Wish you could fly? Here are the best drones on the market right now
In just the past few years, drones have transformed from a geeky hobbyist affair to a full-on cultural phenomenon. They’re everywhere now, and they’re available in just about any shape, size, or configuration you could ever want.
The market is absolutely saturated with them now, even including some fantastic models under $500. so to help you navigate the increasingly large and ever-changing landscape of consumer UAVs, we put together this definitive list of the best drones on the planet right now. So without further ado, here’s the cream of the quadcopter crop.
At a glance
- DJI Mavic Air: Best drone overall (4.5 out of 5 stars)
- Yuneec Breeze: Best drone for beginners (3.5 out of 5 stars)
- Ryze Tello: Best cheap drone
- DJI Inspire 2: Best drone for filmmakers (4 out of 5 stars)
- QAV250 Mini FPV Carbon Fiber Edition: Best drone for racing
- Parrot Mambo: Best drone for kids
- DJI Spark: Best selfie drone (4 out of 5 stars)
DJI MAVIC AIR
Why you should buy this: It has all the features you need in a drone, yet is still compact enough to fit in a backpack or purse
Who it’s for: Anyone looking for a fullfeatured yet highly portable drone
How much it’ll cost: $799
Why we chose the DJI Mavic Air:
What makes the Mavic Air so amazing is that, despite the fact that it’s one of the most compact and portable drones we’ve ever flown, it’s also one of the most capable and full-featured. It’s equipped with a 4K camera, a 3-axis gimbal, forward/backward/downward obstacle avoidance, tons of autopilot modes, range over four miles, and somehow it still fits in the palm of your hand. It’s living proof that scaling down size doesn’t necessarily mean scaling back on features, and that big things really can come in small packages.
The portability factor is huge. Thanks to a very clever hinge system, the Mavic’s arms fold up into a neat little package just smaller than the dimensions of your average brick, which makes it a breeze to stuff in your backpack or messenger bag and lug along on your adventures. Photographers always say that the best camera is the one you have with you, and the same could definitely be said for drones. If it’s portable, you’re far more likely to have it with you when you need it.
When it comes to portable drones, the Mavic Air has no equal — although the Mavic Pro is still a pretty solid contender. It boasts slightly better camera specs and lasts a bit longer in the air, but it also costs an extra $200.
The best drone for beginners
Why you should buy this: Because it’s easy to fly, relatively cheap, reasonably durable, and also provides you with plenty of room to grow and progress as a pilot
Who its for: Novice pilots who want a durable, easy-to-fly drone with a decent camera and a plethora of upgrade options
How much it’ll cost: $200-$230
Why we chose the Yuneec Breeze:
Some people will tell you that beginner pilots should cut their teeth on lower-end drones, but in our expert opinion, that’s nonsense. Why? Crappier drones are harder and less reliable to fly, which means that you’re far more likely to crash and destroy them. We think its a smarter idea to start out with a slightly nicer drone with reliable, responsive controls, a decent warranty, and a design that’s easy to repair or upgrade.
With these goals in mind, Yuneec’s Breeze is a fantastic choice for any greenhorn drone pilot. It is relatively cheap, but not so cheap that you’ll be encouraged to fly carelessly. It also has a pretty decent 4K camera on the undercarriage, and boasts an ultraportable form factor that makes transport, well, a Breeze.
And the best part? You can fly it with your smartphone, or pick up Yuneec’s dedicated controller system if you want tighter, more responsive controls. In other words, if you start with this drone, you’ll be able to learn the ins and outs of piloting a quadcopter — but more importantly, you’ll also be able to upgrade your setup as your skills progress and your needs change.
The best cheap drone
Why you should buy this: Despite costing just $99 bucks, this little bugger boasts all the essential features you need.
Who it’s for: Anyone who wants an affordable drone that’s easy to fly
How much it’ll cost: $99
Why we chose the Ryze Tello drone: Generally speaking, drones that cost less than $100 bucks aren’t worth your time. They’re flimsy, they lack advanced features, and they’re almost always squirrely as hell in the air. But Tello is different. Despite the fact that it retails for only $99, it boasts a boatload of high-end features and functionality. Under the hood you’ll find a 14-core Intel vision processing chip, flight stabilization tech from DJI, a 5 megapixel camera capable of shooting 720p HD video, and a battery that gets you 13 minutes of flight time.
Unfortunately, this one doesn’t come with a controller, which means you’re forced to pilot Tello via virtual joysticks on a smartphone app: a control method that’s notoriously mushy and imprecise. The good news, though, is that Ryze built the drone with third-party peripherals in mind, so if you prefer to fly with physical sticks under your thumbs, you can pick up a GameSir T1d controller and link it to your bird. We think it’s well worth the extra $30 bucks!
DJI INSPIRE 2
The best drone for filmmakers
Why you should buy this: Because it’s a professional camera drone that’s ready to fly, straight out of the box
Who it’s for: Amateur and professional filmmakers who don’t want to build a custom camera drone rig
How much it’ll cost: $3,000
Why we chose the DJI Inspire 2:
There’s a reason you see DJI’s Inspire showing up everywhere from movie sets to Enrique Iglesias concerts — it’s a beast. The Inspire 2 boasts some seriously impressive specs: a controllable range of up to 4.3 miles, a top speed of 67 miles per hour, forward obstacle avoidance, and all the stabilization and autopilot features you could ever ask for in a drone. But the camera is definitely the star of the show.
DJI’s latest Zenmuse cam, the X5S, is a mirrorless Micro Four Thirds camera made specifically for aerial photography and cinematography. It shoots in 5.2K at 30 frames per second (or 4K at 60), takes 20.4 megapixel stills, and boasts a ridiculously wide ISO range of 100 – 25,600. As an added bonus, this rig is cradled inside a vibration dampened 3-axis gimbal, so your footage comes out silky smooth no matter how crazily you fly.
DJI’s control system is also fantastic. The revamped DJI Go app puts all of the camera’s advanced controls right at your fingertips. Shutter speed, aperture, and ISO can be adjusted with just a few taps, and focus can be set by simply tapping on the subject. With a setup like this, you don’t even need prior film experience or piloting skills to get professional-looking footage.
LUMENIER QAV250 MINI FPV CARBON FIBER EDITION
The best drone for racing
Why you should buy this: Because you want a drone you can race and upgrade, but don’t want to build one from scratch
Who it’s for: Novice and intermediate racing pilots
How much it’ll cost: $434
Why we chose the Lumenier QAV250 Mini FPV Carbon Fiber Edition:
Lumenier’s QAV250 wins our pick for the best racing drone for a few different reasons, but the first and most important is that it is modular and customizable. You can buy it pre-assembled from Lumenier, and while the stock configuration should be more than enough to satisfy pilots who are new to drone racing, you are also not locked in to that configuration forever. If you ever feel like upgrading your drone, you can easily swap out any of the parts for newer, better gear.
This flexibility is crucial. If you look at the winners of most drone races, you’ll notice that most pros fly their own custom drone rigs that can be tweaked and tuned to boost performance. The technology that powers drone racing is progressing at a breakneck pace, and the last thing you want to do is dump a bunch of money into a pre-built racing rig that’ll become obsolete in a few months. The best course of action is to get a rig that’ll get you in the air and racing, but also allow you to evolve — and that’s precisely what the QAV250 will do.
The best drone for kids
Why you should buy this: It’s stable and easy to fly, and it comes with a range of fun attachments.
Who it’s for: Kids and adults who want a drone that can shoot darts
How much it’ll cost: $120
Why we chose the Parrot Mambo:
Truth be told, you can get a cheaper drone that your kid will probably go bonkers over just the same, but they’ll actually be able to fly this one. There are a boatload of mini drones out there right now that you can get for under $50 — but in our experience, the vast majority of them are too squirrelly and difficult to master for your average kid.
Parrot’s new Mambo is different. Unlike most other mini drones, this one is actually designed specifically for kids. In addition to a boatload of motion sensors and advanced autopilot software that keeps the drone stable, Mambo also comes with a handful of attachments that make it more fun and engaging than a basic quadcopter. Inside the box you’ll find a cannon attachment, 50 foam cannon balls, and a grabber arm that can clamp and carry small objects.
And the best part? Parrot also gives you the option of piloting via smartphone or with a dedicated dual-joystick controller. The Flypad, as it’s called, is sold separately for $40 bucks, but it might be worth the extra dough if you don’t have a spare smartphone lying around and don’t feel like handing your kid your brand new iPhone every time he/she feels like flying.
The best selfie drone
Why you should buy this: Because you want something portable that you can fly without a controller
Who it’s for: Anyone who wants to take epic selfies
How much it’ll cost: $500
Why we chose the DJI Spark:
If there’s one thing DJI is good at, it’s stuffing a ton of features and functionality into increasingly small drones — and nothing showcases this talent more than the Spark. Despite the fact that the drone’s hull is roughly the size of a Twinkie, DJI somehow managed to cram in many of the same goodies you’d find under the hood of the Spark’s bigger, bulkier, and more expensive brothers.
Aside from its tiny and hyper-portable design, the Spark’s biggest feature is arguably its plethora of intelligent flying modes. In addition to DJI’s standard stuff, the Spark sports a handful of brand-new modes, including Rocket, Dronie, Circle, and Helix (more on those in a moment). The drone also comes with gesture recognition abilities, which allow it to be operated without a smartphone or controller.
Another big addition is Spark’s obstacle avoidance system. While the ability to sense and avoid objects is usually a feature reserved for larger drones, DJI went ahead and built one into the hull of the Spark. It’s not quite as robust as what you’ll find on the Phantom 4, or even the Mavic Pro, but it still serves its purpose, and helps you avoid crashes.
Oh, and let’s not forget about the camera. In addition to a 12-megapixel camera that shoots video in 1080p at 30 frames per second, the Spark also sports a two-axis gimbal. This lets it mechanically stabilize the camera and cancel out any jarring, shaky movements — resulting in smoother, better-looking footage. This also gives it a leg up on the competition; most selfie drones only feature single-axis mechanical stabilization.
HOW WE TEST DRONES
- Build quality & Design
the first thing we do when we get a new drone is beat it up a little bit. We don’t kick it down the stairs or anything, but we’ll give it a few knocks, twists, and shallow drops to assess the build quality and durability. Does it feel flimsy, or does it feel like it could survive a crash landing in the park? We give each review unit a light beating (and usually a couple unintentional crash landings) before we give you a definitive answer on how durable it is.
- Flight performance, range, and autonomy
To gauge flight performance, we put the drone through a number of tests to see how the manufacturer’s claims hold up. First we take it to a local football field and see how fast it can clear 100 yards, then do some calculations to get an objective reading on speed in miles per hour. After that, we do a similar test to assess ascent and descent speeds, and all the while, we’re also taking notes on how responsive the controls are, how stable the craft is, how far it can go before it’s out of range, and what the overall piloting experience is like compared to other drones.
- Battery life and charge time
After we’ve taken the drone out to play for a while and jotted down a few notes about how long the battery lasts, we put it on the charger and grab a stopwatch to determine recharge time. Then we take it back out and do a hover test. By flying the drone in the least demanding conditions, we can get a sense of what the maximum flight time is. And finally, we take it out a few more good, hard flights to find out how long the battery lasts (on average) under normal conditions.
- Camera, accessories, and upgradability
If the drone we’re testing happens to have a camera capable of recording, we capture as much footage as we possibly can. We’ll shoot in dark places, light places, and places with lots of color and contrast. This footage is then compared to all the highlight reels that we filmed with other drones, which helps us get a sense of the camera’s strengths and weaknesses. We also test any accessories that accompany the camera, like lenses, filters, gimbals, or FPV goggles. Finally, we’ll also let you know if the camera setup is upgradable, so you wont be stuck with an outdated shooter in two years.
Spotify Wrapped will tell you which songs and artists you loved the most in 2018
If you’re like me, you spend hours upon hours listening to Spotify each and every single week. Sure, there are competitors out there from the likes of Apple and Google, but Spotify seems to have simply nailed the overall user experience in a way that others still haven’t been able to match.
With 2019 right around the corner, Spotify, as it did last year, updated its Spotify Wrapped website which provides subscribers with an interesting and comprehensive snapshot of their music listening habits over the past year. So if you’re at all curious about how many hours you’ve spent listening to Spotify or which songs you listened to the most over the past few months, SpotifyUnwrapped is there to help you out.
Once you navigate over to the website, one of the first things you’ll see is how many hours you spent listening to Spotify over the last year. As for me, I apparently spent 8,031 minutes listening to music this year. It may seem like quite a bit, but some die hard music lovers out there have spent in excess of 80,000 minutes on the streaming site over the past few months.
Beyond that, Spotify Unwrapped will also tell you which artists you listened to the most, which songs you had in heavy rotation, and which genre you tend to gravitate towards to the most. Perhaps the coolest thing, though, is that Spotify gives users an option to check out a Tastebreakers playlist which is described as follows:
Start 2019 by broadening your horizons. We’ve made you a playlist of songs from genres and artists you don’t normally explore – and we think you’ll like it.
I was skeptical at first, but the Tastebreakers playlist Spotify’s algorithm curated just for me was surprisingly great. It’s definitely worth a shot if you’re looking for some new artists and genres to enjoy.
N.Y. Today: Why Police Drones Are Coming
Drones, but not for ‘warrantless surveillance’
What they’ll use them for: The New York Police Department announced on Tuesday that officers will use 14 drones to map crime scenes, watch over large events and aid search-and-rescue operations. But they won’t be used for “warrantless surveillance.”
What officials won’t say: The Times reports that police officials rejected recommendations that would have required them to disclose regularly how often they were using drones and why.
What officials will say: The police will voluntarily report “aggregate data” regarding the drone program, said Devora Kaye, a department spokeswoman.
What critics say: It’s unclear whether the police have the legal authority to fly the drones or whether they need authorization from the City Council.
Flying drones in the city could be considered reckless endangerment, and current laws may not carve out an exception for law enforcement.
Why it matters: “Like any tool, drones can be used for good or for less-than-honorable purposes,” said Jim McKinley, who edits criminal justice stories for The Times’s Metro Desk.
The drones could reach remote crime scenes, getting close to hostages or examining bombs — but “they could also be used to peer into people’s windows.”
Critics, he said, want the government “to keep an eye on the people keeping an eye on us.”
Project Fi is now Google Fi, and it will work with iPhones and most Android devices
Three years after it first launched, Google is making its cell service a little more official today. Project Fi is graduating into something a little more ambitious and getting a new name in the process: Google Fi. But the bigger news is that it’s also going to support more phones — a lot of phones — including the iPhone and “the majority of Android devices.”
This isn’t the first time that Fi has worked with Apple devices; you could get a data-only SIM for iPads as secondary devices before. And technically, a Fi SIM has always worked in an iPhone, provided you adjusted the data settings on the phone. But now Google is supporting iPhones directly for new customers, though it says that the support is in beta and requires “a few extra steps to get set up.” There will be a new Google Fi iOS app to help ease the process along.
More specifically, you’l find that Visual Voicemail won’t work anymore, but iMessage will. iOS won’t pull the right MMS and data connections automatically, but it does work with just a few copy-and-pastes into settings.
For Android phones, setup should be a lot more straightforward. Though by going with Fi instead of a more traditional carrier, you should be aware that all customer support happens online or over the phone. In my experience, that hasn’t been a big issue, but sometimes it is nice to have a store to walk into to get in-person help.
Google Fi is an MVNO, which stands for “mobile virtual network operator.” That means that your actual service comes from larger carriers; Fi uses T-Mobile, Sprint, and US Cellular as its backbone. However, only a few phones (like the Pixels and others that Google sells) are able to dynamically switch between those carriers’ networks, and that doesn’t change today. Like before, phones that aren’t explicitly “designed for Fi” are stuck on T-Mobile’s network. Here’s how Google Fi will work with iPhones, for example.
Whatever network you’re technically on, Google allows people with phones running Android 9 Pie to route their data through its own VPN. However, Google Fi still has some catching up to do with other carriers when it comes to other features, including support for the RCS Universal Profile for texting and number sharing for things like LTE smartwatches.
But the real difference with Fi is the pricing model: it’s much simpler than what most other networks offer. It’s $20 for a phone line and $10 per gig of data you use — capped at $60 under a newer program it calls “Bill Protection.” The reason I like it is that you can get a data-only SIM, which costs no additional money per month beyond the data you use it on it. I think it’s one of the best deals in wireless. But depending on your data habits, the same might not be true for you.
Until now, I’ve had a shadow of a doubt about Google’s commitment to the Project Fi service. It’s not just that it was dubbed a “project,” but also that Google has, shall we say, a mixed record when it comes to providing communication services. Fi grew out of Google Voice in some ways, a service that has had sporadic stretches of stagnated support. And that’s to say nothing of Google Fiber, the broadband service that started with an aggressive rollout before faltering.
The expanded support helps to alleviate some of those concerns. And perhaps in another sign to show that it’s serious, Google is looking to juice sign-ups and sales with a deal that essentially pays for your phone, though it’s only going to be offered today, November 28th. It applies to both new subscribers and current customers:
For any phone you purchase [from Google Fi], you’ll receive the same value back in your choice of travel gift cards, which you can spend on flights with Delta and Southwest or lodging with Airbnb and hotels.com. Alternatively, if you’d rather set up Google Fi on your current phone, you’ll earn $200 of Fi service credit when you sign up today.
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