• DJI Mavic 2 Pro

    (9.7)
    $1449.00 BUY
    • 31 - MIN
    • 4K - 30 FPS
    • 44 - MPH
    • 4.3 - MILES
    DJI called the Mavic 2 Pro an iterative update over the original Mavic Pro; It may look like a simple upgrade, but the Mavic 2...
  • DJI Mavic 2 Zoom

    (9.5)
    $1299.00 BUY
    • 31 - MIN
    • 4K - 30 FPS
    • 44 - MPH
    • 4.3 - MILES
    Along with the DJI Mavic 2 Pro, the Mavic 2 Zoom is one of the safest drones in the sky. You'll enjoy the flight with...
  • DJI Mavic Air

    (9.4)
    $799.00 BUY
    • 21 - MIN
    • 4K - 30 FPS
    • 42.5 - MPH
    • 2 - MILES
    The DJI Mavic Air was DJI's response to those that loved the features of the Mavic Pro, but did not want to go as small...
  • Skydio R1

    (6.8)
    $1999.00 BUY
    • 15 - Minutes
    • 4K - 30 FPS
    • 25 - MPH
    • 300 - ft
    The Skydio R1 is perhaps the best autonomous 4K drone around, superb when it comes to follow-me modes, but that's nearly the end of its...
  • Voice
    More Info

    Yuneec Mantis G

    (9.2)
    $699.00 BUY
    • 33 - Minutes
    • 4K - 30 FPS
    • 45 - MPH
    • 2.43 - MILES
    The Yuneec Mantis G adds a stabilized camera Gimbal to the Mantis Q - exactly the missing piece from the original folding drone. Now you...

Traditional RC toys rely on dedicated controllers to operate, but modern technology put an extremely capable smart device in your pocket and many manufacturers look to use it for their new toys. I refer to quadcopter style drones you can control with your smartphone or tablet.

Higher-end drones still rely on a dedicated remote for actual flight controls, but many toy class units fly using nothing more than an app and a WiFi or Bluetooth connection. Let’s take a look at some of the best on the market today.

Pro

DJI Mavic 2 Pro

August 2018

Release Date

Introduced in August of 2018, the DJI Mavic 2 Pro instantly became the best consumer-class folding drone that DJI had to offer. A marked upgrade over the original Mavic Pro, the Mavic 2 Pro rocks a 1-inch camera sensor for 4K video capture at 100Mbps, multi-direction obstacle avoidance sensors for some of the safest drone flight possible, and much more. OcuSync 2.0 enhances connectivity to the remote control and other accessories, now able to transmit 1080p live stream video well beyond the legal line-of-sight.

With an initial launch price of $1449, plus another $319 to get the Fly More kit with extra batteries, there is a barrier to entry with this machine, but if the DJI Mavic 2 Pro is within your budget, we think you will not be disappointed.

Zoom

DJI Mavic 2 Zoom

August 2018

Release Date

If you run down the spec sheet, the DJI Mavic 2 Zoom and Mavic 2 Pro are the same machine, with one major exception, the camera. The folding quadcopter design offers great portability, the multi-direction obstacle avoidance sensors assist in safe flight and the new capabilities of OcuSync 2.0 add versatility for control and accessories. That is true for both of the drones, the Mavic 2 Zoom, on the other hand, rocks a 2x optical zoom lens on top of a 12MP camera. It shoots 4K video at 100Mbps and can digitally double that zoom for an impressive close-up.

Launching with a price of $1299, plus $319 for a Fly More kit, the DJI Mavic 2 Zoom was an instant crowd favorite.

Air

DJI Mavic Air

January 2018

Release Date

DJI found great success with the Mavic Pro, they followed that up with the far less expensive Spark. The Mavic Air bridges the gap between these two, offering all the fun features from the smaller Spark as well as all the pro flight features of the Mavic Pro. Better yet, the Mavic Air introduced a 100Mbps data rate for video capture on a DJI drone under $1500. That sounds like a mouthful, suffice to say that the Mavic Air instantly took the crown for the best video at the lowest price of any drone on the market.

As with many DJI drones, the Mavic Air comes in two main purchasing options, you can buy the drone alone or upgrade to the Fly More bundle to get extra batteries, a carry case and more.

After the launch of the Mavic 2 series of drones, we had to recommend the newer Mavic line as the best camera on a compact drone, but the Mavic Air still remains our top pick if ultimate portability is your concern. The Mavic Air manages to pack down to almost fit comfortably in your pocket.

Auto

Skydio R1

February 2018

Release Date

The Skydio R1 got the entire drone world excited. At a time when most drones offered some basic follow-me modes, and moderate obstacle avoidance capabilities, the Skydio R1 came along with near unbeatable follow and extreme obstacle avoidance. This was not the drone for folks wanting to put a serious camera into the sky, but this was a dream device for action cam fans. It wasn't perfect, however, a lack of dedicated remote controller was a problem for many, and the price tag was, well, prohibitive.

Considering the parts used to create this drone, and the features made available for custom coding flight modes, we don't think the price is out of hand. The advanced nature of the Nvidia Jetson on-board computer makes this a niche product that isn't actually ideal for someone that just wants a flying GoPro, so to speak. Sadly, that's exactly what this drone is best at, so we hope a new version of this product comes soon with a more consumer friendly price tag.

The Skydio R1 runs $1999 before any discounts.

Note: Skydio is teasing the new drone coming Fall 2019. As such, the Skydio R1 is out of stock most places.

Voice

Yuneec Mantis G

October 2019

Release Date

The Yuneec Mantis G is everything we had hoped for in the original Mantis Q. We can't see the difference between these drones, save for the new stabilized camera Gimbal. Superb flight time, easy controls, voice activated features, a compact design that folds small for transport and a 4K camera all sound good to us.

Yuneec understands they have stiff competition in this portion of the drone market. They build mostly for the commercial space, but fun drones like the Mantis line and larger Typhoon hexacopters have a tough battle. The Mantis G is a leap forward for the company. We had a hard time recommending the Mantis Q to users that cared about shooting video, now we can put the DJI Mavic 2 drones and this new Mantis G in the same sentence.

Based on price and camera sensor size, the Yuneec Mantis G best competes with the DJI Mavic Air, which is to say it is a viable option for hobby pilots looking for a reliable drone to fly.

The Yuneec Mantis G will be $699 at launch in October 2019.

Purchase links coming soon!

Mavic

DJI Mavic Pro

November 2016

Release Date

The DJI Mavic Pro is a compact, folding drone that was a pioneer for portability. This quadcopter folds down to fit easily in a backpack, or large pocket, while opening up to take 4K video to over 40mph in the sky. The 3-axis stabilized gimbal offers very smooth footage and OcuSync enables long range and HD live video streaming. The Phantom line of drones may have established DJI as a leader in the consumer drone market, but the Mavic Pro made high-quality aerial photography fun and highly accessible.

 

The DJI Mavic Pro is available in several packages, but mainly you can get the drone alone or bump up to the Fly More combo, which includes extra batteries, a carrying case and more.

Spark

DJI Spark

May 2017

Release Date

The DJI Spark introduced a brand new segment for the drone company, launching a tiny machine that packs more fun features than powerful specs. This drone had everyone talking about the Jedi mind tricks you can play with the machine, using the front camera and object detection to accept hand gestures for some basic controls. All of these fun flight features made for a focus on two other features, the ability to fly without a remote control in hand and making you the object of the flight.

The DJI Spark is small enough to easily pack around wherever you might like to go. It's powerful enough to combat some decent winds and the 12MP camera can snap some fun photographs. While the camera may have a 4K sensor on the inside, it only records 1080p video. The HD video resolution allows the use of the extra pixels for image stabilization. The Spark mechanically stabilizes two-axis of movement, using the sensor cropping to handle side-to-side image stabilization. Admitting that this makes for some of the worst video capture from a DJI drone in the last 5 years, we can't deny that that is still pretty good, and the compact nature and low price of the drone make it well worth consideration.

Check out the DJI Spark alone, or look into the Fly More combo to get extra batteries, a controller, accessories, a case and more.

Hubsan

Hubsan H501S

January 2018

Release Date

The Hubsan H501S was one of the first GPS enabled drones from Hubsan to offer a 1080p camera and brushless motors. This sounds like a common thing, silly to celebrate by today's standards, but this was a game changer for Hubsan and the toy drone market. Looking at 2017 and earlier, most toy-class drones, which included most all of Hubsan's drones, used inefficient brushed motors and all flew in what you might call ATTI mode. While the early drones had no navigation or a tools for object avoidance or flight assist, GPS in the H501S gave it the ability to hover and even set a GPS controlled route through the mobile app on your smart device.

With RTH functionality and more, the Hubsan H501S remains one of the best drones that live in between toy-class and what we might call the premium experience of full GPS flight control. Check out the Hubsan H501S for around $168 and watch for deals as low as $150.

Parrot

Parrot Anafi

July 2018

Release Date

The Parrot Anafi is one of the best entries from Parrot for the consumer camera drone market. Recognizing the power of an articulating gimbal, the new 21MP, 4K camera is able to point all the way down and rotate to pointing all the way up. This is extremely powerful for inspection services on commercial drones, but is built into a consumer friendly folding quadcopter design.

The drone itself is a step up from Parrot's usual mostly-foam build. Foam is great for building size without adding much weight, instead the Anafi is a much sleeker package with a plastic body.

Look for the now-common set of features in the Anafi, such as folding propeller arms, folding propellers, a compact size and a stabilized 4K camera. The remote control uses your phone as a display and you can swap batteries to expand your flight day. The Parrot Anafi sells for $699, but you can often find deals to save a few dollars.

Toy

Parrot MiniDrone Rolling Spider

August 2014

Release Date

Parrot develops a handful of small, toy-class drones for a variety of purposes, most are safe for indoor flight, but the MiniDrone Rolling Spider stands out for us. Details on this drone are sparse on the manufacturer website, so we have to assume that this machine is officially out of production, but it is still available for sale and the price is as good as ever. This caliber of drone is good for around five minutes of flight. Connect via your mobile device over Bluetooth and enjoy some short range flights for fun.

The real selling factor of the Rolling Spider is the propeller guards. They do not just protect the drone, they are large wheels! Run along the floor, run up the wall, scoot across the ceiling, all without a repair bill.

Check out the Parrot MiniDrone Rolling Spider from $20 - $35 on depending on your color choice.

Mantis Q

Yuneec Mantis Q

August 2018

Release Date

The Yuneec Mantis Q is an easy drone to get excited about, it packs a slim, folding form-factor, it flies for longer than most drones on the market, it has DJI Mavic Air level specifications and it has a cool trick, voice commands. We must admit, the long list of flight features and modes exceeded our needs of a drone, but the things we asked it to do, it did very well. 33 minutes of flight time allows for a lot of action in the air, the voice control features make for a good time as well.

We understand that this is a first generation of the product, we really like it, but the camera is not stabilized. It's obvious that this drone was made for pilots, not for photographers. That about sums up our opinion of the machine: if you are looking for a fun drone to fly, the Mantis Q is fantastic, if you are looking for a flying camera, this isn't the drone you're looking for.

Check out the Yuneec Mantis Q for about $450 on Amazon, down from its original $499 price at launch.

 

Sphero BB-8

What is a drone? The military builds them as highly capable unmanned aircraft for reconnaissance and more, the toy store says it’s a flying multi-rotor remote controlled toy, but if we are to be fairly exact about it, we’re looking at an unmanned craft of pretty much any sort. Under the water, in the air or across the ground, whether autonomous or remote controlled, there are many types of drones, and within these guidelines, Sphero’s BB-8 has got to be one of our favorite.

Control BB-8 with your smartphone, roll along the ground and enjoy some fun sound effects, augmented reality stories and more. Check out our initial thoughts on this toy over on Android Authority. I might add that Edgar, who wrote the post, got his hands on this droid at CES 2016. We’re serious fans around here.

Check out Sphero BB-8 from $39 on Amazon today.


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Special considerations – phone and remote, plus VR

While there are few drones that accept your smartphone as the only input method, don’t forget that you can enhance or augment most flying experiences by adding your phone or tablet into the mix. DJI is a primary player in this setup, most of their drones are made to be control by remote, but then use your phone as FPV video screen.

Our favorite DJI Mavic Pro is a primary example of this, your connected phone displays what the camera on the drone sees. Further, you can control the camera from the phone and you initiate most advanced flying modes from the app on your mobile device.

In this regard, there are many, many drones that you can control, at least in part, using your smartphone.

In terms of VR capabilities with your smartphone and your drone, head on over to our partner site VRSource for David Imel’s take on the best VR drones.

While you’re looking into VR, and flying by phone, why not also check out the DJI Goggles. This new headset can connect to your DJI Mavic Pro, Mavic 2 Pro, Mavic 2 Zoom, Phantom 4 Pro V2.0, Spark and has an HDMI input, so it can act as display for way more than just your drone.

DJI Goggles

(9.0)
  • 6 Hours - battery
  • Dual - 1080p screens
  • Ocusync and HDMI - Input
 

Wrap-up

That sums up some of the best drones you can fly using your smartphone or tablet. There are many, but mostly just toy-class units that you can control completely via mobile device, however, keep your phone charged, it is a valuable tool for most drones even if you can’t directly control them.

Read: The best drones for kids

What is your favorite drone to fly using just your Android phone or tablet?