The best drones for 2017/2018
Drones are undeniably cool, but unless you have the necessary know-how making an informed purchasing decision is virtually impossible – there are so many options, from cheap quadcopters to expensive professional drones for which you’ll probably need to justify spending that much on a ‘toy’.
If money is going to factor heavily in your buying decision, you should also check out our guide to the best cheap drones. If you’re more interested in having the best drone we’ve some options below.
There are laws on flying drones, though, so read up on the rules for flying drones in the UK too.
Your Buying Guide for the Best Drones in 2017
What is the difference between a drone and a quadcopter?
In the majority of cases you can think of a drone and a quadcopter as the same thing, though you’ll often find more expensive devices are marketed as drones and cheaper toys as quadcopters.
In truth, a drone is any unmanned aerial vehicle, while a quadcopter is any drone controlled by four motors. Typically speaking, a drone will be able to stay in flight for longer than a quadcopter.
How much should I spend on a drone?
At the entry level, toy drones start at just £10, but you won’t get a camera unless you pay around £40-50. Increase your budget towards £100 and you should expect to get live video (first-person view) on your smartphone via a free app, or even a colour screen on the remote control.
None of these will shoot good-quality video, though. For that you will need to spend £300+.
At higher prices, though, you get more for your money and not just better cameras. As well as longer flight times more expensive drones should also be easier to fly thanks to auto-hovering. Without this, you will have to work harder to keep it in the air.
Flight time and range
Cheap drones tend to fly for about five- to 10 minutes before they need recharging, and USB chargers tend to take 30- to 60 minutes to recharge the batteries. Try to get a drone with replaceable batteries and buy a couple of spares.
Although some manufacturers claim a range of over 100m for cheap drones, it’s best to assume you’ll never get more than about 50m. By law in the UK, you must keep drone in your line of sight at all times, anyway.
Small and light drones will be blown around in the wind, so warm, windless days are the best times to fly, although the smallest micro drones can be flown indoors.
For bigger drones, such as DJI’s Phantoms, expect flight times around 20-25 minutes and a range measured in miles, not metres. These use big batteries but are of course bigger and heavier than toy drones. Even the most expensive consumer drones (and we’re talking £2,000) don’t fly for longer than 30 minutes.
Spares – and the availability of spares – are essential
You will crash your drone and you will break things, usually propellers. Almost all drones come with a full set of spare rotors, but as two rotate anti-clockwise and the other pair clockwise, you’ve got only two spares for each pair of spindles.
Not all drones come with cameras. You don’t need a camera, since you should always have the drone in your line of sight while flying it. And even if a drone has a camera, it may not offer FPV (First Person View, a real-time video stream) which you need in order to fly it without line-of-sight.
At the cheaper end of the price scale you’ll be lucky to get even 720p (1280×720) video, but if you want a drone for aerial video go for at least 1080p (1920×1080). Bear in mind that – as ever – you can’t trust specs alone. Read our reviews to find out how good each drone’s camera is.
However, you’ll only get great quality footage if you buy a drone with a gimbal. This is a stabilised mount for the camera which keeps it steady when the drone tilts or moves around.
Gimbals don’t come cheap, though. If you have a limited budget and have a GoPro (or other action camera) already, consider a drone with a GoPro or gimbal mount. Two-axis gimbals can be bought for around £60. The WLToys V303 and Flying 3D X8 are capable of carrying a GoPro-style camera.
Some cameras record video directly to a microSD card (or USB drive) but others record from the remote control, or even directly to a smartphone. Direct recording is usually more reliable and better quality as the video doesn’t have to be transmitted over the air before being recorded.