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6 best drones for beginners: Take to the sky with these entry-level models

From budget-friendly options to first-person view models, invest in one of these easy-to-fly designs

David RS Taylor
Friday 06 August 2021 14:06 BST
<p>Earn your wings with these starter models </p>

Earn your wings with these starter models

When you think of drones, what image pops up? Ambitious wedding photographers? Clandestine activities in the darkened rooms of a Tom Clancy novel? Amazon floating over your home with that portable charger you ordered?

In reality, commercial drones are fun, easy to fly and becoming ever-more obtainable. The term “beginner’s drone” is a broad church: you can buy a drone for £20 that is basically a high-tech toy or you can commit a good chunk of cash to something that has a lot more oomph, with filming capabilities, better battery life and much more sophisticated inner workings. Happily, many of these upper-end drones are still terribly easy to fly and perfect for the budding drone pilot.

There are a couple of things to be aware of. Current drone flying regulations state that any drone over 250g (8.8oz) has to be piloted by a registered drone pilot. While this sounds daunting, flyer ID registration consists of an open-book 40-question, multiple choice exam, and registering yourself as an operator (if you own a drone over 250g) costs £9 for the year.

There are also different styles of drone for different purposes. If you’re looking to channel the competitive racer inside you, go for something more streamlined. Beware, however, that dedicated racing drones are particularly hard to handle and usually don’t come with safety features like propeller guards, so it might be worth easing yourself into drones with something a little simpler and sturdier.

While the idea of your drone being called a toy might not sound that exciting, there are drones under that weight which have many of the bells and whistles of heavier models. In fact, one benefit of buying a lighter drone is that there won’t be as many complicated flying elements, meaning you can really get to grips with the basic controls that are seen in most drone designs. That way, you can get any control mishaps out of the way before you invest in anything more sophisticated.

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How we tested

After hours taking to the skies and a few minor, not-quite-catastrophic crashes, we’ve found some of the best drones for beginners on the market, from cheap and cheerful to high-tech hovering marvels.

The best drones for beginners for 2021 are:

  • Best overall –DJI mini 2: £419,
  • Best budget drone – Potensic firefly A20: £29.98,
  • Best high-tech drone – Parrot ANAFI: £629.99,
  • Best entry-level drone – Simrex X300C: £39.99,
  • Best for a first-person view – DJI FPV: £1,249,
  • Best lightshow – AVIALOGIC Q9: £39.99,

DJI mini 2

Best: Overall

  • Weight: 249g
  • Size: 245mm x 289mm x 56mm (unfolded), 138mm × 81mm × 58mm (folded)
  • Battery life: 31 minutes
  • Max speed: 57.6km/h
  • Video resolution: 4K up to 30fps, 2.7K up to 60fps, FHD up to 60fps
  • Camera resolution: 12MP

Don’t be put off by the price or high-tech-looking packaging: the DJI mini 2 is the perfect drone for beginners. DJI is the biggest name in commercial drones and it’s easy to see why. The mini 2 offers many of the features of much more expensive models but in a compact, sleek package.

Controls are easy, via DJI’s simple app – attach your phone to the DJI holder and use it in the style of a traditional remote control. Flying is intuitive with hover options if you get a little confused but it’s a seamless experience, even for a beginner. The 12MP camera on board the mini 2 is brilliant, capturing great stills and snappy footage in 4K, and recording itself is straightforward, thanks to the in-built gimbal keeping everything looking as smooth as possible.

Maximum flight time comes in at just over half an hour, which is impressive for this part of the market, and its folding arms make the mini 2 impressively portable. What’s even better is that the takeoff weight comes in at 249g, meaning that the mini 2 is one gram below the weight limit for a licence. Well done, DJI.

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Potensic firefly A20

Best: Budget drone

  • Weight: 150g
  • Size: 90mm × 80mm × 32mm
  • Battery life: 5-6 minutes per battery (x2)
  • Max speed: N/A
  • Video resolution: N/A
  • Camera resolution: N/A

The A20 is very much at the toy end of the drone market. About the size of your palm, it makes an almighty sound and is surprisingly nippy considering its size and price: we managed to charge it head-first into various obstacles a good few times. Luckily, it’s sturdy and lightweight, meaning no permanent damage was done to the drone or our walls. It’s brilliant fun and, with regular discounts, a no-brainer for a fun toy that teaches you the basics of drone flying.

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Parrot ANAFI

Best: High-tech drone

  • Weight: 320g
  • Size: 244mm × 67mm × 65mm
  • Battery life: 25 minutes
  • Max speed: 55km/h
  • Video resolution: 4K 24fps, UHD up to 30fps, FHD up to 60fps
  • Camera resolution: 21MP, 16MP

Parrot has made its name providing high-end drones for the professional market, from first responders and search-and-rescue teams, to security agencies and surveying and inspection professionals. Now the brand has taken this know-how and put it all in this commercial model, the Parrot ANAFI.

The ANAFI is, in fact, barely even commercial, with the drone designed to be deployed pretty much anywhere legal you can think of. It works in temperatures up to 50C and down to -10C, and gusts up to 80km/h. Its 25-minute fly time is monitored by the on-board computer and the ANAFI offers “return to home” mode, automatically returning to you when the battery level drops too low. 4K video resolution and good digital zoom make this a real contender for the best drone that can feasibly be controlled by a beginner. It’s the real deal. Parrot also provides a first person view (FPV) goggle set for £100, for an extra level of immersive flying.

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Simrex X300C

Best: Entry-level drone

  • Weight: 220g
  • Size: 30mm x 5mm x 80mm
  • Battery life: 8-10 minutes
  • Max speed: N/A
  • Video resolution: 720p HD
  • Camera resolution: 720p HD

The X300C is a great option for an entry-level, training drone. The motors are ultra-responsive, with only tiny adjustments to the throttle necessary to keep the drone flying, and an emergency stop button for any particularly bad flying (we know this from experience). There are three speed modes that you can work your way through, with a surprisingly pacy top end and the propeller protection rings can take a battering without issue.

On top of this, the drone actually has a camera for you to use either as a flying aid or for taking decent stills and footage, a big bonus at this price point. It looks great, folds away nicely, and is easy to operate: exactly what you want from a no-risk beginner drone. It’s also available in white and blue.

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Best: For a first-person view

  • Weight: 795g
  • Size: 255mm x 312mm x 127mm
  • Battery life: 20 minutes
  • Max speed: 140km/h
  • Video resolution: 4K up to 60fps, FHD up to 120fps
  • Camera resolution: 12MP

First person view (FPV) drones are admittedly a little more demanding than the usual beginner models. They land you directly in the middle of the action, as goggles relay the footage from the camera attached to the drone. It really feels like you’re flying, which can be an odd sensation, so we’d recommend sitting down for your first go.

DJI has released its own dedicated FPV drone, imaginatively called the FPV. It’s more technical than most of DJI’s other commercially-driven drones and seems, on the surface, an expensive outlay. However, what you get for this is a flight-ready machine (something that isn’t a given for FPV flying) with fantastic flying capability and technology inside it that would have cost the earth just a few years ago.

The first person view is incredible, thanks to the all-enveloping goggles that immerse you immediately in your flying experience. It’s another level of drone flying to feel as if you’re in the air yourself and the DJI FPV manages this with aplomb.

FPV drones are a blast to fly and DJI’s version is no exception: in fact, it’s probably the best ready-made FPV drone on the market and much better than anything we would be able to construct. It’s a hefty investment but for those who fancy the leap into a more immersive way of flying, the DJI FPV is a perfect introduction to this more intense – and even more fun – drone world.

Read the full DJI FPV review

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Avialogic Q9

Best: Lightshow

  • Weight: 310g
  • Size: 175mm x 175mm x 50mm
  • Battery life: 7 minutes per battery (x2)
  • Max speed: N/A
  • Video resolution: N/A
  • Camera resolution: N/A

This is perhaps the easiest drone to control on the list. One button for take off and landing, clear remote control settings and a clever propeller protection design make the super lightweight Q9 a great option for any beginner but especially children. The LED show when flying is worth the cost alone, creating a great UFO effect, and is especially fun if flying in a dark room (put away any ornaments).

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The verdict: Drones for beginners

Your drone choice depends on how you see yourself using it. If it’s a toy to use indoors or in the garden, something like the Simrex X300C is suited for your needs. It’s small, light, easy to set up and will do the job of helping you develop your piloting skills without risking any expensive damage. If you’re looking at being a little more involved with the drone world and want a drone that reflects that, then the DJI mini 2 is a good-value, technically-superior drone that is still easy to handle and bridges the gap between beginner and regular perfectly.

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