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Best cheap drones to get you up in the air

When it comes to drones, it wasn’t too long ago when getting into the skies with a decent drone would cost you well over a grand of your hard-earned cash. Today, however, there is an excellent selection of drones available at much lower prices. Whether you simply find thrill in flying a drone through the skies, want to find something for your kids, or wish to kickstart your aerial photography hobby, we have a fantastic option for you. The Ryze Tello is the best overall option since it has all of the features you would want as well as not putting a major dent in your wallet. Continue reading to learn about the best cheap drones you can buy without breaking the bank, and let’s get airborne!

Looking for the best done on the market, no matter the price? Be sure to check out our detailed guide of the best drones that you can buy for even more great options. If you’re feeling adventurous, check out the most expensive drones in the world, or for those of you that want to save some money, check out our collection of the best Black Friday drone deals.

At a glance

Product Category Rating
Ryze Tello Best drone overall In progress
Snaptain S5C  Best drone runner-up In progress
Simrex X300C Best miniature drone In progress
Snaptain H823H Best drone for kids In progress
Eachine E520S Best drone for photography In progress

The best: Ryze Tello

Ryze Tech

Why you should buy this: Featuring flight technology from DJI, a leader of the drone revolution, you can take to the skies with smart features and without worry.

Who it’s for: Those who want the best drone flight experience they can purchase without breaking the bank.

Why we chose the Ryze Tello:

When we saw that Ryze was teaming up with DJI to create an affordable drone, we instantly knew that we would see amazing things. Featuring the same intelligent software found in drones 10x its price, the Tello can take to the skies with smart features, including automatic takeoff and landing, an intelligent vision positioning system, and a fail-safe protection mode that will land safely if you lose the connection. Want to start doing a few tricks? Toss the Tello into the air to get started, and flick on your smartphone’s screen to perform flips and other in-air performances.

If you’re interested in photography, the Ryze Tello can capture 5-megapixel (MP) photographs. Videography isn’t forgotten about, though, as DJI’s technology enables EZ Shots so you can hit a single button to capture unique shots, including one in which the drone will do a 360-degree fly-by or zoom up into the air while recording. Flight time on the Ryze Tello is 12 minutes and can reach up to a distance of 100 meters (m) from your smart device while staying in contact. If you want to take it a step further, Tello even offers an SDK which kids, teens, and adults can all use to create programs for the drone.

The runner-up: Snaptain S5C

Snaptain S5C drone
Snaptain / Snaptain

Why you should buy this: It’s an impressive drone for its price that bundles itself with accessories to create an even better flight experience.

Who it’s for: Those looking for a fantastic cheap drone that can be controlled via a smartphone or controller and plan on flying it for long periods.

Why we chose the Snaptain S5C:

The Snaptain S5C delivers a quality flight experience at a price that is shocking — most drones in this price category would be quickly dismissed for a cheap build. However, Snaptain stands above the rest with the S5C, providing a product that we are happy to recommend. Featuring technology that we wouldn’t expect to see on a drone of this class, the S5C can perform tricks, take off and land with a single button push, and even respond to gesture controls. Snaptain’s mobile app is also supported by VR headsets, providing you with a real-time first-person view of your drone.

We especially like the included accessory bundle that Snaptain packs in with the S5C. For those who don’t care to control a drone using a smartphone’s touchscreen, the S5C includes a hardware controller. Additionally, as short battery times tend to be the enemies of most drones, Snaptain includes two batteries so you can keep airborne longer. Underneath its exterior, the S5C sports a 720-pixel (p) camera for capturing photos and videos that can then be shared via social media easily. Each battery should last you up to 16 minutes per charge, and the drone can fly to a distance of up to 80 m.

The best miniature: Simrex X300C

Simrex X300C Drone

Why you should buy this: It’s an excellent, portable mini drone that can fold up for travel and sports a 1080p video camera with a wide 110-degree field of view.

Who it’s for: Anyone looking for an affordable pocket-sized mini drone or those who wish to fly indoors with minimal issue.

Why we chose the Simrex X300C:

There are a ton of mini-drones available on the market, and the Simrex X300C is the best one that you can buy. Coming in at less than $50, this miniature drone is excellent for throwing in your backpack for your next adventure, storing easily thanks to its folding design. The X300C also makes for an excellent indoor drone, thanks to its small size and use of optional propeller protectors, so that your drone isn’t destroyed if you hit something. You can choose to control the X300C either via your smartphone or by using the included remote control. The phone app also provides a real-time view and is compatible with VR glasses.

For such a small drone, the Simrex X300C still packs a punch with its included tech, such as an altitude hold feature, the ability to return to its takeoff point automatically, and a collection of fun tricks accessible with the click of a button. The X300C can fly up to 45 m away and boasts a battery life of up to 10 minutes. We would recommend purchasing extra batteries, as the flight time is quite limited. Simrex does recommend a 10-minute flight break between battery recharges to prevent the drone from overheating.

The best for kids: Snaptain H823H

Snaptain H823H Drone

Why you should buy this: It’s an excellent drone that can be flown indoors without requiring a smartphone, and it features propeller guards for extra safety.

Who it’s for: Children who have been begging their parents for a drone since they saw one at the local park.

Why we chose the Snaptain H823H:

Snaptain delivers another great drone with the H823H, a fantastic option for kids who want to get started flying — and for parents who don’t want the house destroyed. Featuring a design that keeps the drone’s propellers enclosed completely, the H823H poses less of a risk in the event of a crash. Parents can sleep a bit more comfortably, knowing that the flying plastic blades on this unit won’t crash directly into anything. Additionally, the drone can be operated directly from its included controller, no need for an expensive smartphone. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t fun, however — the Snaptain H823H packs a ton of features that we wouldn’t expect on a drone this affordable.

The Snaptain H823H can be flow at three separate speeds, making it easier for beginning pilots. To ease the stress of takeoffs and landings, the H823H can also perform both functions automatically, as well as return to its original takeoff point. A built-in altitude hold mode is also included, as well as the ability to perform a few flips. The H832H can get up to an impressive 21 minutes of flight time for extended play sessions. While Snaptain doesn’t note the official flying distance of the unit, we would keep it close and indoors, as it may struggle with large gusts of wind when outside.

The best for aerial photography: Eachine E520S

Eachine E520S Drone

Why you should buy this: The E520S features an impressive 4K camera that can be utilized with waypoints to capture excellent aerial shots.

Who it’s for: Those new to drones and looking to get started with aerial photography.

Why we chose the Eachine E520S:

For those familiar with drones, we know what your first thought will be: The Eachine E520S looks like a rip-off of the DJI Mavic. To that, we answer, “Yes, you are right.” However, peek beyond the copy-cat design and the E520S offers an impressive drone equipped with a 4K camera and GPS, all at an excellent price. The 4K camera is an excellent start for those looking to get started with aerial photography, and the integrated GPS helps establish waypoints. Excellent for when shooting video or capturing images, waypoints allow you to set automatic paths for the drone to fly while you worry about controlling the camera. The E520S can even perform an orbit around you, capturing an awesome 360-degree view of yourself.

The downloadable camera app for both iOS and Android allows you to take control of the drone as well as issue intelligent commands. Our favorite feature is the Follow Me mode, which enables the drone to follow you as you move around — great for capturing fast action in an open field. Otherwise, the Eachine E520S features other smart features we would expect, including an altitude hold feature and automatic takeoff and landing. The E520S features up to 16 minutes of flight time and can travel up to 300 m away. Once you are done, the E520S can fold up into a neat package for storing in your backpack, great for those who enjoy the outdoors.

How we test drones

Flight-time and distance

We ensure that once you get out to where you want to be, you’ll be able to launch your drone into the sky and get started. We ensured that any of our best cheap drone selections wouldn’t die quickly on you after only a few minutes of flight time. All of the drones we included in our guide feature a minimum flight time of 10 minutes, most featuring an external battery that can be swapped for another easily. Drones aren’t fun when you can only fly for five minutes and then need to charge for an hour.

Built-in camera

Depending on your use case, not every drone needs to contain a 4K Ultra HD camera, but we do expect all of our selected drones to broadcast in HD. The drones we chose needed to maintain a decent HD video signal during flight so that you know what is happening. For any higher-end 4K camera selections we made, we ensured they were fit for beginner photography and videography cases, so you can take to the sky and begin capturing some beautiful aerial imagery. For photography-focused drones, we ensured they also sported more advanced features such as digital waypoints — more on that below.

Smart features

It wasn’t too long ago that most drones were dumb — they had no brains behind the wiring and relied on your for flight instructions entirely. We wanted to make sure you were getting started on the best foot, so any drones we selected offer at least a minor range of smart features, such as automatically taking off and landing, the ability to hover in one position, and a return to home feature. Some of our options even include the ability to track waypoints or perform tricks, so you can take your drone to the next level, even if it’s cheap.

Flight controls

Flying a drone can be an exciting task, but it can also be difficult if you don’t have the right tools at hand. With the drones we selected, we ensured that the majority of them offer a hardware controller option so that you can control your new drone while keeping your eyes on the sky. For options that don’t include a hardware controller in the box, one can either be added on, or we found that the associated app can be utilized without any add-ons. We also eliminated any options that offered controls that we felt were cramped or uncomfortable during use.

Overall value

When we review products, one of the most important considerations is the value. We know that you work hard for your money, and we want to ensure that it isn’t wasted. We compare the abilities that each drone offers and consider what should be disqualified and what stands above the rest. In our selection of the best cheap drones, we needed to find the ultimate value for each of our drone categories. Whether you are looking to start your aerial photography hobby or want to buy a drone for your child, our options ensure you get the best bang for your buck without regretting your purchase decision.

Editors' Recommendations

Michael Archambault
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Michael Archambault is a technology writer and digital marketer located in Long Island, New York. For the past decade…
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