You have landed on T3's guide to the best drone (or unmanned aerial vehicle/UAV, as absolutely nobody outside of the military calls them) of 2017.
Drones 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.
In the very near future, drones are likely to be heavily regulated. We're not saying that's a bad thing; it's long overdue. But that does make now a good time to buy one.
How to choose the best drone for you
Do you want a toy or a more serious drone for aerial photography and filming?
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.
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?
Right now, if we had to pick a brand that stands above the rest, it's DJI. That's reflected in the fact that it fills the top 3 positions in the chart below, which I think is unprecedented in a T3 buyers' guide.
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.
Of the less serious, more 'toy'-like brands, Parrot is the leader.
We've rounded up the Mavic and 9 more of the very best drones, from pro UFOs to fun flying toys, and will shortly rank them in order, for your purchasing convenience.
Drone safety tips
To celebrate World Drone Day, which is totally not a made-up thing, and happened on May 6 every year, Currys has come up with this rather epic guide to safe drone flying.
- Don’t fly near airports or airfields
- Remember to stay below 400ft (120m)
- Observe your drone at all times – stay 150ft (50m) away from people and property
- Never fly near aircraft
- Enjoy responsibly
Clever, huh? We'd really like to think that nobody needs to be told any of the above, and that anyone who does fly near aircraft probably deserves to go to prison. Sure, we don't know that a drone can bring down a 747, but we are very sure that we also don't want to ever test the theory.
Now, with those stern words out of the way, here are our top 10 drones, in order of excellence.
The 10 best drones you can buy today
1. DJI Mavic Pro
Best drone overall
DJI’s Mavic is what every UAV fan had 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
Best prosumer drone for 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. DJI Spark
Best selfie drone
DJI’s splendid new Spark is about half the weight of the Mavic and its body is much smaller. However, because its propeller arms don’t fold, it won’t fit in a jacket pocket like the folded Mavic will. But, hey, this titchy air-snap gizmo is still incredibly portable and probably the smartest selfie drone in existence right now, and available in five lush colours.
The Spark comes with front obstacle avoidance and is rock steady when flown indoors or out. Its camera shoots very acceptable 1080p video and 12-megapixel photos and is equipped with a two-axis mechanical stabilizer for relatively smooth video footage. The battery provides around 16 minutes of flight time, which can be considered good for a drone of this size.
The Spark can be operated in three ways: using hand gestures, a mobile device or, for much greater range (up to 1.2 miles), a dedicated hand controller. While not designed for high-quality videography, it still shoots excellent footage.
It’s also reassuringly tough as nails, as was aptly demonstrated at a recent DJI event when a rep accidentally flew one at full speed – that's 50kph! – into a tree. The only thing damaged was a prop; everything else, camera included, worked perfectly. Another great reason to snap one up right away.
4. Zerotech Dobby
Best micro drone
This impressively built, folding pocket drone is smaller than an iPhone and nearly £200 cheaper than the DJI Spark, although to be fair, it doesn’t sport nearly as many features.
Nevertheless, you probably won’t find a better-equipped personal selfie drone at this size and price.
Dobby is a damn easy thing to get off the ground, and can fly up to 100 metres away via Wi-Fi from any iOS or Android device.
Just unfold the prop arms, sync your phone and open the DoFun app. Now launch Dobby from the ground or toss it out of your hand and tap one of its intelligent flight modes – face/target tracking, video selfie, orbit and somersault. You can even control it with your voice, though I can’t see many British people over the age of 12 using this feature in public.
The Dobby can shoot in 4K but only when digital stabilization (EIS) is off. As soon as you switch EIS on – and you need to, realistically – the image is cropped to 1080p. Also, because the camera’s angle can’t be controlled from the app, you’ll need to tilt it manually to your preferred angle before take off.
Dobby takes pretty good 13 megapixel stills but, because its camera doesn’t have a gimbal, you do get an awful lot of rolling shutter (jelly-like movement) when shooting videos. This is fixed to some degree by the tiny ND filter they now ship with the drone but it’s still far from perfect. The short, nine-minute flight time also hinders its use as a video drone.
In a nutshell, the supremely portable Dobby is brilliant for taking selfie snaps and short video bites but it won’t be good at taking quality aerial videos unless there’s absolutely no wind and your flying is slow and very steady.
Nonetheless, it's a lot of drone for not much money.
5. GoPro Karma
Best drone for fans of GoPros and extreme sports
With an early battery latch problem seemingly solved, the GoPro Karma is now back on the shelves and/or flying off them.
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.
6. Parrot Bebop 2 FPV Pack
Keenly priced consumer drone with VR-like control
The GPS-equipped Parrot Bebop 2 comes packed with tech that makes it incredibly easy to fly. You can use 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.
This particular package also comes with a basic VR-style goggle system – First Person View, as Parrot styles it – that accepts any iOS or Android phone. Just slot your blower in, slap the goggles to your face and experience the delights/fears of first person flight.
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 Mavic, Phantom 4 or even the little Spark.
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.
7. Yuneec Breeze
Another decent airborne selfie stick
Like the Dobby and to some degree the Spark, this is classified as a selfie drone: it’s operated using an iOS or Android device, with a horizontal Wi-Fi range of 100 metres when hovering near the ground, and a maximum altitude of 80 metres.
The Breeze’s body is a mite smaller than DJI’s Mavic but, because it’s propeller arms don’t fold, it takes up more space in your case. It's also quite a bit larger than the Dobby, although Breeze trumps it by dint of a digitally stabilized camera that can be tilted remotely by the pilot below. However, its camera system is still no match for DJI’s new Spark. Nor is its 12-minute battery capacity.
The Breeze is marketed as a 4K camera drone but this is a bit of a red herring since the 4K option only works without digital image stabilisation. This means you’ll have to be very gentle on the controls or suffer twitchy video artifacts.
The 1080p option does provide stabilization, and video quality is acceptable, although nowhere near as good as the Mavic or even the Spark.
If simple selfie stills are all you require from a drone then make the smaller, cheaper and better-built Dobby your first port of call. And if you wish to shoot superior quality video and price isn’t too much of an issue, then opt for the DJI Spark. The Breeze, while a great little flyer, lags behind both.
8. 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.
9. 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.
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.