The best drones 2018: Top rated quadcopters to buy, whatever your budget

The best drones 2018: Top rated quadcopters to buy, whatever your budget

From military drones bombing targets to amateur camera drones pestering celebrities, crashing into National Parks, or shipping drugs into prisons – drones are everywhere. But they’re not all bad.

Companies like Amazon and Dominos are already testing drone delivery services that could mean the skies are filled with buzzing bots soon. For now, there are plenty of drones that you can use for fun.

And that’s why we’re here – to run through the best drones you can buy today.

Our pick of the best drones to buy today

Some top drones come with cameras built-in, while some others are able to mount a GoPro. There’s even one drone from GoPro. Whatever your need, there’s a drone for it. We’ve rounded up the best drones available.

DJI Mavic Pro Platinum

  • 4.3 mile (7km) range with OcuSync transmission
  • 30 mins maximum flight time
  • 4k video 30fps, 3-axis gimbal
  • Obstacle avoidance and Return to Home

DJI’s latest drone is one of the most talked about to date – thanks mostly to its brilliant form factor. Rather than have a large, rigid quadcopter design, the Mavic Pro is foldable, and it’s small enough to fit in your bag. Similar to the GoPro Karma drone, the four quadcopter arms fold into the body, but do so in a very neat and incredibly compact fashion.

Although it’s small, don’t let that fool you in to thinking it isn’t powerful and full of top-notch features. For instance, it can last up to 27 minutes in flight on a full battery, and it takes less than a minute to set up and calibrate to get it flying. Mounted to the 3-axis stabilisation mount is a camera capable of recording up to 4K resolution at 30 frames per second, or full HD up to 96 frames per second.

The Platinum version of this drone was announced at IFA 2017 in Berlin, and has all of the same features, but has enhanced battery performance and much quieter motors.

It has a minimum focusing distance of 0.5m and a 12-megapixel sensor equipped with the ability to take still RAW pictures tuned purposefully for aerial imagery. Perhaps more impressive is that the new transmission system has a range of up to 4.3 miles and can live stream 1080p footage directly to Facebook Live, Periscope, and YouTube through the connected DJI GO app.

To immerse you more in to the experience of flying the drone, DJI’s flying gadget will pair with a new set of immersive DJI goggles. With these on your face, you’ll see 90-degree view straight from the drone’s camera in 1080p.

Read the full review: DJI Mavic Pro review: One insanely powerful, portable drone

GoPro Karma

  • Karma controller has built-in 5-inch screen
  • 20 minutes flight time
  • Fits Hero 5 Black and Hero 4 Black/Silver
  • 3km range

After months of teasing, GoPro originally unveiled its Karma drone in September 2016, its launch wasn’t without issues. Early production models were literally falling out of the sky, but since then, the drone has been fixed and relaunched and is a must-have accessory for GoPro enthusiasts.

Size-wise, it’s small enough to fit easily in to a small backpack (which it ships with), and it’s light enough to wear during any activity without getting uncomfortable. What’s more, the controller is designed to be as easy to use as a console gamepad and has a built-in touch screen, so you don’t need a phone to see footage from the Karma.

As for the camera mounting system, it’s a 3-axis stabiliser which can be removed from the Drone and then attached to an included handgrip and used handheld, giving you super smooth handheld footage. In many ways, the Drone is trying to compete with drones, and handheld gimbal systems with one product. It will be available to buy from 23 October.

The Karma alone with the Grip costs £869 or $799, with no GoPro included. If you already have the Karma Grip gimbal system, you can buy just the drone for £689. It is compatible with Hero 4, Hero 5 and Hero 6. The GoPro Karma with the Hero 6 Black will costs £1,299 or $1,199.

Read the full review: GoPro Karma drone review: Good things come to those who wait

DJI Spark

  • 16 minutes flight time
  • Full HD video, 2-axis gimbal
  • Obstacle avoidance
  • 1.2 mile range with remote, 100m with phone

After the success of its Mavic Pro, DJI surprised us all with its most compact high-end drone to date. The Spark is, essentially, a very small Mavic Pro. It features many of the same flight technology, but in a much more compact and more rigid design.

Unlike the Mavic Pro, the Spark’s arms aren’t foldable, but the overall footprint is so small it can just sit in your palm fairly comfortably. What’s more, it’s the first drone that can be controlled completely by hand gestures alone. For those who want a more traditional control system, you can use the DJI remote to fly with a 1.2 mile range at speeds up to 50kmph.

Each battery lasts up to 16 minutes of flight time, and the intelligent flying modes will ensure that time flies by before you even know it. Like the Mavic you can lock on to individual objects or people, and move around in various manually controlled or pre-programmed motions while tracking that person/subject. This all happens while the camera is kept super steady using its 2-axis gimbal and electronic UltraSmooth technology.

Read the full review: DJI Spark review: The tiny drone that makes you feel like a Jedi

DJI Phantom 4 Pro Obsidian Edition

  • 30 mins flight time
  • 7km flight range with remote
  • 4K video at 60fps
  • 5-directional obstacle avoidance
  • 20MP 1-inch camera sensor

The Phantom 4 series was the standout drone from DJI up until the Mavic was released. In 2017, the series was grown to include several versions, but none are as impressive as the Pro Obsidian model. If you want the smoothest, most stable flight and footage, as well as the best looking image quality available without going super high-end, the Phantom 4 Pro is the drone for you.

Perhaps the biggest advantage this has over the Mavic is the camera technology. Inside its magnesium alloy chassis, and attached to a gimbal, the camera features a mechanical shutter and a huge 1-inch sensor packed with 20 million pixels. It also has the ability to shoot 4K resolution videos at 60 frames per second. For the video nerds, you can shoot H.265 as well as the usual H.264 codec.

Its battery is more capacious than the older Phantom 4 thanks to increased density, and can now last up to 30 minutes flight time on a single charge.

It has a bunch of flight modes, including the Active Track feature that can track objects, and a new Draw Mode that lets you draw a path for it to follow. Of course, there are many more flight modes, and an almost endless number of settings to dig into, both for recording and flying.

The biggest takeaway from our time with it was how effortless it seemed to fly. It was impressively stable, comfortable and performed very well.

Read the full review: DJI Phantom 4 Pro Obsidian review: Packs a punch that’s worth its cover price

Parrot Bebop 2/Bebop 2 Power

  • 25 mins flight time
  • HD videos and 14MP stills
  • 2km range with SkyController
  • Digital stabilisation for smooth video

The Bebop 2 is the follow up to the popular Bebop, which we loved when we reviewed it at the time of its launch. The design has changed quite a lot, but the value for money has increased.

The Bebop 2 can fly over 37mph and resist winds of the same speeds, and an slow down to a stand still within four seconds. It has a Follow Me feature to track you while you’re cycling, running, climbing, or whatever else you might be doing, and it uses GPS to track its position and return home again when you’re done.

Its camera can shoot in 1080p full HD resolution, and take great pictures with its wide-angle 14-megapixel lens. It can even capture in RAW and DNG image formats, giving you the ability to edit them professionally afterwards.

At £349, it’s great value for money, and you can control it with your smartphone. Or, for £499 price point you can also get the brand new Skycontroller 2 control pad and the first person view (FPV) glasses, which let you watch the live stream of the camera’s video feed in real time.

Skycontroller 2 gives you an impressive 2km range when piloting the drone, while the glasses can stream 1080p video footage right to your eyes.

There’s also the all-new Parrot Bebop 2 Power which comes with 60 minutes battery life thanks to shipping with two batteries. You can buy the Power FPV pack with VR goggles and the physical remote for just £549.

Dromida XL

  • Dedicated auto-flip control
  • 3-axis gyro and 3 accelerometers for stable flight
  • 2.4GHz radio control
  • 10-12 mins flight time per battery

If you’re after a drone that can perform its own stunts, the Dromida XL looks like a lot of fun. Like many modern drones it can take off and land automatically at the press of a button, but its one-press feature list also includes the ability to perform a flip. It also has a front facing 1080p camera, and can fly quickly, close to the ground.

Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 Power Edition Quadricopter

  • Two batteries for up to 36mins of flight time
  • 360-degree flips on demand
  • Camera footage view through smartphone app
  • HD video quality

Parrot was one of the first companies to get into the drone business. So, with its second generation of refined AR.Drone, you get a lot of technology for the price. The quadricopter is controlled via Wi-Fi using an app that’s available for Android and iOS smartphones and tablets. Unlike the first model, the AR.Drone 2.0 is able to work inside and outdoors.

It can be controlled using the virtual joysticks but is also capable of automatic takeoff, landing, and hovering. Plus, there’s a button to do a quick 360-degree flip trick. The Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 Power Edition should last 18 minutes on a charge. But it comes with two batteries that can be swapped while the other is charging, so you’ll get a good 36 minutes of use.

Range is limited to 165 feet from the controller device. A built-in camera relays photos and 720p 30fps videos to the smartphone so that they can be stored, played back, and shared instantly from the device. There is also a second camera on the base of the copter that makes landing on certain spots easy. Users also have the option of connecting a small USB stick to record directly.

Read the full review: Parrot AR Drone 2.0 Power Edition review 

DJI Phantom 3 Standard

  • 2.7K video capture
  • 1km transmisson distance
  • 25mins max flight time
  • 3-axis gimbal

DJI is fast becoming the go-to name for hobbyist and professional drone fliers alike. The Phantom 3 is a line offering Standard, Advanced, and Professional models. The DJI Phantom 3 Standard is the most affordable of the three. Despite that it still crams in plenty of next-gen drone tech. The camera offers 2.7K video or 12-megapixel stills and uses a gimbal to offer stable footage.

The drone itself can fly for up to 25 minutes on a charge and will return home or land if the battery gets too low. Pre-set routes can be mapped out so the drone flies them over and over as the user focuses on working the moving camera for the best shot. With the range extender controller, the drone can fly up to one kilometre away from the pilot, all controlled via a smartphone app.

Turbo Ace Matrix S

  • See current price on Turbo Ace

  • Over 40mins flight time
  • Up to 60mph speeds
  • Fits various cameras, inc. GoPro Hero range

This is the daddy of drones, made for professional grade filming and photography. The Turbo Ace Matrix, with its 1 metre wingspan and triple carbon fibre deck build, has a range of 1.2 miles and can stay in the air for more than 40 minutes thanks to the 22,000mAh battery version. The whole thing even folds down for easy transport. It comes with an 8-inch monitor for viewing what the flight camera feeds back.

But that’s just for flying. The unit can have gimbals and cameras plonked on top to carry around for high-definition filming and photography. There are several models of Turbo Ace Matrix, some designed for speed and others for heavy lifting. In short, if you want to spend serious money on a serious drone, the Ace Matrix should be near the top of your list.

Hubsan X4 H107D FPV

  • 6-axis gyroscope for stable flight
  • Built-in screen on remote
  • Up to 100m range

This more affordable drone still manages to cram a camera into its palm-sized body.

The transmitter remote has a built-in screen, allowing you to control the flight from a first-person perspective. Not that you should need it much with a limited 100m range. The camera is a 0.3-megapixel device that manages a 640 x 480 resolution video feed. This can be recorded if an SD card is inserted into the controller. While it might not be high quality, it should be clear thanks to the latest 6-axis gyro sensitivity.

The battery lasts about seven minutes, claims Hubsan, and recharges to full via USB in 30 minutes. For those that want a cheaper option, there’s the Hubsan X4 V2 H107L, which doesn’t have a camera but manages nine minutes on a half hour charge and costs £28 on Amazon.

Parrot Swing

  • Auto take off and landing
  • Up to 19mph speed
  • Rotate 90-degrees to fly forwards
  • Up to 60m range

This is an affordable fun way to try out drone flying.

The Swing is a relatively new form factor for Parrot, and is the first drone to be able to fly with its propellers faced upwards like a regular quadcopter, or turn and fly horizontally like an X-Wing fighter. It’s lightweight, easy to fly, and has a camera onboard.

Although its wings are relatively large, they’re made from a polystyrene/styrofoam-like material, making the aircraft very lightweight. This means that while it’s not exactly sturdy, it’s so light it’s unlikely to get damaged from dropping to the floor.

You can control it either by using the included gamepad-style controller, or by downloading the app on to your iPhone or Android smartphone.

Read the full review: Parrot Swing drone review: Tiny, smart and lots of fun

Parrot Disco

  • First person view glasses
  • Up to 45mins flight time
  • 1.24 mile/2km range
  • Fixed wing design
  • Up to 50mph

If you’re looking for something entirely new and different, there’s Parrot’s latest beast, the Disco. Unlike most hobby and toy drones, the Disco is fixed wing. That means it looks more like a plane than a quadcopter.

It can fly as fast as 50mph and has a battery that’ll get you up to to 45 minutes of flying time, which is pretty remarkable in the drone world. It’s got a built in computer/brain called CHUCK, which helps provide its autopiloting capabilities. Just press the start-up button, hold it until ready, then throw the drone like a frisbee, then the autopilot takes over.

Because of its vast wingspan, it doesn’t need four propellers to keep it airborne. Instead, it has one blade at the back to propel it forwards, while the wings ensure it stays in the sky.

It has 1080p video recording which has three axis stabilisation, and 32GB of onboard storage to host all of your captured footage. What’s more, you can view all this footage in real-time while flying, using the FPV glasses. At under £700, it’s currently nearly £500 cheaper than it was when it launched in 2016.

Read the preview: Parrot Disco preview: You can be my wingman any time

Cam Bunton