Buying a toy drone can be a good introduction to drones before spending hundreds on a ‘proper’ on, as well as a great gift for someone else.
Compared to the best drones, cheap ones tend not to have auto-hover, no automatic flying and only basic stabilisation from an on-board gyroscope. This means they’re harder to fly, but there are exceptions, such as the Ryze Tello. Though, admittedly, that is one of the most expensive options you’ll find here.
Cheap drones are a lot of fun, but flying time is limited to a few minutes, so budget for a few extra batteries. In most cases these are usually cheap and readily available. Just make sure you get the correct type.
Crash packs are available for many toy drones, too, and it’s well worth getting one, if not just a couple of sets of extra propellers as you will break those that come in the box. Don’t forget that they’re not all the same: one pair rotates clockwise, the other pair anti-clockwise.
Finally, remember that the UK Dronecode applies to these just as much as bigger more expensive drones. If you’re in the US, you have to register your drone with the FAA. In the UK from October 2019 you have to register a drone, but not if it weighs less than 250g, like all those you’ll find below.
The CX-10 has been around for ages now, but is one of the cheapest drones you can buy. It’s absolutely tiny and fun to fly both for beginners and experts alike.
Definitely not the easiest drone, but that goes for most of the CX-10’s micro rivals: there’s no auto-hover. Just throw it in the air to start flying, and once you’ve mastered doing mid-air flips you’ll be able to impress friends and family alike.
Based on DJI technology, the Ryze is smarter than most ‘toy’ drones. It will auto-hover and – importantly – will do this if it loses connection to your phone or controller, so it shouldn’t go whizzing off never to be seen again.
It has an onboard 720p camera, but this isn’t really for great aerial footage: it’s for fun. And there’s plenty of fun to be had thanks to to all the tricks it can perform just by tapping on them in the app.
If you don’t like flying it using your phone’s touchscreen, compatible controllers include the GameSir T1d, which costs £29 / $39.
Revell Proto Quad XS
One of the smallest drones we’ve ever seen at 28mm across, the Proto Quad can be stored on the controller itself. It has a six-axis gyro, three speed levels (so you can start off at low speeds to avoid crashes) and the ability to perform flips. Because it’s so tiny, it’s harder to fly than larger models, but it has a big wow factor.
Hubsan X4 H107C
There’s an FPV (first-person-view) version of the X4 which is much more expensive, but the H107C is much cheaper. It does come with a camera but you can’t see the video in real-time on the controller. Video quality is poor but the X4 is a very precise flyer, so its great, cheap fun at this price.
Spares are cheap and easy to find, too.
The Mambo is available in various guises, but the FPV package pictured here is getting harder to find.
But so long as you don’t want the snap-on camera and basic ‘VR’-style headset, then the standard model can be found for well under £100 / $100.
There’s a decent controller included and prop guards to protect people, property and the props themselves.
Flight time is a bit short at eight minutes with the camera on board, but spare batteries cost around £14 / $15. It’s also easy to get spare propellers and other parts, too.
If you do find the FPV version at a tempting price just bear in mind the camera, although it can record video to a microSD card, isn’t going to shoot any great aerial footage or photos: this is a more of a racing drone.
Nikko Air Elite 115
For the price you get a lot more with the Air Elite 115 than other drones.
As well as a detachable safety ring, you get a controller with quite a few buttons which allow you to make the drone perform 16 aerobatic tricks.
Plus, you can customise the drone’s setting using the Beta Flight software, and there’s even a racing simulator which runs on Windows or macOS that allows you to practice with the controller before trying the real thing.
The drone itself is designed to withstand crashes, has a quick-swap battery design and comes with a full set of spare propellers.
Mota JetJat Nano
This really is one of the smallest drones we’ve seen measuring just 22x22x20mm. Like the Revell Proto Quad XS, it’s so tiny it can fit into a container on the already small controller.
It lasts about 8 minutes between charges and the battery isn’t removable, but it will wow your friends and family.
Hubsan X4 FPV
The X4 FPV isn’t meant for recording amazing aerial video. Like the Parrot Mambo, it’s intended as a starter drone with first-person view. There’s a screen built into the controller rather than a headset for your phone, though.
It’s still fun to fly, and prices have dropped loads since it first came out: you’ll pay less than £60 these days.
If you invest in some extra batteries and time in learning to fly it properly (it’s completely manual with no auto-hovering), the H107D can be a rewarding and fun drone.
The X5C is bigger than the nano quads here, measuring 310x310mm. This makes it better suited to flying outdoors where it’s less susceptible to being blown away. It has a 2Mp camera which captures shaky, poor quality video, but as an introduction to drones, it’s not bad at all. Plus, because it’s popular, spares are cheap and easy to find.