The 7 Best Drones to Buy in 2017 for Under $250

Shop for today's top drones without breaking the bank

Drones have become super popular recently (both recreationally and professionally), and if you're looking to buy one, it's important to do your homework first. If you're just starting out flying drones, it's best to buy a cheaper option since it'll take you some time to get used to the controls and maneuverability. And even though you're buying a more inexpensive model, you can still get a decent drone that has a good amount of flying time, a camera, range and more. Read on to see which beginner/budget drone is best for you.

1
Best Budget: Syma X5C

Syma X5C
Courtesy of Amazon.com

Our pick for the best overall drone is the Syma X5C, and it also happens to be Amazon’s No. 1 best seller. It has only seven minutes of flight time and we’d love to see that number triple for our top choice, but the low price tag has to have some drawbacks. Fortunately, it only takes around 90 minutes of charging before you’re back in business and up in the air again.

The X5C is durable, but has plenty of cheap available parts in case of damage. The 720p camera won’t win any awards, but it’s more than enough to capture the moment and provide some eagle-eyed views of the world around us. The six-axis gyroscope allows for flight both inside and outside and, while there’s balance, we’d recommend keeping it out of any strong winds. Flying with the controller is responsive and smooth and the 150-foot range is more than enough for first-timers.

This drone is a fantastic deal, punching well above its price tag and providing a great introductory experience to the drone and quadcopter world. If you want something that will help you learn how to fly before stepping up to more expensive models, the X5C is a great place to start.

2
Runner-Up, Best Budget: Holy Stone U818A Plus

Holy Stone U818A
Courtesy of Amazon.com

While it looks like something out of a movie, Holy Stone’s U818A Plus drone is a well-reviewed and budget-friendly option. Featuring a seven- to nine-minute flight time and taking only two hours to recharge, this .5-pound quadcopter is perfect for the beginner. And extra battery is included to double your flight time, as well as a two-megapixel HD video camera with 30 frames per second recording and a 4GB microSD card for video storage.

The U818A measures 3.74 x 15.75 x 15.75 inches and is composed of a highly integrated plastic protective frame to help protect against collisions. In the event of an accident, four extra blades are included. The 2.4GHz remote offers around 30 meters in range with a “come back home” button that allows for a single click and the drone returns immediately.

Unfortunately, camera quality isn’t going to impress and flight time won’t allow for lengthy flying sessions. However, at this price range, that’s not surprising. It’s best to wait for limited wind conditions to really maximize control and capabilities. Anything beyond 10 to 15 mph and the motor will have a hard time battling the wind. Wind speed aside, the combination of affordability, durability and extra battery make the U818A a fantastic choice for best budget runner-up.

3
Best Indoor: BLADE Nano QX RTF

BLADE Nano QX RTF
Courtesy of Amazon.com

Considering that professional drones can cost in the thousands, the price tag of our best budget-friendly option is more than welcome. In fact, the BLADE Nano QX RTF is one the best options you can find in the sub- $250 price range. Like our best overall choice, the Nano QX has glowing positive reviews spanning the web.

Flying the Nano QX is a ton of fun. Designed to be flown inside, the construction is not any less than that of a drone that’s geared toward the outdoors. To get it up and running, just take it out of the box, charge up the battery and fly. The 150mAh battery will provide around seven minutes of flight time and takes around 25 minutes to fully recharge. The included controller, which looks eerily similar to a XBOX controller, offers a range of around 40 feet, which seems fair enough for a drone that is designed for indoor use.

At .58 ounces, it’s fast and maneuverable and that means it can be blown off course with ease, hence the suggestion of indoor use only. One notable omission with the Nano QX is that of a camera, which is by no means a deal breaker at this price. Thanks to its stellar controls, stability, and wallet-friendly price tag, the Nano QX is an easy recommendation for a terrific budget option. Just buy a spare battery. 

4
Best Outdoor: DBPower Hawkeye III

DBPower Hawkeye III
Courtesy of Amazon.com

When it comes to identifying the best drones under $250, one of the general themes was that most models are made for indoors but can work outdoors. Some manufacturers downright recommend indoors only as one swift gust of wind could cause disaster. Fortunately, the DBPower Hawkeye III is geared for both, thanks to a “high” mode and a “low” mode.

In low mode, the Hawkeye limits its height and speed for better control indoors. High mode removes those restrictions and offers more control to battle better against windy gusts.

The on-board 700mAh battery provides around eight minutes of flying time, which is right in line with the general theme of this sub-$250 price point. You’ll be back in the air after the 150-minute charge time, longer than we’d hope but given the additional features of this model we’re willing to make some exceptions. The drone is limited to around 90 feet outdoors which is OK considering the on-board camera is just .3 megapixels. The kicker here is you can swap out the camera with a GoPro mount and kick the camera quality up a few dozen notches.

What really helps this drone stand out is the feature set. The headless control feature, which helps beginners and advanced drone users alike, always knows where the “front” of the drone is regardless of the direction it is pointing. The controller also offers two options for first-person viewing with a dock for a smartphone that allows live-streaming over through the camera over WiFi. Essentially, whatever the drone’s camera is seeing, the operator will see as well.

However, you can really expand your fun by downloading a smartphone app that allows you to direct control of the Hawkeye through the built-in gravity sensor function. If you really want to take things to a whole new level, the Hawkeye is also compatible with some virtual-reality headsets allowing you to see the world in an entirely different way.

5
Best for Beginners: UDI 818A

UDI 818A
Courtesy of Amazon.com

If you’re looking to master the basics of flying a drone before you take the leap into the more advanced stages, the UDI 818A drone is the best place to start. Make no mistake, the UDI 818A relies solely on you, the pilot, developing the appropriate flying skills to keep this bird in the air. The controls are simple and easy to grasp, and it’s a heck of a lot of fun to fly. We only wish the 2mp camera didn’t feel like it was from 10 years ago. It’s OK for what it does, and, if you keep your expectations for video and photography low, you’ll be fine.

The 500mAh battery lasts around eight minutes, which is fairly on par for the course at this price range. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of warning on the UDI 818A for low battery. It just stops wherever it is in the sky. With a max height of around 90 feet, that could lead to some concern of just dropping out of the sky. One additional disappointment about the UDI is the nearly two-hour recharge time. That’s lengthier than most of the other drones in this price range and, while spare batteries are less than $10, we’d love to see this cut closer to an hour overall.

For beginners, understanding the remote is critical and, fortunately, the UDI shines in this area. The controller is comfortable, albeit boxy, and sports a fairly traditional set of functions. There’s a bonus LCD display that displays battery level, signal strength and thrust, which is nice considering the UDI doesn’t provide for control via any smartphone or WiFi capable device.

6
Runner-Up, Best for Beginners: Holy Stone F181

Holy Stone F181
Courtesy of Amazon.com

Affordable and easy to fly, the Holy Stone F181 is a great choice if you're looking to get your feet wet in the quadcopter world. It has a range of anywhere between 50 to 100 meters and a flight time of 7 to 9 minutes. While the recharge option is fairly slow at 80 minutes, grabbing a fast charger along with the included spare battery will keep you flying. 

The addition of altitude hold function allows you to hold the F181 steady while you shoot pictures with the two-megapixel camera. Measuring 12.2 x 3.5 x 12.2 inches, the propeller protectors will help you avoid any damage to the body of the F181 until you get familiar with the controls. Aesthetically, there’s a slew of LED lights that add a little flair and little function.

The ABS plastic body will help protect against some medium altitude bumps, which reinforce the belief that the F181 is a fantastic drone choice for beginners. It’s unfortunate the camera doesn’t allow streaming back to a smartphone to see a live feed from the drone, but realistically, that’s a standard feature at higher price points. The controller looks familiar to any video game console user and is very comfortable (with four AA batteries should last over 30 days).

7
Best Mini: H107C+ HD

H107C+ HD
Courtesy of Amazon.com

Once you drop below a certain dollar point in the drone market, you open the door for an additional category, the mini drone. These palm-sized (sometimes slightly larger) models are available at prices that won’t scare you off and will allow you to have a ton of fun while learning to fly.

Before you get too excited, flying time hovers around seven minutes with charging time taking another 40 minutes off the clock. In fact, one perk of the Hubsan is that, unlike a good number of its competitors, the proprietary battery doesn’t need to be removed for charging. Just plug the drone directly into a USB cord. Add in the 720p camera with microSD recording and you’ll find a quality camera at a price that’s easy to afford.

One specific callout of the Hubsan is something that truly grabbed our attention at this price point: altitude-hold mode. In this mode, you’ll be able to capture 720p video without a three-axis gimbal and still take semi-stable footage. For a recreational drone that’s miniature in stature, this is quite a perk at such a low price point. The range for the Hubsan extends to around 150 feet before the controller will lose control, a fairly default range at this price point. At the end of the day, this is still a mini drone so expectations have to be kept to a minimum.

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