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The popularity of drones has taken off in the last few years (no pun intended), and it’s easy to see why. These lightweight little aerial machines are not only fun to fly while learning how to perform flips and tricks, but are also equipped with high-quality cameras, giving you the unique opportunity to get photos and video from angles that couldn’t be done before.
What to Know Before Getting a Drone
Each drone differs in terms of what they offer, so we’ve broken down what to look for before buying and flying.
Photo and Video: This is a huge reason people get drones, and you’ll want to be sure of its capabilities before going all-in. Starter units can shoot HD video in 720p or 1080p, but others can go up to 2.7k or even 4k, at 60 or even 120fps, recreating almost cinematic quality. Angle of lenses vary as well, with multi-axis pivot points to move your camera in more directions, and greater degrees of tilt. All those photos and videos add up quickly though, so you’ll need a good memory card to store it all too.
Indoors vs. Outdoors: Lighter, smaller drones can get picked up and thrown off course by a strong gust of wind, creating a real problem if it gets stuck high up in a tree. But for indoor use, and especially around kids and pets, safety is key. Propeller guards, if they’re not already included, are highly recommended. Also, using foldable propellers when not in use protect your unit from damage – both to itself and anyone messing around with it. Obstacle-avoiding censors are another nice perk to make sure your drone doesn’t get snagged or smacked by anything in its path.
Battery and Flight Time: At first look, all of these might seem like significantly short flight times for such a state-of-the-art device. But don’t expect your drone to be up there for hours. A 25-minute flight time is considered pretty good, and anything above is even better.
Flight Height: Flight distance can vary just as much, with ranges from 100 meters to a mile away. Batteries generally take a few hours to charge up, but most units come with two, meaning you can instantly double your time in the air as long as they’re both filled.
Controller: Some drones require an app on your phone to act as the full or partial controller for guiding the unit during flight. But if you want to keep your drone-life separate from your phone-life, manufacturers often offer designated drone controllers much like a video game console’s. There are even units that combine both controller and phone, giving you a full command center in one place with all the capabilities at your fingertips.
Speed: If you’re using your drone purely for photography, speed may not matter as much, and can even blur your shots due to shaking from the increased propeller activity. But for racing, tricks, and just flying it, fast can be really fun, and most consumer-level drones can go up to around 40mph (the fastest professional drone ever hit 163mph).
Range: If your drone can’t communicate with the controller, it falls out of range. So if you’ll be flying around big buildings, tall trees, or landscapes of tough terrain, pay attention to how far out it can go before losing signal. Rest assured that most drones don’t drop out of the sky when the connection is lost – often they’ll just return to you like a boomerang. But if it gets caught or stuck on something, having GPS will let you locate it immediately.
GPS and Other Capabilities: Drones are packed with features that are fun to explore and discover as you learn to fly. Thanks to precise GPS, you can have it hover in a programmed spot, trace a designated flight path, or even follow you around during a run or activity. Many drones can also double as handy other devices, such as a flashlight, phone charger, digital camera, and backup power bank.
We’ve selected four favorites for your future flights here to get your next drone up and running.
1. SNAPTAIN S5C WiFi FPV Drone with 720p HD Camera
One button is all it takes to get this drone up in the air. From there, your flight options expand exponentially, making it easy to pull off tricks like 360º flips and rolls, and recording wide-angle video in 720p resolution.
Controlling this is simple, but more importantly fun, with a few different ways of creating your unique flight-path. The unit responds to voice commands, as well as the included gaming-type controller, but also via a downloadable app on your smartphone that uses your device’s calibration to maneuver the drone through twists and turns. This is also compatible with VR headsets too, giving you a real-time view of what your drone is seeing, as if you’re flying right along with it.
When your flight’s over, bring it back down to Earth with another easy one-touch button.
2. Holy Stone HS120D GPS Drone with Camera
A built-in GPS gives this drone capabilities such as hovering in one spot, and returning to you once it goes out of its 300m range, always finding its way back no matter if buildings or trees are blocking your sightline. This can also easily follow a pre-programmed path, or even faithfully follow you around.
A full charge takes 120 minutes and gives about 18 minutes of flight time per battery, and two lithium batteries are included. This also only weighs 221 grams, meaning there’s no need to register it with the FAA (in the U.S.) before flying.
It’s incredibly convenient for travel (and comes with a backpack as well), and makes an excellent option for anyone looking to get into the world of drone photography.
3. ATTOP 120° Wide Angle RC Quadcopter Drone
Since this drone comes with a gaming-like controller, why not make an actual video game out of it? In ATTOP’s accompanying app, that’s exactly what you’ll be able to do, out-maneuvering your AR “enemies” with the controller or voice commands, and shooting them down.
Their XTGO app also lets you create your own flight path by drawing it right on the screen, avoiding any obstacles and adjusting the vertical and horizontal position of the drone too.
The ATTOP hovers and holds steady on its own, without making you hold the throttle in an uncomfortable position, allowing you to capture clearer photos and videos on the wide angled 720p camera. At 150g, it’s the lightest of the bunch here, so no FAA registration is needed.
4. Ruko F11 Pro Drone 4K Quadcopter
With a weight of 1.14 pounds, you’ll need to register this one with the FAA before liftoff.
This heavy-duty unit flies 30 minutes on a 3.5-hour charged-up battery (two are included), and can travel up to 1200 meters away when there’s no signal interruption. It’s compatible with dual band WiFi, both 2.4 and 5GHz, for smooth real-time transmission, leaving little to no lag. The shock-absorbing ability allows the 90º adjustable 4K UHD camera to shoot beautifully blur-free photo and video, with a 120º field of view, and GPS means you can always locate the unit if it gets stuck or runs out of juice.
Once you’re done, one button is all it takes to bring your drone back home safely.