Hunting down the best cheap drone – one that can still provide a satisfying flying experience for the lower price tag – is a bit of a balancing act. The first thing to be aware of is that drone technology has come on a lot in recent years, and that means that budget drones no longer equate to 30 seconds of haphazard aerobatics until they smash into a wall and die forever.
If you choose correctly, today's cheap drones are much friendlier to use and have features such as smart flight control, camera stabilisation, GPS locking and even 4K video. They offer an ideal way to learn all the basics such as flight skills and control while discovering how to capture video and still images, before you upgrade to a bigger and better model
This guide focuses on drones that deliver a good amount of bang for a minimal amount of buck, and it's one of a few guides we have on T3 geared towards helping you find the right model for your needs. If you're a beginner who's feeling flush, our best beginner drone guide has new-flyer-friendly models at higher price points. If you want an overall list that ranges from simple to advanced, our general best drone guide is the one for you. Finally, if you're hunting for a toy drone, you should make your way to our best kids drone guide.
If you do indeed want a budget drone though, read on. We've done all the hard work for you, so whether you're an absolute newbie or seeking to upgrade your skills before moving up to a more advanced drone, our round up of the best cheap drones will have a good option for you. Top brands you can expect to see cropping up time and again in this category include Ryze, Holy Stone and Hubsan.
The best cheap drones to buy right now
For a tiny but capable 'selfie' drone, this little option from Ryze is well worth checking out. The Tello weighs just 80 grammes and measures 98mm at its widest point, but it can stay airborne for up to 13 minutes at a time and hover on the spot without GPS, and it has camera with digital image stabilisation that can shoot 720p video and 5mp stills.
Because it’s equipped with a camera and classified as ‘not a toy’, the Tello will require an Operator ID which you can learn more about in our Guide to UK Drone Regulations. However, despite the grey areas, in the USA, any drone less than 250g does not have to be registered, nor do you need a FAA 107 license. However, you may need to pass the The Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST) test.
Although designed for indoor flying, this little craft is also adept at flying outdoors, as long as it’s not too windy (without GPS on board, it could drift with the breeze and may not make it back to you).
Using the separate Tello EDU app (iOS and Android), it’s also possible to program the Tello to perform a series of manoeuvres with no real-time input from the pilot. Just drag a series of named colour-coded ‘blocks’ (‘take off’, fly forward’, ‘land) into a specific order and the Tello will follow the commands. This is an incredible development because it’s actually teaching kids (and adults) the basics of robotics in an easy and fun way. Find out more in our Ryze Tello review.
For younger would-be pilots eager to test out their drone skills and shoot some video and stills while they're at it, the Potensic A20W is a stand-out option. It's a beginner's drone that does the job and ticks all the right boxes, with well-protected propellers to guard against bumps and scrapes, as well as a loud low power alarm and an emergency stop button for when things start to get a little too over-enthusiastic.
For frustration-free flight, the Potensic A20W has a built-in barometer to lock it to a set altitude, enabling your kids to concentrate on flying without having to constantly adjust the power stick to keep the drone at the same height. This makes it a joy to fly, with one-touch take off and landing controls allowing kids to grasp the basics of drone flying in record time.
For the low price, this drone is fantastic value not least because it comes with a small but very well designed hand controller that features a cradle for a smart phone, a button for automatic take-off and landing, three flight speeds and a headless mode.
It has to be said that the footage the camera produces is definitely on the low end of the cinematic scale but for kids it will do just fine. Just be warned that the camera doesn’t have a gimbal so video footage will pitch and roll as the drone moves around.
The Potensic A20W comes with two extra rechargeable batteries, which is good because you'll only get around nine minutes of airtime on one charge. The main limitation is that while the A20 is robust enough to handle a few minor collisions, it's really too lightweight to handle being flown outdoors in anything but a still day. Head to our Potensic A20W mini drone review for more info.
If your priority when buying a cheap drone is to explore the possibilities of aerial photography, the Wi-Fi-controlled Holy Stone HS100 FPV is a brilliant starting point. it has an optimised 1080p camera with 120˚ field of view as well as a 90˚ adjustable angle, enabling you to easily capture impressive footage or stills as well as experimenting with shooting from different perspectives. The drone is also suitable for use with VR or first-person view goggles. Follow Me mode is on-hand to further boost the dynamics of your shots, enabling the drone to automatically follow a subject and keep it in the frame at all times – ideal for epic selfies or shooting fast-moving activity.
The Holy Stone HS100 FPV also comes equipped with GPS precise positioning, ensuring smooth flight, stable hovering and the ability to return to the take-off point at the touch of a button, or as a safety measure if the battery or signal drops. Headless Mode and Altitude Hold take the stress out of flying so pilots can focus on getting their shots in the bag.
The first Hubsan X4 was arguably the micro-drone that changed everything, and a good few iterations later the X4 H501ss is still an impressive piece of kit. Steady flight is a breeze thanks to its built-in GPS that not only makes it easy to fly outside, but also enables useful advanced features such as ‘altitude hold’ and ’follow me’ so that it can track you autonomously, as well as 'return to home' so that it'll come back to its take-off spot if it loses the transmitter signal or runs low on power. The X4’s fixed 1080p camera is no great shakes but it’s still perfectly acceptable for undiscerning kids.
The X4 H501ss has a maximum flight distance of 400m and a flight time of around 20 minutes, which is very good for a drone of this size. However, we would recommend buying an extra battery because the single one supplied takes up to 210 minutes to recharge.
For anyone new to drone flying, the Potensic Elfin is a fast, responsive and manoeuvrable little flier that's also pleasingly robust. It's delightfully easy to fly, although its lightweight build means that you won't want to take it out on windy days, and it has some really useful beginner's features such as automatic landing if it strays beyond its 50m Wi-Fi range, and a 'headless' mode in which it'll automatically align itself to your position and respond to control inputs accordingly.
There are a few fun features to explore too: you can plot a course on your phone's touchscreen for the Elfin to follow, and it will take a photo when you throw up a peace sign with your hand, or start video recording when you wave at its camera.
Where this drone falls short is in its photo and video quality. Although it's in line with many budget drones, here the Elfin is clearly outshone by the similarly-priced Ryze Tello, with its in-built video stabilisation software. As a result, footage shot while moving looks very shaky by comparison. Fortunately, you get far better video results when hovering, as the Elfin’s maintains its vertical position pretty well.
Not bothered about shooting video or stills? If you're more interested in pulling off some impressive aerobatics with a budget drone, Parrot's Swing Quadcopter and Plane Minidrone is a great starting point. It looks like something out of Star Wars and is an absolute joy to see in action as it's designed with aerial stunts in mind, including vertical loops, half loops and barrel rolls. It’s also capable of vertical take-off and landing.
Controlling this drone is made easier thanks to the inclusion of a Parrot Flypad, which also extends the drone’s flight range up to 60 metres. However, remember that you must keep the drone in sight at all times to fly in accordance with UK regulations. As for the top speed, the Parrot Swing Quadcopter and Plane Minidrone can reach up to 18.6mph in good weather. If you want a fun cheap drone for blasting around open fields and pulling off crazy aerial stunts, this little Parrot is a no-brainer.
Another great cheap drone for anyone keen to take their first steps into the air, the Potensic D58 provides an impressive array of features at an attractive price. It has an assortment of flight modes including 360˚ Orbit, Return to Home and Follow Me, and it also packs a decent enough 2K 120˚ camera that does the job but doesn't have any image stabilisation. Nevertheless, if you hold the drone in a steady hover, it’s possible to take some very acceptable aerial snaps. Featuring full dual GPS and 5G Wi-Fi transmission, this drone has an average flight time of 18 minutes per battery charge and is great fun to fly.
With a lightweight plastic body that's more robust than it might seem, as well as a tidy turn of speed when you need it, Eachine E58 Pro makes it into our best cheap drone roundup thanks to its features and all the little extras you get for your money. You can plot a route on your phone for the E58 Pro to follow, and there's a 'headless' mode in which the drone will respond to the direction of the inputs from the controller – regardless of its orientation. It also packs a 1080P camera and the image depth and colour saturation on video is pretty good, although the lack of camera stabilisation means footage is jerky.
On the down-side, it's one of the harder beginners' drones to fly, and battery life is on the short side – you'll get around seven minutes of flight time per battery. Like most drones in this list, it doesn't cope at all well with wind, and in fact has a tendency to drift even when flying indoors.
Looking for something fast? If you're keen on racing drones, the Nikko Air DRL Race Vision 220 FPV Pro is an excellent start-off point. It's been designed with the help of the Drone Racing League and can fly at up to 25mph, and you can pilot it either with its controller (complete with integrated LCD display), or with the included FPV goggles for a more immersive drone racing experience. Granted, the view through the goggles is pretty glitchy but it's good enough to see where the drone's going.
Three flight modes limit the speed to help pilots master the controls gradually and propeller guards are supplied for complete newbies, while 16 pre-programmed stunts can be performed at the touch of a button. Up front is a 130˚ adjustable wide angle camera lens which gives you a wider field of view when racing or navigating around tricky obstacles.
How much should I spend on a cheap drone?
The best cheap drones will cost you a whole lot less than high-end models from companies such as DJI, Autel and PowerVision, and naturally they're nowhere near as sophisticated. But what does that mean? Starting a the bottom of the budget drone scale, if you're paying below £50 you're in for a difficult flight thanks to a basic build, limited features and lack of fine flight control and stabilisation.
Move up to the £50-£120 price range and things start to improve. You're unlikely to get a controller so you'll have to use a mobile app instead, and the camera quality won't be brilliant, but chances are that the flight features will do the job nicely.
From £120-£200 things get even better; you should have a higher resolution camera and even a dedicated controller so that you can start to properly work on your flying skills. And your drone may have improved motors and be better suited for flying outdoors.
You'll find more guidance if our article on what to look for in a toy drone. Ready to find the best cheap drone for your skill level and budget? These are our current top picks to get you flying today...
Consumer drone regulations
Given the regularity of news about wayward drone operators flying their craft in an irresponsible manner, it was only a matter of time before the authorities considered ramping up the regulations. As a result, all owners of drones with a camera theatre classified as ‘not a toy’ are, by law, required to register online as a drone operator, and take and pass an online education test. Registration costs £9 and must be renewed annually.
Drone flying safety tips
- Never fly your drone above 400ft. This isn’t an issue for some of the lower altitude drones in our selection, but don't be fooled by the size and price, as these drones are still very advanced!
- Don't fly your drone over properties or people. Ensure you keep a distance of at least 150m.
- Always keep line of sight with your drone. In fact, this is the most important rule of drone flying. This is particularly important with small drones as they can easily be lost.
- If you fly too close to an airport it’s likely you’ll run into trouble with the law and possibly even end up in the news! Make sure you’re at least 1km away from the outer boundary, and use common sense when it comes to flying your drone near flight paths.