The first-time drone buyers guide

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It can be tough to know exactly what to look for when shopping for gifts in a hobby you are unfamiliar with, and drones are no exception. There are an array of options for customers to choose from, including size and functionality, and while it may seem obvious to splurge on an expensive model, you would be surprised to find that some low-cost alternatives offer a lot in a small package.

So, for this guide, I have listed a few of the more highly praised “beginner” drones for consideration, and have highlighted in the descriptions some features that you should look for when purchasing a drone for a novice pilot. These drones are smaller, and offer a number of safety features to help new flyers avoid accidents. They also cost significantly less than their more advanced counterparts. While I will list a few suggestions for advanced drones at the end of the article, I encourage buyers to avoid these models unless they are absolutely sure they intend to stick with the hobby.

Toy drones can be a good option for kids or beginners

The drones in this category are referred to as “toy” drones because they are smaller and have limited customization options. Ultimately, what you lose in complexity, you make up for in low cost. If you’re shopping for a young child or someone unfamiliar with the hobby, these drones are great introductions. They won’t leave you sullen if the person you bought it for ultimately forgets it a few months after purchase. Also, all the drones in this category are listed with their remote controls. Just make sure that you purchase the “RTF” (ready to fly) model when shopping online.

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Horizon Hobby Blade Nano QX RTF Quadcopter

$59.99 comes with remote

Overall, this drone has probably received the highest praise n this category from both critics and consumers. It’s relatively small compared to what many customers might imagine when conceptualizing a drone, fitting in the palm of your hand, but this is actually one of its strengths. Because of its size, the Blade Nano can safely fly in the house, and will reduce damage to both itself and its surroundings. And with the added safety of what Horizon Hobby calls “SAFE” technology, the Blade Nano is capable of self-stabilization in case the flyer loses control. Additionally, it also has two flight modes, one for learning flyers that prevents full control over the drone, and a free-flying mode which gives complete manual control to the flyer. And to make this purchase more appealing, Horizon Hobby is currently offering a $10 discount on any of their drones right now when customers input the code “WISH2016” at checkout.

Hubsan X4


Another strong contender for first time flyers, the X4 is a reliable model that offers customers a safe entry into the world of drones. The X4 is roughly the same size as the Blade Nano, but doesn’t have the same flexibility when it comes to flight options. While the Nano offers flyers the choice between controlled and full-manual flight, the X4 only offers controlled flight. But, if I were to interject on behalf of the X4, I would say that this limitation may actually be good for parents buying for young children. Having the added control can keep them from destroying the blades or the entire drone. The X4 also offers a built-in camera for on-the-fly video capture.

One consideration that I would offer to those debating between the X4 and the other models on this list: While the X4 has received high praise from online enthusiasts, customers on Amazon have given it some lower reviews. In most cases, the reviews were based on what appeared to be faulty models and not the actual quality of a working drone. But, if there are enough people out there complaining about the drone’s faultiness, it would be unfair to not acknowledge it in a review.

Stepping up in features means upping the price

LaTrax Alias



While the other drones in this category have been smaller, with features geared toward the beginner flyer, the Alias represents a mid-point between novice and expert. Significantly bigger than both the Blade Nano and the X4 at around seven inches, not including the span of the propellers, the Alias is a more durable and hobby-friendly model. Unlike the other models on this list, the Alias allows users to replace damaged pieces, which gives it added longevity. Like the X4, this drone also comes with a camera option, but it does not use any of the stabilizing features from either the X4 or the Blade Nano. This is great for flyers who want more freedom in how they control the drone, but leaves the Alias open to more frequent crashes if the flyer is new to the hobby.

Lastly, although the Alias has received high marks in performance, it does contain one glaring issue which may still be a problem: It has a tendency to burn out motors. While the reports that I found were written in 2014, and otherwise praised the quality of the drone, I was unable to verify through any reports if the problem had been resolved. That being said, this issue did not impact all users, and those that did experience the problem were able to replace the motors for around $40. But, still, it is something to consider before picking up this drone.

As mentioned in the introduction, if you will not be content unless you have the apex of drone technology, then consider the options listed below. These drones are significantly more advanced than the “toy” models above, which means that they come at a much higher price.

The DJI Phantom Series 3 and 4

$500 – $1,200

Voted the best drones on the market by a number of critics and enthusiasts, the Phantom series by DJI seems to be the cream of the crop when it comes to manufactured drone models. These models are fast, reliable and provide streaming HD video, as well as camera stabilizers for clean, fluid photos and movies. Additionally, these drones offer 3D mapping to aid in hazard avoidance, and provide in-app features to assist flyers as they learn to fly. DJI even offers drone care for the Phantom 3 and 4, as well as a number of their other models, which means that you can send your drone in for repairs even if you were at fault for the damage. While this service is not free (see DJI’s website for details) the service does cover just about anything aside from intentional damage.


There you have it, a crash course (not to jinx you) in what to consider when buying your first drone. While I provided a few options for new buyers in the article, the important takeaway should be pay attention to the features each provides. Regardless of the model you inevitably choose, make sure that it comes with these features to ensure you get the best experience for your money. Like any new hobby, I encourage you to take it slow, and start with something more manageable before moving into the higher grade toys. It will make your purchase, and your pastime, much more pleasant.

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