the air at a certain altitude. Great aerial pictures and videos are feasible thanks to this function. Trajectory Flight function is the newest technology that by drawing a flight course on the touch screen on your smartphone, the drone will fly accordingly. Pure fun awaits.
  • ✈GRAVITY CONTROL✈ A built-in G-sensor is designed to allow controlling the drone by adjusting the vertical and horizontal position of your smartphone via the Snaptain Era App downloadable on iOS and Android App market.

Top Pick for Kids

The Force 1 UFO 3000 is our top pick of drones for kids. This drone is small, sturdy and safe for kids. The straightforward controller helps kids learn to fly more quickly. You can lift off and land with one button, and there are two speed settings. There’s no camera on this model, but that allows a little more weight put into the body of the drone so it can stand up crashes. Kids will also enjoy the LED lights and one-button flips.

Force1 UFO 3000 LED Mini Drone for Kids - Remote Control Drone, Small RC Quadcopter for Beginners with LEDs, 4-Channel Remote Control, 2 Speeds, and 2 Drone Batteries

$49.99
$36.95
 in stock
Amazon.com
as of October 23, 2021 5:21 pm

Features

  • Easy Remote Control Drone for Kids: Fly this mini RC drone for boys and girls with a push of a button; launch, land, and perform 360° flip drone stunts with the easy-to-use 4-channel remote transmitter that allows you to fly multiple flying toy drones at once
  • Vibrant LED Drone with 2 Speeds: Pilot this drone day or night, indoors or out with ultra bright neon-colored LEDs; this small drone races in low or high speeds to fit the drone flying preferences of beginners, intermediate, and experienced drone flyers
  • User-Friendly UFO Drone Specs: This stunt drone is equipped with smart features like Altitude Hold to keep the drone hovering at a set height and Headless Mode for easy toy drone orientation, making this a great first toy drone for beginners of all ages
  • Extended Flight Time with 2 Drone Batteries: Get back to flying this quadcopter drone again and again with 2 included rechargeable drone batteries for 18 minutes total flight time; ultra portable mini drone measures 5.5” x 5.5” and includes 4 spare propellers, a USB charging cable, and drone remote (requires 4 AAA batteries - not included)
  • Kid-Safe and Durable Toy Drone: This mini drone for kids is designed with kid-friendly propeller guards for increased safety and durability; We’ll provide a full refund if you’re not totally satisfied with this flying toy for kids

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