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 before you buy any drone listed here.
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.
At higher prices, you get more for your money. 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.
See also: Best new drones coming in 2017
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 over £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.
Check first if spare parts are easy to obtain for a particular drone, and also their prices. Ebay is a good place to buy a ‘crash pack’.
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.
Also check out our best drone photography tips.
Best drones 2017 UK – best drone reviews
DJI Mavic Pro
Folding drones are undoubtedly the future. and the Mavic Pro is fantastic. It may seem expensive, but the fact that it has even better tech inside it than the Phantom 4 means it’s actually very good value.
If there’s one downside it’s that you can’t remove the gimbal and camera for ground-based filming as you can with GoPro’s Karma. But the Mavic Pro’s portability and the fantastic new controller are the real winners, though. It means you don’t have to lug a big case around as you did for the Phantom, and that it doesn’t have to be a special occasion: you can take the Mavic Pro everywhere.
Read our Mavic Pro review.
The Spark is even tinier than the Mavic Pro, so you can take it just about everywhere with you. And you can control it with just your hands, taking selfies and recording video without a controller.
It even has the Mavic Pro’s obstacle avoidance and brilliant new Quick Shot modes which create handy processed clips you can share to Facebook.
Read our DJI Spark review
DJI Phantom 4
The Phantom 4 Advanced replaces the Phantom 4. It’s even more expensive but has the Pro model’s 20Mp camera which can shoots 4K video at 60 frames per second and is very easy to control.
Batteries are very expensive, though, and the intelligent modes, although catching up, don’t quite match those you’ll get with a 3DR Solo which, in our opinion, is still the better choice if you need to capture complex cinematic aerial shots.
The Solo, though, doesn’t come with a camera and lacks obstacle avoidance, so the Phantom 4 Advanced is a great choice if you can afford it.
Read our full Phantom 4 Advanced review.
The Solo is a fantastic tool for capturing stunning aerial shots that would otherwise be impossible even for experienced quadcopter pilots. It doesn’t come with a gimbal or camera though, so even if you find it for £750 online, you’ll need to spend a lot more before you can get those shots.
A Mavic Pro costs only a bit more than the bare Solo yet comes with a great camera and gimbal, and has obstacle avoidance and auto-tracking modes.
Still, if you already have a suitable camera and gimbal, read our full 3DR Solo review.
DJI Phantom 3 Professional
The Phantom 3 is now the previous-generation model but is very stable in flight and produces stunning video footage. Its range goes beyond what most consumers will need and the only extra requirement out of the box you need is a compatible iOS or Android device to use with the controller.
Even beginners will be able to fly it, and there are good safety features to prevent the Phantom flying away, as well as landing when the battery is low. The Professional model now costs around £819 online, but those who don’t need 4K can save (and still be happy) with the Advanced model for under £800.
Read our full Phantom 3 review.
DJI Phantom 3 Standard
The intelligent flying modes may not be the easiest to use, but they do allow you to get smooth shots that would be near impossible if you were flying manually. The Go app is the same as for DJI’s other drones, and the 1080p video quality is excellent considering the price, with much less distortion than from a Phantom 2 Vision+. If you can’t stretch to a Phantom 3 4K, this is superb value for money at £449 from Amazon.
Read our full Phantom 3 Standard review.
A ready-to-fly FPV racing drone that’s well designed and well built. It’s very fast and manoeuvrable, and comes with an on-board video transmitter: you need only add your own FPV goggles (with appropriate video receiver) to get a first person view while flying.
Considering what you’re getting, it’s remarkably good value.
Read our full ViFly R220 review
Hubsan H501S X4
Slightly more expensive than the WLtoys W303, the newer Hubsan H501S comes with a built-in camera, and a remote control with a handy 3.7in screen. This means you can see a first person view, as if you were on board – indeed, the remote also has an analogue video output for use with matching FPV goggles.
It also has GPS and lasts around 20 minutes from a single charge, although it does take hours to recharge, so buy a spare battery or two – they’re cheap enough.
Read our full Hubsan H501S review to find out more.
The WLtoys V303 is a great alternative to a Phantom if your budget won’t stretch. In fact, even with a gimbal and camera, the V303 works out around £150 cheaper than a Phantom 3 Standard. Spares are available from GearBest and aren’t too expensive.
Read our full WLToys V303 review
Hubsan X4 FPV
For the price, video quality is poor, so don’t expect to be recording amazing footage from the air. If you invest in some extra batteries and time in learning to fly it properly, the H107D can be a rewarding and fun drone. But, compared to the others here, it is much more of a toy.
Read our full Hubsan X4 FPV review