You have landed on T3's guide to the best drone (or unmanned aerial vehicle/UAV) of 2017. These things are filling the skies, filling up column inches and now the cream of the flying-and-filming crop are filling up this buyers' guide, led by DJI's Mavic Pro: the best drone you can get.
Watch the skies. Keep watching.
How to choose the best drone for you
Simple answer: choose a budget, then find a drone to match.
The quality of the materials, the range and power of the drone, and the specifications of the accessories - primarily the camera - are the main factors that affect a drone's price.
Slightly less simple answer: you should also be realistic about what you want to achieve and how good a pilot you are. Some of the more 'pro' drones are quite demanding to fly and have broadcast quality cameras. If what you want is to have something more like a remote control helicopter that can also take the odd photo, we recommend you go for something cheaper.
There are numerous drones that you can fit a GoPro to, including GoPro's own Karma. So if you already own one of the ubiquitous action cams, that could be one way of keeping your costs down.
Finally, if you have no desire to shoot video and stills from the air but still want to get droning, try joining a race club and dart through an obstacle course of disused buildings and woodland. Racing drones are also equipped with a camera but it's so the pilot can see where he's going. You'll still crash anyway, though.
What is the best drone?
The Mavic serves up the best blend of 4K/12-megapixel videos images, ease and fun when flying, and portability when not flying (it folds up).
The iOS and Android apps are excellent, and then the dedicated controller is there if you want to take the drone much further than mobile Wi-Fi will allow.
We've rounded up the Mavic and 9 more of the very best drones, from pro UFOs to fun flying toys, and will now rank them in order, for your purchasing convenience.
The 10 best drones you can buy today
1. DJI Mavic Pro
The fold-up, fly-anywhere state of the art in consumer drones
DJI’s Mavic is just what every UAV fan has been yearning for: a lightweight, portable drone that folds into a package the size of a milk carton, flies for 27 minutes for up to 4 miles away, avoids obstacles, shoots lush 4K footage from a stabilised, auto-focus camera no larger than a thimble, and then lands automatically in the exact same spot it took off from.
The Mavic is much smaller and quieter than its Phantom 4 stablemate and yet its video quality is about the same – ie: near broadcast quality.
What's more, you can fly it via Wi-Fi using just a smartphone (iOS and Android) or, for massive distance and even better control, DJI's pocket-sized controller with integrated smartphone holder.
Gesture control, meanwhile, allows you to take selfies and make the Mavic follow you simply by waving your arms in the air. It's the Swiss army knife of consumer droning.
2. DJI Phantom 4 Pro
Compact prosumer drone gives high quality aerial footage
DJI’s new Phantom 4 Pro comes with a veritable cartload of sci-fi features, including the Holy Grail of flight safety systems: four-sided obstacle avoidance.
But it’s the all-new camera that really blows the mind. How does a one-inch CMOS sensor capable of capturing 4K footage at a phenomenal 60 frames per second grab you?
The upgraded battery will keep the bird aloft for up to 30 minutes – ample time to take it to its phenomenal four-mile limit and back again. DJI’s also developed a special remote controller with a built-in 5.5-inch screen that is twice as bright as a smartphone.
If high quality video and photography is your main consideration, then bag one of these.
3. GoPro Karma
Reasonably priced eye in the sky for extreme sports fans
Having been recalled due to a battery latch problem, the GoPro Karma is now back on US shelves with units expected to ship in Europe this spring.
Like the DJI Mavic Pro, the Karma is compact and collapsible with props in place. It's not as small as the Mavic but still eminently portable. The front-mounted three-axis gimbal accepts the Gopro HERO 4 or 5 and the 4K and 1080p video those cameras produce is, as you'd expect, very good indeed.
The Karma's maximum range is just 3km but that's more than enough for most pilots. In a stroke of minor genius, users can also remove the camera and gimbal from the drone and clip it into a supplied Karma Grip for smooth cinematic ground footage.
Sterling app support comes in the form of the really excellent Quick editing software, and a navigation app that lets a 'co-pilot' steer the camera while you fly the drone, or vice versa.
4. Parrot Mambo
Best entry-level drone also boasts fragging frolics
The pick of the indoor toy drones, the acrobatic Parrot Mambo is a master of stability and a great drone to practice on.
You fly it using the Freeflight 3 app (Apple and Andoid) or, for more accurate control, the optional Parrot Flypad transmitter (£39).
Like the rest of Parrot's Mini Drone roster, this little scamp hovers in one spot perfectly. You could probably pop off to put the kettle on, then return to find it still in the same place.
It also comes with novelty clip-on fittings that allow it shoot tiny balls at a target or pick up items the weight of a sugar lump. Top indoor choice.
5. Revell Nano Quadcopter
A great micro-sized camera drone for beginners
Among the smallest camera drones on the market right now, the Nano Quad Cam comes with its own palm-sized hand transmitter, a built-in 720p camera and a set of multi-coloured LED lights for night flying.
It’s a cinch to fly, too, especially in ‘Headless’ mode (no matter what orientation the drone is in, it will fly in the direction of the pilot’s stick movements).
For its size, this titchy quad shoots surprisingly decent 720p video footage. However, bear in mind that, because the camera isn’t attached to a stabilising gimbal, the image will tilt whenever the drone is moving.
For best results, you should bring the drone to a standstill before shooting and keep movement to a minimum. Get it right and you’ll be chuffed at how well this bijou drone’s camera performs.
6. DJI Inspire 2
Best pro-grade drone
When it comes to drone design, mobile device integration, reliability and ease of use, DJI is so far ahead of the curve that other manufacturers must be sobbing over their blueprints.
This bird is the best currently on the market but doesn't top our charts because it is pricey with a capital P.
It is, however, a perfect choice for professional cinematographers and the casually minted.
The Inspire 2 is made from carbon fibre and magnesium and its dual battery system and huge motors will take it to a top speed of 58mph and a flight time of up to 27 minutes. The landing gear is retractable, allowing pilots, or a second camera operator, to shoot a full 360º panorama. It also comes with forward, downward and upward-facing obstacle avoidance sensors for extra confidence when flying in tricky locations.
The Inspire 2’s pro-spec CineCore 2.0 image processing system is housed in the nose of the craft which means only the camera’s lens and sensor are attached to the gimbal. This reduces weight and allows for easy lens swapping. Needless to say, the imagery this ingenious system produces is of the highest order.
7. Parrot Bebop 2
Keenly priced, full-featured consumer drone
The GPS-equipped Parrot Bebop 2 is chock full of tech that makes it incredibly easy to fly using just an Apple or Android device or, for an even more satisfying flight experience, the dedicated Skycontroller tablet dock.
The Bebop 2 flies for up to an impressive 25 minutes per charge and is equipped with an emergency cut-out feature that stops the rotors as soon as they come into contact with an obstacle, which should help prolong its life. It’s also light enough to survive the occasional crash.
The Bebop 2 eschews a mechanical gimbal in favour of a digital camera stabilising system that not only keeps the image steady via a throng of clever algorithms, but also allows the user to pan down without the camera actually moving. Image quality is decent enough, though it lacks the sharpness and stability of the Karma, Mavic and Phantom 4.
In the sphere of camera-carrying leisure drones, the Bebop 2 is an unequivocal hit. It's a doddle to operate, very keenly priced and great fun.
8. Helipal Storm SRD 280 racing drone
The speedy-as-hell option
For the ultimate buttock-clenching drone-flying experience, get behind the sticks of Helipal's Storm, slap on a pair of Fat Shark goggles (optional) and let rip like you're in the Wachowskis' long-forgotten and sadly underrated Speed Racer.
Most racing drones are hand-built Robot Wars-esque affairs, but this one bucks the trend with a very cool looking carbon fibre shell that lifts like a bonnet to expose the inner core.
It comes with a Foxeer CMOS camera and a nine-channel RadioLink AT9 controller that offers a myriad fine tuning options, six flight modes (from beginner to expert) and even a remote controlled buzzer that helps you locate the drone after a crash.
9. Micro Drone 3.0
A great introduction to first-person flying
This cute little ladybird-shaped drone flies better than most indoor toy model, though you will still crash it from time to time. Just as well it's extremely well built and tough enough to survive most incidents unscathed.
The Micro Drone 3.0 comes with a hand controller, a smartphone holder, a pair of Google Cardboard goggles for first-person view (FPV), VR flying and a USB-charged battery capable of keeping it in the air for up to eight minutes (five minutes if shooting video to the on-board microSD card).
The little camera's 720p visuals are rather basic, and the camera isn't attached to a gimbal, so the image tilts and rolls whenever the drone is moving - that's why it works as a VR camera.
On the plus side, the Micro Drone 3.0 is pretty cheap, and goes like shit off a shovel when switched to 'insane' mode. Make sure you have enough space before letting it loose, mind…
Best drone for selfies (obviously)
The AirSelfie is a really small (7.4 x 94.5 x10.6mm) pocket-sized, aluminium UAV designed largely for taking selfies. Obviously.
It features a mini smorgasbord of flight-stability tech, four enclosed turbo-fan propellers and a dinky little front-facing 5mp camera pitched down at an angle of 7 degrees.
To fly, launch the accompanying free app, hold the AirSelfie in the hand, fire up the props and throw it in the air. The drone will fly up to 20 metres away using its self-generated Wi-Fi, then stay in a pretty stable hover until you either move it laterally or add more vertical lift via the app controller.
Once you've taken a single shot or burst, it can then be flown back to your hand, where it will safely land itself.
AirSelfie only flies for three minutes, but does come with its own specially-adapted iPhone/Android case that doubles as its charger, which will have it back in the skies in no time.
The AirSelfie takes very decent five-megapixel snaps, and also 1080p video, with images saved to a MicroSD card, then shared via the app, or synced to your phone’s photo library.
Yes, it's an expensive novelty, and technically, of course, you can take a selfie with any camera drone, but Air Selfie is still a very impressive bit of design.