Welcome to our best drones for under $100 buyers guide for 2017. Our buyers guide is geared more toward the beginner but if you are someone who is looking for an in-depth discussion of drone information and features, you will want to stick around as you may learn something new.
Drone flying is one of the fastest growing hobbies today due to the quickness of new technology hitting the markets in nearly every field you can imagine. It wasn't too long ago that being a civilian drone enthusiast seemed far fetched. Now anyone can enjoy flying drones.
There are also many types to choose from and lots of decisions to be made before you actually put down your hard earned cash.
What follows is a veritable how-to guide for the drone newbie. I will be honest with you, I am not new flying drones, but I did learn a few things that I didn't know while putting this guide together. So, in a way, I will be learning right along with you.
What Is a Drone?
In simple terms a drone is an aircraft that flies by itself without a pilot onboard. They are sometimes called a UAV which stands for unmanned aerial vehicle and are usually remote controlled by a pilot/person on the ground.
While the military has popularized the term drone and pushed it into the mainstream, drones have been around in hobby shops for years. Remember radio controlled airplanes and helicopters? They were really the first hobby drones on the market and became quite popular with RC enthusiasts.
Today, drones are being used for commercial and private work. The movie industry is using drones on the set to film aerial shots, real estate agents are using drones to take pictures of homes and property for sale and they are even being used by Meteorologists to track weather events. Some of the world's largest companies are using drones to deliver packages and cargo.
Recently, Amazon announced that they were working on a drone program that will allow shoppers to purchase products and have them delivered right to their door as well as FedEx and others.
The usage of drones in every day life are becoming more and more prevalent as the technology gets cheaper and more reliable. The law enforcement community are now using drones for search and rescue efforts as well as tracking criminals on the run. Of course, most people using drones for recreation, aerial photography and just to have fun in their own backyards.
3 Most Popular Types of Drone Kits
First, we will take a look at the 3 most popular types of drone kits that are on the market today. This is where I start my quest, by deciding what kind I want to fly.
1. Ready to Fly (RTF)
Ready to fly, or RTF as I will refer to it throughout this article, comes equipped with everything you need to start flying. Your job is to basically make sure the batteries are charged, and you're good to go. I feel like this is ideal when you're just getting your feet wet in the drone world. Overconfidence mixed with inexperience can lead to literal destruction, so this option seems like a good one to gain some experience points in your drone abilities.
2. Almost Ready to Fly (ARF)
Almost ready to fly, or ARF throughout the remainder of this article refers to a drone that is, well, almost ready to fly. There are still a few elements that will require the user to assemble. This is a favorite among those who want a more hands-on experience with their equipment. If you like DIY then this will be a big hit. I love projects like these, however, I don't feel that an inexperienced drone owner should go this route to start off with.
3. Bind-N-Fly (BNF)
Bind-N-Fly (BNF from here on out) drones come with everything you need except for the transmitter (remote control) to bind with the receiver (the drone) included in the drone model.
BNF works by using a specific type of technology called Spektrum 2.4 DSM2™/DSMX™. This all sounds kind of complicated, but it's actually akin to pairing a remote control to a specific television. The television would be the BNF drone, the receiver. Thus leaving the remote control as the transmitter.
What is special about these drones is actually the controller you have and being able to use the same one for multiple types of remote controlled aircraft.
4 Types of Drones - Which One Is For You?
Not only are there the drone kits to consider, but also the types of drones that use those kits. In the previous section, I determined that the RTF drone kit is the best avenue for a novice drone enthusiast due to the ease of use for inexperienced fliers.
In this section, I will guide you into making a decision on the actual type of drone you want to fly. I will make my personal choice and you can take my advice (which is occasionally inadvertently sketchy), or at least be informed enough to make your own educated decision.
1. Mini Drones
A mini drone is just that, mini. These drones can typically fit in the palms of your hands. This comes in handy for pocket carrying and ease of travel. The mini drone is a more portable version of many of the popular drone types. The downside would be, for me anyway, that the drone could easily be misplaced or crash land somewhere and I wouldn't be able to find it.
Quadcopters have four rotors that you control for flight. The quadcopter is among the top designs for drone enthusiasts.
There are two types of propeller rotors you will encounter in your drone search, fixed pitch and collective pitch. Pitch is the angle of the propeller blades. Fixed means they are all aligned as needed to operate functionally (the physics are described here.
Fixed pitch is more for the novice for its ability to fly where it needs to without the pilot having to control each rotor. Collective is for the experienced drone pilot due to having to make the rotors work in conjunction with one another at different pitches to do tricks and fun stuff that I will eventually learn how to do.
3. Multi-Rotator Drones
In a nutshell, multi-rotator drones are drones that have more than one rotor and propeller. The quadcopter is a typical example of a multi-rotator drone. Muti-rotors use propellers attached to a rotor, thus providing lift. This type of drone/aircraft has two or more rotor blades.
4. Professional Grade Drones
Professional grade drones are the crème de la crème. These drones usually have the best and latest in drone technology, more specifically their superior camera abilities. These are typically used among professional photographers and videographers.
Top 11 Features of Drones
Yes, drone-buying for newbies requires quite a bit of research. We're still at it. Here I will help you discern the main 11 features your drone can include. You can use this list to help you decide what features are important to you when shopping for a drone.
1. Battery Life and Flight Time
Battery life determines how long your batteries will stay juiced enough to keep your drone operational and running smoothly. Most drones will have any where between 8 and 15 minutes of flight time per charge of the battery.
The more expensive drones will have 30 minutes or more of flight time.
Purchase additional batteries and charge them before your next flight. You will get more flight time and a much more enjoyable experience.
There are many types of cameras available for drones. The biggest appeal to drones is their ability to take aerial photographs and videos. Drone cameras are changing the way we experience our world. People are allowed a bird's eye view of their surroundings. We see new beautiful drone-captured videos every day that lets us in on the secrets of the world around us. If the drone you love does not include a camera, chances are it has a place to mount one.
3. Headless Mode
The headless mode allows your drone to orient itself in relation to the direction your remote control is facing, rather than depending on internal systems to "right" the aircraft. This feature is one of those better suited for someone with a bit more experience in drone flying.
GPS (Global Positioning System) is an essential drone component. Without it, you can't control your drone or set a path for it to follow. Your drone's GPS uses satellite technology to send and receive signals regarding location.
5. Automated Flight Features
These features make flying much easier. Look for some of the following features when searching for your perfect drone.
The return-to-home feature does just what it says, allows the drone to return to its liftoff point. This is fantastic when you've nearly gone out of range or can't continue to control your drone. Activate return-to-home and your drone will fly back to you.
Orbit allows the pilot to circle in the air, making it possible to capture stunning aerial photographs.
Waypoints allow the drone pilot to set a flight path. This is handy for a few reasons. Say there's a gorgeous area you want photos of, but you can't get there. Send your drone up and have it fly to the waypoint automatically without you having to control it.
Follow allows your drone to follow along with you, flying overhead. This is akin to having your pet on a leash. If your pet could fly and take pictures while doing so.
Altitude Hold Function
This feature allows you to set your drone to basically fly in place at its current altitude. Use this feature when wanting to take a video of a specific area over a certain span of time, like a time-lapse.
6. 3-Axis Gimbal
A Gimbal is a gyroscope that keeps your drone balanced in the air. This helps it to be stable and not go wobbling about in the sky until it crashes into something...or someone. The 3-Axis gimbal also aids in your ability to take shaky-free video with your drone.
7. Drone Range
Drone range refers to how far your drone can be flown away from the transmitter (the controller) and still retain its ability to communicate.
8. Availability of Spare Parts
This is a big one. How often have you bought something thinking it was a great deal, only to have to search high and low when it needs to be repaired? Before committing to a drone, be sure you've researched how widespread and easy to obtain the replacement parts are.
You also want to make sure they won't cost just as much as buying another drone.
9. Types of Remote Controls
The possibilities of the remote controls you can use are bountiful. This is of specific concern for those that enjoy BNF drone kits. As mentioned previously, a certain technology called Spektrum allows for a multitude of drones to be able to be controlled by this one controller. It is able to match up (bind) to the frequency of the receiver (the drone).
You can also use your smartphone as a controller, as we will discuss next.
10. Smartphone Integration
Many drones can be controlled by your smartphone. This is a nice feature due to the ease of not having a lot of equipment to carry around. The best thing about this feature is being able to control the onboard drone camera from your phone while viewing the photographs being captured.
11. Media Format (microSD, microSDHC, microSDXC, etc..)
What type of drive your media saves to is a big consideration to make because you want your equipment to be compatible with what you already own.
There are many types of card adapters available that make this less of an issue. However, it is still important to know what type of storage cards you need to buy and be sure to have the correct software to make the information readable.
What Every Beginner Needs to Know Before They Fly a New Drone
Before setting out on your inaugural drone adventure, there are some key elements you need to make yourself aware of to be better prepared. Here I will cover a few of the all-important basic pieces of information you need to know.
- Know The Rules and Regulations
- Register Your Drone
- Charge Those Batteries
- Plan Your Flight Path
- Check The Weather
Know The Rules and Regulations (Federal and Local)
By checking your local and federal laws, you will be armed with the knowledge you need in order to stay out of trouble with your drone. For instance, you can't fly your drone above 400ft, plus you're not supposed to fly over people. Drones aren't allowed to be flown at night either. So be sure to check out and obey the laws so we can all continue to enjoy our drones.
Register Your Drone
This will be covered in more detail in the next section, but I can't state enough how important it is to register your drone. This way if it gets lost or has an accident, there is a legal record and accountability. You can't go drive a car without having it registered, so you certainly can't fly something as capable as a drone without registration of some sort either.
Charge The Batteries
This kind of goes without saying, but I will say it anyway since I need reminders. Buy some good quality batteries that you can recharge. With your batteries charged, you can have a longer flight time and be assured that your batteries won't die in the controller or the drone, thus avoiding a massive amount of stress.
Plan Your Flight Path
Planning your flight path seems like it would be a natural course of action before starting a journey of any kind. But for many, we forget this step. Excitement to fly and play can often overrule the need for smart planning.
By planning out your route, you can verify that there will be fewer obstacles and surprises that you may encounter. If you know a place is busy during a certain time of day, avoid that location. Don't fly your drone in heavy populated areas such as beaches. Better to be safe than sorry.
Check the weather
Another biggie that is often overlooked is the weather forecast. Anyone that likes to do things outdoors knows to keep an eye on the weather. Perhaps the day a tropical storm is blowing through isn't the best time to take your new drone out for a spin. Keep in mind that wind is NOT your friend when it comes to flying a drone. It's one of the easiest ways to lose a drone. Believe me, it's happened to me more than once!
10 Things You Should Know Before You Fly Your Drone
Here are a few more things you need to do and remember before you become an official drone pilot.
- 1. Register your drone (FAA registration requirements)
- 2. Read The Manual. This is a must! Manuals have the key to life for your drone, so study this even if you find it boring.
- 3. Don't use your drone to play James Bond and don't be a peeping tom! Be respectful.
- 4. Keep your drone within eyesight constantly.
- 5. Contact the control tower if flying within five miles of an airport. (Best to avoid it all together if possible).
- 6. Do not fly near places with sensitive information or surroundings (i.e. power plants, prisons, etc.).
- 7. Fly no higher than 400 feet.
- 8. Remain at least 25 feet away from other people and buildings.
- 9. Be alert to possible adverse weather conditions. Remember, wind is not your friend.
- 10. No operating your drone if under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Know Before You Fly is an indispensable resource website that covers nearly everything you need to know about flying a drone. Start there (after you read this, of course) and you will have a major advantage when you finally get to become a drone pilot yourself. Have Fun!
Top 10 Best Drones Under $100
There are quite a few drones on the market that are under the $100 mark. Unfortunately, not all of them are same when it comes to features, durability and quality.
We have done the research and we present to you the top 10 drones under $100 as a starting point. We think that these offer the best bang for the buck based on features and customer feedback.
Syma X5C Quadcopter
The Syma X5C is a great quadcopter that’s available for less than $50, which makes it the perfect drone for beginners to learn how to fly without spending a lot on the initial investment. There aren’t many recommendable quadcopters with HD cameras out there for this low of a price, and indeed the Syma is one of only two on our list - this is a great beginner’s device that takes decent photos and video footage if you want to get you feet wet in the world of drone photography and have a tight budget.
While this quadcopter is popular with most of its users, there are some limitations here - the controller has a rather short range, and at least one user has found an easy workaround by ditching the included antenna and replaced it with one from a wifi router to double the range. This is a very lightweight drone that performs best in low wind conditions, but if you’re looking to get into drones this is an excellent choice for your first.
Holy Stone HS170 Predator Mini RC Helicopter Drone
If your priority is getting a great drone just for learning how they work and you’re less interested in shooting videos of your flight, then the Predator could be right for you.
It’s an affordable device that performs well even in windy conditions, and comes with headless functionality so you don’t wind up getting your drone stuck in the top of a pine tree because it went right when you wanted it to go left.
Because of the 6-axis gyro system, the drone recovers quite easily from rolls and stunts - so you can fly it around and do all sorts of tricks without having to worry about your drone dropping out of the sky. And with colourful LED lights, you can fly at night without losing it.
UDI U818A HD Drone
For less than $100, you can get a great drone for taking photos and videos with the ability to record sound. The U818A is a headless drone that is an excellent choice for beginners because it’s both durable and easy to control.
Headless mode is great because it means that you won’t have to worry about the orientation of the drone in the air when you’re controlling it, because it will go the direction that you guide it using the controller, regardless of which way it’s pointed - useful when there’s no way to distinguish its orientation from a distance. This might not be a high-end drone, but it is a great entry-level quadcopter with a camera for anyone looking to learn how to fly a drone and film with it without investing a lot of money in a high-end device that you could end up crashing or getting stuck in a tree.
With a 6-axis gyro, you can even do 360° flips with the U818A as well - making it perfect to play around with as well as record video.
Some buyers note how they’ve ended up crashing this drone as well as banging it into trees and buildings without any noticeable damage, and it’s a rather stable option if your primary interest in drones is for their ability to record video.
Do be warned that because of the location of the camera any sound that you record will have prop noise in the background, and there’s nothing much that you can do about that. There are two speed settings - the low speed option is perfect for beginners while the high setting allows this thing to power through a breeze without issue.
And when there’s a low battery the transmitter starts beeping so that even if the drone is too high to see the warning lights you can safely land it before the battery dies and your drone simply falls out of the sky.
DBPOWER MJX X400W FPV Drone
Here’s another great drone for less than $100 with 6-axis gyros and headless mode so that you can do tricks with it in flight and not worry about which way the thing is facing when you’re trying to control it.
The X400W comes with plug-in replacement motors so that it won’t be a headache to replace a motor if you happen to burn one out, and other parts like the landing gear and the propeller blades are also easy to replace and readily available should you require them.
It even comes with an extra set of propellers in the box so you don’t have to order replacements right away if you manage to damage the thing.
There’s a mobile app that goes with this drone so that you can follow it in real-time and save all of the photos and videos that you take with it to your smartphone.
You can even use your phone with a VR headset (not included) to get a view from the skies because the app comes with a 3D function - so this drone offers a great user experience for an affordable price.
Some users complain that you can’t adjust the camera angle while flying and the landing gear is kind of flimsy, but overall this drone is great because it’s easy to fly, can take on winds, gives a decent battery life, and offers an excellent range in relation to the remote.
Hubsan X4 (H107L)
Here’s a good drone for well less than $50, and it fits in the palm of your hand so it’s small enough to use indoors as well as outdoors.
The X4 makes a great quadcopter for the fist time user who doesn’t want to spend much on a drone before knowing whether or not they like flying drones and it’s quite agile. Because it doesn’t come with a built-in camera, this might not be the drone for you if you’re looking for something you could use for aerial photography.
That aside, if you want something small to fly around in your apartment on rainy days this one could be the perfect match for your needs and it’s a lot of fun to play around with.
One drawback is that the included batteries aren’t the longest-lasting ones out there, and users recommend that you get some 380mAh batteries to make the fun last a bit longer than it otherwise would with the included 240mAh ones.
Rabing RC Drone FPV VR Wifi RC Quadcopter
The Rabing is another quadcopter that’s priced below $100 and comes with the capability to live-stream to your phone as well as take photos and have them saved to it. It has the usual 3D rolling capability that you’d expect on similar models, but there’s also a one-key roll option to make it even simpler.
Another great thing about the Rabing is that it has an auto-return feature so that it won’t wander off when the battery is low or if you lose contact with it through the remote control.
With a control distance of around 100 metres, you shouldn’t easily lose contact and possibly the drone itself - and there’s a dock for your phone in the remote as well so that you can see exactly where it’s going.
The customer service with the Rabing is great according to customer accounts, and we agree that this is a vital consideration when you’re buying a drone for yourself.
It makes a great first-time device because it’s simple to use, takes decent quality footage, and the manufacturer has your back in case any problems arise with it. With an intuitive controller, this drone is easy to learn how to fly without crashing into anything or getting it stuck in a tree.
Most customers are quite happy with this drone, so if you’re an amateur drone pilot looking for a great device that will fly around for ten minutes or so and that is useful for taking photos and videos at family events, the Rabing is a great drone to own.
DBPOWER UDI U818A WiFi FPV Quadcopter
There are a few good quadcopters out there which take excellent videos and give you decent performance for less than $100, and this is one of them.
The U818A requires no assembly out of the box and is ready to fly just like that, which makes it a great gift for anyone looking to get into the world of drones - whether to play around with or for photography.
The customer service is pretty good with this one - there was one customer who bought one and it ended up flying away during its maiden flight never to be seen again, and it was replaced free of charge.
It’s pretty reassuring that the seller will replace rogue drones without any difficulty, and in general they’ve been quite helpful for other customers who’ve had issues with their quadcopters.
After all, customer service is pretty vital for any electronic device and the last thing you want is spending money on a drone and not being able to use it.
Some people just want a drone to fly around and play with, while others want something that’s good for aerial photography and videos.
If you’re looking for something that’s fun and offers some additional novelty features, you might want to check out the Parrot Mambo because it comes with an included cannon accessory as well as a small grabber that can pick up objects up to four grams in weight. This brings new fun to your drone experience, while you use the cannon to knock over lightweight objects like stacks of paper cups or to annoy your coworkers.
You have the option of piloting the Mambo using the smartphone app or with the included Bluetooth joystick - so this a great versatile option just like a few of the other drones on this list.
If you want a great drone that’s a lot of fun and that’s easy to fly, you will probably find yourself quite impressed with the Mambo, but keep in mind that this isn’t the best option if you’re looking for something that takes videos.
Ultimately, you probably already know what you want to do with any drone that you end up purchasing - so buy accordingly. If you’re in the market for a fun drone that will teach you how to fly and includes some great novelty features then this one’s the way to go, but if you’re looking to master aerial photography with out spending too much then you might want to consider some of the other options on this list because the Mambo doesn’t come with a built-in camera.
The Alias is a great drone for just shy of $100 because it’s quite durable and offers more powerful batteries than a lot of lightweight quadcopters provide.
The alias is very quick and very responsive, making it the perfect drone for the first-time user or any amateur looking for a good quality device that performs well. The only complaint that customers seem to have with this drone is the motors which sometimes burn out, but replacements are readily available should you need them.
It offers a great user experience for anyone looking to get into the world of drones, and it’s a blast to fly. That being said, there’s no built-in camera if you’re looking to take photos and videos - so if your intent is photography rather than just having fun then this isn’t the best available option.
Cheerwing Syma X5SW-V3
Looking to get into photography and videos without spending too much on your first quadcopter? The Syma is around $50 and gives you your money’s worth.
With headless functionality and a .3 megapixel camera, this is the perfect drone to learn how to do aerial photography with as well as the basics of drone flight. And it can be controlled from your mobile via wifi, making the Alias the perfect budget drone with a camera.
There’s been a lot of hype in recent years regarding small drones for personal use, and now it’s more affordable than ever before to buy a drone for your own personal use. There’s a lot that you can potentially do with a small drone, and some models are great for aerial photography while others are intended for just playing around with and learning how to fly a drone.
For a long time drones in the United States existed in a legal grey area, but the FAA has finally released its regulations for drones used for both commercial and personal use - and the good news for anyone looking to try out one of these tiny aircraft is that if the device is under a certain weight you won’t need a license to operate it legally.
If your drone is less than half a pound, you don’t need to register it with the FAA and can start flying as soon as you get it out of the box, no bureaucracy involved. In addition to not requiring any registration, a small drone can be used both indoors and outdoors - so you can learn the ropes of operation inside before taking the thing outside and crashing it on your first attempt.
In general, most basic small drones have a flying time of around 6-7 minutes and take about an hour and a half to charge - almost all of the models in this list have similar specifications in that regard. There are some models which offer a power bank for longer flight times, so that’s something to consider.
And another consideration is whether the drone has “headless mode” - wherein the drone orients itself to the controller and not to its directional head - making it much easier for beginners to fly a drone.
If you’re a beginner, do understand that you’re fairly likely to end up banging the drone into something - so you’ll want something that’s both durable and has replaceable parts to avoid disappointment.