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The best drones for 2020

"Antony Stonham" (2020-08-02)


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As the technologies of camerasmobile phones and lithium-ion batteries have evolved in recent years, drones have come a long way since the advent of expensive models that were once exclusive to Hollywood productions. Now, for less than $1,000 at your electronics retailer of choice, you can get a drone that will shoot 4K video, pilot itself, and remain in the air for more than half an hour. Flying a drone is about as close as most of us will get to personal flight -- at least, until we get to the point where everyone uses jetpacks.

But the low end of the market has also matured, and $50 (about £40 or AU$80) is now enough to cover a basic quadcopter drone with an integrated camera that can fly for nearly 10 minutes on a charge. And there are plenty of options that fall somewhere in the middle, offering different combinations of video quality, features and price for every drone enthusiast. Below, we've got recommendations for the best drones for beginner and intermediate pilots looking to spend less than $1,000.



Best drones, compared
















Best drone for most people





Best cheap starter drone





Best camera drone





Best racing drone for beginners









Model





DJI Mavic Mini





Hubsan X4 H107C Plus





DJI Mavic Air 2





Emax Tinyhawk 









Buying info





See it at Amazon





See it at Amazon





See it at Amazon





See it at Amazon









Price





$399





$35





$799





$165









Photo





12 megapixels





2 megapixels





12 megapixels





600 TVL









Video





2.7K at 30fps





720p at 30fps





4K at 60fps





600 TVL









GPS support





Yes





No





Yes





No









Flight time





30 minutes





6 minutes





34 minutes





8 minutes









Weight





249 grams





54 grams





570 grams





9 grams









Requires registration (in the US)





No





No





Yes





No















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DJI is the undisputed leader in drone technology and dominates the drone business, with a vast lineup of models for consumers, hobbyists and professionals that start at around $100 and exceed $20,000. But there are other reputable brands making high-quality consumer quadcopters including Parrot and Skydio, as well as countless upstarts making inexpensive drones you can buy at Walmart, Amazon and Best Buy. 

As with most things, the more you spend, the more you get. And while there are exceptions, most drones under $50 may frustrate you with limited features, primitive controls and just a few minutes of flight time. As you explore the options, here are a few key things to consider:

  • Controls: Many drones come with a dedicated remote -- they often look like game controllers -- and can also be piloted using a smartphone app, or with a combination of the two. Some come with first-person view goggles that give you an immersive view of the drone flight as if you were in a cockpit. 
  • GPS support: Support for GPS (or GLONASS, the Russian variation) will make your flights and video more stable, assist with taking off and landing and cut down on crashes. Drones with GPS often have a "return to home" feature that can recall them automatically if you get into a sticky situation.
  • Sensors: Air pressure sensors that can help with altitude assistance or "holding" will let you concentrate on flying your drone instead of having to constantly adjust the throttle. 
  • Batteries: The lithium-ion batteries that power most of the best drones run for 15 to 25 minutes on a charge, though some newer models like the Mavic Air 2 can fly for 30 minutes or more. Still, you'll need spare batteries -- they range from $45 to $70 for the DJI drone models included here -- to extend your flight time beyond that.  
  • Rules and regulations: If your drone weighs 250 grams or more, you'll need to register it with the FAA. And regardless of the weight, US national parks are off-limits -- as are many state parks. Most counties and municipalities have their own regulations regarding remote control aircraft. 

We've outlined our top picks for the best drones for kids and beginners, intermediate users and "prosumer" enthusiasts, as well as an introductory drone for folks interested in racing, which is a whole scene unto itself. We've also included a more in-depth buying guide on the best drones below, with more information about the key things to consider before you buy. 







Best beginner drone




Hubsan X4 H107C Plus








Hubsan


If you or your kid are looking for a basic drone to learn the ropes, this small model is probably the best drone for newcomers to start. The Hubsan X4 is inexpensive and stable enough for newbie flyers (with sufficient power to fly outside), and it will give you between five and seven minutes of flight time per charge. The bright LED lights help you see its orientation from a distance and let you fly at night. It comes with a gaming-style controller, two batteries and USB charger and four spare propellers. 









$35 at Amazon












Best drone for most people








DJI Mavic Mini














Joshua Goldman/CNET


The Mavic Mini is DJI's smallest and lightest camera drone, weighing in at 249 grams (8.8 ounces). The weight is significant because it means that -- in the US, at least -- you don't need to register it with the FAA. Despite its compact profile, however, it offers many of the best features you'll find on the company's larger models: It folds up neatly for easy portability, includes a physical remote (which also folds up) and can fly for about 30 minutes on a charge. And the camera specs are rock-solid. You get 12-megapixel photographs and 2.7K video at 30 frames per second (and 1080p at 60fps). The three-axis motorized gimbal ensures you end up with smooth video and clear photos. 

One of the reasons that the Mini is so light is that it has fewer sensors for obstacle avoidance and recognition. That means there will be a learning curve and some crashing. But once you get the hang of it, the Mini is stable, nimble, safe to fly and quieter than other DJI models including the Air and

Spending an additional $100 on the gets you three batteries, a charging hub, extra propellers and a carrying case. 


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Though the Mavic Mini remains the best drone for most people, it lacks the build quality, blockbuster camera technology and extensive flight time you get with DJI's step-up model, the Mavic Air 2. The second-generation Air isn't cheap -- it costs about twice as much as the Mavic Mini -- but it's considerably sturdier and stronger. It's also heavier, but mostly due to a beefier battery, which has pushed its flight time beyond 30 minutes per charge, making the Mavic Air 2 the undisputed leader for consumer drones in this category.The original Mavic Air had legit camera specs, but the new model is even better, capable of shooting full 4K video at 60fps and capturing 48MP photos. It retains the first-generation's top speed of 42.5 mph but adds APAS 3.0 technology, which helps it more fluidly navigate around obstacles instead of just stopping to avoid them. That noted, if obstacle avoidance is your top priority, the $1,000 remains the gold-standard -- and an all-around excellent choice in its own right.DJI makes plenty of other drones with superior specs -- even better cameras and photography capabilities -- but they come with higher prices. Higher-spec options include the