Cheap Drones: The Best Affordable Drones of 2018

Looking for an affordable starter drone that won’t break your heart if you crash?

Here’s our round-up of the best cheap drones currently on the market.

There’s no doubt that flying drones can be an expensive hobby. Not only are significant costs involved in purchasing a drone – with some advanced models running into the thousands of dollars, but and I’m not going to lie to you here – if you’ve never flown before, the odds of crashing your drone during your first year in the sky are quite high. (Note: I don’t actually have any research to back that up, I’m just speaking from bitter, bitter experience.)

So if you’re just starting out, it can make sense to invest in a cheaper drone until you get the hang of flying and then upgrade once you’ve got a better sense of what’s available and what style of drone you like to pilot.

Generally there’s three scenarios in which buying an affordable starter drone might be the way to go:

  1. As in the scenario above you’re dipping your toe into flying drones and just need a cheap starter model that won’t break the bank (or your heart) if it crashes.
  2. You’re looking for a gift for someone else, usually a relative and sometimes a child, and there’s a price limit on what you’re willing to spend.
  3. You’re experimenting with a new mode of flying such as FPV or drone racing and want to start out small with a test model that’s not as expensive as your primary drone.

With that in mind, we’ve outlined our picks for the best affordable drones of 2018 below. But first:

What actually qualifies as an affordable drone?

This obviously depends on your individual situation, but for the purposes of this article we’ve focusses on drones that are priced at a maximum of $300 AUD, with many being well below this amount. Just to be straight – there are significant trade-offs in terms of battery power and flight time involved in buying drones this cheap (we’ll explore these below) – so with that in mind, here our list the best/most affordable drones available in 2018.

Please note: this guide is intended for an local audience so we’re only listing drones easily available in Australia, and available through online retailers like Amazon or eBay.

So Finally, Here They Are: The Best Cheap Drones of 2018:

 

1. Dji Tello Quadcopter – RRP $128 AUD

The Dji  Tello is a light-weight 80 gram mini-drone that can handle 13 minutes of flight time at a maximum distance of 100m and comes with an on-board 720HD camera that also compatible with most commercial VR headsets.

Weighing an astonishing 80 grams, the Tello generally retails for around $130-150 AUD which is pretty incredibly considering the amount of features packed into this little guy. As well as collision detection sensors, an auto take-off and landing functionally the Tello comes with a fail-safe protection mode that lands the drone slowly once battery usage hits a critical point.

Diji Tello Quadcopter
  • 8.5/10
    Camera performance - 8.5/10
  • 10/10
    Flight control - 10/10
  • 9/10
    Battery life - 9/10
  • 10/10
    Flight features - 10/10
9.4/10

Dji Tello Quadcopter

The Tello is a one of the most versatile entry level drones that comes with a great on-board camera that can shoot some incredible high-resolution photos and videos – it’s twin antenna make video transmission extra stable, and it’s high-capacity battery (a modest 3.8 volts that can power 13 mins of flying,) sets it slightly above the rest of the pack in terms of flight time and battery life.

Thanks to all the tech that Tello’s packing, you can shoot 720p videos and 5MP photos  – it’s two antennas also make video transmission extra stable. Tello also includes additional propellers and a battery and a ‘throw and go’ mode which allows you to start flying by  simply tossing Tello into the air.

The Tello can be controlled via a downloadable app, a Bluetooth remote control (will have to be purchased separately) or through the Tello SDK (Software Development Kit) which allows users to program their drone with different flight routines.

Overall the Tello is a great starter drone, it’s very steady in the air and responsive to user inputs – it’s highly recommend as a ‘gateway drone’ for anyone wanting to get into drones as a hobby.

Pros: A quality camera, reasonably battery life and VR compatibility and make this a great affordable starter model.

Cons: The propeller guards that come included don’t actually cover the entire blade, so this should only be purchased for those old enough to know where  their fingers shouldn’t go. Can also occasionally overheat and run hot, cutting flights short.

2. Potensic Wireless RC Quadcopter – RRP $129 AUD Potensic Wireless Quadcopter

Launched in December 2017, the Potensic RC is a lightweight 700 gram quadcopter with an onboard camera capable of shooting 720p HD footage. The Potensic RC comes with a handheld controller and monitor pack capable of streaming live video in high definition and is unusual in the amount of flight presets it includes – ranging from altitude hold settings through to one-touch flight features.

Potensic Wireless RC Quadcopter
  • 7.5/10
    Camera performance - 7.5/10
  • 10/10
    Flight control - 10/10
  • 8.5/10
    Battery life - 8.5/10
  • 10/10
    Flight features - 10/10
9/10

Potensic Wireless RC Quadcopter

If you’re specifically after an affordable quadcopter – perhaps as a present to a younger family member – the Potensic RC is a great candidate. One area in which this drone stands out is features – the Potensic is equipped with a one button automatic take-off and landing setting, which makes the drone easier to fly and control for novice pilots. The Potensic also includes a number of in-built air sensors that can help stabilise the drone at different altitudes for shooting video or taking still photos.

The controller pack that comes with this model includes a FPV-compatible monitor – which combined with the extra rotor guards that come standard with this model – make this an extremely easy to fly drone – and perfect for any younger fliers. Overall the Potensic is one of the simplest and easiest-to-fly models in this category – this combined with the replacement parts the drones comes with, and it’s easy to use flight settings, makes it a great gift option if you’re looking to get someone interested in drone flying as a hobby.

Pros: Great flight features including hover/altitude hold modes, and various long-distance and battery alerts.
Cons:  Extremely light-weight – fly only in clear weather.

3. F100 Ghost Drone – RRP $304 AUD

Our pick for the most affordable video drone is the GoPro compatible F100 Ghost which comes with a detachable 1080p camera, as well as two 1800mAh Li-Po Batteries capable of propelling the F100 up to 500 metres for up to ten minutes at a time. The F100 kit includes several spares body shells and rotor blades should you encounter any mid-air mishaps.

F100 Ghost Drone
  • 9.5/10
    Camera performance - 9.5/10
  • 8/10
    Flight control - 8/10
  • 10/10
    Battery life - 10/10
  • 8/10
    Flight features - 8/10
8.9/10

F100 Ghost Drone

Not only does the F100 have an incredible 500 metre range, it comes equipped with a 1080p, Go-Pro compatible, built-in camera which is frankly astonishing for a drone in this price range.

One curious feature is the lack of a clicker for the camera – meaning it’s not possible to take still photographs, only continuous video that needs to be edited later. This isn’t the end of the world however, as it’s reasonably easy to – but it’s definitely a draw back if you exclusively interested in aerial photograph. (If that’s the case then the Ryz Tech Tello further up the list is probably one to consider.)

This drone’s 500 metre range/15 minute flight time is also top-of-the-line and the F100 also includes a spare battery pack removing one of the most common annoyances with cheap drones. One other interesting feature of the F100 is it’s various flight modes – with a low speed hover feature helping stabilise the drone in mid-air for better video capture quality.

Overall this is one of the highest-quality camera drones available in the sub-$500 range, with the F100s lack of still photography a minor annoyance compared to the exceptional video footage it’s able to produce.

Pros: Exceptional quality camera for a sub-$500 drone. Great default flight range and comes with an extra battery included.
Cons: Capable of video but not still photography. Two batteries are included, but these can take a while to charge.

4. EACHINE E58 – RRP $105.99 AUD

The Eachine E58 is a foldable pocket drone that’s both FPV-compatible and comes with an on-board 2MP 720P camera. With a remote-control distance of 80-100 metres and an average flight time of 8-10 minutes on a single charge – the E58 is our pick for the best cheap starter drone, based on it’s decent combination of features at an affordable $100-150 price point.

EACHINE E58
  • 8.5/10
    Camera performance - 8.5/10
  • 8/10
    Flight control - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Battery life - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Flight features - 8/10
8.1/10

EACHINE E58

While the E58 won’t be winning any awards for drone of the year, in our book it’s strong combination of features (and affordable price) makes it the perfect starter model for any new flyer. If you’re looking for an FPV-compatible drone, with a middle-of-the-road camera that’s capable of flying reasonable distances, this might be the perfect candidate.

In addition, the E58 comes with an on-board 2.0 MP wide-angle camera capable of shooting at a respectable 720p as well as several hover and altitude hold settings to stablise the drone while you shoot. One interesting feature of the E58 is it’s so-called ‘trajectory mode’ – basically an in-app feature that lets pilots trace a line across a map which the drone will pick up and follow as a trajectory. Combined with the E58s one key take-off and landing feature, this is a extremely easy to control drone – piloting the E58 is almost like flying on easy mode.

Pros: A good all-rounder with all the features you really need to get into drone flying at an affordable price point.
Cons: The E58 is quite lightweight so make sure to fly only in calm weather.

5. PARROT Mambo Fly Drone -RRP $118.98 AUD 

A less-common model in Australia, the Parrot Mambo drone is a cheap and effective mini-drone that comes with a 550mAh LiPo Battery that allows for up 9 minutes of flying time within a 20 metre radius, (upgradable to 1000 metres by purchasing  accessories.)

Weighing only 63 grams, the Parrot Mambo also includes a 60 FPS vertical camera and several ultrasound and pressure and comes with a complete with a cannon, a small pouch of airsoft pellets and a claw-hand that allows it to grab and carry small objects weighing up to 4 grams.

Parrot Mambo
  • 8/10
    Camera performance - 8/10
  • 7/10
    Flight control - 7/10
  • 8.5/10
    Battery life - 8.5/10
  • 8.5/10
    Flight features - 8.5/10
8/10

Parrot Mambo

The Parrot is reasonably stable and easy to fly for a beginner but comes with a tiny 0.3MP camera making it a slightly underwhelming drone for photography. The Parrot excels is as a trick drone – it’s lightweight frame and responsive controls make it easy to perform flight manoeuvres such as flips, barrel rolls, and other in-flight acrobatics.

The Parrot comes included with an easy-to-use app that connects via Bluetooth and records post-flight data, including speed and height of your previous aerial trips. It’s cheap price point considering the features and accessories included mean the Parrot is a reasonable starter drone for a beginner flier, but anyone more advanced should probably give this one a miss.

Pros: Easy to fly and control in the air. Excels at mid-air maneuvers.
Cons: Low resolution camera. Those seeking a drone for aerial photography should look elsewhere.

Cheap Drones – Getting What You Paid For

If you told me five years ago that it would be possible to buy a remote-controlled, high-res camera drone for less than $150, I would have thought you were crazy.

We’re lucky now to live in a time where it’s possible to buy a drone with all these features and more, at probably 1/10 of what a similar model would have cost in the mid-2010s.

But an important thing to remember when it comes to drones is that you always get what you pay for.

Most of the cheap drones on the list have been chosen for a single quality – their affordability. While we’ve taken care to choose drones that offer the most bang for your buck – it’s important to be realistic about the performance you can expect from a sub-$500 drone.

While you may be able to get a cheap drone with a 1080p camera, FPV compatibility, or incredible battery life, it’s rare that you’ll find one with all three. Generally if a drone is priced at less than $500, there will almost always be trade-offs in quality that come along with this.

So if you’ve tried a cheap starter drone and want to take things to the next level, we’d steer you towards our best drones of 2018 article – or if you’re looking for something a little less pricey, our best drones under $500 wrap-up contains some higher-quality drones that still won’t break the bank.

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