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.
The DJI Mavic Air 2 is the first "air" to look like a Mavic drone. It's the perfect midway between the Mini and larger Mavic...
- 34 - MIN
- 4K - 60 FPS
- 42.5 - MPH
- 6.2 - 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...
- 31 - MIN
- 4K - 30 FPS
- 44 - MPH
- 6.2 - MILES
The DJI Mini 2 is an updated Mavic Mini, now with a 4K camera, Ocusync 2.0, and updated flight features in a package still small...
- 31 - Minutes
- 4K - 12MP
- 36 - MPH
- 6.2 - Miles
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...
- 15 - Minutes
- 4K - 30 FPS
- 25 - MPH
- 300 - ft
The Yuneec Mantis G adds a stabilized camera Gimbal to the Mantis Q - exactly the missing piece from the original folding drone. Now you...
- 33 - Minutes
- 4K - 30 FPS
- 45 - MPH
- 2.43 - MILES
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.
Drones you can control by phone
DJI Mavic Air 2
May 2020Release Date
The DJI Mavic Air 2 drone is more than just a successor to the original Mavic Air, it's more of a transition from its own form-factor into a true Mavic drone. The Mavic Air 2 maintains its place as a mid-tier drone in DJI's lineup. In terms of size, price, and capability, the Mavic Air 2 sits almost perfectly in between the Mavic Mini and the Mavic 2 series drones.
In the same way that the Mavic Air stepped up the camera game for small drones, the Mavic Air 2 is an exciting update in the camera department as well. You're looking at a new 1/2-inch sensor that shoots 12MP stills, but does so from a 48MP sensor! You can capture 48MP stills as well, but the 12MP shots are better, using pixel binning managed by Quad Bayer technology. Photos are great, but the new 4K video capture at 60fps, and a data bit rate of 120Mbps, are more exciting to many users.
Check out the DJI Mavic Air 2 for a starting price of $799 for the base package, $988 for the Fly More combo at launch in May 2020.
DJI Mini 2
November 2020Release Date
The original DJI Mavic Mini was a very important machine for the consumer hobby drone market. The DJI Mini 2 is the next generation of super-compact camera drone, it's a solid improvement over the original Mini, especially in terms of the camera and flight capabilities. You still get a sub-250 gram drone, but now get a 4K camera, vastly improved connectivity, a more durable design, and more power.
The newer 1/2.3-inch sensor produces 12MP stills, and 4K video at 30 fps and 100Mbps data rate. For some, the most exciting update is lossless zoom. With up to 4X zoom, you can safely fly at distance from your subject, perfect for those pet photos or to capture shots of a waterfall in the distance.
DJI Mavic Mini
November 2019Release Date
With a long list of drones that start with the name Mavic, DJI has launched yet another consumer machine, perhaps their most consumer friendly yet, the new, very compact, folding DJI Mavic Mini.
As the name implies, the DJI Mavic Mini is a very small machine, and in true DJI fashion, it has few compromises to make it all work. The first thing to note is that the Mavic Mini weighs less than 0.55 lbs, which means you do not need to register it with the FAA before flight. Registration is quick and easy, but not requiring it at all is a bonus.
Related reading: DJI Mavic Mini review
Don't let the small size fool you, this drone packs a 12MP camera, shoot 2.7K video from a 3-axis stabilized Gimbal and has all of the flight features you'd expect from a Mavic drone today.
DJI Mavic 2 Pro
August 2018Release 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.
DJI Mavic 2 Zoom
August 2018Release 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.
DJI Mavic Air
January 2018Release 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.
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.
February 2018Release 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.
Yuneec Mantis G
October 2019Release 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 is $699 today.
March 2018Release Date
Built using many DJI parts, and sold on the DJI site in partnership with DJI, it is a common misunderstanding that this is a DJI drone. The Ryze Tello is a fun little machine that serves many purposes. On the surface, it's a functional and capable high-end, toy-class drone. You can fly by mobile device, remote control or, in the case of the Educational versions of this machine, you can code your own functionality.
The Ryze Tello is an attractive first drone for many pilots and parents of potential pilots. There are even a few different partnerships, like the Iron Man edition Tello.
DJI Mavic Pro
November 2016Release 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.
May 2017Release 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.
PowerVision PowerEgg X
January 2020Release Date
The folks at PowerVision first captured attention with their Dolphin underwater drone, a submarine, of sorts. Their PowerEgg flying drone was a cool design, but the PowerVision PowerEgg X is a versatile machine that embraces some extra features we might have inadvertently used drones for from time to time. In addition to having a dedicated shell that allows the drone to fly in the rain, and floats to let it land and take off from water, the PowerEgg X breaks down into a compact form-factor, embracing its ability to operate as a camcorder.
Attach the hand strap to get a basic camcorder feel from your PowerEgg X drone. That's a 3-axis stabilized Gimbal, 4K camera with object tracking functions to automate some of your cinematography.
January 2018Release 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.
July 2018Release 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.
Parrot MiniDrone Rolling Spider
August 2014Release 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.
November 2019Release Date
Skydio 2 is the follow up to the impressive Skydio R1, a powerful drone with unheard of autonomy for its time. The power of both Skydio drones is in the Nvidia Jetson on-board computer and an array of obstacle avoidance sensors. The Skydio 2 uses six cameras, with a total of 48MP of resolution, for obstacle avoidance purposes, making it one of the safest drones around, in terms of avoiding a crash. They believe in this tech so much that they offer free repair or replacement if your machine happens to crash.
Skydio is not the only company that has drones powered by the Nvidia Jetson computer system, but at the time of launch, we know of no other Jetson powered drone that is designed for consumer use with a price tag less than a thousand dollars. Of course, the Skydio 2 integrates with DroneDeploy, for those looking to perform inspection or mapping tasks.
For the consumer side, the Skydio 2 offers a fairly standard 4K camera, that shoots at up to 60 fps. It is a class-leader in follow-me modes and finally offers additional control options. You can control Skydio 2 via your smartphone, just like the earlier models, or you can opt for the new remote control or the Skydio Beacon, which gives you some control of the drone, but mostly acts as a wireless tether, to ensure the drone follow you even when it cant see you.
Launch price for the Skydio 2 is $999 with pre-orders in October 2019, first shipments due in November 2019.
Purchase links coming soon!
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.
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.
- 6 Hours - battery
- Dual - 1080p screens
- Ocusync and HDMI - Input
May 2017Release Date
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?