The best cheap drones are a great little gadget for those looking to give flying high a go without the hefty price tag. While the list is curated to only a few of the budget options out there, you'll find that these gadgets still come with some of the great advanced features that the more premium priced ones do such as GPS locking and high-quality cameras - for the most part all under $500.
Whether you're looking to capture some awesome photos or simply have fun navigating the skies, then check out the full list below for the best cheap drones you can buy today.
Best cheap and affordable drones 2023
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"There's much to love about the Ryze Tello drone, from its impressively precise aerial maneuvers to its smooth stabilized video and good app support. However, it's hard to fly in even the lightest wind and video footage becomes unstable at the outer reaches of the drone's range." – T3's Ryze Tello review
If you’re looking for a small but exceedingly well equipped ‘selfie’-type drone then consider this remarkable little contender from Ryze, which is equipped with a lot of DJI-sourced tech. It stays in the air for 13 minutes at a time, comes with digital image stabilization, shoots video in pretty decent 720p, snaps 5mp stills and hovers on the spot without the aid of GPS.
The Tello weighs just 2.82 ounces and measures 3.85 inches at its widest point. In other words, it’s small enough to tuck in a jacket pocket despite not being foldable like the DJI Mavic range. Although ostensibly 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).
To fly it, simply launch the Tello app on your phone, select hand launch, throw it into the air and steer it using the virtual joysticks on the screen. Everything the camera sees is streamed to the phone and, because it has digital stabilization, the footage it shoots is surprisingly smooth. The app also comes with a few pre-programmed ‘EZ Shots’ including circle (the drone flies around the user with the camera pointing inwards) and dronie (the drone flies away from the pilot while automatically filming at the same time). The Tello has a 100-meter range and is capable of performing aerobatic stunts.
You can also program this drone to perform a series of maneuvers with no real-time input from the pilot. Simply drag a series of named color-coded ‘blocks’ (‘take off’, fly forward’, ‘land) into a specific order and the Tello will follow the commands. This is a great educational feature because it teaches kids (and adults) the basics of robotics in an easy and fun way. At just $100 (or $160 for the Elite Combo with three batteries and more), this little sky star is a steal.
"Simple to set up and use, the Potensic A20 Mini Drone is great fun to fly and comes with a small controller to make it ideal for kids. It's too light to use outdoors though, and there are lots of similar alternatives that cost less." – T3's Potensic A20 Mini review
The Potensic A20 is a great option for kids keen to try out their drone skills for the first time. As a beginner's drone, it does what it says on the tin, with all the features you'd expect: well-protected propellers for those inevitable bumps and scrapes, an emergency stop button for those times when your little darlings fly a little too close to the dog/oven/baby and an un-ignorable low power alarm.
It's a breeze to fly inside or outside, if there isn’t a breeze. The altitude hold function keeps the drone very stable and one-touch take-off and landing controls allow kids to grasp the basics of drone flying in record time. We also love the fact that it comes with two rechargeable batteries, minimizing the risk of meltdowns when the drone's power levels start to flag. Top budget choice.
Designed to introduce aerial photography novices to the world of cinematic drone photography, at the front of the Holy Stone HS100 GPS FPV is a fixed 1080p Wi-Fi camera with 120-degree field of view and 90-degree adjustable angle, ensuring you can capture decent footage or stills and experiment with shots from multiple perspectives. The drone is also suitable for use with FPV (first-person view) goggles.
‘Follow Me’ mode is on-hand to further boost the dynamism 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 also comes equipped with GPS precise positioning, ensuring smooth flight 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 Holy Stone HS100 ships with a brilliant hand controller and a robust cradle for your phone, whether it’s Android or iOS. This is an excellent value sub-$300 model that is a lot cheaper at Walmart than it is at Amazon.
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.
DJI’s cute little Spark is a bit ruffled around the edges now but still a worthwhile punt – mostly because it’s made by DJI, the Chinese company that knows more about drones than anyone else. The Spark is roughly the size of its closest cousin, the DJI Mavic Mini. However, because its propeller arms don’t fold, it won’t fit in a jacket pocket like the folded Mini will. Even so, this air-snap gizmo is still incredibly portable and one of the smartest selfie drones in existence, available in five lush colors.
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 quite decent 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 DJI event when one was accidentally flown at full speed – that's 31mph – into a tree. The only thing damaged was a prop; everything else, camera included, worked perfectly. Another great reason to consider snapping one up.
Buying an affordable drone: What you need to know
Consumer drones come in many shapes and sizes and at wildly varying price points. You can buy a small indoor flyer for less than $25 or spend in excess of $10,000 for a heavyweight camera-carrying monster. Most cheap indoor toy drones aren’t that much fun, to be honest, unless the drone has a built-in altitude sensor to gauge its distance from the floor. Sensor-equipped toy drones like the Parrot Mambo hold their position indoors impeccably well and are great models to learn on since their stick control methods are exactly the same as with bigger outdoor models.
Ultimately, we’d advise against buying your kid a cheap indoor toy drone without some form of positioning sensor built-in, otherwise the drone will be really difficult to control. In fact, like the tiny remote-controlled helicopter you ill-advisedly bought last year, it will likely crash within the first three minutes and then be put away with all the other toys, never to be seen again.
So, perhaps forget the really cheap indoor models and opt for an outdoor one instead. Even some of the cheapest outdoor drones use GPS to locate their position in the sky and this bit of tech is vitally important, especially if you're a beginner. GPS-equipped models are, far and away, the easiest form of model aircraft to fly – and the most reliable. They will hover in one spot, only drifting a little even when flying in a stiff breeze. Some models are even equipped with a clever return-to-home (RTH) feature that will fly the drone back to the user and land, all automatically with zero input from the pilot.
However, it is essential that you read the drone’s manual before take-off and acquaint yourself with all controls by practicing at low altitude and at low speed before reaching for the sky. Also, be mindful of where you fly it and know your local ‘drone’ laws intimately (see below).
What's the best type of drone for you?
If you just want to whizz about the local park or heathland, try any of the budget-priced Chinese GPS-equipped copters below. They’re cheap enough not to cause too much of a fuss if crashed but their onboard cameras – if they have one – are woefully low on the resolution front making them near useless for cinematography purposes. This brings us neatly to the arena of the HD camera-carrying drone…
Photography and video are the two main reasons why drones have soared to such stratospheric popularity. And all because of Chinese company, DJI.
When, in July 2014, DJI released the Phantom 2 Vision+ with a built-in HD camera and three-way gimbal (the clever bit that keeps the camera rock steady no matter what the drone is doing), the world rushed at the opportunity to shoot the sort of aerial video previously only accessible to those sitting in a helicopter seat.
Video and photography fans are naturally more interested in the quality of the camera onboard than the mothership carrying it. The very best models sync the images from the camera to the user’s phone, which is normally plugged into a hand controller. This allows the pilot to see exactly what the camera’s pointing at and record video or shoot stills accordingly.
Companies like Potensic and Eachine are producing some excellent models of this nature that are good at shooting video and especially photo stills. Granted, none of them hold a candle to the DJI fleet in terms of high-end image quality, rock-solid reliability and integration between phone app and craft, but they’re a darn sight cheaper to buy and just as much fun to fly.
USA drone regulations: What you need to know
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has some regulations regarding drone ownership and flying. In a nutshell, all owners of drones weighing between 0.55 and 55 pounds are, by law, required to register online as a drone operator. Registration costs $5 and is valid for three years. You must be 13 years of age or older.
Read the full guidelines, and register as a drone operator, at www.faa.gov.
So you don't get yourself into trouble in a public place, there are also some basic rules you need to follow:
Also, remember that in the US it is illegal to fly any drone in a National Park. Yes, we know that that is exactly where you’d like to fly a camera-equipped drone, but rules are rules. If you want to find out more about where and where you can’t fly a drone, check out these handy tips in our US drone rules and regulations guide.